The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
This 'Daredevil'
has the look,
but lacks a soul

February 20, 2003
By Franklin Harris

I'm still not sure what I think of "Daredevil," which is a good sign of how uneven a movie it is.

The easiest way to think about it is to rank it against other superhero movies. It's nowhere near as good as "Spider-Man," "X-Men" or "Superman: The Movie," but nor is it anywhere near as bad as the last two "Batman" movies.

Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) is a New York City attorney who, although blind since childhood, leads a double life as a costumed crimefighter known as Daredevil. By day he protects the innocent, and by night he punishes the guilty. (When we first see him in court, Murdock is prosecuting a rape case even though he is a defense attorney. I bet the American Bar Association has some questions about that.)

Murdock lost his sight after being exposed to radioactive waste, and as everyone who reads comic books knows, a run-in with anything radioactive (cosmic rays, gamma bombs, spiders, etc.) is guaranteed to give you super powers. So, while he can't see, Mudock's other senses are superhumanly acute. His hearing is so sensitive that it acts as a kind of sonar.

Murdock's old man (David Keith) was a washed-up prizefighter, killed by the mob after refusing to take a dive.

Now Daredevil takes out his frustrations on anyone he believes has eluded justice.

Everything is proceeding as normally as possible for a costumed vigilante when a woman enters the picture — Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner). For Matt, it's love at first sight (insert groan here). But unknown to him, Elektra's father, Nikolaos, is in business with Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan), otherwise known as the Kingpin, New York City's crime boss.

When Nikolaos tells the Kingpin that he wants out, the Kingpin calls in an assassin named Bullseye (Colin Farrell) to tie up loose ends.

Finally, all three main players, Daredevil, Bullseye and Elektra, are in place for their big martial-arts showdown. But by now the movie is two-thirds over.

Unlike "Superman: The Movie" or "Spider-Man," "Daredevil" isn't really an origin story. But for a film that isn't about how its protagonist came to be, it takes too long to get to the plot, and everything afterward seems rushed.

Supposedly, a lot of the character development didn't make the final cut. If so, it shows.

The superheroics, when they finally begin, are poorly edited and marred by unnecessary CGI effects. The best fight sequence is Murdock and Elektra's "courtship," which has the two fighting each other, out of costume, in a small park full of playground equipment. (This entire scene is taken from a recent "Daredevil" comic book.)

Speaking of costumes, I cannot imagine a spandex costume, faithful to the one Daredevil wears in the comics, being any more laughable than the leather outfit Affleck wears in the film.

Still, there are effective moments, such as when the young Matt awakes in the hospital after his accident, blind but aware of every maddening sound for miles. And comic-book fans will appreciate the cameos by "Daredevil" writers Stan Lee, Frank Miller and Kevin Smith and the fact that every incidental character in the film is named after a former or current "Daredevil" artist or writer.

The film's strongest asset is its supporting cast. It's always fun to watch a supervillain ham it up, and Farrell's Bullseye can do it with the best of them, as can Duncan's smooth, businesslike Kingpin.

Garner, meanwhile, is serviceable in her severely underwritten role. She's just there to give Daredevil his motivation.

But the movie sinks or swims with Affleck, and while Affleck looks the part of Matt Murdock, he never really becomes Matt Murdock.

That may be the best way to think of the movie. It looks like "Daredevil," but it isn't. Somewhere in the transition from comic book to film, the Devil lost his soul.

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