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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Daredevil

Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 96 Minutes
Release Date: February 2003
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

What philistine in the audience could fail to identify with Matt: ordinary albeit visually challenged citizen by day, ACLU's worst nightmare at night, as he battles crime in the only way that the unjust can understand? Watching the film, I couldn't help thinking that give or take some notches on the ophthalmology chart, there go I: mild-mannered movie maven by day, but by night, CRITICMAN! Slayer of razzies, educator of the average moviegoer, upholder of all that is best in cinema! Neither a razzie nor the best that cinema has to offer, "Daredevil" is an absorbing 96 minutes that borrows concept from Matthew Winner's "Death Wish," choreography from Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man," uniform and mentality from Tim Burton's "Batman." Since I came of comic- book age before the first appearance of Stan Lee's 1964 "Daredevil," and while my real heroes are Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, Superman and Wonder Woman, I cannot with authority spout the cliche that the book is better than the movie. I can say, however, that if this is true, the Daredevil comic series must have been a knockout of a read for its targeted audience.

Speaking of targeted audience, Mark Steven Johnson's most fascinating creation, one that meets every test of cartoon character (which is how we should judge the performers in a movie like this) is Colin Farrell. He's bald but still handsome and he's enjoying himself, I'd wager, more than he did in "The Recruit," especially since for the most part he's not n real danger and is almost always in control as Bullseye, the guy who never misses. Hitting the eponymous bulls-eye six or seven times on a saloon dart board, he converts everything he touches into a lethal weapon: paper clips, shards of glass, pencils; all of which he utilizes with the precision that gave him his name. His campy, Mad-Max character is a relatively minor one running in the orbit of its titled tragic hero, Daredevil purveyor of almost instant justice in a New York neighborhood, Hell's Kitchen, that thanks to his nocturnal vigils and, more important, his conflicted vigilantism, has recently turned into a gentrified artist colony.

"Daredevil" was not always the masked guardian of the Big Apple. Director Johnson takes care to develop his hero by opening on the man's youth. Matt Murdock (Scott Terra in the role of the youthful hero), DD's alter ego, was blinded in a freak accident at about the age of 12 when dangerous chemicals splashed into his eyes, casting his other four senses into tools far more acute than those of his fellow mortal beings. Having witnessed his father's death at the hands of thugs, he vows vengeance though he states later on that revenge does not bring closure. Taking the advice of his prizefighter dad, Jack Murdock (David Keith) to hit the books and not his neighbors, he emerges a lawyer who swears to defend only the innocent. (His frustrated partner, Franklin Nelson [Jon Favreau] is understandably concerned that this manifesto does not do much for the company's books.) By day, then, Matt uses the law. By night, however, he tosses the Constitution aside to act as a thorn in the side of criminals in the Hell's Kitchen area. When he meets a resistant Elektra (Jennifer Garner), who engages him in combat that could of landed them roles in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the two fall in love--Elektra as much in the dark as Lois Lane about her hero's other self. While Matt now fantasies better ways to spend the wee hours of the morning than in a flotation tank, he and Elektra are targeted for elimination by Bullseye (Colin Farrell), who is in the employ of the 6'7" 450 pound Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan he's the fellow who was fried in "The Green Mile").

Daredevil differs from Spider-Man in at least two ways. For one, he's conflicted about being the champion of Manhattan's few right- wingers, dispensing eye-for-an-eye justice through violence. From time to time he visits a church to confess his sins to Father Everett (Derrick O'Connor) who insists that he disapproves of Matt's activities while on the other hand wishing him luck. For another, unlike Spidy he's deadly serious about his mission, so much so that an example of his wit (when he throws a punk onto the tracks of the 50th Street subway) is, "That light at the end of the tunnel is not heaven. It's the 'C' train."His only weakness (aside from being tone-deaf to clever sayings) is not krypton, but loud noises, which the psychotic Bullseye uses dramatically by knocking on the bells of the church

Action scenes abound, with Daredevil's defying Newton's laws through the use of a rope that swings him from building to building, while from time to time he dispenses with such crutches to cast somersaults as he leaps from tall buildings with a single bound. Ben Affleck does nicely in his Clark Kent guise, impressing juries more than he does the young women and staring into space to delineate his blindness. Affleck is so credible in his daytime role that one cannot be blamed for wishing the sun to descend less rapidly, giving us in the audience breathing time for Matt to pursue the one love of his life, the spunky Elektra.

Happily the open-ended conclusion projects the certainty of sequels, when Kingpin is due to emerge from Rikers--pretty quickly judging by Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki's desire to spend less on the city's jails during these financially troubled times.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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