STARRING: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Jon Favreau, Joe Pantoliano, David Keith, Scott Terra

2003, 114 Minutes, Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson

Description: Twelve-year-old Matt Murdock is accidentally blinded shortly before his father is murdered. Later an adult attorney in New York's Hell's Kitchen, Murdock (Ben Affleck) uses his remaining, superenhanced senses to battle crime as Daredevil, the masked and vengeful "man without fear," pitted against dominant criminal Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) and the psychotic Bullseye (Colin Farrell), who can turn almost anything into a deadly projectile.

In one Simpsons episode the overweight comic bookshop owner is reading an issue of Aquaman when he is hit by a French neutron bomb (don't ask). "But Aquaman, you cannot marry a woman without gills. You're from two different worlds!" he complains and seeing the missile close in on him, the truth dawns: "Oohh, I've wasted my life..."

I was thinking of this episode as my wife and I exited the movie version of the Daredevil comic, and I counted off the in-jokes I spotted. In one scene, Daredevil's father (a boxer) fights an opponent named John Romita. As any regular reader of Marvel comic books will tell you, Romita (actually there's a Romita Jr. and Sr.) was an artist on the Daredevil comics once. In another scene, a young Daredevil saves Stan Lee, the legendary Marvel publisher in a cameo, from being run over by a car.

Mentioning all this prompted the same response from my wife I got when I mentioned spotting the Harryhausen's reference in Monsters, Inc. (the restaurant to where some of the characters go to is a reference to the famous special effects man who did the effects for Clash of the Titans amongst others): "You scare me."

"The only Black dude in this movie happens to be the bad guy . . ."

Anyway, if you don't have a clue what I'm talking about, here's a recap: Daredevil is based upon a superhero character of the same name published by Marvel Comics. Marvel Comics reinvigorated comics in the 'Sixties when it introduced all kinds of ambiguous and angsty superheroes such as Spider-man (angsty teen), the Hulk (angry green id monster), the Fantastic Four (dysfunctional family referenced a lot in The Ice Storm) and so on. This was in sharp contrast to the characters published by Marvel's archrivals DC Comics, which had such decidedly unambiguous figures such as Superman.

Daredevil has always been a bit of a minor figure in the Marvel pantheon: sort of a Batman without the cape, Daredevil's great superpower is having acute hypersenses after becoming blind in a freak accident revolving radioactive waste. The movie version comes off as a mixture of Matrix-style action sequences set against a Gotham-lite background (think gargoyles, cathedrals and Hell's Kitchen in New York).

Apparently, Daredevil was going to be a much darker movie than it was with some R-rated nudity and violence, but after Spider-man did so unexpectedly well at the box office it was decided to lighten up the material and go for more of a family audience. It's still pretty dark and gloomy at points though. This is Spider-man for audiences with attention deficit syndrome though: with a shorter running time, after dealing with the obligatory "origin of" back-story and some vague characterization, the last forty minutes or so of the movie is one long action scene.

To be honest, despite knowing who the heck John Romita is, I wasn't particularly keen on seeing Daredevil. The trailer looked atrocious, for starters. Not to forget the vacant Mr. Jennifer Lopez in the leading role. However, like in Batman Returns, the hero is upstaged by a horde of villains. There's an over-the-top Bull's Eye (played by Colin Farrell) who can turn any innocent object into a lethal weapon.

To see how he deals with an annoying fellow passenger on an airliner by using a mere peanut is one of the movie's dark comic highlights. (I wish I could have done the same to a very drunk and obnoxious Lesotho embassy personnel member I had the misfortune of sitting next to during an 11-hour flight to London a few years back . . .)

Then there's the curvaceous Electra, the buxom Jennifer Garner in a revealing leather outfit. Electra deserves her own movie I thought and already I heard that such plans are going ahead. Yeah, leave out Ben Affleck and cut straight to the good stuff I say!

Finally, there's Michael Clark Duncan as the ominous Kingpin character. I remember Kingpin as a much more intimidating presence in the comics. Oh yeah, I also remember him as a White guy and I wondered what the two small Black kids sitting next to me in the cinema made of the fact that the only Black dude in this movie happens to be the bad guy. I dunno, maybe they didn't notice. However, they sure laughed aloud at some of the movie's more sadistic moments.

Ultimately, Daredevil was better than I expected it to be. Some bits in the movie just made no damned sense though: the rooftops of New York seem to be overcrowded with superhero types because they keep on running into one another all the time. It also has some unexpected humour and enough energy to propel it along after a midway lull.

However, after Daredevil being one of a whole string of blockbuster movies I have seen in a row, I long for something more substantial, maybe The Quiet American, The Pianist or Rabbit Proof Fence, but for now I have had enough of superheroes in red S&M leather outfits . . .

(Think I am scary? Check out the trivia section on the Internet Movie Database's entry on Daredevil on the myriad of in-jokes I missed.)


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