Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Jon Favreau, Joe Pantoliano
Rated: PG-13 for action/violence and some sensuality
Parental Notes: This is a typical dark-comic-book movie, with a hefty dollop of bone-crunching sound effects and over-the-top violence. Teenagers with a taste for comics will probably adore it, but it might be too intense for preteens and younger children.
There are more and more comic book adaptations coming out these days, from last year’s “Spiderman” to the upcoming “Hulk” and “X-Men 2.” While some take their subjects and create thoroughly escapist, brightly-lit and flashily-colored films, others give their viewers gritty, dark, and often morally-problematic tales. “Daredevil” falls into the latter category, with a more grim take on the life of a superhero.
Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) was blinded as a child in an accident involving toxic waste. However, the chemicals that took his sight increased his other senses immensely, giving him hearing so precise that it acts like sonar and senses of smell and touch to match. Murdock’s father, a prizefighter nicknamed “The Devil,” encouraged his son to succeed academically until he was murdered for refusing to knuckle under to a local crime lord.
As the film begins, Murdock is a do-good lawyer by day and a vigilante by night, carrying out his own brand of justice when the courts fail to live up to his standards. In a costume inspired by his father’s nickname and using weapons based around the cane he carries, Murdock is Daredevil, the Man Without Fear.
“Daredevil” is in a similar vein to the “Batman” films; there’s a bit of escapist entertainment, but a very dark vein runs through the film. Murdock finds himself having to question the justice of his actions, and there are no easy answers provided for him. Daredevil kills people for what he feels are the right reasons, but as a priest who knows his secret warns him, violence only leads to more violence. For Daredevil, it leads to personal tragedy at the expense of Elektra, the woman he loves.
Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) is the daughter of a wealthy businessman. She has been thoroughly trained in the martial arts and is extremely assertive, although not at the expense of her charming personality. She and Murdock are equals, which is refreshing both for him and for the audience. It’s a pleasure to see a strong female character on the side of good. But soon a tragic misunderstanding causes Elektra to become Daredevil’s mortal enemy, and things spiral downward into violence and revenge.
The fight sequences are a comic book dream, with people running up walls and plenty of sound effects far more drastic than what is actually shown on screen. Generally when a punch to the face gives a sound like crushed plastic, one expects to see broken bones rather than the victim shake it off and keep going. Even so, there is plenty of pain in this film, both physical and emotional.
Unfortunately, “Daredevil” at times feels as though its characters are acting according to what is necessary for the plot rather than their own inclinations, and the plot is aimed at making our hero as miserable as possible. The level of angst in “Daredevil” will doubtless strike a chord with younger viewers, but those without a taste for plots engineered to cause the hero pain may find it tiresome.
Another area in which “Daredevil” fails is in creating a world into which the viewers can escape. It is set in our modern New York City, but does not give the audience much of a feel for the place. Further, while the fight sequences and the romantic subplot feel as though they are meant to be escapist, the moral thread of the film and the tentative exploration of what it means to be a vigilante keeps it from being a truly escapist film.
“Daredevil” could have been either a summer blockbuster along the lines of “Spiderman” or a dark and brutal examination of the nature of justice in the modern world, but it tries to be both and thus cannot quite be either. Fans of films like “Batman” will find material to enjoy here, but those seeking either purely escapist or purely intellectual entertainment should look elsewhere.