Daredevil Review

by Mark R. Leeper (markrleeper AT yahoo DOT com)
March 3rd, 2003

    (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: DAREDEVIL is an uninspired comic book
    superhero film that borrows everything, and
    invents and contributes almost nothing. It is
    an uninspiring actor playing an uninspired idea
    for a superhero in a familiar setting. It feels
    like it was stamped out at a factory. Rating:
    4 (0 to 10), low 0 (-4 to +4)

A friend convinced me several years ago to read some issues of the comic book "Daredevil" because the character is really something special. He was sort of an American Zato Ichi. They did not grab me at the time, but at least I accepted that they were something novel and different. I think you have to be an expert to find something novel and different in the film DAREDEVIL. And you will need a magnifying glass. The things that make this character unique are far overshadowed by the things that make him so much like other superheroes. And the film does everything it can to minimize those few differences. The character is blind and so he uses his other four senses, particularly hearing, to overcome his blindness. This would have been a good opportunity to somehow use sound to portray this ability. Do they? No. Instead, director Mark Steven Johnson shows visually what Daredevil is hearing. Daredevil's hearing gives him a sort of grayed-out vision. Now Daredevil sees things a little differently but has sight like other superheroes do. More pertinent, the different way of seeing never is an issue when he goes into action. He is just so-o-o good, that that his blindness is an irrelevancy. The film has eliminated what makes Daredevil unique.

Ah, but maybe he is unique because of dark psychological forces he cannot control. You see his father whom he loved more than anything in the world was murdered by baddies and now Daredevil, played by Ben Affleck, has a fire in his belly for revenge. But wait a minute. Didn't Batman lose his parents to bad guy criminals? In fact, Batman lost both of his parents. And the concept of "Ben Affleck rage" is as hard to swallow as "Woody Allen machismo." Through this barely noticeable rage Matt Murdock ponders the question of whether he is more DareDevil or DaredEvil. But conflicted heroes are nothing new either.
Ah, but what about those great visual images? Daredevil is the master of a dark and brooding city . . . like the one we saw in BATMAN. He seems frequently to pose for dramatic effect like Batman does. And his costume is not even very good. He wears a red suit that looks like it came from a fetish party and headgear that is supposed to make him look like a devil. Oooo! Scary. From a distance it looks like Batman's cowl and close up it looks like something from a French comic opera. Does anybody really find the image of a red devil with horns frightening?
The film explains why Matt Murdock has heightened senses due to the wonderful magic of radioactive mutation (like the stuff that made Spider Man what he is). It does not explain how he is able to dive twelve stories off a building and stop his fall by grabbing onto a wire without breaking the wire or ripping off his arms. And that is not to mention how he knew the exact placement of the wire from twelve stories up. Oh, yes. I guess he must have heard it.

The plot is pretty bland. Matt Murdock, alias Daredevil (Ben Affleck), has a vendetta against the man who killed his father. That quest brings him up against the crime lord Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) whose chief enforcer is Bullseye (Colin Farrell) a killer who can toss objects with perfect aim and who has a bullseye branded on his forehead where it seems like an invitation in a fight. Meanwhile, Murdock meets the beautiful and very obviously mammalian Elektra (Jennifer Garner). They court primarily by trying to kill each other sparring with martial arts. Attempting to rein back Murdock is his law partner Franklin Nelson, played by Jon Favreau, who looks a little formless in his suit. In the background trying to prove Daredevil exists and trying to unmask him is the reporter Urich (Joe Pantoliano).

The script has several additional problems. Unlike Clark Kent, Mike Murdock is a super-klutz at keeping his secret identity secret. I have never seen a superhero's secret identity be revealed so many times in a film, but as the script contrives everybody has his own reason for not telling the world. That is not very good writing. And an action script is in real trouble when the climax of the film is a crotch kick.

There are, admittedly, a few ways that that this film swims against the tide. Most superheroes these days frazzle the villain to the point the villain accidentally kills himself. (Take another look at SPIDER MAN if you don't believe it.) Daredevil actually kills villains. Another nice touch is that a black man plays the major villain. Meaty villainous roles (in this case perhaps literally) rarely go to blacks, probably as a sort of political correctness gone awry. Michael Clarke Duncan is magnetic as Kingpin.

In his angst Daredevil asks himself the question "Can one man make a difference?" And I think the film answers inspirationally with a resounding "Yes, one man with radioactive mutant super-powers can make a difference." I think that is a message we all needed in these troubled times. Still I rate DAREDEVIL only a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +0 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Mark R. Leeper
[email protected]
Copyright 2003 Mark R. Leeper

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