DVD Review: Daredevil

Film versus original comic book

Long, long ago—though somewhere around 2003—a far, far younger version of myself once posted the following review to Amazon, which was also young in those days:

‘Americans these days talk of something they call `a guilty pleasure’: Something they shouldn’t enjoy – often due to so-called ‘political correctness’ – but nonetheless still do.

When I see Daredevil, I understand the feeling.

This film contradicts at least certain values I try to stand for. There is brutal, gratuitous violence – including a murder played for laughs in one scene – a brash, flash superficiality and much else besides, which smacks of what Bl.John Paul II called `the culture of death’.

Yet I’ve found the film strangely compelling. At one level, I grew up with American superheroes – and my inner teenager finds something ‘cool’ about a Catholic superhero.

Yes, here we have a superhero whose origins are not only explicitly Catholic – but who continues to practice as an adult. (He goes to confession twice in the film!)

Moreover, the film is filled with Catholic imagery. The iconography of a neo-Gothic church dominates the movie. A church bell restores the tormented young Daredevil to a sense of peace – and so forth.

All of this is perhaps more important than it first appears. As I wander through modern culture, I increasingly feel the poverty of the sacred.

Daredevil -confessional
Daredevil in the confessional

There are so few visible reminders of life’s mystery and depth. So much of what we see only proclaims a utilitarian efficiency and functionalism. Not to mention, countless exhortations to consume, consume, consume.

Here in Daredevil we find a world significantly more replete with the kind of visual and aural reminders of the sacred that has always been distinctive to the Catholic vision.

Alone, none of this would suffice to redeem this dark comic-book film, did it not offer something else. That something else – in spite of everything – is heart.

On a second viewing, I was surprised by how much human-ness breaks through the admittedly crass modernism and violence. Arguably, the central message of the film turns out to be: mercy.

There is also something very touching about Daredevil’s commitment to the innocent. And, as opposed to other superhero films, which promote infantile ideas of grandiose power, we have here a human being who visibly suffers. In conscience, psyche and a pain-wracked body. Ben Affleck as Daredevil gives a moving performance.

Daredevil Crucifix
Daredevil comforted by Crucifix

Despite everything, the film has feeling. The film also appears to be less the product of a Hollywood assembly line and more the personal vision of one man: writer-director Mark Steven Johnson.

On a second viewing, I couldn’t help but think: in many ways, Mark Steven Johnson may have succumbed to the harsh, commercial culture of modern Hollywood – yet underneath it all, something breaks forth in his film that is tender, very human and points in surprising ways to the power of the Catholic Mystery.’

End of original Amazon review.

Years later, though, I added a postscript to the review at Amazon, testifying to my confusion in apparently endorsing such a film:

‘Postscript: I’m going to sit on the fence here. Elsewhere on Amazon, I’ve provided reviews, which speak to the possibility of a Catholic renaissance addressing the increasingly soulless robot-icisation of our culture. To recommend a brutal and in some ways, vacuous mainstream Hollywood movie in the midst of this, doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me. I wrote the above review some time ago in another context – never used – a time when I was younger and less serious than I feel today.

Looking at it now, I’m not entirely sure how I’d feel about this film. But I do believe, as Benedict XVI has emphasised, that `the action of Christ and the Spirit outside the Church’s visible boundaries must not be excluded’.

And that testimony to the redemptive power of mercy, humanness and Christ must not be overlooked – even in the most unlikely of places.’

And now I am posting it at this website – years later still – with some additional thoughts.

Recently, I watched a much extended director’s cut of the film. It is a better version, slower-paced with greater texture and depth. It adds many new scenes, while removing others.

Amazingly, the previous version’s single gratuitous sex scene has actually been deleted – as in this version, Daredevil makes a moral decision to answer a cry for help, rather than jump into bed.

Priest -Daredevil.
Priest comes to the fallen Daredevil

But still I would warn any traditional Catholic that this film still contains plenty of disturbing elements. Brutal violence, profanity and more remains. The murder scene played for laughs is still there. And personally scenes like this trouble me more than four-letter words (Not that I am happy with those either.)

In the new version, Daredevil’s Catholicism is also more ambiguous. The two scenes in the confessional are gone. Though a new scene is added where we find the hero praying the Rosary in a church – and that scene illustrates the nature of his tormented conscience.

Despite everything, there is a moral core to this film. For all its ridiculous super-heroics, this film is not Superman or Spiderman. It is far darker – an existential superhero film if you can believe me – about a man engaged in a moral and spiritual struggle. And the film shows the resolution of that struggle in a significant act of mercy and renunciation of vengeance.

Light breaks forth in strange places.

A British academic recently observed: for children growing up in Britain today, the inside of a church is likely to be something as exotic to them as the inside of an abattoir …

The Church becomes invisible in mainstream media …

And as media becomes ever more the standard of people’s lives – we face a terrible global problem.

People’s entire lives are shaped by the media – and the Church is hardly present at all within that media.

At least in Daredevil, that is not true.

So with mixed feelings, I include my thoughts about the film. It comes, as I say, in two quite different versions. A fast-paced, more superficial Theatrical Version with gratuitous sex – and yet Daredevil as a more committed Catholic.

And a Director’s Version that I think is better and shows the hero with greater moral fibre, though struggling with his faith.

Not that it will ever happen – but I rather wish a Catholic Version would one day appear. In such an unlikely scenario, the confessional scenes in the first version would be reinserted and the crude content removed.

But we do not live in a world, where that is even remotely possible. And in this fallen world, we must often settle with things that are from ideal.

Daredevil as it stands is very far from ideal. And yet …

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