Daredevil (2003) — Batman’s roundabout origin story?

“Maybe we could find a client who doesn’t pay us in fish? Or cheese wheels?”

PoolMan’s rating: Whoever created the trailer for this movie should be shot.

PoolMan’s review: I’ve gone off on rants about trailers before, but usually it’s on the grounds that trailers have grown into plot summaries for their movies, giving away too much and showing all the big flash up front. Kind of like a stripper who just walks out naked and says “Tadaaaa.” I have a beef with Daredevil’s trailer, but for the opposite reason. It showed far too little, and not in a good way. It was just the stuff that you knew would be coming anyways without generating any real excitement. It sucked. It made the movie look terrible, and it made Ben Affleck look like a fool for taking the role. I immediately wrote the movie off, sight unseen (no pun intended).

Colour me wrong. Daredevil turned out to be a massive surprise in just about every category.

We follow the story of Matt Murdock, a lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen who was blinded by radioactive waste as a boy, gaining radar-like hearing and heightened touch, taste, and smell in the process. Driven towards a life of protection of the innocent by his relationship with his mob-killed father, he takes to the streets in a quest for justice that can never be achieved, unafraid to kill those he deems guilty of harming the innocent. (run-on sentences goooood) This makes him engage in a never-ending circle of violence and revenge, and the sober taste of Matt’s resulting depression is evident in many scenes thanks to Affleck’s remarkably good performance.

It all adds up to a surprising amount of gravity and realism for a movie about a man in a devil costume. I hate the old “it’s like Film X crossed with Film Y” thing, but try to imagine the style and pace of Spider-Man combined with the mood and darkness of the first Batman movie. DD’s first encounter with a bad guy (a rapist with a criminally funded lawyer who gets off scot-free) leaves the offender going home in multiple body bags. Parents beware: this is not Spider-Man.

Evil takes the form of two men in DD’s New York. The first is the Kingpin, a monstrously huge master of crime, who basically owns the city and every criminal element in it. Played by an ashen-voiced Michael Clarke Duncan (in a role that has been known in the comics for over 30 years as a white guy, but I really like the black version), Kingpin is dangerous and malevolent without going over the top.

Instead, the fits of insanity go to Bullseye, whose power is the gift of perfect throwing aim and the ability to turn just about any handy object into a deadly weapon (I watched the entire audience cringe at what he was able to accomplish with a simple paper clip). Colin Farrell does a great job as the Irish assassin (finally not having to put on an American accent for a role must have been nice), and as one might expect, he gets some of the best lines in the whole movie. He’s crazy, and he’s comfortable with that.

Rounding out the cast (pun not *really* intended, but sorta) is Jennifer Garner as Elektra, the martial arts trained uber-babe who develops a powerful love-hate relationship with the ‘Devil. Hot off the set of TV’s Alias, Garner is another great casting choice, as she pulls off the big moves needed to keep up with the other characters with grace and grit. By the time she gets out the trademark sai swords she’s famous for in the comics, you know she’s just as badass as anybody else, and doesn’t need any protection.

So all this praise, and no complaints? Well, I have a personal peeve, and you’re free to disagree with me: Although I love the fact that the various characters are introduced for a purpose OTHER than being killed, what is up with the ending? It makes a measure of sense if you’re literally a man without fear, but does the final confrontation with Fisk make sense to you? Also, while I’m not an avid fan of the original Daredevil comic books, I’ve heard from a few sources that a lot of the movie really grates against the source material. If you’re new to DD’s world, you’ll probably enjoy it just fine, but the purists be warned.

Daredevil is one helluva movie, it’s that simple. If you’re a Mutant Reviewer reader with a penchant for action, you’re going to love this thing, rest assured. Great superhero fighting, cameos and name dropping all over the place (look mom, it’s Silent Bob! And the answering machine guy from Swingers!), and an edgy attitude that just won’t come out in the wash. Suddenly it’s okay that I used to read all those comic books…

Well, MOSTLY okay.

Justin’s rating: Help! A giant Red Hot escaped the lab!

Justin’s review: Back when I was eleven, I caught a nasty dose of superhero fever and decided one summer day that I, Justin, would join their ranks to become as respected and as mighty as Batman, the Incredible Hulk, and even Aquaman. Since every superhero needs a costume (so they’re easy to identify in police line-ups), I fashioned one out of wearing everything red that I owned, including a scarlet bandana over the bottom half of my face. Flushed with anti-criminal possibilities, I ran over to my friend’s house — wearing my costume, in broad daylight — and rang his doorbell, ready to recruit him into my superhero justice league.

He opened the door, and his jaw went slack, possibly from the tremendous awe he was feeling. “Who…” he started. “What are you supposed to be?”

I summoned up all of the latent heroism in my veins and boomed out, “I… am the CRIMSON CRUSADER!”

He closed the door in my face, and we never spoke about it again. The moral of this painful nostalgia is that while superheroes might be cool in the comic books and movies, in real life they’re goofy as all get out.

Daredevil is as improbable of a superhero as you can get: He’s a lawyer. So what, he saves people from certain doom and then bills them $300 an hour for the service? [pause for weak laughter] And oh yeah, he’s also blind. You’re not laughing now, are you?

Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) really looks like he’s stepped out from the comic book pages, what with the styled hair and the dashing red sunglasses. Murdock fights in court for innocents by day and knocks heads for innocents by night as the Daredevil. While it’s not particularly prudent to make a joke about the reality of a blind person fighting, the comic book comes up with an elegant solution: Daredevil has some sort of supernatural “radar” that allows him to sense everything around him, even sometimes before it happens. The filmmakers come up with a clever way to show this on screen, with dark blue visual sound waves washing over the objects in the area. Although this would suggest that Daredevil’s ability is more sonar-related than radar, and so we have been deeply cheated out of seeing the guy open his mouth to emit a high-pitched “eeee” every few seconds to get intel on his surroundings.

