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Daredevil
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2003

Format: Movie
By:   Mark Steven Johnson (director)
Genre:   Superhero
Released:   2003
Review Date:   February 15, 2003
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   5/10 (What Is This?)

During my early comic book reading, I loved Daredevil because of the billy club and the blindness and the radar sense. But my favorite thing about Daredevil was that he was the one hero who always got the hell beaten out of him, but won out in the end anyhow. He didn't have super-strength like Spider-Man, just the agility and the other four senses. Even his fellow human-strengthed heroes, like Batman and Captain America, didn't go out like punks all the time like DD.

The first Daredevil story I read was a reprint where Sub-Mariner kicked the crap out of DD. Then when Frank Miller started his classic run, the Hulk beat the piss out of Daredevil, and it was in Miller's gritty, realistic art style. So you really saw the ribs crack and the blood spurt.

In the next issue, Thor and the Avengers stand around his hospital bed. "Oh, NOW you show up," Daredevil should have said.

This movie echoes Frank Miller's classic run on the comic that set a tone and style for the previously generic-superhero character.

As soon as the red horn-headed suit appeared in the movie, I went "Wheeee!" and I am not ashamed. It's the vibe that every loyal comic book fan should get when they see a comic book hero in live action for the first time: "There's Daredevil, walking and talking!" I'm totally OK with getting that sensation in as many movies as possible.

But you might want to take my enthusiasm for comic adaptations with a grain of salt, since I saw Howard the Duck on its opening weekend.

Director Mark Steven Johnson and star Ben Affleck are longtime Daredevil fans, according to interviews. The affection shows in the appearance of every major character from the DD canon, and the lifting of pretty much the entire DD history to the screen. There are several duplications of scenes from the comics. The personalities of the characters are note-for-note except for Elektra, but I'll get to her.

The visual style of the movie is cop-movie dark, and is filmed like the nighttime scene in "Spider-Man," where Spidey saves Mary Jane (except not as nipply). Unfortunately, a lot of the action also takes place in the dark. It's not that the fight scenes are bad. It's that you can't really see them. There is a good bit of wire work and some CGI, but I bought it. It's not Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it shouldn't be. Daredevil doesn't do ballet, he fights.

The movie sets Daredevil as a tormented, bleak hero. Some of his strongest comics story arcs played him that way, and it was jarring to see him already near rock bottom as the movie starts. It works, setting him apart from the exuberance of Spider-Man.

It's interesting and unexpected when the story deals with the problems that might be inherent with super-heightened senses. In the comics, DD's so super-capable that he can tune out the extra noises. Here, he's constantly, painfully bombarded.

There are a few other new things that work here. His radar sense is described more pseudo-scientifically than I think it's ever been in the comics. The movie's plot bounces off it well (pardon the pun).

I liked Ben Affleck in this. There, I said it. He seemed to be trying the hardest to wring a good performance out of himself, maybe out of love for the character. Affleck is only really good in Kevin Smith movies. That's because in those, he seems to really believe in and enjoy what he's doing. I'm happy that he's making Hollywood money, but only comic-book geek movies make him perform well.

The movie keys in on the emotional high-spots of each character. I liked the Matt Murdock / Elektra relationship. It's Matt as rising sinner, Elektra as falling saint, which is the opposite of the comics. where Matt was the saint and Elektra was the red ninja do-ragged sinner.

The movie could have been longer. I felt like there were some left-out details. At least on first viewing, they seemed left out. This may be my fault. I knew the backstory and motivations of the characters going in, and I may not have been paying enough attention in the part where they explained them. Or, as I said, maybe they didn't.

It seemed in places that the characters acted like they do in the comics, without any explanation in live action why they should.

Matt Murdock's law partner Franklin Nelson (played funnily by Jon Favreau as comic relief), is here, but a half-hour passes before I heard his name said. I knew who he was, but what about everyone else?

Michael Clarke Duncan is great, bombastic and imposing, as the Kingpin. Bullseye is fun, too, as he carries on the Nicholson tradition of scenery-chewing super-villains. But except for Duncan being larger than the other actors, it's never established that he's supposed to be a physical threat to DD, until the big fight scene). There's something about the resolution to the Kingpin's part of the story, too, that makes me feel like I missed a part.

Jennifer Garner's Elektra is the least like her comic character. She's not an assassin with a heroic streak, or even an experienced kung-fu chick. She's just a girl who's really good when playfully sparring with Matt Murdock. The Elektra / Bullseye clash is mythical in the comics. In the movie, it's about 30 seconds.

Speaking of Elektra: Good movie soundtrack. The songs fit the characters better than the bland crap-metal of Spider-Man. I particularly like Evanescence's "Bring Me To Life.")

A ton of time is spent on DD's origin. DD's origin is important, and they could not have done the movie without it, but it slows down the whole thing. It shows little Matt becoming blind, then working on his abilities. When you finally see Daredevil in costumed action, the effect is less dramatic because we saw a gawky 12-year-old do the moves first.

I liked the movie. I wasn't dissatisfied while walking out of the theater, despite a few distracting things. The fun-ness and the lameness balanced each other. That'll have to do, I guess.


RevolutionSF news editor Joe Crowe has a highly-developed sense of embarrassment.

 
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