In a story that almost religiously follows the conventions of the
genre, the one distinguishing aspect of "Daredevil" is how dark its
tone is. Based on the same-named Marvel comic books, the film is quite
reminiscent of 2002's "Spider-Man," and its inferiority in these similarities
is its most notable downfall. Under the unlikely helm of director
Mark Steven Johnson (1998's "Simon Birch"), however, "Daredevil" does
have a distinct, atmospheric look and just enough gutsy surprises
to make for a worthwhile diversion.
When Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) was still a pre-teen, he was involved
in a freak accident with radioactive waste that made him lose his
eyesight, but radically enhanced his four remaining senses. Now an
adult, Matt is a lawyer by day and, spurred by the unjust murder of
his father (David Keith) years before, a leather-costumed crime-fighter
by night. Known as Daredevil, his mission is to keep his childhood
Hell's Kitchen neighborhood safe and clean.
When the vivacious, strong-willed, "Mexican appetizer"-named Elektra
Natchios (Jennifer Garner) walks into his life, Matt suddenly finds
himself deeply caring about someone for the first time since the death
of his father. And when Elektra's own billionaire dad (Erick Avari)
is targeted by crime boss Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) and psychotic
henchman Bullseye (Colin Farrell), it finally gives Matt a valid reason
to seek vengeance for his father's death that isn't merely self-serving.
For a PG-13-rated comic book adaptation, "Daredevil" stands apart
from the crowd in that its violence is straight-forward, realistic,
and sometimes bloody. Written by director Johnson, the picture has
a twisted gleefulness that surrounds a plot drenched in tragedy and
sadness. Matt does not have regular superpowers (although his ability
to swing around in the sky with his cane and jump across buildings
may hint otherwise), and so he is more apt to get injured and takes
the role of Daredevil based on his need to help a crime-ridden society.
Where the twisted gleefulness comes into play is in the film's most
deliriously enjoyable character, Bullseye. As deliciously played with
a maniacal glint in his eye by Colin Farrell (2003's "The Recruit"),
Bullseye is so sure of his flawless fighting and throwing skills that
when he makes a mistake he gets visibly enraged. And when someone
gets on his nerves--such as a talkative old lady on an airplane--he
doesn't think twice about killing them on the spot. Farrell may only
have about fifteen minutes of screen time, but he is easily the star
of the movie, creating one of the best screen villains in quite some time.
The love story that evolves between Matt and Elektra is meant to be
the heart and soul of "Daredevil," but there is not nearly enough
time developing either their relationship or Elektra herself. An unforeseen
plot development involving Elektra that arises during the climax is
poignant, to be sure, but also decompresses the meaning of her character.
More effective from a dramatic standpoint is the inner turmoil Matt
must grapple with. Afraid to love anyone because the only person he
ever did met a terrible fate, he spends his time fighting the scum
of New York City as a way of coping with his own life.
If the psychology of Matt/Daredevil is fascinating, Ben Affleck's
(2002's "Changing Lanes") portrayal of him leaves something to be
desired. The good-looking Affleck has no trouble filling out his skin-tight
leather costume, but fares less successfully when he is called upon
to emote without the use of his eyes. As Elektra, Jennifer Garner
(2002's "Catch Me If You Can") is also easy on the eyes and has no
shortage of charisma, but her part is not written as fully as it should
have been. Meanwhile, Michael Clarke Duncan (1999's "The Green Mile")
implausibly plays lead villain Kingpin. No fault of his, Duncan is
simply too kind-looking of a man to play a threatening one.
As a precursor to this summer's bigger comic book releases, "The Hulk"
and "X-Men 2," and an introduction to the character, "Daredevil" does
its job efficiently. The stylish cinematography by Ericson Core (2001's
"The Fast and the Furious") and grimly sumptuous production design
by James E. Tocci (1999's "Bicentennial Man") aid in creating a particular
place and mood, while the pacing rarely falters. Still, at 100 minutes,
the movie is too short to develop its characters as well as it should
have. In the end, "Daredevil" stands as an entertaining time, to be
sure, but one that could have meant more.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman