It’s looking to be a good year for fans of comic book films. Upcoming months will see Academy Award nominated director Ang Lee’s take on the four-color retelling of Jekyll and Hyde The Hulk, Bryan Singer’s next installment of the civil-rights parable The X-Men and Sean Connery leading a group of Victorian literature adventurers in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And kicking off the parade of superheroes is Ben Affleck as the blind superhero Daredevil.
Blinded as youth by some biohazardous waste, lawyer Matt Murdock fights for justice in a courtroom by day and as the red leather clad Daredevil by night. Acquiring extra-heightened senses in his accident, Murdock now “sees” with a kind of “radar sense”. He is convinced that there is one person controlling all the crime activity in New York, but can’t seem to find out who it is. Into this already complicated life comes Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), the daughter of one of Kingpin’s associates. When Elektra’s father tries to retire from his life of crime, Kingpin (Michael Clark Duncan) sends for the assassin Bullseye. Daredevil tries to stop Bullseye, but fails, leaving Elektra with the impression that Daredevil was responsible for her father’s death.
The cast does remarkably well with the material they are given. Affleck plays Murdock as man whose affable demeanor hides a burning anger over the murder of his father. Colin Farrell does much with the underwritten role of the assassin Bullseye, giving just the right amount of psychotic desperation as his confidence in his own abilities gets shaken during his final showdown with Daredevil.
If there’s any fault to find in this movie, it lies in the script. The first half of the movie seems oddly paced, with some scenes feeling like shorthand for ideas that should have played over a few scenes. There are themes of love, revenge and redemption running through this story that are almost operatic in power, but the film clocks in barely over 100 minutes. With this past summer’s Spider-Man running a solid two hours, the filmmakers could have opened up the film a little more and allowed these themes to breath more.
What’s maddening about the film is that while it takes its premise seriously and explores some aspects of Matt Murdock’s world intelligently, other things are left untouched. We’re shown Murdock sleeping in a sensory-deprivation tank, presumably because his heightened senses wouldn’t allow him to get a decent night’s sleep with all the distractions. But how are we supposed to believe that Murdock is able to afford being a superhero when he and partner “Foggy” Nelson (Jon Favreau) can’t seem to get their clients to pay their bills. While it probably doesn’t take a Bruce Wayne-sized bankroll to keep things running, secret rooms, spare costumes and funky clubs don’t come cheap.
Comics fans will have fun as several writers and artists who have worked on the comic get name-dropped through the movie. Writer/director Kevin Smith, who wrote a critically well-received story arc for the comic, appears as a morgue attendant. Of course, as the co-creator of many of Marvel Comics’ signature characters, Stan Lee has his customary cameo.
If Daredevil had been released just a few years earlier, it would have been considered a great comic book movie. Recent releases like Spider-Man and Road To Perdition have really raised the bar for adaptations of comics to film. But even now Daredevil is still a pretty good film and given some of the absolute cinematic disasters that comic book fans have had to sit through (I’m looking at you Steel and Batman And Robin) that’s not a bad thing.