Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Mark Steven Johnson

Cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Jon Favreau, Joe Pantoliano, David Keith, Scott Terra

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for action/violence and some sensuality)

Running Time: 1:43

Release Date: 2/14/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Watching Daredevil, I felt as though I was primarily watching the exposition for the next movie. It seems to have no understanding of or concern for its own story arc. Instead, the script by director Mark Steven Johnson and Brian Helgeland advances from one new story within the story to another without ever developing it enough to establish its significance. Thereís a lot going on in the first (and Iím certain not the last) chapter of the tale of the titular superhero, but none of it sticks. Then thereís Daredevil himself, a superhero with neat abilities and a personality that would put Batman in a down mood. In fact, the Batman and Daredevil comparison is pretty relevant. Both are vigilantes (then again, arenít most superheroes really?). Both are driven by the murder of one or more parental figures. Both rely on gadgets. Batman really didnít have superhuman abilities, and Daredevilís abilities benefit from a nice little variation in that they are actually the result of a physical handicap. But still, just about all the other characters in his universeóeven the villainsóare more interesting than he is.

Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) is lawyer by day and vigilant superhero Daredevil by night. The twist is heís also blind. You see, as a child, he lived a single-parent home life in Hellís Kitchen. His father Jack (David Keith) was a washed out prizefighter who ended up taking rough-up jobs from the local crime syndicate. One day, young Matt witnessed his dad doing his work ended up with a barrel of hazardous material in his face. It left him blind but also enhanced his other senses to an exponential level. Fatherófeeling guilty for inadvertently causing his sonís disabilityóand sonódetermined not to let his disadvantage ruin his lifeóbegin to turn their lives around. Dad takes up boxing again, and son training how to best use his newly heightened senses. It canít last, of course, and dad is killed for refusing to throw a fight, causing son to grow up with an intense desire to serve justice (if justice is blind and so is he, thenówell, you know the rest). So when a criminal is acquitted, Daredevil comes in for retribution.

Thatís just the basic setup for the rest of the exposition thatís to follow; after the origin story and setting up of Daredevilís modus operandi, thereís much more to follow. By the time the movie is done, Daredevil will have fallen in love, reevaluated his role as avenger, been accused of a murder he didnít commit, made an enemy of his lover, and defeated some pretty shady characters. That might have been fine, although still pretty plot-heavy, on its own, but the script also presents us with the back story for another character named Elektra (Jennifer Garner), who takes up a vendetta against Daredevil after heís murdered in front of her in Daredevilís presence. Until that point, though, thereís not much to take interest in from Elektra as a character, no matter how physically capable and alluring Jennifer Garner is in the role nor how appropriate the mythological allusion is. Her story and how it affects Daredevilís quest for justice is the eventual focus of the movie, but it takes far too long to get to that point. Once we get there, the screenplay becomes a rush job as everything falls into place for resolution before itís properly established.

And call me old-fashioned, but I think we should actually care about the hero to a certain extent. Daredevil is too bland a character for that. He has the vengeance angle, but thatís nothing new and certainly does not allow for any significant or definite character definition. Itís also difficult to identify with him at first as he unjustly dishes out justice. The way in which his finely tuned senses are realized, with blue tinted visual representation of how heíd "see" things, works to great effect. On a character level, something could have been made of his internal conflict when he begins to ponder whether or not the ends justify the means, but itís glossed over to continue with the story. Ben Affleck could be a superhero, but thereís no way to tell here. His acting choice is to talk seriously in a raspy voice. Whether thatís all heís decided to do or all that the script allows is open for discussion. Instead, the bad guys are having all the fun. Michael Clarke Duncan is the embodiment of The Kingpin, the cityís crime czar. His voice and physical presence are completely in tune with the role. Colin Farrell owns and perfectly hams up the role of Bullseye, an Irish psychopath with a wicked sense of aim.

Daredevil certainly looks good. Itís dark and flashy and looks very much like a comic book. The action scenes are viscerally exciting, although surprisingly violent. Thereís also a welcome sense of humor (Bullseyeís "I want a bloody costume," a cameo appearance by a self-purported comic book junkie, and Daredevilís weakness to noise pollution come to mind). However, none of these things makes up for the fact that itís pretty hollow at its coreóeven for a comic book.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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