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Daredevil

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 02/14/03 00:26:31

"The Latest Comic Book Run Still Going Strong"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Every genre of films wears out their welcome eventually. One idea is a huge success so a bunch of replicant productions move forward hoping to capitalize on the trend. The comic book heroes have gone through its similar fits and tremors. Two great Superman films paved the 80s way for two mediocre sequels, Supergirl, direct-to-video detestations The Punisher and Captain America, not to mention a Fantastic Four that never saw the light of day. Batman led to Judge Dredd, The Phantom, Barb Wire, Tank Girl and Spawn. X-Men reinvigorated the comics once again and with the earth-shattering success of a certain webslinger, the next recession has yet to begin. More than a few have been waiting for Daredevil to spearhead it, but they’ll have to wait because I’m happy to report that not only is it a great film, but also ranks among the best of all the superhero flicks.

Daredevil doesn’t exactly hold the marquee value of a Hulk or Spider-Man amongst those with only a general knowledge of comic history. My only prior exposure to the character had been a TV movie (The Trial of the Incredible Hulk) with Solid Gold’s Rex Smith in the role. To say that Rex or the film didn’t nearly do the avenger justice is both a pun and the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Ben Affleck makes for a far better Matt Murdock, a man who was blinded as a child but found his other senses heightened beyond imagination. With the reverberation of sound throughout a room (cleverly presented and never getting old), Murdock is allowed the appearance of sight as he dedicates his life to serving justice as he sees fit after witnessing the murder of his father. Lawyer by day. Red-tighted vindicator at night.

With his preoccupation for protecting the innocent, personal relationships outside of his business partner, Foggy Nelson (Jon Favreau) are neither fulfilling nor long-lasting. That’s when the smell of Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) walks into his favorite diner. After some flirtatious chopsocky (on a children’s playground, no less), the two begin a relationship where each has to let their guard down and come to terms that their may be something more than what they’ve solely dedicated their lives too; him, a fighter and her, not a victim. Their love affair is the heart of the story.

If your senses pick up that I haven’t mentioned much of a plot so far, then you would be correct. There are villains and there is action. But this is a character-based tale. There is no artificial plot for world domination. Conflicts and resolutions do factor in, therefore playing out more like an individual comic book than an encapsulation of an entire history; a risky move on the part of the filmmakers. Since its already assumed that a Batman or Spider-Man has a Part Two greenlit during the original production, a B-level like Daredevil is a gamble to rely all on establishment rather than trying to cram home 40 years of comics into two hours. Who exactly is The Man Without Fear now?

Will the Daredevil fans react as strongly to the film as I did? With any comic book adaptation, I always turn to my friend and guru, Erik Laws, who always snaps up the firsthand histories in a flash. The largest exclusion storywise is the background training of both Matt and Elektra (especially hers). No mention of Stick and only a throwaway line to the various masters she was coached under. Other than that, the aficionados will find very little to nitpick at compared to the other revisionist histories of their favorite heroes for sale. Sure, crimeboss Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk is now black, but can you imagine anyone other the sheer bulk of Michael Clarke Duncan to play that character? And, yes, Bullseye didn’t have the tattooed forehead (until now as the comics are playing catchup to the movie) but no one can scoff at Colin Farrell’s beautifully mannered portrait of evil. Anything can be a weapon to this guy, he never misses and he’s not discriminate about his victims. Farrell’s Bullseye is a classic villain.

So many things struck me with pleasure during Daredevil that I was both reminded of my days as a young moviegoer and how the seemingly same old game can still throw surprises at me. Has there ever been a superhero movie that opens with them telling the audience he’s dying? How great is it to actually take the time to show us what happens to a crimefighter at the end of the night. Some may go back to Wayne Manor and watch Leno, but how refreshing is it to see them in agony with scars, a shelf full of pills and a night in the super soaker? Don’t let that “PG-13” rating fool you. This is a brutal film. Exactly the kind of film the rating was invented for. Not overtly bloody to qualify for an “R” but way too intense for a simple “PG”. My eyes widened and my palms applauded the extremes the filmmakers went to.

It’s easy not to expect much from a novice director like Mark Steven Johnson, who was responsible for the lackluster adaptation of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany (Simon Birch) and penned both Grumpy Old Men films, but this is a major step forward. Daredevil is an exciting, passionately executed flick that has the moxie to call out the critics of major action pictures. Dependent on minimal special effects (except for the occasional flying/jumping far variety), the character is the thing here. This is Matt Murdock’s story and it’s only an introduction into what I hope will be a further string of adventures. With more efforts like Daredevil, the superhero franchises may go through its greatest run yet.

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