Daredevil Review

by Jon Popick (jpopick AT sick-boy DOT com)
February 26th, 2003

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Daredevil isn't an easy film for me to review, because I'm a huge fan of the comic book. The 20-year-old issues on which the film bases the bulk of its story are the very same issues that made me realize comics weren't just for kids. Thanks to Frank Miller's groundbreaking writing, we saw a superhero as a very flawed, very conflicted person for the first time. If there had been no Miller, those Batman movies would never have been made (Miller also wrote the landmark series The Dark Knight, which depicted Bruce Wayne as the aging, gloomy guy we know from the Tim Burton films).

So, obviously, Daredevil is going to mean more to me than most moviegoers, but I'll try to be as objective as I can in this review. In terms of comparison to other screen adaptations of popular comic books, I'd put this film just below X-Men. It's not quite as strong as last year's blockbuster Spider-Man, but it's still way better than the last couple of Batman flicks and both installments of Blade. One of the factors that made Spider-Man more enjoyable was its lead. Nobody thought Tobey Maguire would be able to pull off the Peter Parker thing, but he did a fine job. Likewise, anyone familiar with Daredevil probably has a difficult time imagining Ben Affleck in the title role. He's definitely the weakest part of this film. He isn't bad, but he just ain't right.

Affleck (The Sum of All Fears) plays Matt Murdock - well-known blind attorney by day, vengeful Hell's Kitchen vigilante by night. After a brief backstory that shows how a young Murdock lost his sight and gained incredibly heightened levels for the rest of his senses (his training with Stick is omitted), viewers see Murdock as a scarred (literally), pill-popping loner who thinks nothing of killing the scumbags he is unable to send to jail via regular legal channels. Once he puts on that red leather suit, all bets are off. With a tricked-out cane that rivals the Bat Belt in terms of what it can do, Murdock is able to get around just as well as any other superhero with 20/20 vision.

Sounds like Murdock is the kind of guy who just needs a strong woman to calm him down, right? He finds her in Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner, Alias), the daughter of a crooked Greek ambassador. The two meet-cute with an oddly choreographed playground fight scene before falling madly in love. Elektra knows her martial arts like feets don't fail me now, but she doesn't know that her father (Erick Avari, The Master of Disguise) is under the thumb of underworld boss Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan, The Scorpion King). Kingpin hires an assassin named Bullseye (a very hammy Colin Farrell, The Recruit) to off Ambassador Natchios, but thanks to some bad timing, Elektra thinks Daredevil is the man who killed her father. Talk about putting a crimp in your relationship...

Writer-director Mark Steven Johnson (Simon Birch) does a good job of setting up the affair between Murdock and Elektra, but I'm not sure romance is something the core demographic of this film is that eager to see. Johnson's weakest moments - and the ones the kids will be lining up around the block to see - are the fight scenes, which are so choppy you can barely tell what's happening. It's disappointing stuff from fight choreographer Cheung-Yan Yuen, of Once Upon a Time In China fame (he also worked on Charlie's Angels and the two upcoming Matrix sequels).

Still, Johnson does get a lot of things right. There are heavy religious overtones throughout the film, as well as subtle homages to people who have, at some point, had their hands in the Daredevil comic book (whether visible, like Stan Lee and Kevin Smith; or almost subliminally, like Joe Quesada, David Mack, John Romita, Jack Kirby and, of course, Frank Miller). The effects used to illustrate Murdock's keen radar sense are pretty cool, and the voiceover (a la Spider-Man) isn't too clunky. Farrell is a lot of fun to watch, and Garner will have you practically squealing for her own spin-off. There's just one little problem with that, though: You'll have to see the film to understand it.

1:49 - PG-13 for action/violence and some sensuality

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