Fighting for justice both inside and outside of the courtroom Matt Murdock is Daredevil. All images and © 2003 Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises. All rights reserved.
This is a review of two movies. Or maybe its two reviews, for two different audiences, of one movie.
As A Fan
If you are now, or have ever been, a fan of Marvel's Daredevil as portrayed through various comics incarnations at the hands of a multitude of creators over the past 40 years, youll probably find this movie extremely enjoyable.
With small variations, the authentic origin of Daredevil is here. Theres Matt Murdock, the kid with the widowed pug-fighter dad who wants his son to be a doctor or lawyer. Theres the kid shocked at seeing his dad at work as a thumb breaker like Stallones Rocky. Theres Matts loss of his sight through a radioactive chemical accident and the intense magnification of his remaining senses and the development of a radar sense. Its all there. So is the violent loss that changes Matts life forever, leading him to devote his life to seeing justice done, in and out of the courtrooms, where the grown up Matt practices law.
As a fan, you may take issue with the ultra violent and vengeful nature of DD, acting at times more like the Charles Bronsonesque Punisher than the wisecracking Daredevil of the '60s or even the grim and brooding DD of the '80s and '90s. But since you know in your heart that Daredevil, in his heart, is a good guy, you can sort of let it go. (Im sure a lot of you wont, but the movie does carry you along, most of the time.)
Youll love the pitch-perfect Foggy Nelson as played by John Favreau, and his easy and hilarious banter with best pal and law partner Matt. Youll love the introduction of Elektra Natchios, including Favreaus wisecrack about her name. Youll thrill as Matt and Elektra engage in combat-choreography like a Kung Fu Astaire and Rodgers.
Youll smile as Michael Clarke Duncans elegantly menacing Kingpin tells Matt that nobodys innocent. (Of course, you might also be a little disappointed at how the Kingpin winds up this movie.)
New Yorker or not, youll get a big kick out of the generous and glorious use made of the city (much of it actually shot on location!), especially the Hells Kitchen locales that are so key to the film. And the special effects point-of-view shots of Daredevil traversing the citys concrete canyons are really spectacular.
If youre a real geek, youll giggle every time the name of a comics creator is dropped as the name of a character or place. Youll smile knowingly at DD co-creator Stan Lees traditional cameo appearance. Youll grip the arms of your chair as you wait for the inevitable outcome of the battle between Colin Farrells Bullseye and Jennifer Garners Elektra. And youll love the Braille motif that starts with the opening credits and continues throughout the entire film.
Indeed, if youre a fan of the comics, youre probably already out seeing Daredevil a second or third time. Youre probably already reserving your DVD.
If youre not a fan of the comicI dunno.
As the movie unfolded, I tried to put out of my mind all I knew of the character and his world. I imagined just being a fan of action-adventure movies coming in cold to see this film. And when I channeled that person, I was pretty perplexed.
Maybe a person like that would go in thinking: Hey, I liked the Spider-Man movie. After all, Danny Fingeroth gave it a rave review on AWN. And isnt Daredevil also based on a Marvel comic? Maybe Ill like this, too.
But what you are given is a guy who is dressed in what looks like a Joel Schumacher Batman costume reject, who despite apparent agility and enormous acrobatic skill moves, in some shots, like Robocop. This Daredevil is a character who, despite thinking of himself as a hero, is really more of a sadistic vigilante who thinks nothing of meting out punishments that, even if you could argue dont outweigh the crimes, certainly are not his business to be meting out.
What most people remember about super heroes is that they traditionally capture their adversaries and let the police sort out whether the evidence merits conviction of whatever degree. While comics have certainly darkened in tone over the years, and there are anti-heroes such as the aforementioned Punisher who regularly mete out punishment, capital and otherwise, Daredevil has not been such a hero. (Sorry geeked out there for a second.) Nonetheless, as a civilian entering the theater, my feeling would be: Heres a really sick guy, a guy in some ways worse than the criminals he hunts. Why should I feel any sympathy for this devil?
Yet, youre supposed to. When he basically stalks Elektra, her response is to battle him (lucky thing shes a martial arts expert), defeat him and later hunt him down to continue their tryst. Could be kinky and fun. Problem here, really, is the lack of much actual chemistry between the stunningly good-looking leads.
So we have a movie full of neat stuff and quirky characters Joe Pantolianos outstanding Ben Urich is accessible to a civilian and also consistent with the comics version that in the end just doesnt jell. Its one of those movies that (for a non-geek) is more fun to remember than it actually is to sit through. And the Favreau-Affleck scenes are simultaneously hilarious and moving these two have the best chemistry in the movie.
Not that watching Daredevil was torture. But in the way that Spider-Man and X-Men managed to hit the comic geek notes and still retain enough thematic and story interest for a general audience, Daredevil seems to often miss the mark. There are stretches where your attention wanders.
If you go into the theater a DD fan, youll definitely leave wanting to go reread your collection, especially the Frank Miller runs. If youre not a fan, you may well have forgotten the movie by the time you get home.
And for you comics geeks with girlfriends or boyfriends yes, they actually do exist you may get your significant other to go see Daredevil with you once. But Im betting youll be at the second and third viewings on your own. Hey at least itll save you a few bucks.
Danny Fingeroth, veteran Marvel Comics writer and editor, led the company's Spider-Man line, as Group Editor, during its highest-selling years. Danny has also created, developed and written comics and animation for AOL-Time Warner, Showtime Online, Visionary Media, Brilliant Digital Entertainment, and Byron Preiss Multimedia. Currently, he is the creator and editor of Danny Fingeroths Write Now! Magazine, a highly acclaimed publication about writing comics, animation and science fiction, published by TwoMorrows. Dannys Backstage at an Animated Series, from Scholastic, is now on sale. He is also at work on Superman on the Couch: What Super Heroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves and Our Society, to be published in 2004 by Continuum.