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Daredevil By Matt Singer
While he might not be a household name, comic book fans know Daredevil as one of the most consistently well-written superhero comics in history. What he lacks in recognition he makes up for in sheer potential; his powers are simple - blind with enhanced senses and a radar ability that allows him to detect everything around him - but fascinating. He can hear your heartbeat and tell if you’re lying or read the words on a paper by feeling the raised ink.
For these reasons, it is not surprising that people like director Mark Steven Johnson and star Ben Affleck are passionate about the character. Their Daredevil pleasantly surprises in some areas and disappoints in others for an experience that generates about as many excited grins as annoyed frowns.
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Only altering the character’s origin slightly from its comic book form (where it was told by Stan Lee and Bill Everett), Matt Murdock is struck by radioactive material, destroying his eyes but giving him hearing, touch, etc. far beyond those of mortal men. His radar sense is one of the film’s neatest tricks, allowing him to “hear” objects all around him, in a weird sort of blue-tinted photo negative glow. Matt’s father is killed and the loss turns him into a vigilante, using his powers at night to keep the streets free of riff raff he can’t send to jail in his day job as a lawyer.
Sitting with partner Foggy Nelson (a hilarious and plump Jon Favreau) at a coffee shop, Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) literally walks into his life and steals his blind heart, and tosses his life into chaos. Her father is affiliated with The Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) and wants out of the crime syndicate business, meaning old ‘Pin has to hire assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell) to kill him. Elektra, conveniently an martial arts expert, wants revenge, and Matt is caught in the middle with his desire for Elektra and his responsibilities as Daredevil.
This material, reconfigured and mixed around, comes entirely from the comics (Mostly by Frank Miller, who has a cameo as one of Bullseye’s victims). Comic fans will recognize the characters, the situations, even some of the visuals which are faithful recreations of the four-color originals. I suspect most Daredevil fans will love the movie for the way it brings their heroes and villains so accurately, and often thrillingly, to the screen.
But for newcomers to this material, the story is not likely to go down as smooth. Fans know the history of Daredevil and Elektra; moviegoers will wonder what they have in common aside from their mutual love of wire-aided kung fu. Fans will love the Clarke’s throaty and imposing performance as Kingpin; moviegoers will wonder exactly what he does for his money and just why he is so dangerous and powerful. Fans will adore Favreau as a better-written Foggy Nelson than the one in the comic books; moviegoers won’t understand where he came from or why he hangs around with Matt Murdock.
The list goes on and on. The performances are excellent, particularly Favreau and a terrifically hammy Farrell, but the script does not give them enough material to flesh out their characters. Foremost amongst Daredevil’s problems are its pacing and length - the movie could use about twenty more minutes, to flesh out and develop the Matt-Elektra relationship and the Kingpin’s activities and personality. I have heard Daredevil originally received an R from the MPAA and has been heavily edited since for its release; a lengthier version on DVD would certainly be an improvement [Johnson hinted at the DVD containing two versions during the film's press conference - Ed.].
Director Johnson (who also wrote the script), has tremendous enthusiasm for the character, but his talents lie in directing actors and dialogue, and not action. Only a fan like Johnson could have included things like Murdock’s multitude of scars, a minor but effective touch that shows how truly human Daredevil is. The uses of the radar sense, like carving Elektra’s rain-splashed face out of the air like a sculpture, are inventive and often beautiful. To be sure, there are a few intensely cool moments - Daredevil, Bullseye, and a whole lot of stained glass makes for one terrific climax - but too many of the early scenes are shot in inky darkness with epileptic flashes of light. The intent is to showcase the hero’s powers and cool moves, but it’s all murky and jerky. Johnson also tends to rely too heavily on a variety of overbearing pop songs instead of a moody score that is featured over the opening credits then virtually forgotten.
If I could have embraced my inner comic geek, something I wound up doing with far greater frequency on the more confident and effective Spider-Man, I probably would have enjoyed Daredevil immensely. But I was frequently pulled out of myself. If Daredevil does well enough to merit a sequel, this cast would be terrific for it. But I would hire a more accomplished screenwriter to craft a more complete story and juicier conflicts. Just as before, the potential is there. After seeing this film, I’m even more confident of that.