Daredevil starts off with what is at once an identifiable comic book inspiration, a battered and bruised costumed vigilante gripping a cross atop a chapel. It's images such as these and numerous other references sprinkled throughout the movie that make it such a delight to watch, in the process making scribe and relatively novice director, Mark Steven Johnson, a winner among the legion of Daredevil fans.
Like his predecessor in Hollywood, Spiderman from last summer, Daredevil is a super hero in the Marvel comics universe of New York. Unlike his friend Peter Parker, Matthew Murdock (Ben Affleck) is more nocturnal. His origin tells the story of a child, blinded by an accident, and in return becoming the recipient of supremely heightened senses. Matt is the son of a shady prize fighter, who is connected to the mob, but like all fathers with low self esteem, dreads to imagine his son becoming like him and discourages him from ever picking a fight, even when he is intermittently bullied by peers.
As a blind adult, Matt becomes a successful lawyer, and together with a rotund friend, Foggy (Jon Favreau), runs a mildly successful law firm. Matt's prime motivation for choosing law as a career preference has more to do with his gift than a love for pursuing just causes. For instance in one case he uses his sensitive hearing to track the heart beat of the accused. When he loses a case due to mob intervention, he seeks the perpetrator out from hiding at night, as the titular Daredevil, and serves them their punishment.
Into his life steps Elektra (a charming, athletic Jennifer Garner) who is a trained martial arts enthusiast and hits off well against Matt. She also happens to be the daughter of one of the prime goons of mob boss Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan), the huge, clandestine 'Kingpin' of crime, who controls much of the New York underworld and the loyalty of his hired assassin, the unstable Bullseye (Colin Farrell), who has at his disposal the uncanny ability to turn any object (paper clips, peanuts and shards of glass are just of some of the few made use of in the film) into lethal weapons.
It's astonishing to see the vivid clarity with which the director captures his hero from youth. Everything from the skateboarding young Matt, to the aerial shots of Hell's Kitchen and the full moonlit sky feel like they were brought to life, panel by comic book panel. It's the first film, amongst the recent wave of comic to movie transitions, that isn't tainted by the commercial vision of the film makers. Its driven by unadulterated love for the content. Sure, it leaves little room for experimentation, but with a fan base covering some 30 years, tweaking could lead to disastrous results.
So true is this movie to its source (particularly the origin that comic book writer Frank Miller retold in the 90's) that at times it threatens to become almost predictably bland, as experienced in its faltered mid-section. However it quickly picks up during its fast paced last act where much rooftop action take place. These sequence, though breathtaking to watch are hampered by faulty editing and numerous, unnecessary close up sequences, which exposes the directors lack of experience with such action oriented material. In any case it's hard to deny the wit to be found in hearing key players named after comic industry giants (the aforementioned Frank Miller, and even a short turn by former Daredevil comic writer and Hollywood director Kevin Smith playing a character named Jack Kirby, named after the legendary Marvel comics artist /creator.) It almost acts as a wink of approval from the neglected comic industry itself and a great source of amusement for the fans.
As is the problem with most comic to movie adaptations (except the superb X-Men movie), so much of the characters motivations and traits are already known by a large portion of the audience that being genuinely surprised becomes a struggle. Some of that deterrence to being entertained can also be felt during the more talkative portions of the movie as well. In fact Daredevil works best as a romance picture, clearly showcasing Matt's need to be associated with the fiercely independent Elektra, a nod to the classic comic book tale of the doomed lovers from the early 80's.
It's also nice to see that the essence of the hero, that is, the need to constantly struggle, remains a driving force behind the story. Be it in the need to gain acceptance as a blind man, his issues with faith in God, his need to be loved by a woman driving away from him, or his coming to terms with his newly discovered abilities, director Steven Johnson does a fine job of offering us the point of view of a hero who isn't really comfortable with himself. In their latest revival by Kevin Smith during the late 90's, the comics became more mature and dealt with themes typically considered more adult oriented such as prostitution and religion. Some of that crudeness can also be found in the big screen version as when Daredevil kills a transgressor or his crumbling grip with his religious side, something that is allegorically hinted at during the battle scenes in church.
As Bullseye, Colin Farrell chews every scene he's in and has a lot of fun with his native Irish lingo. Most surprising of all though, apart from Ben Affleck's effective turn as the horn head himself, is Jennifer Garner as Elektra. She proves to be more than a match for both him and the crazed Bullseye. The leaps from skyscrapers at night are engaging and the fight sequences aptly gripping, particularly the face off between Bullseye and Daredevil in a church. The movie reminded me why I still have a poster of this Marvel super hero in my room and not one of Spiderman. Though grimmer in tone, Daredevil is no less entertaining and works well as a comprehensive action /romance flick for most age groups. This is certainly as good a film as any previous comic based movie, if not better. - Faizan Rashid