Daredevil is in the difficult position of being the first comic book movie in a year crowded with them. With the upcoming releases of The Hulk, X-Men 2 and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, as well as the comic-inspired The Matrix sequels, 2003 looks to be the comic book fan’s dream.
Daredevil stars Ben Affleck in a surprisingly non-glamorous role as Matt Murdock, a struggling lawyer by day and a ruthless superhero by night. The film’s first 20 minutes feature Affleck narrating a flashback to his childhood, when he got splattered with toxic chemicals, leaving him blind at age 12.
When he wakes up in a hospital, the young Murdock finds that his other senses have become enhanced, and an excellent sense of sound provides him with a new ability. Sound waves bouncing off of objects create an environment sketch for the blind boy, and through years of experience, Murdock is later able to dodge bullets and move around with precision.
After the flashback, which ends with the boy witnessing (at least through sound) his father’s murder, we cut to present day, inside a church, where Daredevil falls to the ground and lays motionless. The main portion of the film deals with what led to this moment.
Murdock lives in solitude in a desolate apartment, where he sleeps in a coffin-like tube of water, a habit that never gets explained. His days are spent working at a small law firm with his friend, Foggy Nelson (Swingers’ Jon Favreau). Murdock’s insistence that the firm represent poor clients with high morals is reflected in his nighttime activities, which include jumping around building tops and beating up New York’s bad guys.
Murdock’s two lives soon become mixed, when he suspects that a crime boss named Kingpin (The Green Mile’s Michael Clarke Duncan) is responsible for most of the criminals he prosecutes during the day and beats up at night. Murdock’s life becomes even more complicated when Elektra Natchios, played by Jennifer Garner (“Alias”), enters the picture. What follows is a big dramatic mess involving Murdock, Kingpin, Elektra and Kingpin’s main goon, Bullseye (Colin Farrell).
Daredevil is not destined to be the next Spiderman, which shattered box office records and ended up grossing over $800 million worldwide. Spiderman was a light-hearted, bubbly version of a comic book, featuring cartoonish antics and a story line that appealed to nearly everyone.
Daredevil, on the other hand, is a very dark and dramatic film. It doesn’t help that almost all of the movie is set at night, which is when Murdock generally dons the costume. Affleck plays the blind superhero as a quiet and reserved man, something that makes the character less loveable than the Peter Parkers and Clark Kents of the past.
The most entertaining performances come from Favreau and Farrell, as well as a small role from Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix) and a cameo from Kevin Smith (Clerks). Favreau brings laughter to every scene he’s in, a welcome change from the overall tone of the film. Farrell is excellent in his role as the hammy villain Bullseye, and Pantoliano plays an important part as a snooping newspaper reporter.
Despite all of the movie’s flaws, director Mark Steven Johnson (Simon Birch??) handles the action nicely, bringing the scenes to life with innovative camerawork that stands out from the special effect dependency of most comic book films. The fight scenes are slick as well, but anyone expecting a ground breaking adaptation of a lesser known comic book will leave the theater disappointed.
Shawn Wines can reached at ShawnWines@aol.com.