Daredevil Review

by Robin Clifford (robin AT reelingreviews DOT com)
February 19th, 2003


When 12-year old Matt Murdock (Scott Terra) sees his has-been boxer dad (David Keith) strong-arming a pleading victim of the mob, he runs away, despondent. A freak accident with a load of hazardous waste robs him of his sight but also has the effect of enhancing all off his remaining senses. When the mob kills his father for refusing to throw a fight the boy vows revenge on the murderer. Year later, blind Matt is now a lawyer, by day, in New York's notorious Hell's Kitchen. At night, though, he becomes the extraordinary crime-fighter called "Daredevil."

Comic books to movies are all the rage these days, what with the huge success of "Spiderman" and the pending (and highly anticipated by the fans) release of "The Hulk" and "X-Men 2." It comes as no surprise that another of comic book maestro Stan Lee's adapted works comes to the big screen with his "Daredevil: The Man Without Fear." But, the Daredevil is not your typical comic book hero. Matt Murdock is not a superhero with supernatural powers. Nor is he an everyman type thrust into heroic deeds out of necessity. Indeed, under the usual circumstances blind Murdock would be considered handicapped - though not in "Daredevil."
When Matt is blinded by toxic waste as a boy he may have lost his sight but the event also caused his other senses to enhance considerably, so much so that, like a bat, he can "see" in his sightless darkness. As the youngster becomes more and more at ease with his disability and enhanced remaining senses, he finds that he can surf across the rooftops of Hell's Kitchen without difficulty. When grown up Matt graduates law school, he and his best friend, Franklin 'Foggy' Nelson (Jon Favreau), hang their shingle in Hell's Kitchen, taking on those clients who need them most. But, that's during the daytime. At night it is a different story as Matt dons his secret identity and sets about cleaning up the low-life scum of the neighborhood.

Matt's vigilantism comes under the scrutiny of the police and tabloid reporter Ben Urich (Joe Pantoliano) who sets out to discover the identity of the secretive crime fighter. In the meantime, Matt "spots" the very beautiful martial arts master Elektra (Jennifer Garner), daughter to Greek Ambassador Nikolaos Natchios (Erick Avari), a man who wants to end his dealings with the most power man in the city, Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan), better known in certain nefarious circles as The Kingpin. The powerful crime boss, however, won't let his partner break away so easily and hires the Irish assassin known as Bullseye (Colin Farrel) (for obvious reason).

So, you have a crime fighter with a mission, a crime boss bent on taking total control of the city's underworld and a hired killer who takes great pleasure in his craft. Throw into this mix the capable and sexy daughter of the murdered ambassador, a case of mistaken identity and the unique talents of our hero and you get an action comic book come to life. Sprinkle this mélange with the humor relief provided by Foggy and we end up with a darkly hued but amusing bit of winter entertainment.

Like most super hero comix brought to the screen, "Daredevil" is heavy on the visual action and fight scenes and light on character development. The initial foreword explains how Matt became the Daredevil in typical action hero fashion. Like Batman, Matt "sees" his father murdered and vows to bring the perpetrator to justice. Along the way, like the new sheriff in town, Daredevil cleans up the badlands of New York's Hell's Kitchen from his perch atop the neighborhood buildings. Just like Spiderman, Matt effortlessly surfs and swings across the rooftops with amazing ease. Unlike your typical superhero, though, Daredevil's body shows the ravages of his nocturnal escapades.

No one is going to garner any Academy Awards for acting but everyone does a good job in giving spark to their two-dimensional figures. Ben Affleck is earnest as the Man Without Fear and meets the physical challenges of the role. Jennifer Garner is nicely showcased as the capable and, when necessary, deadly Elektra. And, she looks good in leather. Michael Clarke Duncan is imposing as the notorious crime leader Kingpin (in a comic book menacing way). Colin Farrell has the most fun as the flashy assassin Bullseye with his cocky attitude and maniacal laugh as he gleefully fulfills his deadly contracts. Jon Faveau is amusing as Matt's clueless friend and partner while Joe Pantoliano gives his usual snappy, smartass performance.

Helmer/scripter Mark Steven Johnson, using characters developed by Stan Lee, Bill Everett and Frank Miller, musters his behind-the-camera crew to moves things along in a style that befits the source material. Lensing, by Ericson Core, and production design, by Barry Chusid imbue a crisp, dark look to the action sequences that help to hide the effects that rely more on stunt work (a pleasure to see) and less on CGI. Visual effects, as when Matt "sees" Elektra in the rain, are striking and interesting to watch. James Acheson's costume work is slick and clever, befitting the nature of the movie.

"Daredevil" is, first, for the fans of Stan Lee's oeuvre and, then, for superhero comic fans everywhere. I give it a B-.

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