Daredevil (United States, 2003)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

In the Pantheon of Marvel Comics superheroes, Daredevil is more of a demi-god than a full-blown deity. He's a notch below Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, and The X-Men. 20th Century Fox has acknowledged this when determining Daredevil's release date. This particular superhero is debuting in February, not in the middle of the summer, when competition from The X-Men and The Hulk would greatly diminish his chances of being noticed.

Sometimes, you can tell when parts of a movie have been left on the cutting room floor, and that's the case with Daredevil. The trade-off for a short running length (only 100 minutes) is a herky-jerky narrative that rarely moves smoothly. There are times when important nuggets of information are missing – not because they have been intentionally withheld but because the scene(s) in which they were revealed are not in the final cut. Coherent exposition is not Daredevil's strong suit.

Cinematically, the inspiration for Daredevil is Batman. Hell's Kitchen in The Big Apple is a dark and dreary place, and, although it's not as architecturally bizarre as Gotham City, there are stone gargoyles and harpies everywhere. Few scenes transpire during the day; nearly all of the action is either indoors or at night. And the title character is a vigilante wearing a mask and a tight leather suit who spends his nights up on the city's rooftops stalking the bad guys. Although Daredevil's alter-ego, Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) isn't as rich or suave as Bruce Wayne, he certainly has a way with the ladies.

We see Daredevil's origins via a flashback that absorbs about 15 minutes of the movie's first half-hour. After being blinded in an accident with hazardous chemicals, Matt (played as a boy by Scott Terra) discovers that his other four senses have been exponentially enhanced. In fact, he now has a radar-like sixth sense that allows him to "see." (The first time or two the camera allows us to view things from Matt's perspective are interesting. After that, the approach quickly becomes overused.) Following the death of his father at the hands of a mobster, Matt decides to devote his life to bringing criminals to justice – one way or another.

As an adult, Matt is a lawyer by day, vigilante by night. His nocturnal activities have caused him to be a thorn in the side of New York's biggest crime lord, Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan), who recruits an Irish villain named Bullseye (Colin Farrell) to eliminate Daredevil. Bullseye is a magician with hand-thrown missiles like knives. He never misses – until his first confrontation with Daredevil. Meanwhile, Matt enters into a whirlwind relationship with the dangerous and athletic Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), who also happens to be on Kingpin/Bullseye's target list.

Although Matt generally believes in what he's doing, he has doubts. Consequently, the screenplay has him paying frequent visits to a confessional. He also has lines like, "Can a man make a difference? There are days when I believe that, and others when I don't." Unfortunately, all of this angst seems more like window-dressing than genuine motivation. In fact, one of the problems with Daredevil is that the main character never attains three-dimensionality. Despite various attempts by writer/director Mark Steven Johnson to flesh him out, he remains as flat as an image on a comic book page.

As befits a comic book-turned-motion picture, there are plenty of action scenes featuring moves that defy logic, gravity, and the laws of physics. The best of the fights, however, isn't the duel between Daredevil and Bullseye, nor is it the anticlimactic showdown between our hero and Kingpin. Instead, it's what passes for foreplay between Daredevil and Elektra. Instead of kissing and cuddling like most normal couples, they do their best to knock each other on their butts.

As hard as he tries, Ben Affleck will probably never be better than mediocre as an action hero. Affleck isn't bad as Matt/Daredevil, but he's not good, either. More impressive is Jennifer Garner, who radiates spunk and spirit as Elektra. Michael Clarke Duncan seems to be enjoying himself in the larger-than-life role of the biggest crime boss in the city. And, for a change, the ubiquitous Colin Ferrell gets to play someone who's bad-to-the-bone. The phrase "over the top" doesn't do this performance justice.

Fans of the comic book will probably have some nits to pick, but, overall, Daredevil does about one would expect from a movie of that name – present about 90 minutes of disposable, action-oriented entertainment. It's not as good as either of its recent Marvel cinematic siblings (Spider-Man and X-Men), in large part because the proceedings lose far too much momentum in the last act and the desire to set up a sequel results in things ending with a whimper. It's an adequate superhero yarn, but, hopefully, it's not the best of the burgeoning genre that 2003 has to offer.

Daredevil (United States, 2003)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2003-02-14
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1