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Daredevil (PG-13)
20th Century Fox
Official Site
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Producers: Arnon Milchan, Gary Foster, Avi Arad
Written by: Mark Steven Johnson; from the comic by Frank Miller
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Joe Pantoliano, Jon Favreau, David Keith, Scott Terra

Rating: out of 5

Daredevil arrives riding on the coattails of the success of Spiderman and X-Men. It attempts to copy their money-making formula. The movie is based on the Daredevil comics, specifically the dark “Daredevil: The Man Without Fear,” penned by Frank Miller. Given such good source material it’s a surprise to have ended up with a second-rate movie.

Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Affleck) grows up in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen with his father, a boxer past his prime. His difficult childhood takes a turn for the unexpected when, in a freak chemical spill, he loses his vision, but all of his other senses are magnified to superhuman levels. Most importantly, he gains a radar-like sense enabling him to “see” enemies. Things get even worse for the young Matt (Terra) when his father is killed by gangsters for refusing to throw a fight. That night he vows revenge on criminals everywhere and Daredevil is born.

Now all grown up, Matt is a lawyer acting as prosecutor by day and the judge and jury by night. Even with this hectic lifestyle Matt still has time to put the moves on the lovely Electra (Garner), a fiercely independent woman with extensive knowledge of the martial arts. Their relationship is destined for some rocky times since Electra’s father is mixed up with the Kingpin (Duncan), master of all crime in the city. The Kingpin calls in Bullseye (Farrell) to assassinate her father and then Electra herself, setting the plot into motion.

Daredevil is a dark movie strongly reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Batman or Alex Proyas The Crow. Often Daredevil perches like an avenging angel on a rooftop surrounded by Gothic architecture, listening to the beat of the city and awaiting an opportunity to dispense justice. In Daredevil’s New York City the streets are always wet because it has just rained and the candlelit church is the only sanctuary from the predators who roam the streets. Criminals operate with impunity, protected by high-priced lawyers bought by the Kingpin. Idealistic lawyers like Matt try to protect the innocent, but are helpless before a corrupt system.

Daredevil is an interesting character. At least he tries legal alternatives before resorting to street justice. Despite his superpowers, he is in mortal danger every time he takes to the streets. Years of vicious street fights have covered his body with scars and he takes painkillers to cope with the constant agony. His legal firm is in some financial trouble since the decent people he represents are also flat broke. He knows that to defeat a devil one must become a devil, but fears that the lust for revenge will totally consume him. Ben Affleck is always wearing sunglasses or the Daredevil mask so it’s difficult for him to emote and the movie must rely on soliloquy for these insights.

The other characters are a bit more one-dimensional. Jennifer Garner’s Electra is so strong-willed that it’s somewhat out of the blue when she falls for Matt so quickly. It’s a charming idea that he would fall for a woman he has never seen, but when they get together it seems more out of necessity for plot advancement than any romantic connection. Colin Farrell’s Bullseye is also more of a plot device than a character. His special power is he never misses with a thrown weapon—except when attempts to hit Daredevil—a setup that rings rather false. This movie will do little to advance Farrell’s image as a sex symbol. He sports a shaved dome with a crosshairs scarred into his forehead and communicates using grunts. On the other hand, Michael Clarke Duncan totally delivers as Kingpin. He literally fills the screen with physical presence and the ground reverberates with his every word. The precious few minutes he is on screen add greatly to this movie.

This is a very ambitious movie, and it makes a few mistakes. Daredevil finds loud noises very painful, but when bad guys start shooting guns—a very loud activity—it bothers him not at all. Also where’s the money for this crime-fighting gear coming from? Not his legal practice. Many of the scenes feel like music videos—no dialogue and blaring music—time that could have been better spent giving us more background on the characters. Matt and Electra’s romance drags on too long, holding up the rest of the story. But the cardinal sin is that the action sequences are of mixed quality. They are poorly edited, being too dark and featuring excessive jump cuts, an annoying trend in movies today. Ben Affleck’s complete lack of kung fu skills may have been part of the problem.

Daredevil has a lot going for it, especially its dark, almost anti-hero protagonist and a noir setting. It tries to have the best elements of Spiderman, X-Men, and Batman, but emerges a pale comparison to all three. Nothing here stands out as truly unique that this production can call its own. Daredevil is unable to transcend its obscure origins and like the comic it is destined for cult status.

—Woodrow Bogucki


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