For the last twenty years, Daredevil
has been one of the most respected titles in comics. Under such writers as Frank Miller, Ann Nocenti, Kevin Smith and Brian Michael Bendis, the character has grown into a huge cult favourite without ever gaining the notoriety of a Batman or a Spider-Man. Flush from the success of X-Men
, Fox has taken a large gamble by turning Daredevil into a high budget motion picture. The director, Mark Steven Johnson, is known more for light comedy than for serious drama or bone crunching violence, and the star, Ben Affleck, is as reviled by fans of film as he is celebrated. What a pleasant surprise then that the movie not only works, but works astonishingly well! Like that friend who loves to shoot pool, has no discernible talent but makes up for it in enthusiasm, Daredevil
overcomes its shortcomings by displaying obvious affection for the source material and adhering to it faithfully.
First of all, I think Johnson should be commended for his script. There are a lot of good ideas in this movie. In some ways he did play it safe by adapting the comic's most famous storyline, but he adds elements to the mix that really enhance the viewer's appreciation for the title character. I will assume most people know the background story by this point, so I'll discuss the aspects of the film that I feel worked the best. I've often wondered how a guy with hypersensitive hearing would be able to function in a big city. I always imagined it would be like living next to a railway track, but on a much larger scale. After awhile, you just wouldn't notice it anymore. However, when we visit Matt Murdock's apartment, we see firsthand the measures he must take in order to achieve a little peace. The place is a veritable fortress, and his 'bed' has to be seen to be believed. As well, we clearly see the physical repercussions of endless evenings spent fighting crime, driven by personal demons to rid his neighbourhood of the criminals he believes took his father from him and condemned him to a life of solitude. His body looks like miles of rough road, and he pops painkillers like candy. These are very smart scenes that clearly show the life of a costumed crime fighter is not a glamorous affair, and they effectively make us wonder what type of man would chose this sort of a life. Johnson's script portrays a man in conflict with his own methods and role in life.
In his review, Billy D. says that Murdock loses his "emotional blindness" throughout the course of the film. This is as good a summation of Murdock's emotional journey as I have yet read. By the end of the film, he has realized that happiness is possible and isolation is not his only option. Likewise, we witness Daredevil grow as a hero throughout the film from the grim vigilante we meet in the beginning. I won't get into the specifics of either 'growth", but they are both a joy to behold. As much as it pains me to admit it, much credit must go to Affleck for skillfully portraying this growth. One look at his face shows us the isolation that a blind man must surely feel. He does resort to some of his smug Affleckisms during the film, and I groaned out loud when he strikes a ninja pose during the corny but fun playground scene (much to the amusement of those around us, I might add). However, for most of the movie he conducts himself admirably and made me believe his assertion that he is a huge fan of the comic.
Jennifer Garner is wonderful as Elektra, the catalyst for Matt's emotional awakening in the film. In many ways she is the antithesis of his character, as we watch her shut off emotionally as he comes alive. I have read complaints that Garner does not play Elektra like the cold-hearted character she is in the comics. This strikes me as somewhat disingenuous, and quite frankly seems to miss the point entirely. Assassins are not born, they're made, and in Daredevil we see the reasons why her destiny takes the turn it does. Garner is radiant in the role, and an excellent casting choice. As Daredevil's arch-nemesis Bullseye, Colin Farrell is maniacal but somewhat diluted from his comic book version. I know it is difficult to flesh out a multitude of characters in a movie that's not even two hours long, but it would have been interesting to find out a little of what makes this guy tick. Yes, he clearly enjoys his work, but we are not given any explanation as to why he is so sadistic or how he is able to do what he does. Likewise, Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin is physically imposing but somewhat of an enigma. The movie lacks the rich comic book characterizations that render the villains as complex as the heroes, but again time constraints are most likely the culprit. As Foggy Nelson, Jon Favreau nails the character's essence. He is around mostly for comic relief but he comes across as a real person and not simply a caricature. He displays real insight into Matt's character and serves to fill in the blanks as to his partner's motivations. The only role that seemed out of place to me was Joe Pantoliano as Ben Urich. This is simply not how I envisioned the character in the comics. Still, he was solid in the film and believable in his support of Daredevil and his quest.
The construction of Daredevil
is certainly adequate at worse and wonderful at best. Johnson directs with the right balance of exposition, quiet character moments and Matrix
-style rooftop action. So what if most of it is implausible and defies the laws of physics? It's damn fun to watch! The film has an appropriately dark and gritty look as would befit the story of a blind superhero. The score is dark and foreboding and the pace, while sluggish at times, picks up at exactly the right moments. The whole movie feels like the work of someone who genuinely cares about the story he's telling, and that's more than good enough for me.
As a pure form of entertainment, Daredevil
succeeds wonderfully. It is never less than entertaining, and at times quite gripping. The playground scene is pure cheese, but the final confrontation between Matt and Elektra is memorable and underscores how high the stakes are at that point in the movie. Although I find it hard to take Affleck seriously as a romantic lead, the chemistry between him and Garner is adequate. The scene where he 'sees' her face in the rain is actually quite beautiful, as is the inevitable love scene between them. The way Matt 'sees' the world is also rendered quite effectively, with his radar sense being an obvious standout. But let's face it, a superhero movie is only as good as its fight scenes, and these are choreographed as well as can be expected for a director's action debut. Daredevil's encounters with both Bullseye and Kingpin are brief but brutal. Some fans may be disappointed with the brevity of the action scenes, but Johnson has opted to focus more upon Matt's moral and emotional growth than upon his throw downs, and I can't in good conscience fault him for that. The film is fun, moving, and visually beautiful to look at, even if it's not the slugfest some fans may have been waiting for.
, Johnson continues Marvel's winning streak with comic book adaptations. This movie was constructed with love and care, and it shows in every frame. It would appear that this is the key to making a successful film in this genre. Hopefully Daredevil will do adequate business at the box office to guarantee a sequel. Now bring on Hulk and X2!