Nurse! 50cc's of adrenaline, stat! Pacing problems hinder this disappointing effort.
Daredevil is in some ways the runt of the Marvel litter, rarely being used in the all-encompassing messy crossover stories that are occasionally deemed a good idea. The result of this being that DD is rarely involved in battles against the uber-baddies like Apocalypse and Onslaught, but stays with his own Hell's Kitchen turf protecting the poor and disenfranchised from crime in both his superhero and lawyer existences. Matt Murdock has been The Man Without Fear since 1964, fighting such suspiciously named criminals as Mr. Fear and Stilt-man. Like seemingly every superhero, he's tortured by the death of his father amongst his other hang-ups leading to the kind of broody angst seen in some Batman works. Indeed, it's probably Daredevil that started the swing towards the grittier stories of today.
It may be considered a second-tier franchise, but it's still a successful one, leading to 20th Century Fox bringing you this big screen adaptation. The film starts near the end and tells the story in flashback, which is a cinematic technique I'm growing increasingly bored with. The excuse here is that Murdock(Ben Affleck) is grievously wounded, prompting his life to flash before his eyes. So he relates the story of his youth, and the genesis of his alter ego. As a kid his father, the washed-up boxer Jack "The Devil" Murdock (David Keith) encourages lil' Matt (played by Scott Terra) to hit the books rather than anyone else, and not to follow the path he did. Matt follows his advice, running from any fights coming his way from the local bullies. He is blinded in an accident involving a forklift truck and a surprisingly unguarded stockpile of biological waste, which somehow leads to his other four senses rising to superhuman strength to compensate. He has a terribly acute sense of hearing, to the extent of having a kind of sonar-vision. He becomes more agile, stronger, faster, fitter, better. His father promises to train harder than he has before, while Matt also trains hard in both the book learnin' which later leads to him qualifying as a lawyer and the martial arts fighting skills which lead to him being able to dispense a more terminal kind of justice to those that deserve it.
The happy families act doesn't last too long. Jack refuses to throw a fight for a criminal consortium, and is beaten to death for his insolence. Matt then swears his life to protecting 'the little guy'. We skip to nearer the present time, with Jack and his partner Franklin 'Foggy' Nelson (Jon Favreau) dealing with the case of the rape of a barmaid. The accused manages to get away with it, thanks to the slick defence lawyer Matt suspects Kingpin, the mysterious crime overlord of New York must have paid for. Justice must be upheld, so Matt returns home to get kitted out in his maroon leather outfit and grab his trusty weapon, a multi-function staff / nunchuka / grappling hook / club / teasmaid affair, which is actually fairly impressive in use, probably niftier than Batman's utility belt. He tracks down the criminal, who handily is boasting about how he got away with it, making him upcoming ass-whomping nice and moral. This fight is used to showcase Daredevil's impressive fighting techniques, with lots of lovely acrobatics and wire-work. The choreography for the movie's fights are from Daxing Zhang, who was also responsible for the fight sequences in the little-seen arthouse movie Les Matrix. The action scenes here are directed by Cheung-Yan Yuen, who is involved in the upcoming Matrix sequels. Both have long pedigrees in the Hong Kong chop sockey circuit, and they don't disappoint here. The only complaint is there isn't nearly enough of it.
Basically, DD kicks everyone's ass, avoiding all manner of automatic weapons fire with his advanced senses while his target manages to make a break for the subway. Opinion on how effective a location for an escape this is is divided, as is our criminal once Daredevil throws him onto the train tracks in the path of an oncoming locomotive. This scene provides a welcome change in tempo from the opening story, which drags on somewhat. Unfortunately it doesn't sustain it, dropping to the rather trivial matters of the law firm before introducing Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), daughter of a billionaire and expert in all manner of chop-sockey. Matt puts the moves on her, but fails to even get her name. Matt doesn't give up that easily and stalks her for a while, which is unusual behaviour for a superhero. Elektra is rightfully suspicious of this, and confronts him leading to a fight-cum-mating ritual in a kids playground. No weapons are involved here, and strangely it's one of the more impressive fights because of it. Elektra wins, but is suitably impressed to hang around and chat with him for a while, and the two quickly fall in luuurve, possibly due to the film's proximity to Valentine's Day. As soon as the fighting stops, the film just grinds to a halt. I have no qualms with films that have a slow build-up to action sequences, but in this film there is a brief hint of action, followed by some plotlines that drag the film to standstill, killing off any enthusiasm and excitement the film provides. I can't help but wonder if it would have been better to frontload all the plot exposition and have the second half be action all the way.
