The Marvel Movies: Daredevil (2003)
Mark Steven Johnson’s version of “Daredevil” is half of a really good movie. The action is, for the most part, appropriately brutal, exciting and a touch comic-booky, in a good way. Again, mostly.
The biggest problem is a tonal one. “Daredevil” is a dark, somewhat more realistic Batman-like character. But, made in the shadow of “Spider-Man,” the producers tried to interject a touch too much silliness into “Daredevil,” from some of DD’s moves to a few plot developments.
Then there’s Jennifer Garner.
“Daredevil” is the story of Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck), a well-intentioned blind lawyer in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. His origin is deftly handled — glossed over rather than lingered upon. Suffice it to say an accident involving toxic waste left him blind, but heightened all of his other senses. He can “see” through something approximating sonar and has trained himself to be a formidable fighter and a superhuman acrobat.
By day, Murdock tries to serve justice; by night he doles it out as Daredevil, the red-costumed hero.
But it’s a horrible existence; Murdock is perpetually in pain, suffering nightly for justice, and, as a result of his heightened senses, he has to sleep in a watery isolation chamber to drown out the sounds of the night.
His nemesis is Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan), aka the Kingpin. In the comics, Kingpin is, shall we say, obese and a bit more light-complected; here, he’s a black bodybuilder. Duncan inhabits the character admirably, and he’s a worthy nemesis.
Then there’s Elektra (Garner), the sexy daughter of one of Fisk’s associates (Erick Avari) who wants out. Fisk sets out to grant him his wish by hiring the assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell) to give him his release.
Did I mention Elektra is some sort of great fighter as well? Seems her pops wanted her to be able to defend herself, so she spent her formative years training in martial arts. We know this because she attacks Murdock in a playground after he asks her her name. Sound silly? It is. They proceed to engage in a playground sparring session that lasts about five minutes and is totally ludicrous. Of course, to Elektra, Murdock is just some blind dude who is hitting on her, so why is she trying to beat him down?
Turns out she’s some kind of egomaniac because later she tells Matt all about how beautiful she is, and “I wish you could see me tonight,” ’cause, you know, she’s such hot stuff.
Garner looks the part of Elektra, but her performance is abysmal. Whether she was just off or received poor direction is unclear, but she drags the movie down with her poor acting.
Faring better is Jon Favreau, who plays Murdock’s partner Foggy Nelson. Favreau and Affleck have good buddy chemistry, and of course Favs went on to direct the linchpins to Marvel’s movie future — “Iron Man,” one of the best Marvel adaptations, as well as its excellent sequel. Favreau and Affleck balance out the film’s darker, drearier aspects with levity and humor without descending into silliness.
And the fights … the fights are uniformly outstanding, especially the Daredevil/Bullseye stuff. It’s vicious, unrelenting and even creative at times, as most anything in Bullseye’s hands is a deadly weapon, from shards of glass to paperclips to pencils.
My biggest problem with the action is highlighted in one scene early in the film, where a patrolling DD, leaping across rooftops, does one move where he leaps from a building feet first — his feet flipping over his head in this awkward, physically impossible move. It’s a flip for the sake of doing something that’s never been seen in a movie before, and the reason it’s never been seen is because it looks stupid.
There is a “Director’s Cut” that features an entire subplot added in involving Murdock defending an innocent man (played by the rapper Coolio). I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard the extended version is a better film.
“Daredevil” isn’t a terrible film and actually comes close to producing a tremendous effort save a few really unfortunate choices.
Next time: Bryan Singer perfects the mutant movie!
Previous Marvel Movie Entries
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Conan the Destroyer (1984)
Red Sonja (1985)
Howard the Duck (1986)
The Punisher (1989)
Captain America (1990)
The Fantastic Four (1994)
Blade II (2002)