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There’s no denying that comic book movies are here to stay. Up until now we’ve swung through the streets of New York with Spider-Man, despatched countless shady villains in the streets of Gotham City, been transfixed by the powers of Kryptonite, and even witnessed a bit of vampire slaying in Blade. So what’s the fascination with these tight panted heroes? For me personally, comic book movies have been a much-needed break from reality. I’ve never been much of a comic book reader myself (unless Beano and Dandy count!) but the kid within me really can’t help but be floored by the marvel of seeing someone fly, swing, dodge, zap and shoot. My favourite of all the comic book movies is without a doubt Tim Burton’s reworking of Batman. This dark, edgy flick had its dose of comic book campness but always managed to keep the right balance with reality. So what if we were to have a comic book hero that was truly as ‘blind as a bat’? Step up Daredevil. This Mark Steven Johnson directed picture opened earlier this year, but could the inexperienced director pull off something of this magnitude? Let’s find out…

Daredevil
Movie
Ben Affleck plays Matt Murdock, a struggling blind lawyer living and working around the dangerous streets of Hells Kitchen. On first appearances you’d be forgiven for thinking that he’s like most other lawyers around today. For starters he’s extremely committed to his job. He’s also a man that takes the loss of a court case to heart. However, the similarities stop there. Why? Matt Murdock is Daredevil – The Man Without Fear, a powerful, masked vigilante that stalks the guilty and enacts his own form of justice. Helping him to do this is his uncanny radar sense that enables him to see with superhuman capabilities, following an accident during his childhood. Spurring him on through his heroic deeds is the haunting image of his dying father, a man that died doing what he believed was right. But when the love of his live, fiery Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) is targeted by New York City’s ruthless Kingpin of Crime (Michael Clarke Duncan) and his deadly assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell), Daredevil may be about to meet his match…  

So how does Daredevil stand up to its competitors? Thankfully, reasonably well. Although the film does struggle at times, director Mark Steven Johnson has managed to craft a reasonably entertaining comic book romp. I’ve always preferred the comic book movies that venture into the darker, edgier material and luckily enough this is the road that Daredevil has chosen to undertake. The main thing that sets Daredevil apart from other movies such as Spider-Man is the level of onscreen violence. In one particular scene Daredevil allows a man to be hit by a subway train! Although nothing is really shown, it certainly sets a completely different tone to that of Spider-Man who would probably even save the villains if he could! Naturally, a film such as this relies heavily on the action sequences and Daredevil certainly doesn’t lack them. The film makes use of computer-generated effects on a number of occasions and for the most part uses them wisely. Other comic book movies have suffered on the part of ropey special effects but thankfully Daredevil excels here. One particularly impressive sequence involves Daredevil charging a motorbike at full speed and then proceeding to knock the occupant off the bike in slow motion. Very fancy indeed.

Performances are more of a mixed bag. For starters you have to remember that this is a comic book movie and therefore you can dismiss all preconceptions that the performances might be grounded in realism. For starters Ben Affleck turns in a surprisingly solid performance as lawyer Matt Murdock. I have no prior experience with the character of Daredevil so I cannot really pass comment on how accurately he has been transferred to screen, but I was pretty impressed with Affleck’s interpretation. The whole ‘goody goody’ superhero formula was getting a little tired so it’s really quite refreshing to have an imperfect hero that makes mistakes and choices like the rest of us. Unfortunately the supporting performances are a little more questionable. I’ve never encountered Jennifer Garner before and I hope I never do so again, as frankly this girl can’t act! She turns in a practically emotionless performance as Elektra and serves little other purpose than the good-looking love interest. I’ve never particularly liked cliché ridden love stories in comic films so maybe I’m being a little unfair but at least Daredevil doesn’t conform to all the usual standards. The standout performances though come from Colin Farrell and Michael Clarke Duncan. Colin Farrell has really broken into the Hollywood mainstream now and camps things up to the max with his scene stealing performance as Bullseye. Big man Michael Clarke Duncan also turns in a powerhouse performance as the Kingpin. His huge physical presence makes him perfect for the role, and I’m glad that the director chose him despite having a different skin colour to the comic book villain.

