Daredevil (2003)

6 May

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Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

In the Marvel Comics superhero universe, Daredevil would seem like their answer to DC’s Batman. While the Devil isn’t as wealthy or as smooth as the Dark Knight (and on top of that, he’s blind), he does have a similarly tragic backstory, has impressive stealth and skill (not just for a blind man; for anybody), and is still human when all is said and done. He’s vulnerable and he’s experienced so much, and yet has more to overcome and grow from as well.

Mark Steven Johnson’s film adaptation, “Daredevil,” shows this. It moves back and forth between the human and hero side of Matt Murdock/Daredevil, and manages to give its audience a good sense of his plight. There’s a scene early on in which he walks through his apartment after a night out, and he listens to a voicemail by an old flame that indicates that he is closed off from people and has this new identity that is continuing to haunt him each night.

The film opens with Matt Murdock’s backstory. Matt (played as a teenager by Scott Terra) gets into an unfortunate accident involving toxic chemicals. He loses his vision, but his other four senses have been enhanced in such a way that he develops radar sense that allows him to be more alert. This new sense is now his sight and he uses it to develop new talents that do him well. As his father is killed by one of the local mobsters, Matt ultimately devotes himself to bring criminals to justice, even if it means dressing up in a tight leather suit and a mask as an adult.

Many years later (whatever happened in that time is hardly explained, so I’m not sure how long Matt has been Daredevil), Matt (now played by Ben Affleck) is a lawyer by day and a vigilante by night. He apparently is kept busy defeating evildoers, as most of them work for the Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan), the biggest crime lord in New York. Kingpin wants to see Daredevil caught and killed, and so he sends in his chief minister—a bald Irish villain named Bullseye (Colin Farrell), who “never misses a shot” and has a target tattooed to his forehead.

Meanwhile, Matt starts a relationship with an athletic, tenacious woman named Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), who has enough fight in her system to playfully engage with Matt upon their first encounter. She has been trained by her father (Erick Avari) to “not be a victim,” and it seems her skills may come in handy when she is next on the target list for the Kingpin. Something happens midway through the story that gives her motivation to follow the same mission as Daredevil—to seek justice/vengeance.

“Daredevil” gets a lot of things right. In particular, the origins of Daredevil, which are shown in a 15-minute prologue, is very well-done. The action scenes, for the most part, are exciting, although my favorite is the foreplay fight between Matt and Elektra after they first meet; they show off their skills by trying to knock each other down. The Kingpin is sort of an obvious villain (which he’s supposed to be), and so Bullseye is the more intriguing, creepier badass. The look of Hell’s Kitchen is genuinely dark and disturbing, making it look as peculiar as Gotham City. And there are some genuinely sweet moments between Matt and Elektra in their relationship. In the film’s most touching scene among these two, Matt has Elektra stand in the rain so that the sounds of the raindrops falling on her face can give Matt a clear-enough image of what Elektra looks like. That’s a very good scene. Also, Ben Affleck is quite solid as the hero—nothing great, but still enough for us to root for him. Jennifer Garner is even better as she radiates enough energy and determination as Elektra.

But there are more than a few missteps that keep “Daredevil” from the type of superhero movie that fans can “marvel” at (in a matter of speaking). For one thing, Matt Murdock is not particularly good at hiding the fact that he’s a vigilante, even though he tells criminals in court (in front of everybody) that he “hopes that justice will find you” and this is followed by those same criminals falling in the hands of the mysterious Devil. The idea is that, like most superhero stories, no one is supposed to know about Matt Murdock’s alter-ego, but Matt (or rather, the way Affleck plays it) is not particularly subtle and it just leads to question of how no one can figure him out. This is especially hurtful in that a nosy reporter (Joe Pantoliano) is able to figure it out quite easily. Now, granted, I know that people wouldn’t suspect a blind man that can be the superhero that prowls the city at night. But Matt doesn’t keep his abilities a secret either, so it’s still in question.

Also, I found myself wondering just what are the extents of Daredevil’s abilities anyway? He can apparently jump from building to building. First of all, how is he able to know where to land without the sound to assist him? Second, have his joints been enhanced in such a way that improves his jumping abilities? That’s not as clarified as his other senses.

And then there are the obligatory, “Batman-esque” lines of dialogue such as, “Can one man make a difference?” Instead of giving it the proper motivation it needed for a story such as this, it just feels like uninspired comic-book-speak.

The execution is all over the place as well. The editing feels like overkill, as there are many music-video tricks that are overused; it makes it pretty distracting at times.

Also, I feel like so much was cut out of the final product before the film’s release date, which is why certain sequences feel unevenly paced. It’s 100 minutes in length, and yet it feels like there’s enough room for more development in certain areas. I hear there’s a “director’s cut” on DVD somewhere; I think I might check it out sometime. The truth is, I don’t see this as a bad film. It has enough elements for a good superhero film. But the way it is, “Daredevil” is merely action-packed entertainment with not much else to offer, except for an admittedly-engaging dark tone. Movies based on Marvel superheroes would only get better as years go by, and while “Daredevil” isn’t among the worst, it’s not as impressive it could have been.

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One Response to “Daredevil (2003)”

  1. Nana March 12, 2015 at 3:44 am #

    In the movie he doesnt keeps his skills much of a secret, its not hard to figure out his ‘vision’ is much better than he claims and that he is a skilled fighter. Its suprising Foggy did not figure out who he is.
    In the comics he was much more carefull with his secret identity for a long time. However, Kingpin found out his identity though his messed up ex, the many women he slept with knew his identity and he started to get less careful with his skills so eventually so in the comics his idenity leaked out too.
    What I thought was the most unrealistic thing about the movie is that Daredevil in the comics is not someone who does not like to kill. He would never let a guy lie in front of a train. In the comics, bullseye end up in front of a train in a similar scene, and Daredevil saves him even though he really really hates him.

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