DAREDEVIL: Director’s Cut (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence and Language

Daredevil poster

Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson

Written by: Mark Steven Johnson

(based on the graphic novel DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR by Frank Miller)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Favreau & Joe Pantoliano

Once upon a time, DAREDEVIL was a good movie. That’s right! 2003’s DAREDEVIL has been the butt of many jokes since its disappointing release over a decade ago. The cut thrown into theaters was a mess. Audiences were forced to endure a plot that seemed half-heartedly stitched together, badly edited fight scenes, hollow characters and a clichéd romance. Turns out that DAREDEVIL was a victim of severe studio meddling and the Director’s Cut makes that more clear than ever. This original cut is the movie we should have received. With alternate scenes, an entire subplot reinserted into the film, less unbelievable romance, and far better action, the R-rated DAREDEVIL very much feels like a precursor to more serious superhero fare like Nolan’s BATMAN trilogy. In other words, this Director’s Cut was ahead of its time, but is well worth yours.

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Matt Murdock was blinded in a freak accident as a child, but gifted with superhuman abilities in his remaining senses. By day, he’s a lawyer working pro-bono for innocent clients in Hell’s Kitchen. By night, Murdock punishes the guilty who walk free as the masked vigilante called Daredevil. After taking on a particularly strange client and meeting the beautiful Elektra Natchios, Murdock finds himself drawn into a conspiracy that leads up to the Kingpin (a powerful mastermind behind most of the city’s crime). As Daredevil struggles to get to the truth, a dangerous assassin named Bullseye also makes his way to Hell’s Kitchen.

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It may sound stupid to phrase it like this, but the Director’s Cut of DAREDEVIL has an actual story! There’s a beginning, middle and an end. Things logically are built up, developed and play out in a way that makes sense. That wasn’t the case with the 2003 theatrical cut. An entire subplot, completely absent in the studio version, provides believable motivations and fleshes characters out. The plot isn’t revolutionary or entirely original, but it’s highly entertaining from start to finish.

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As far as casting goes, Ben Affleck is far more sympathetic as Murdock in the Director’s Cut of DAREDEVIL. Little touches are included that help make Daredevil into someone worth caring about as opposed to just another masked superhero. In a lot of ways, Daredevil is Marvel’s version of Batman and that’s a valid comparison in this take on the origin story (mirroring Frank Miller’s darker vision of the comics). Jennifer Garner is likable as Elektra and there isn’t forced chemistry between her and Affleck this time around. A hero is only as good as his villains. Colin Farrell delivers some of his lines as Bullseye in a distracting, snarling manner, while also being too over-the-top in places. However, he pretty much steals every scene he’s in. There’s also something to be said for his character delivering two of best fight scenes in the movie. Michael Clarke Duncan is well cast as Kingpin, but his character still remains underdeveloped (though he was ripe for a sequel that never happened).

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Another quality to be praised in this Director’s Cut is how edgy it feels. Almost every set and scene has a gritty atmosphere that combines popcorn superhero entertainment with just the right amount of darkness. The fight scenes are violent and well choreographed, unlike the edited-to-shreds action scenes in the studio version. However, not everything works. Besides Colin Farrell overacting as Bullseye, there are still out-of-place silly moments. A playground fight scene between Affleck and Garner remains totally intact and just as ridiculous as ever. There’s also predictability to things as this is an origin story, even if it happens to follow a unique hero. Joe Pantoliano’s reporter character feels like he was pulled straight out of Tim Burton’s BATMAN, even though he serves a purpose by the end of the film and could have been an important piece of a second installment.

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With 30 minutes edited back in, choppy studio scenes removed, and R rating firmly in tact, the Director’s Cut of DAREDEVIL is the movie that we should have originally received in theaters. Who knows? It could have been a huge financial success and earned better response from critics. In a perfect world, we might be swimming in an awesome DAREDEVIL trilogy. However, this Director’s Cut does the job just fine as a standalone superhero flick with dark sensibilities. Watch this Director’s Cut and pretend that the theatrical version doesn’t even exist.

Grade: B+

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