Daredevil
Although Daredevil is entertaining for the most part, the film is still fundamentally flawed in some areas. For starters the editing at times is quite frankly ridiculous. One of the opening fight scenes is edited to such an extent that it honestly came close to giving me a headache! I’ve never really minded music video editing (I love Michael Bay films) but whoever edited this opening sequence must have been seriously high on something! The camera literally jumps and swings all over the place, which makes it incredibly hard to gauge what’s going on. I would consider the first action scene as the perfect place to showcase Daredevil’s skills, yet it’s far too dark and jerky to see anything! Disappointing. I should also pickup on the slightly uninspired choreography of the fight scenes. Many of the fistfights etc seem incredibly slow and rehearsed, in particular the rather cringe worthy Playground scene between Daredevil and Elektra. Perhaps the over enthusiastic editing is to try and compensate for the slow moves? Anyway; despite my reservations, Daredevil still manages to entertain for the most part; I just hope that any future adventures will be a little more polished.

Video
When I saw how much material was crammed onto disc one, I have to admit to being a little bit worried about the transfer. Thankfully my worries were misplaced as 20th Century Fox have put together a stellar 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Everything about the transfer oozes quality with an absolutely pristine print that features only minor grain and background noise. Another major worry is always the dreaded appearance of edge enhancement but yet again this is practically non-existent. The film for the most part is very dark and yet the transfer manages the deep black colours admirably with heavy contrast throughout. Overall, another quality anamorphic presentation from Fox.

Audio
Audiophiles are also in for a real treat as 20th Century Fox have put together a highly active and enthusiastic audio experience. Kick starting this experience is a DTS 5.1 track, which really delivers a punch. I honestly haven’t been this impressed with a DTS track in quite some time, with all the speakers working together to create a truly overwhelming and immersive experience. The surrounds in particular are used to great effect throughout with the atmospheric noises of the city literally jumping around from speaker to speaker to create a truly involving soundstage. All very impressive stuff. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is equally impressive although it does appear to lack some of the clarity and bass that the DTS track offers. Finally we have the interesting addition of an English 2.0 Surround track for the visually impaired. This track carries the standard movie soundtrack along with a commentary describing the onscreen action. This fascinating feature seems only too appropriate considering the nature of the film and it’s great to see it included here.

Daredevil
Extras
One of my major disappointments with the Spider-Man DVD would have to be the highly promotional nature of the extra material. Luckily enough it appears that 20th Century Fox have learnt from Columbia’s mistakes and have instead put together an interesting, worthwhile extras package. Starting things off is an audio commentary with director Mark Steven Johnson and producer Gary Foster. My first observation here would be how surprisingly candid it is. For starters, the director certainly isn’t afraid to slate areas of the computer-generated imagery littered throughout the film. He does go on to say that he’s only doing this because of the high level of the rest of the CGI but it’s still nice to hear an honest take on things; it’s genuinely quite refreshing. Among other things he also has a jab at a highly questionable background in one of the Kingpin scenes and a few more at the films competitors (most notably Spider-Man). Overall, a pretty enlightening commentary from the first time director. Also included on disc one is a text commentary, which is basically a subtitle track that fills you in on various details of the production process. This can also be combined with any of the other audio tracks included on the disc, so if you would like to read the facts along with the audio commentary then you can do so. Completing the disc one line-up is an enhanced viewing mode. You’ve probably seen similar features included on other big releases and this one in particular should provide visual effects fanatics with plenty of interesting information. This mode gives you exclusive access to view various bits of visual effects and behind the scenes footage accompanied by narration from visual effects producer John Kilkenny.

The second disc is where the bulk of the extra features are hidden. The disc itself is split into two main categories. The first of these is entitled ‘The Film’ and that is where we will begin. First up is an hour long documentary entitled Beyond Hells Kitchen: Making Daredevil. This in-depth documentary takes a thorough look at the production process of Daredevil and features behind the scenes footage intertwined with interviews from the cast and crew. Among other things we get to see various stages of progress with makeup and costume as well as visual effects and the scoring of the film by Graeme Revell. It isn’t very often that we get such a frank and worthwhile documentary for a Hollywood feature so this is certainly a welcome addition. I should also point out that an enhanced viewing mode is included as part of the documentary. This mode includes six additional short features though the question has to be asked why this wasn’t just included within the documentary in the first place.

