With the news that Ben Affleck will be the new Batman in the upcoming “Superman/Batman” film, I thought it a good time to go back and look at Affleck’s first foray into the superhero genre with Fox’s “Daredevil.” Now before you all start groaning and clicking back to the front page, I’m reviewing the “Director’s Cut” of the movie, which is actually an almost completely different film, and is better for it. Before I start, I want to say that I own both versions, and I actually am one of the few fans that thought Mark Steven Johnson’s 2003 take on the character wasn’t bad at all. Better than Ang Lee’s “Hulk”, which was all over the place. “Daredevil” had some issues with floaty CGI characters and an eye-rolling playground fight between Affleck’s Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil) and wife-to-be Jennifer Garner’s Elektra Natchios, but the cast, the tone, and the setting were all on point.
The 2004 “Director’s Cut” follows the same overall story: blind lawyer Matt Murdock fights for the law by day, and at night takes justice into his own hands as the vigilante Daredevil. The major story beats are all still there, but the journey has changed slightly. Even director Mark Steven Johnson has called the “Director’s Cut” the “Story version of the film.” And it’s an apt description. Where the theatrical version was more about telling a rousing story, with action, romance, and some humor, this cut has all of that, too, but adds more character development for Matt and his law partner Foggy Nelson, played by “Iron Man” director John Favreau.
In this version of the film, there is a case involving a possibly wrongly accused man (played by Coolio, no less) that connects to the larger issue of the Kingpin’s reign of crime. The murder is actually heard by Murdock, and is shown in a way that is very eerie and serves to highlight how Matt can never truly escape his abilities. The confessional scenes are gone, and we get some new scenes with Matt and Foggy actually investigating this case, as well as more scenes showing the Kingpin’s brutality. To this day, I say casting Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin was the ONLY choice for the character, and he brought a lot to the role.
The other major change to the film is that it’s less about the budding (and ultimately tragic) romance between Matt and Elektra, and more about his relentless search for justice, and his quest to take down the Kingpin. There’s an interrogation scene with Matt confronting a witness where Matt uses his enhanced hearing to listen for changes in heartbeat to tell if they’re lying, and Matt has recently found out from reporter Ben Urich (Joe Pantoliano) that the witness was indeed lying, and is out to figure out how. It’s a great addition, and adds to the overall narrative.
Like in the original version, we see Matt return to the office the morning after his night with Elektra. It would seem that it was the whole “I’m not the bad guy” thing got to him down in the dumps, but in the new cut, it’s more than that. He never got that night with Elektra. He left her on the rooftop to do his vigilante thing, and the next time he sees her, it’s at the ball to say sorry and not “I found you.” These little moments are what tie the overall story together much better in my opinion. Of course we also get some extended fight scenes, including the final fight with the Kingpin, which is just David and Goliath.
“Daredevil” is not a perfect film, but it’s far from the complete and abysmal failure its spinoff “Elektra” is, and definitely has more positive stuff than negative going for it. Granted, the fact that Affleck had famously stated that the costume was a source of humiliation for him, and wouldn’t do it again probably rubbed some people the wrong way and add to the stigma of the film. Now 9-10 years later, Affleck is about to take back his word and don a costume that is more famous and therefore more daunting. He has to make his Batman different than Bale’s, but still infuse it with heart, which he did pretty well with Matt Murdock/Daredevil. He has his work cut out for him but it’s not a completely impossible task should he go back and look at some of the nuances he had in “Daredevil: Director’s Cut”.
So if you’re on the fence about Bat-Affleck check out this underappreciated flick. It may just change your mind. Until then, I await the first pic of the suit, and to hear his Batman voice, and I invoke “The Brokeback Mountain Clause.”
Mark Steven Johnson (director) / Mark Steven Johnson (screenplay)
CAST: Ben Affleck … Matt Murdock / Daredevil
Jennifer Garner … Elektra Natchios
Colin Farrell … Bullseye
Michael Clarke Duncan … Wilson Fisk / The Kingpin
Jon Favreau … Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson
Ellen Pompeo … Karen Page
Joe Pantoliano … Ben Urich