Daredevil offers the audience a light romp in the comic book world that takes odd stylistic turns into the dark and then the campy. Granted it doesn't help that Ben Affleck is Matt Murdoch, but he does surprisingly well in an origin comic book movie. Daredevil has the unfortunate circumstance in debuting among more happy-go-lucky counterparts making it a deceptively depressing tale for the blossoming comic book film genre.
Daredevil has always had a unique feature to the storyline in that he's a hero with no moral objections to killing those on the wrong side of the law. The beginning of the film rendition shows his day-time job as a public attorney and his night-time job as the vigilante who persecutes any guilty man who escapes the grasp of the long arm of the law. His first victim meets a decidedly gruesome fate that may turn off the audience. It's not every day that a hero kills his villainous prey. In fact, it's unheard of.
Superman: all the villains live. He doesn't believe in killing. Boo-hoo.
Batman: okay so the Joker meets a decidedly gruesome end, but such is the unique nature of the Batman comic's psyche.
X-men: Until the third film you better believe every villain got away clean or were thrown out of the picture and never heard from again.
The Fantastic 4: Dr. Doom is turned into a statue...this does not equal death...not in comic book land.
Okay, so there ARE some films where the villains are given brutal ends, but unlike Daredevil, they meet their end through a clumsy failing of their own habit. In Daredevil, he throws his first villain onto the train track and watches him die. But in contrast with the life of every man Matt Murdoch, this life of superhero brutality gives the film a very strange twist.
So the back up story: Matt Murdoch is blinded by chemicals as an adolescent and as a result, his remaining senses are heightened to a superhero-esque degree. Matt, though blind, can now see through a sonar system that allows him to see whenever a sound wave crashes against an object. While a certain suspension of disbelief is required (as in all Superhero flicks) the special effects developed for the sonar sequences are proportionally disorienting for the viewers as well giving them an adequate sense of how Mr. Murdoch will live the rest of his life.
Murdoch's life as a lawyer in Hell's Kitchen remains normal until his encounter with the stunning Elektra Nachios (Jennifer Garner). As Jon Favreau says...is that some sort of Mexican appetizer? The name is absolutely silly, but she is gorgeous, by all accounts. Sadly, Elektra's father works for New Yorks crimelord, the Kingpin. When Mr. Nachios attempts to leave the life of crime, he's brutally murdered by the Kingpin's assassin, Bullseye (Colin Farrell). Okay, so the big bullseye imprinted in Colin's forehead is a ridiculous site to see, but a few of the throwing sequences show a fantastic grasp of how a comic book panel works.
Matt's ability to balance a love life, professional life, and Superhero life comes to a crashing halt when the device used to kill Mr. Nachios is none other than Daredevil's baton filched by Bullseye. Can Daredevil escape the wrath of the expertly trained Elektra in time to kill of Bullseye, who's murderous eye has now turned upon the daughter?
The film does a beautiful job of showing the darker side of one of Marvel's most beloved heroes, and yet the dark seedy side of the film is cancelled out by the sequences of camp that are shoved in between. If the film had stuck to the darker side, it could have rivaled DC's Batman Begins. But alas, in hiring Farrell and relying on shtick to keep the movie family-friendly, Daredevil loses a crucial portion of its grown up appeal.
Luckily for Daredevil, Ben Affleck doesn't totally blow the film. As Ben is an avid fan of the Superhero, I was glad to see him give the role a serious glance - even if the silliness makes it look overacted at times. Jennifer Garner's Elektra, as I've mentioned, is strikingly beautiful. She does the character a modest amount of justice in the acting department, though I feel the true injustice done to the character comes from stale dialogue and underdevelopment. Elektra is asked to overlook a few key plot points in order to amp up the film's campier dramatic twists.
Michael Clarke Duncan is as loveable as ever. Unfortunately he's playing a role where he should have played a merciless mob boss. The end of the film captures it better, but the end isn't enough to cancel out the fact that his time on screen is spent with a rather jovial but serious disposition. A darker portrayal of the character would have been a nice offset to a darkly portrayed Daredevil.
Jon Favreau and Colin Farrell are thrown in purely for comedic relief. Favreau has some of the film's funniest bits when he discusses the age-old myth of alligators in the sewer or pulls pranks on the blind Matt Murdoch. The more I think about it, putting mustard in someone's coffee is just mean-spirited (though funny). Farrell, is the greatest disappointment. Why Farrell? I know you wanted starpower, but I hope you've learned that star power does not mean blockbuster. Next time sub out the star for a more understated actor and you may find your movie pleasantly more serious.
I can't end this without talking about Joe Pantoliano and his corny but great role as the reporter who realizes Daredevil's alternate identity. He does superbly.
While campy and ridiculous in some places, Daredevil shows great promise in it's darker scenes and gives us a final fight scene worth re-watching for its visual realization.
"Daredevil" opens February 9, 2003 and is rated PG13. Action. Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Starring Ben Affleck, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Garner, Joe Pantoliano, Jon Favreau, Michael Clarke Duncan.