review by Nicholas Schager, 14 February 2003

After the back-to-back successes of X-Men and Spider-Man, Marvel Entertainment had good reason to feel like its comic book properties were finally getting the A-list treatment and respect they deserved. Well, the streak ends with Daredevil. Ben Affleck stars as the titular hero, a blind lawyer named Matt Murdock by day and red leather-clad do-gooder by night, using his enhanced senses and martial arts skills to champion the common man against the evildoers who stalk Hell’s Kitchen’s dank, rainy alleyways. With his horned mask and penchant for leaping from and swinging around the city’s skyscrapers, frequently casting an ominous shadow to frighten his prey before swooping down to exact justice, he’s like Batman’s less popular, more uninteresting, brother.

And like the caped crusader, Murdock was drawn into the world of crime fighting as a means of avenging the death of his parent, a streetwise former boxing champ nicknamed “The Devil” (played with two-dimensional nobility by David Keith) who, before his untimely end, made with Matt “a silent promise to never give up, to be fearless.” Matt is blinded in a freak toxic-waste accident while going to show Dad his report card – Straight A’s! – but, when he recovers, finds that his other four senses are incredibly acute, the best of which is a radar-like sense of hearing that allows him to “see” simply by picking up on his environment’s sound waves. At one point, Matt, utilizing his amazing power of smell, correctly predicts that rain is about to fall moments before the sky turns overcast. This is what we’ve been reduced to sitting through: the superhero as Al Roker.

As a kid Matt is harassed by some thugs, but after his accident, he gets to pay back the bullies with some kung fu moves, and it’s hard not to remember having seen this song and dance in last summer’s Spider-Man. But then again, if it’s originality you’re looking for, you’ve come to the wrong place. Fans always make a big deal over the fact that Daredevil, unlike his heroic brethren, doesn’t have supernaturally-granted abilities – he’s just a normal guy with heightened senses, although one would be hard pressed to see how a man can leap around the city’s rooftops, sometimes traveling hundreds of feet in freefall, and not break all his kneecaps upon landing without the benefit of some genetic alteration. They also claim in his defense that Murdock is not a billionaire like Bruce Wayne or Iron Man’s Tony Stark, although how he affords his metal-clad apartment lair and walking stick/multipurpose weapon on the earnings of his law practice – which represents the downtrodden innocent, and is usually paid for its services in things like sporting goods and carp – are beyond me. Even Matt’s comedic sidekick Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (John Favreau), who staunchly believes that giant alligators roam the city’s sewers, wouldn’t believe that Daredevil could afford such swank accoutrements.

There are plenty of laughs in Daredevil, but Favreau is the only one eliciting them intentionally. Matt falls in love with a beautiful stranger named Elektra Natchios (Garner), an appropriate name given how unbelievably cheesy Garner’s performance turns out to be. One can only assume that she would have been named “Elecktra Doritios” if Frito-Lay had come through with the product-placement cash (instead, for Daredevil, it’s all about the Heineken). Elektra and Matt introduce themselves to one another by sparring, Matrix-style, in a city playground, and the scene surprisingly strikes a balance between silliness and giddy inspiration. But writer/director Mark Steven Johnson couldn’t direct his way out of a subway station, and has made the Battlefield Earth mistake of framing every other shot in a cockeyed fashion because, well, he thinks it looks cool. During Matt’s only courtroom scene, he detects that the man on the stand is lying because he can hear his heart rate speed up, and Johnson decides that the visual accompaniment to this revelation should be to madly tilt his camera this way and that, with a couple of hilariously swift zooms into close-up thrown in for good measure.

Still, these annoying stylistic decisions are better than the action sequences, which are hectically edited, shot in strobe lights or reflecting rain, and rife with unbelievable computer-generated imagery. Judging from Daredevil’s weightless leaps around the city’s towering edifices, CGI clearly hasn’t progressed very far in the intervening months between Daredevil and Spider-Man, and Johnson wisely cloaks much of the computer trickery in near total darkness. The only time one of Johnson’s ideas and execution come together is in the depiction of Daredevil’s sonic radar – a swirl of blue-black apparitions and image outlines that comes much closer to capturing the character’s super-hearing than the comics, which use circular radar lines coming out Daredevil’s head to indicate his “Devil sense.”

Besides his on-again, off-again romance with Elektra, Daredevil also gets two villainous baddies to confront. The Kingpin is a dapper businessman who secretly runs all the crime in New York City, and may have had something to do with the death of Daredevil’s father; played by the enormous and enormously affable Michael Clarke Duncan, the Kingpin is an arrogant cynic who believes that no one is ever really innocent. Unfortunately, he’s not given much to do, and thus the final confrontation between him and our masked avenger lack the requisite amount of weighty significance necessary for such a climactic showdown. More successful is the Kingpin’s hired assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell), an insane Irish bloke whose pinpoint throwing accuracy allows him to turn even the most mundane everyday objects (paper clips, pencils) into deadly weapons. Dressed like a Hell’s Angel reject and displaying a circular target imprint on his forehead (which he rubs for good luck before throwing stuff), Farrell’s Bullseye goes so far over-the-top that he winds up being the sole thing worth looking forward to in Daredevil. Farrell, all exaggerated grunts and wide-eyed maniacal stares, is the only one who gets the joke that Johnson’s film is, and he has a blast riding roughshod over everything in his path.

If only Affleck seemed to be having such fun. The newly-crowned “Sexiest Man Alive” is credible as blind do-gooder Matt Murdock, but donning his alter ego’s mask saps the actor of his cheerful charisma, and the only performance he can muster is one in which determined grimacing weakly stands in for tortured gravity. While Affleck’s boyish charm doesn’t jibe with his character’s solemnity, at least Johnson gives him something to do, which is more than can be said for Favreau (reduced to unimportant jokester) and Joe Pantoliano as tabloid journalist Ben Urich (left to perform a dull investigation into whether Daredevil and Kingpin are real). But Johnson’s film is all about missed opportunities. Watching one of the lamest love scenes in recent memory – which begins with a statue of a man grabbing a woman’s breast before segueing into Affleck and Garner’s softly-lit PG-appropriate sexual posing – one gets the sneaking suspicion that Batman never would have embarrassed himself like this.

Written and
Directed by:

Mark Steven Johnson

Ben Affleck
Jennifer Garner
Michael Clarke Duncan
Colin Farrell
David Keith
John Favreau
Joe Pantoliano

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult







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