ontinuing the seemingly unstoppable streak of Comic Book
Superhero movies, 2003's first entry is "Daredevil", a mid-level
character from Marvel Comics, which also put out "X-Men",
franchise, and the upcoming "Hulk" and "X-Men 2".
"Daredevil" stars Ben Affleck as blind lawyer Matt Murdock, who
defends the weak and poor by day, but puts on a fire-red costume and mask to do
similar battles at night. By day Murdock relies on his education to seek
justice; by night, Daredevil is all brawn and grit.
I've been told that Ben Affleck ("Pearl
Harbor") is a movie star, but I've never believed it. This continues to
be the case, even though I found his turn as the blind lawyer/superhero in
"Daredevil" to be a big step up for him. The film opens with a bruised
and battered Daredevil seeking refuge in a church, and from here the film
flashes back to Murdock's childhood to explain how he got to be where he is now.
We meet Matt's father (David Keith), a washed up
prizefighter working as a bone-breaker for a local mobster. When young Matt is
blinded in an accident involving toxic chemicals, the two Murdocks strike a
bargain to be fearless in the face of all that life can throw at them. Things
get complicated after the elder Murdock returns to the ring and is forced by his
mob boss to throw a fight. Unable to disappoint his son, Murdock doesn't take
the dive, and is murdered in return. This leaves young Matt to carry on the
battle for justice. You see, although he was blinded in the accident, Matt has
gained superhuman senses that allow him to "see" and anticipate the
actions of those around him as if he possessed some sort of "radar".
"Daredevil" the movie is most entertaining when
the blind vigilante is hunting his prey along the city blocks of Hell's Kitchen
in New York. With voiceover provided by the sometimes-too-bland Affleck,
Daredevil is a driven crimefighter with superhuman senses, but still very human
weaknesses. The film's elaborate stunts and action sequences take place mostly
at night, with the daytime scenes devoted to comedic moments between lawyer
Murdock and his partner, Foggy Nelson (Jon Favreau). Also along for the ride is
reporter Ben Urich (Joe Pantoliano), who is investigating Daredevil's existence.
"Daredevil" is co-written and directed by Mark
Steven Johnson, whose only previous directorial effort has been "Simon
Birch", not exactly the type of material you'd think is the right set-up
for "Daredevil." Regardless, Johnson proves to be the right man for
the job because he showcases very intimate knowledge of Daredevil's history. The
movie is heavily inspired by artist/writer Frank Miller, who had a brief stint
on the comic book in the mid '80s. Miller not only introduced the Elektra and
Bullseye characters, but also made Daredevil into a vengeful vigilante on the
verge of a physical and mental breakdown. The film's opening scene, with
Daredevil clutching onto a church cross for dear life, is a direct homage to
Although rated PG-13, "Daredevil" is surprisingly
grittier and tougher to stomach than a lot of its fellow Comic Book movies.
Johnson's superhero is a man who, once the night's fighting is done, retires
home with fresh scars to add to his already extensively collection of bodily
scars. Johnson's Daredevil is a man driven to fight injustice, and despite all
of his advantages, is nevertheless just one man still trying to understand his
role in life. This gritty and dirty look at Daredevil was unexpected, but very
Jennifer Garner ("Catch
Me if You Can") co-stars as Elektra Natchios, a tough cookie who is
also the daughter of a Greek billionaire under the thumb of the Kingpin (Michael
Clarke Duncan). When Elektra's father is murdered by assassin Bullseye (Colin
Farrell) at the order of the Kingpin, Elektra thinks Daredevil is in on the
assassination. This is made even more complex because Elektra and Matt Murdock
are also involved in a passionate affair, with Elektra unaware of Murdock's
nighttime duties. Garner is sexy as hell in the role, and her playful daytime
fisticuff with Murdock in a playground is strangely more stimulating than the
duo's later lovemaking.
As Bullseye, Colin Farrell ("Minority
Report") overacts his way out of any semblance of reality. It's
unconceivable that the Kingpin, who runs the entire city's criminal empire under
a cloak of secrecy, would hire such an indiscreet fellow as Bullseye. Not only
does Bullseye kill everyone that annoys him (including an old woman on an
airplane) in the most indiscreet fashion, but the man has little to no common
sense. Also, the movie explains Daredevil's superhuman abilities, but what about
Bullseye's? And for that matter, what about Elektra's? These two may be highly
trained warriors, but how does that explain their ability to leap between
buildings without breaking a sweat?
If Johnson wants us to take the down-and-dirty and grit of
Daredevil's world seriously and at the same time swallow the cartoonish world of
Bullseye and Kingpin, then he's asking too much. The film's first half, when
we're fully immersed in Daredevil's tortured nightly existence, works best
because it's in direct contrast to the second half, which becomes a series of
elaborate and CGI-enhanced fights between Daredevil, Elektra, and Bullseye.
While the first half played out as if it could possibly happen in real life, the
second half could only exist on the pages of a comic book.
You can't have both.