Meanwhile, Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan) is upset with Elektra's father (Erick Avari) deciding he wants out of Fisk's crime syndicate. He orders his lackeys to call in the top assassin, Bullseye (Colin Farrell). Farrell and Duncan easily put in the best performances in the movie. Fisk's (who is the Kingpin, if you hadn't already guessed, or seen any promotional material) persona is played to a tee, not going for the all too common "Ha! I shall rule to world for no readily discernible reason!" schemes appearing frequently in this kind of movies. For Kingpin, it's all about the business. He may have ruthless acts committed in his name, but he's never just some random psycho, making him a far more interesting villain. Farrell on the other hand has carte blanche to overact as much as he likes in the role of the Irish uber-hitman. Bullseye in exceptionally accurate with projectiles, and can turn pretty much anything that can be thrown into a deadly weapon. He also has a somewhat short fuse, and certainly doesn't take insults well as proven by his introduction, where he kills a pub landlord with straightened paper clips after beating the landlord in a game of darts. He had it coming, he called him a daft Irishman. That's just rude. He becomes my personal hero on the flight from Britain to New York, killing an overly-chatty pensioner in the seat next to him by pinging a peanut into her throat, causing her to choke to death. Over course, the trolley dollies believe the old dear is sleeping. Old women - know your role. Farrell portrays the rising sense of agitation and exasperation at this old biddy's ranting excellently, managing to convey real hints of insanity without speaking once.
On his arrival, he tracks down his target, but is interrupted from completing the termination from an intervention from the crimson crusader. An explosion throws DD off-balance, as does all loud noises, allowing Bullseye to impale Nikolaos Natchios with Daredevils own trademark club. Elektra sees this and assumes DD did the deed. Again, infuriatingly, after this action scene the film's momentum comes crashing to a halt as we are 'treated' to a long bout of Murdock's introspection about doing the right thing and the consequences of his actions and blah blah blah, while the audience fidgets impatiently. This kind of thing can be though provoking an enhance the film when used at the correct time, but here it just kills the excitement levels, and it happens all the way throughout the film, really hampering the enjoyment.
Once the action restarts, Elektra goes after Daredevil for vengeance. She does quit a good job, stabbing him through the shoulder with her fancy Sai work. She peels his mask off to look into his eyes as she finishes him off, revealing (Gasp!) her lover! Oh, irony of ironies! Oh woe is me! A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! Sorry, got carried away there, but it's about as close to drama as the film gets. The scripting is generally substandard throughout, never having the wit and sparkle that made Spider-man such a hit. She realises it wasn't DD who offed her father, but Bullseye as Daredevil had been saying all along. Speaking of the fellow, he shows up just then, apparently taking out Elektra. And I don't mean to dinner.
As DD drags himself to a church to try and gain some respite (incidentally rejoining the narrative from the start of the movie), Bullseye follows to finish him off. DD makes a superhero style comeback from a wound that was previously crippling him, but I'll let that one slide on account of him being a superhero. DD wins after a battle on top of a huge organ. (Heheheheh.) The kind that plays music, you dirty fool. (Sorry.) Apology accepted. Our hero goes after Kingpin, who really ought to have been built up more as a physical threat. He's a big guy, but the film gives not indication of his strength at all. While comic book fans will know that he may look tubby, but it's in fact all muscle, making him powerful and surprisingly quick, anyone else will have no reason to expect that Kingpin would be able to throw Daredevil about with the ease he displays. Nevertheless, DD incapacitates the big man as the police sirens come into hearing. Kingpin assumes it's to remove DD, a known vigilante from the scene, but Mr. Devil's super hearing assures us it's because they know Kingpin is the crime baron who has been troubling them so. Exactly how they know this is never explained to my recollection, but by this point I'm sure no-one in the audience cares enough to be bothered by the numerous plot holes in the story.
Daredevil isn't an actively offensive movie - there wasn't any points where I really felt I wanted to walk out, but the movie simply doesn't have the electricity of Spider-man or the more bleak gothic stylings of Batman or The Crow, falling halfway between them and failing to combine the best of either style. the action scenes are directly well, but are over too quickly, and Mark Steven Johnson's direction of the remainder of the movie is fairly turgid and uninteresting. The stuntwork is good, the CGI effects reasonable, but (and this is becoming something of a mantra) not as good as Spider-man. The score from Graeme Revell is at best poor, generally worse. Farrell and Duncan play their roles as well as they possibly can, although the script doesn't give them much to play with. The other characters are somewhat lifeless, making it too much effort to invest any emotion in them.
I did glean some enjoyment from the movie, so it can't be all bad, but there was the opportunity for so much more to be done that it's a real shame to see the final product. It contains a few nice ideas, and it's the first time we've really seen a superhero suffer physically as well as mentally, as DD's scarred body shows the toll his extreme crimefighting takes. It good to see he isn't invincible. Affleck is certainly affable as Matt Murdock, but his Daredevil persona seems a little too stiff and uncharismatic. Generally, the actors are underused, the script underwritten and the film underachieves as a result. It's unfortunate that rather than produce something new and innovative the producers decided to go for a shallow re-tread of a previous film I've already mentioned far too often.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.
Jennifer Garner (Elektra Natchios)
Michael Clarke Duncan (The Kingpin/Wilson Fisk)
Colin Farrell (Bullseye)