Next we have Jennifer Garner’s Screen Test which provides a small insight into the casting process. A couple of scenes are included here, running to a little over two and a half minutes in total. Interestingly enough the scenes seem to make use of dialogue that isn’t included in the theatrical cut. I imagine the script hadn’t been finalised at this early stage of casting. The next feature is entitled Multi-Angle Dailies which gives the viewer a rare glimpse into how scenes are shot. A couple of key scenes are included here and whilst viewing them you have the choice of changing camera angle. To do this you simply use the angle button on your remote control. This is a fun little feature, it’s a shame more movies don’t make use of the multi-angle facilities that DVD can offer. Next comes the ‘Featured Villain Kingpin’ featurette, which runs to a little over two minutes in total. The selling point of this feature would be the interview with Michael Clarke Duncan but unfortunately the limited runtime doesn’t give him much time to air his views. Still, it’s nice to hear Duncan’s lighthearted take on the character of the Kingpin and Daredevil himself. Following on from that we have the now almost obligatory addition of the HBO First Look Special. This slickly presented show runs to around twenty-five minutes and is presented by Jennifer Garner. Not a great deal of new information is learnt here, especially if you’ve already delved into the much beefier Beyond Hells Kitchen feature. Still, it’s nice to hear some of the interviews including Colin Farrell in his native Irish tongue.

Daredevil
Also included on the disc is an eight-minute feature entitled Moving Through Space – A Day With Tom Sullivan. This is a simply fascinating insight into a typical day of the sight-impaired consultant for Daredevil. The prior extra material had already established that the director of the film wanted the portrayal of Matt Murdock as a blind man to be as accurate as possible and Tom Sullivan was the man that helped with many of these tricks of the trade. Despite the somewhat limited runtime of the feature we still get to hear a reasonable amount of the difficulties that Tom faced whilst growing up and how he overcame many of them. Well worth a watch. Completing this first part of the extras package are theatrical trailers, music videos and a still gallery. The trailers section includes three trailers relating to Daredevil as well as a trailer for 28 Days Later and the League of Extraordinary Gentleman. All of these are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen with accompanying Dolby 2.0 surround. The music videos section is made up of videos for Wont Back Down by Fuel, For You by The Calling, Bring me to Life by Evanescence as well as a music promotion TV spot. Finally we have a photo gallery section, which is divided up into Story Boards, Costumes, Set Design, Production Stills and Props. Each of these includes a number of photos that can be flicked through manually by the advance button on your remote control.

Finally we have The Comic Book section of the extra material. This section comprises supplemental material relating directly to the comic book creation by Stan Lee and co. First up is a featurette entitled Men Without Fear: Creating Daredevil. This chaptered documentary covers the origins of Daredevil as well as the artwork, story evolution and much more. The feature contains interviews with a number of comic book fans and creators including the aforementioned Stan Lee and Daredevil writer and popular director Kevin Smith. This in-depth documentary runs to a little under an hour and should provide comic book fans with plenty of fascinating facts. Recommended. Next comes a feature entitled the Shadow World Tour. This feature explores Daredevil’s fascinating ability to see in the dark and draws upon examples from both the comic book and the movie. Short extracts from the comic books are included as well as short clips from the movie itself. An interesting feature though it could really have done with some sort of commentary with how the shadow world was first conceived. As it is the feature is without any form of sound except during the movie clips. Completing the extras package is a small feature known as Modelling Sheets. This basically comprises several pages of biographies for the lead characters such as Daredevil and the Kingpin. Each page gives you details on their height and weight as well as the weapons that they may or may not be carrying. Definitely one for the comic book buffs this.

Daredevil
Overall
Daredevil is another reasonably solid entry in the comic book universe. I didn’t find it quite as engrossing as Spider-Man but it certainly puts that green CGI mess known as the Hulk to shame. The DVD that 20th Century Fox have put together excels in nearly every aspect with an excellent video and audio presentation as well as a fine selection of well-produced extra material. Overall, if you’re a fan of the comic book movie genre you really shouldn’t pass up on this entertaining, if slightly flawed flick.


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