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TSM Movie Review: Daredevil
Posted by Dr. Tom on Feb 15, 2003, 18:56


Starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Colin Farrell
Written and Directed by Mark Steven Johnson
Rated PG-13; 96 minutes

Exploring the darker, grittier elements of superhero life and lore better than any other movie in any other franchise, Daredevil is at once a hard-hitting vigilante epic and a movie without a soul.

Borrowing its mood from Frank Miller’s excellent Daredevil: Born Again series, the film also shows his influence is its plethora of religious imagery. Miller, incidentally, did some uncredited writing work on the movie, and has the typical bit part that people like Stan Lee always get. It was refreshing to see a hero who is more a vigilante obsessed with meting out justice than a merry chap in spandex and leather who takes great care not to maim or cause great harm to his enemies. Daredevil kills people in this movie, and I for one am all for it. He’s also a very human man with a lot of scars, a tendency to be sore and bruised after fights, and an affinity for Percocet. It makes the Hollywood tendency of having heroes defy physics all the more annoying to see every time it happens.

Daredevil is the alter ego of Matt Murdock (Affleck), a lawyer who defends people who would often otherwise find no capable defense. Blinded in a freak accident with hazardous chemicals when he was a boy, Murdock was left with a strange gift: his remaining four senses are superhuman. His hearing is sharp enough to give him a “radar sense,” interpreting sound patterns and impressions to “see” his surroundings. After his father (David Keith) is killed by a crime boss he refused to cooperate with, young Matt sets about training himself to protect the innocent and make sure justice is served.

He meets Elektra Natchios (Garner), a woman with a difficult past who is at least as capable in a fight as Murdock himself. Unfortunately, Elektra’s father is in the organization of Wilson Fisk (Duncan), the Kingpin of crime in New York. Matt and Elektra quickly fall in love, but their relationship is derailed when Elektra’s father is killed by the Kingpin’s assassin, Bullseye (Farrell, wonderfully deranged and over the top). Bullseye manages to make it look like Daredevil killed Natchios (in a scene that’s very well-done), leading to Elektra swearing revenge against the man she thinks murdered her father. It’s up to Daredevil to pick up the pieces of his own life and go after the Kingpin from there.

Since I’m sure he’ll be a polarizing element of this film, allow me to say that Ben Affleck was perfectly adequate as Matt Murdock/Daredevil. I don’t think he plays a particularly convincing blind man (you need a Method actor to really pull that off – videlicet Al Pacino in Scent Of A Woman – while Affleck is a character actor), but he’s also not playing a conventional blind man. I liked him better as Murdock than as Daredevil, but I think he captured the grit and inherent fatalism of both parts of the dual role well.

Michael Clarke Duncan was likewise adequate as the Kingpin. There was little depth to the character, save a completely unwelcome and unfaithful insertion of his role in Daredevil’s origin, but Duncan did well with what he had. Colin Farrell was the movie’s bright point as Bullseye, the man who can make anything into a weapon and never misses. In fact, when Daredevil avoids one of his attacks, Farrell’s confession of the miss makes it sound like his entire ego was invested in his accuracy, and the lone pockmark against it was completely deflating.

Jennifer Garner as Elektra is actually a microcosm for the movie itself. She doesn’t have a huge role, and in fact, it’s easy to say the Elektra character is shortchanged in the transition to the big screen. It’s like the character is being groomed more for the inevitable sequels, and thus could do without a big role in the first movie. Daredevil, in fact, feels like a movie auditioning for a sequel rather than a movie unafraid to stand on its own merits. The fact that the bulk of the movie is actually told as a frame story (a useful literary device that’s rather out of place here) only enhances that perception.

This is a movie, though, that does some little things right. Two of the lesser characters in the movie are the better ones: Murdock’s partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (Jon Favreau, and NY Post investigative reporter Ben Urich (Joe Pantoliano). Nelson and Murdock have some great interactions, particularly in the coffee shop they frequent, and Urich is the obligatory reporter on the trail of our hero. His eventual decision of what to do with what he finds out is perfectly in character for him, and another little thing the movie did well. There are also good moments in some of the fight scenes, and the visual effects of Daredevil’s radar sense are amazing, even though the nitpicker in me has to say that the whole thing seems too much like real sight.

While it had moments of brilliance, Daredevil is ultimately an empty collection of gritty scenes, enjoyable moments, and characters that should have been deeper than they are. While the body is far from bad, the soul just isn’t there, and the result is less satisfying than it could have been. I expect more from the inevitable sequel(s). 6/10

Dr. Tom
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