Spiderman it's not. This isn't a "super-hero" in the traditional sense, so if you're contemplating going into the theatre, looking for a Superman-style heroic epic, you'll come out disappointed. However, if you're going in looking for a Batman-style vengeance epoch, then you have the proper mindset to see 20th Century Fox's latest from the bullpen at Marvel Comics: Daredevil.
The story is one of revenge, of justice, of love and of redemption, all wrapped up in a dark-red leather bundle of anger called Daredevil. Matt Murdock loses his sight, but owing to the presence of strange chemicals in the accident, his other senses become amplified to the point where, under the right circumstances, he is more aware than he was when he had his sight. He protects his small section of New York, prowling the streets, alleyways and rooftops, and tried to make life generally better, both as Matt Murdock, Lawyer, and as Daredevil, Guardian Devil.
This movie makes me think back to the opening day for the original Batman film, with Michael Keaton. The derision towards the idea that a comic actor like Keaton could play Batman was palpable, and as the lights dimmed and the music started, we collectively began to accept that, perhaps, Keaton was an actor, and could do more than Mr. Mom and Gung Ho, and that this movie might be something to see. The same feeling existed in the theatre when Daredevil began. I had heard and read about how Ben Affleck was "too wooden" or "too boyish" or simply "too bad an actor" to be worth seeing in this "comic book movie", a term that still drops from the lips of the ignorant, old-school "better than thou" film critics, dripping with derision.
I'll admit to an alternate bias. I enjoy Ben Affleck films. I've been a fan since Mallrats, and films like Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Affleck had talent. Then films like Reindeer Games and Pearl Harbor drove his acting stock down, not because he wasn't up to the challenge, but because the writing and directing was marginal and designed for big-bang-bucks, not any real filmic merit. I went into this film hoping to see something that would prove the jealous, scape-goating fanboys and snobby elitist 'Net-critics (and print critics) wrong, and I did.
Is Matt Murdock a lively, fun character to play? Fun, perhaps, but lively... no. Matt Murdock is a haunted, brooding, tormented individual, and the acting that many Affleck-haters claim as "wooden" is, in fact, right on the money. He is low-key, he is brooding, he is disaffected, and he is full of cold fury. Welcome to Matt Murdock. Anyone expecting another Peter Parker character is either seriously delusional, lacking the intelligence to know the difference, or critically mistaken. Regardless, they're watching the wrong movie. Affleck's performance as Murdock is accurate and superbly-done. The only joy we see in his face (and not his eyes, something that really impressed me) is when he meets the only other person besides his father he will come to love. Affleck provides the physical, the emotional, and the vengeance-related acting that is required, and does so in a way that proves yet again that he is an actor.
Jennifer Garner plays Elektra Natchios, daughter of Ambassador and Billionaire Nikolas Natchios. She has been trained her entire life by various masters to ensure that she will not become a victim. Elektra is, I think, the weakest link in the piece, but I will freely admit that her role was not given much depth, and that her romance with Murdock seemed to happen far too quickly to be "normal". Garner's abilities as a physical actor are without question, and the emotional scenes almost appear authentic... almost.
Michael Clarke Duncan plays Wilson Fisk, a.k.a The Kingpin, who is vying for control of Hell's Kitchen from his high-rise Fisk Corporation corporate headquarters. Duncan does this role with just the right amount of Bronx-turned-Wall Street attitude, and his physical presence has always been a bit daunting, but never more than in this film. Readers of Marvel comics know that Kingpin's girth is solid-muscle, and Duncan's physical appearance (and performance in the climactic battle) hold this to be true. Many have cried out, saying that Kingpin was supposed to be white, but I've countered by asking what white actor is that size _and_ could do that good a job acting the role? I've yet to hear any answers, let along an acceptable one. For that matter, Elektra was supposed to be an assassin sent to kill Daredevil. You have to make changes when you transfer one medium to another, and this is just one of those changes.
The true glory of the piece for me was Colin Farrell as Bullseye. This film gets most of its true darkness from his portrayal of a twisted, talented hitman who becomes the hitting arm of the Kingpin. Farrell's mien is vicious, sadistic, and charged with the kind of lunatic energy that could spill out and decimate entire neighborhoods if not constantly controlled. That makes his every appearance on-screen a heightening of the already palpable tension that flows through the film. His countenance signals combat, pain and death, and never do you see him without one of those other elements coming into the scene.
Notable mentions go to John Favreau as Franklin "Foggy" Nelson, Matt Murdock's legal partner and only real friend, Joe "Joey Pants" Pantoliano as New York Post reporter Ben Urich, and David Keith as Jack "The Devil" Murdoch, Matt's father and unintentional catalyst for the creation of the vigilante hero of Hell's Kitchen. All three performances are wonderful, giving the depth needed for this film to feel "full" and not just glossy.
The score, by Graeme Revell, is appropriately dark and brooding. It doesn't intrude on the film, but it also doesn't stand out either, and there seems to be no dominant theme that sticks out as memorable. The writing is acceptable for a comic film (meaning it's not as dull as Gods and Generals is reputed to be, but it's not as snappy and enjoyable as your average Kevin Smith film) and the directing is decent. My one complaint is that the effects are noticeable. They do not blend seamlessly into the overall film. Wirework is obvious, and the CGI is notable in its fluidity (when it does humans, it still fails the believability test) and because of this, the film loses much of the impact it could have had. Once again, heavy-handed effects-laden filmmaking techniques have deprived a film of much of the emotional impact it could have had.
I give Daredevil a B+. If you like dark films, like Batman, or The Crow, you'll enjoy this film. And if you go into it with an open mind, you'll enjoy all the performances you'll see on the screen. The rest of the film will try to detract from those performances, but if you can see past the technical inconsistencies, this is worth your trip to the box office.