Comic books (or graphic novels) have become the flavor du jour in
Hollywood. Ever since the successcof the Superman and Batman films in the
1980s and 90s, film studios have been scrambling to find another successful
franchise that could be crafted from the source materials. The genre was
almost destroyed by the execrable Batman and Robin, but after the runaway
success of Spider-Man in 2002, comic books were back on the fast track.
Released in 2003 were such titles as The Incredible Hulk, X2: X-Men United,
and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Hitting theaters first, though,
was Daredevil, which almost set the industry back.
The reasons that the Superman, Batman and Spider-Man movies were so
successful were twofold: the characters were among the most popular and
well-known, and the villains were memorable, larger-than-life figures. It's
one of the failings of Daredevil that both the title character and those he's
battling seem dull and cardboard.
Like most young males, I was a comic book aficionado, preferring the
exploits of the better-known characters. I wasn't familiar with Daredevil, so
the idea of a motion picture based on that character left me indifferent, as
did the casting of Ben Affleck in the lead. This actor has proven effective as
a supporting actor or lightweight leading man; as an action hero, he was
somewhat untested. It would either be inspired casting or a terrible mistake.
As it turned out, it was neither. Affleck was adequate in the leading role,
executing the martial arts moves well, but he barely registered in the alter ego
of blind attorney Matt Murdock.
The film, written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, goes to great
pains to fill in the back story of the character. Matthew Murdock is the son of
a former boxing great turned wiseguy. His mother has died and it won't be
long before dad bites the dust. (That's de rigeur in comic books; the hero
almost always has lost his birth parents.) Much of the first half-hour of the
movie is exposition for how Murdock lost his sight and the murder of his
father at the hands of gangsters. The son grows up to be a champion of
justice: by day he's a crusading attorney who will only represent people
he knows are innocent while at night he dons a skintight red costume and
prowls the streets of New York City acting as a vigilante and righting what
he feels are the wrongs of the criminal justice system. He's also out
to take down The Kingpin, the mysterious head of a crime syndicate that
terrorizes the city and not so coincidentally, the group with ties to the
death of Murdock's father.
The Kingpin should be the main villain, a colorful figure. Although
portrayed by the larger-than-life actor Michael Clarke Duncan, the character
comes across less menacingly than intended. As if to compensate for this,
Colin Farrell wildly overacts as the Irish villain Bullseye, a bald man with the
titular figure etched in his forehead. While in the Batman and Superman films
the history of the villains is sketched out, in Daredevil, they are presented
as is, without any real reason for the audience to invest in them. The actors
playing these characters flail and emote and are clearly there to pick up a
The few saving graces in the film are provided by two character actors
and a rising starlet. Joe Pantoliano is almost always fascinating to watch on
screen, whether he's chewing scenery of offering a subtle characterization.
Here he is cast as a dogged reporter for the New York Post (synergy in
action; the Post like the film's releasing company Twentieth Century Fox
are part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire). Although in only a handful of
scenes, Pantoliano creates a memorable, if cliched, character. Adding some
much needed comic relief is Jon Favreau as Murdock's law partner. The
real frisson in the film, however, belongs to Jennifer Garner. Although the
cult star of TV's "Alias", the actress hadn't really registered on the big screen.
All that has changed with her portrayal of Elecktra Nachios, the daughter of
a billionaire who serves as Murdock's love interest and as bane to Daredevil.
Garner commands the screen, whether executing balletic martial arts
movements or subtly seducing Affleck's Murdock. It's unfortunate that the
eventual spin-off feature was worse than Daredevil.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action/violence and some sensuality
Running time: 110 minutes
Viewed at Loews 34th Street
|© 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.