In the time of comic book franchise films, director Mark Steven Johnson brings a darker hero to the screen in the season’s most anticipated movie Daredevil.
Taking the number one spot at the box office, Daredevil brought in $45 million in its first weekend of release (Feb. 14), according to The Internet Movie Database (imdb.com).
First appearing in 1964 under the name Here Comes…Daredevil, The Man Without Fear!, as reported by Entertainment Weekly, Daredevil was created and originally written by comic book legends Stan Lee, who makes a brief cameo in the film, and Bill Everett. Kevin Smith, fondly known as “Silent Bob” in films such as Clerks and Dogma even took a turn at the pen writing eight issues in the late ’90s.
Blinded as a child by a chemical accident, Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) discovers that his accident not only took his sight, but made his remaining four senses super-sensitive. An acute sense of balance allows him to perform moves that make Mary Lou Retton look like Butterbean, and a radar-like sense of sound lets him almost “see” with his hearing. Otherwise, Daredevil is an average guy, possessing no other super hero staples like super-human strength or lightning speed.
After Murdock’s father was murdered for not throwing a boxing match for his mobster boss, he dedicates his life to prowling the rooftops and alleys and stamping out crime. Murdock becomes a lawyer in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan by day and the “guardian demon” crime fighter Daredevil by night.
Daredevil’s nemesis in the movie is the Kingpin played by Michael Clarke Duncan.
Kingpin enlists the help of hitman Bullseye played by Colin Farrell, who uses anything that he can throw as a deadly weapon. After Daredevil avoids his attempts to kill him, Bullseye takes a special interest in him and offers to kill him for free.
The film takes an interesting twist when Murdock’s love interest Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) becomes fellow comic book hero after Daredevil is blamed for the death of her father and she vows to seek revenge.
Murdock’s law partner is Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (Jon Favreau), also taken from the pages of the comic book. Though Murdock works alongside Nelson every day, he manages to hide all of his bumps and bruises from the night before to protect his secret.
Any comic book, and hence any film about a comic book, of course needs a character that knows the hero’s identity. In this case, New York Post reporter Ben Urich (Joe Pantoliano) fills the part, writing a series of stories on reported sightings of the elusive Daredevil, eventually figuring out Murdock’s secret.
Overall, this is an excellent film. Daredevil’s dark mood and panning views of New York City evoke memories, for those who remember, Tim Burton’s 1989 masterpiece Batman. It’s no wonder, though, considering the similarities between the two characters. Both Bruce Wayne and Matt Murdock followed the typical comic book formula of losing a loved one at a young age and holding a permanent dark anger and fearlessness that fuel their never-ending quest for justice.
Although it’s not the actor that comes to mind when one thinks of super heroes, Ben Affleck brings something similar to his role as Daredevil that Tobey Maguire brought to Spider-Man. He has an innocent, non-threatening look that makes it completely believable no one has figured out his secret. Affleck also brings the appropriate sense of torment and emotional anguish to the role to make the audience feel sympathy.
Garner brings an innocent charm to the movie and a similar sense of torment over her parents’ deaths that lead to her emergence as crime-fighter Elektra. She has a particularly exciting scene in which she trains to take on Daredevil, powered by one of the best songs on the stellar soundtrack. “Bring Me to Life,” by Evanescence, accomplishes a melancholy mix of orchestra and techno.
Affleck and Garner portray a very convincing attraction and even a sex-scene that brings a nice sense of reality to the characters. In one scene, which is extraordinarily touching, Murdock and Natchios are on a rooftop and he asks her to stand in the rain so he can let the sound of the raindrops on her face form an image of what she looks like.
Other notable acting in the movie comes from Duncan and Farrell. As the Kingpin, Duncan’s sheer mass, trademark voice and impeccable mobster wardrobe bring intimidation and do the character justice.
Farrell, emitting his usual charisma with no hair and a bullseye stamped on his forehead, ends up stealing a few scenes. One scene in particular where he and the Kingpin are discussing the issue of Daredevil, and an irritated Farrell says in his Irish accent “I want a bloody costume.”
The special effects, though unrealistic at some points, effectively create a comic book look. Bullseye, Daredevil, and Elektra, none of whom have super-human strength, jump from building to building and bounce off walls like their animated counterparts do on the pages of the comic books.
The final grade: Daredevil colorfully delivers on its adaptation of this tormented hero’s quest for revenge for his father’s death.
Ironically, the somber mood is a welcome change from predecessors’ warm, kid-friendly approaches. Genuinely fun and heart-pounding through the whole ride, Daredevil ranks as my favorite of the recent comic adaptations, including the almighty Spider-Man.