A less chaotic state: 2003’s Daredevil

Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox

Way back at the turn of the century when Marvel began its two decades and counting dominion over the box office with X-Men, no one could have imagined the sustained success the film industry would eventually bring them, but it’s looking more and more like someone did have a vague idea of how it would all play out. Marvel used established studios Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox that could afford the risk to test the market with properties like Spider-Man, X-Men and the Fantastic Four to spawn a series of movies that I like to think as Marvel’s Phase 0.

After Marvel made its own film studio and established dominance with the first Avengers movies, many of the properties have been trickling back into their hands. Marvel had already reacquired the rights to Hulk after the Ang Lee disaster, and it recently won a long battle with Sony over Spider-Man. 20th Century Fox is doing just fine with X-Men and hopes to get Fantastic Four up and running this summer, though traditional X-Men characters Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch will figure prominently in The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Of those first five properties, Daredevil is the only one nobody was fighting over. The film was coolly received at the time, and despite members of the cast expressing interest in sequels around the darker Born Again and Guardian Devil storylines, the only movie it spawned was 2005’s reviled Elektra. Criticism was so harsh for star Ben Affleck in particular that he said he’d never dress up in a costume again, a vow he has vehemently held to ever since.

So, in 2013, after Fox hadn’t taken any action with the property for years, Daredevil’s rights quietly slipped back into Marvel’s hands, and instead of putting a movie together, they put together this Netflix series that everyone’s been on about for the past two weeks.

Why re-watch it?

Well, because it’s a damn good movie, and you’ve probably never actually seen it before. The 2004 director’s cut revealed this to be pretty much all Fox’s fault. After the huge success of Spider-Man a year earlier, Writer/Director Mark Steven Johnson’s original, R-rated cut was deemed too long and too dark for the emerging superhero audience, and so the film was re-cut to be closer to that film. What the re-edit essentially amounted to was adding a sex scene and cutting out a major part of the plot, and you can probably guess the effect that had on the movie.

This edit takes the film from a colorful, CGI-filled nonsensical romp around a comically broody Hell’s Kitchen to a complex, tragic-yet-hopeful crime drama about the harsh realities facing those who stand against organized crime in a pay-to-win legal system. You know, sort of like that Netflix series everyone’s been on about for the past two weeks.

A blind superhero? Inconceivable! Photo courtesy Netflix.

It’s apples to oranges to compare the two. They each have things the other doesn’t — the movie doesn’t have the full hour of expository dialogue that was episode one or the Dread Pirate Roberts costume, for instance, but the series doesn’t have those awful video game special effects. The movie has Michael Clarke Duncan’s smooth, deliciously evil Kingpin, as opposed to Vincent D’Onofrio’s whining, pussy-whipped mama’s boy, and say anything you want about Affleck, but he’s saved the breathless “My city needs me!” speeches and the reluctance to kill until he was cast as actual Batman and not Marvel’s imitation. The series has that one fight scene going for it, though the lack of anything like that past episode two is a bit of a let down.

The action isn’t as satisfying, but if you’re looking for something with the tone of the Netflix series that doesn’t take 13 hours, the director’s cut is the way to go.

What’s its relevance now?

Affleck and Jennifer Garner have had a hard time finding work in the past few years, and this movie is where it really started. Affleck got a Golden Raspberry that year for this, Paycheck and Gigli, and Surviving Christmas and Jersey Girl killed what was left of his career a year later until he used his remaining celebrity to start directing. Garner was God-awful in this and Elektra with 13 Going on 30 as the only movie in between. Alias was called good in a pre-Breaking Bad world, but it’s easy to see why Garner never really broke through on the big screen. This movie and 2007’s Ghost Rider, which he also wrote and directed, were supposed to be Johnson’s big breaks, but neither of them broke anything but their properties. Duncan died in 2012 at 54, so this remains one of his unfortunately few performances.

In a lot of ways, the director’s cut is a last, or close to last, chance to see, for the director and for that era of the leads’ careers.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Best Buy is the worst. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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