sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes)February 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Blind Justice comes to the screen on Valentines day.

Daredevil (Fox)
Premier: February, 14, 2003
Review by
by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Offical Website: http://www.daredevilmovie.com/  
IMDB entry: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0287978   

It turns out that Daredevil shouldn't be worried about a few superthugs running around Hell's Kitchen, he's got a bigger problem: Keith R.A. DeCandido knows too much. We sent Keith to the screening of the newest Marvel Superhero flick...and he came back ready to tell us at length why it's not going to be another Spider-man. He does say some nice things about it...but you've got to use your supersenses to find them. - ed.

Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson Writing credits: Bill Everett (II) (characters) Mark Steven Johnson (screenplay)
Cast: Ben Affleck .... Matt Murdock/Daredevil / Jennifer Garner .... Elektra Natchios / Michael Clarke Duncan .... Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin / Colin Farrell (I) .... Bullseye / Jon Favreau .... Franklin 'Foggy' Nelson / Joe Pantoliano .... Ben Urich / David Keith .... Jack Murdock / Scott Terra .... Young Matt Murdock / Erick Avari .... Ambassador Nikolaos Natchios / Coolio .... Daunte Jackson / Ellen Pompeo .... Karen Page / Kevin Smith .... Jack Kirby (Lab Assistant) / Frankie J. Allison .... Abusive Father

For many years, Daredevil has come across as a weak version of Spider-Man—yet another red-clad acrobatic superhero fighting crime in New York City. Even at the height of the character's popularity, DD was always second banana to the web-head. Attempts made between the publication of Daredevil #1 in 1964 and the early 1980s to make the book stand out and be different—including adding the super-spy the Black Widow to the mix—all failed. Indeed, the comic book was on the verge of cancellation when a hotshot young artist named Frank Miller came on to draw Roger MacKenzie's stories. When MacKenzie left, Miller was given the opportunity to write the book. The editors figured that they had nothing to lose.

Miller revitalized the book, turning the focus away from costumed super-villains and in the direction of urban street crime. A minor, little-used Spider-Man villain, the Kingpin of Crime, was brought over and reinterpreted as more of a real-world mob boss than the über-criminal he'd been in Spidey's book.

In the twenty years since then, DD has thrived mainly by focusing on its grittier atmosphere, a more ground-level approach than the standard superhero comic book.

Still, the character remains in Spider-Man's shadow in the eyes of many, and that sadly has translated to the big-screen. For where Spider-Man's live-action film debut was the best adventure movie of 2002, and one of the best screen interpretations of a comic book ever done, the new Daredevil release is a shallow also-ran, a misbegotten interpretation of the comic book that fails in every way that Spider-Man succeeded. Indeed, the February release of the movie is telling, as movie studios rarely release movies they're confident in at this time of year. Spider-Man and X-Men went up against the summer's heavy hitters and hit grand slams of their own. X2 and The Hulk will be doing the same this year. Daredevil's competition comes from the likes of Final Destination 2, Kangaroo Jack, and Darkness Falls, and is at about that level.

The trappings are all there for a good Daredevil film. They incorporated the character's two most popular villains in the Kingpin and super-assassin Bullseye, as well as DD's Frank Miller-created love interest Elektra, a character so popular that she was brought back from the dead in an improbable pseudomystical display (the first true creative misstep of Miller's first run on the comic in this reviewer's opinion). Most of the casting was spot-on, from the inspired choices of Michael Clarke Duncan and Colin Farrell as the two villains, to the surprisingly ept Jennifer Garner as Elektra, to David Keith as Matt Murdock's middle-aged, washed-up boxer father, to Jon Favreau as Matt's nebbishy law partner Franklin "Foggy" Nelson, to the always-excellent Joe Pantoliano as reporter Ben Urich (moved from the comic's Daily Bugle to the real-world New York Post, probably due to rights issues connected with Spider-Man), to Robert Iler (Anthony Soprano Jr. on The Sopranos) as a young bully, to Paul Ben-Victor as a rapist named Quesada. (The latter is named after Joe Quesada, a former penciller of the Daredevil comic, and Marvel's current editor-in-chief. It's one of many comic book in-jokes, as dozens of characters are named after past creators of the comic book: Miller, Bendis, Mack, Romita, Colan, etc. Two Daredevil comic book writers—the character's first writer and co-creator, and the film's co-executive producer, Stan Lee; and filmmaker/actor Kevin Smith, who had an eight-issue run on the comic—make cameo appearances, as well.)

Trappings aren't anywhere near enough, though. For one thing, there's a name conspicuously absent from that "well-cast" list above, and that's Ben Affleck in the dual role of Daredevil and his civilian identity of lawyer Matt Murdock. It is my firm belief that Affleck can only act when he's standing next to Matt Damon, and while that's not 100% true, the rule certainly applies here. Affleck sleepwalks through his performance, counting on his jaw to do his acting for him. Every once in a while, when he's allowed to be a smartass (Affleck's best mode), he's entertaining. His finest moment is when Elektra tries and fails to sneak up on him. She asks how he knew she wasn't a mugger. "Muggers don't usually wear rose oil and high heels—at least, not this far from Chelsea." It stands out because it's one of the few natural moments Affleck has. Mostly he's a brooding, semi-tortured soul, except that requires a gravitas Affleck has never had (even when he is standing next to Damon), and he comes across as phony as a three-dollar bill.

The biggest problem is that Affleck is trying to be a square-jawed hero. That only works if you are a hero.

All too often, filmmakers will, when reinterpreting something for another medium, go too far in the reinterpretation. Mark Steven Johnson, the screenwriter and director, does so here.

If anyone tells you this is a superhero movie, they are lying through their teeth. "Superhero" has the word "hero" in it, and Johnson's version of Daredevil is no hero.

Are you a glutton for punishment? Don't mind a few spoilers?
Want more of Keith's DD review? Then Click Here

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