Daredevil is the flip side of the jovial Spider-Man (they both exist in the same Marvel comic book city). Whereas Spider-Man slings his way across the city in broad daylight, harmlessly capturing the bad guys in web nets, Daredevil leaps across Hell’s Kitchen rooftops at night, using brutal vengeance to compensate for failed justice. I was a bit shocked when Daredevil first kills a lowlife — most superheroes have some sort of incapability to kill unless their back is turned and the bad guy is about ready to shoot his gun — but it made for a more interesting character. Like the 1989 Batman, Daredevil is conflicted using his dark side as a violent means to justify the crime-free ends. And just like many superheroes, he feels an intense loneliness which is aptly summed up with the sensory deprivation tank in which he sleeps (this blocks out all of the city noises).

Daredevil is a fairly cool guy who has plenty of computer-aided acrobatic effects to juice up his action sequences, but what really made this film worth it were the surrounding characters. In particular, Bullseye (Colin Farrell), who takes the bit part of a second-string villain and chews it up magnificently. Growling and glaring about with certified Psycho Eyes, Bullseye gets some of the film’s best moments by being a gleeful madman with deadly aim; at one point, we get to learn just how dangerous paperclips can really be. It’s an educational film! So the next time you see a child whipping a pencil at upwards of 75 mph at the family cat and they claim they’re just trying to develop their assassination skills like Bullseye, smile warmly and pat them on the back. Then call Animal Control.

While the action sequences were plenty, loud and energetic — particularly a cheeky fight in a kid’s playground between Matt and Elektra (Jennifer Garner) — it sacrificed some much-desired character development in the process. There’s only so much we can gather from gloomy Matt’s scowl, since he never really opens up to anyone in the film. What keeps a blind crimefighter sane in a violent society? I’m guessing Ho-Hos, but it could also be Twinkies.

Daredevil has the same mindless entertainment factor as many huge-budget summer flicks, and even rises to a few minutes of true inspiration. So if you’re contemplating sewing together your very own superhero costume and spending hours practicing how to leap from rooftop to rooftop without getting a broken spine, you might want to consider living vicariously through this flick and enjoy the full benefits of walking around like a normal person.

Kyle’s rating: If I were dumber and less of a comic geek, I might have dug this

Kyle’s review: I’ve been a comic book fan for a very long time, and as long as I can remember I have never liked the character of Daredevil. He was always so righteous yet conflicted, and it seemed like he was the hero around to always talk guys like Spider-Man and the Punisher out of doing things they knew were wrong and would regret doing (usually killing some bad guy).

Daredevil had some cool moments and I liked his costume and his radar sense, but I never bought him as a superhero. Plus, the guy broke down emotionally and psychologically so many times, I thought his tagline should be “The Man Without Fear But With A Ton of Psychiatry Bills.” Seriously!

So I wasn’t too psyched about a film adaptation of Daredevil to begin with, and when they cast strange-skulled Ben Affleck and the rest of the (to me) questionable actors and actresses in this film, I figured I could wait to rent it. But enough people liked it that I felt like seeing it on the big screen, and I guess I’m glad I did, if only so that when it’s released on DVD I’ll know not to buy it.

It’s kinda bad, but remember I’m a comic nut. But hey, that’s no excuse! They could have done a much better job, believe you me. Elements of Daredevil are quite cool, and actually Affleck did a pretty good job as the titular hero. But then, Matt Murdock/Daredevil is a boring blind dude, so Affleck just needed a pair of movie contacts and he was set. He showed how much inner conflict Daredevil has, and that’s good, but I was kind of annoyed that they made him so affected by various noises that I didn’t know if he was a superhero or a crack addict. It’s just a radar sense, people! We’re living in a noisy society: deal with it!

Actually, I hope it’s coming across that I’m pretty conflicted about the whole thing as well. I want all comic book movies to be successful, despite the damage to my soul that was wrought by intentionally viewing earlier Marvel films like Captain America and The Punisher. But they could have hit Daredevil out of the park if they had made the action scenes a little less murky and the characters dancing around high places look a little less CGI. Just have them stumble a bit, that’s all I’m asking!

There is entertainment to be found here, especially if you’re only slightly familiar with Marvel comic book lore. But if you’re like me and you’ve been reading about Daredevil and his often annoying responses to his adventures for the last 20 years, chances are you’ll be a little disappointed with his big screen incarnation. At least the Affleck Daredevil isn’t afraid to let heights and the C train dispense a little justice while he stands idly by, but those are just moments in-between brain-numbing plot building scenes. Argh!

Didja notice?

  • Jeez, how many times does Daredevil get unmasked in this flick?
  • Stan “The Man” Lee keeps his Marvel-movie cameo stint alive! Look for him as the old man Matt keeps from stepping off the curb with his cane.
  • The movie’s just dripping with famous Marvel names, including John Romita (the boxer who fights Jack Murdock), Jack Kirby (the lab technician), and Frank Miller.
  • Best credit ever: “Man With Pen in Head”
  • That’s what I call a water bed!
  • If I had a ‘Delete’ key like that on my keyboard, the first thing I’d do is tear it out with a screwdriver for fear of one day accidentally pressing it!
  • I love the look on Bullseye’s face when the woman on the plane won’t… stop… talking…
  • So THAT’S what a cooked optic nerve looks like!
  • The braille opening credits
  • PoeBoy writes in: “The rapist that DD kills is named Jose Quesada. He’s named after Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada. There’s also a bunch of Marvel employees named when Jack Murdock’s boss is telling him about the boxers he owns ‘…Bendis, they’re all mine.'”

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