After the successes of X-Men and Spider-Man, Hollywood has been mining the comic book industry for new superheroes to bring to the silver screen. This is nothing new, of course. It goes as far back as the first “Superman” serials that came out in the 1940s. Most recently, we saw this wave of imitative hacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s after “Batman” hit it big at the box office.
“Daredevil” will go down in the record books as being one of those quick-to-theater films trying to capitalize on the fame of “Spider-Man.” Fortunately, it is not as bad as the wave of terrible comic book films after “Batman.” (The only decent comic book film to emerge after Tim Burton’s rendition of the dark knight was its own sequel.) “Daredevil” is no Spider-Man, X-Men or “Batman.” However, to its credit, it is no “Captain America,” “The Punisher” and “The Flash” television show either.
Daredevil (Ben Affleck) is a superhero who gained extra-sensory perception after a chemical spill took away the sight of young Matt Murdock. Although blind, his other four senses were preternaturally sharp, allowing him to see with the vibrations of sound and an ultra-acute sense of touch. Murdock, the only son of a washed-out boxer-turned-thug (David Keith), is cheering on his father one day in the ring. The older Murdock doesn’t take the dive he was supposed to, and he is whacked by the New York crime kingpin.
After watching his father die, Murdock vows to fight against evil and wrongdoers in the world. He grows up to be the lawyer that takes all the hard-luck cases in town. When the law doesn’t punish the guilty, Murdock dons a red leather uniform and jumps from rooftop to rooftop as Daredevil to avenge the innocent.
Murdock meets and falls for a young and beautiful Elecktra Natchios (Jennifer Garner). (Have you ever wondered why even the blind heroes get the best looking girls?) Her father, a Manhattan billionaire, is in cahoots with the new Kingpin (Michael Clark Duncan) and is trying to get out. To preserve his crime syndicate, Kingpin hires freaky Irish assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell) to assassinate the older Natchios. Of course, it’s up to Daredevil to save the day.
In many ways, “Daredevil” is a bubbling pot of clichés – from the standard close up shots of him putting on his uniform to the romance being bred in a field of childhood pain (both Murdock’s and Elektra’s mothers were killed when they were children). The dialogue is excruciating at some points, with corny and contrived lines that are so dreadful, they’d make the Pope weep.
Of course, other superhero films like X-Men have some pretty corny lines, but in their case they’re delivered by uber-actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. “Daredevil” has to rely on Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner and Michael Clark Duncan to deliver these corny lines with no safety net. For example, in one scene, Ben Affleck as Daredevil stands in the rain screaming, “It’s time to give the Devil it’s due!” It just makes you pity the poor man.
Affleck himself seems like a fish out of water in this part. If you watch Armageddon, you could believe he could play a superhero, but he just doesn’t pull it off in this film. Even with the sunglasses and the cane, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re just watching a soon-to-be Mr. Lopez on screen. Affleck, who has shown some hearty acting chops in films like Chasing Amy and even the aforementioned Armageddon, is just going through the motions here.
Jennifer Garner, who is one of the worst actresses in Hollywood, is only so-so – which is an improvement. She plays a character similar to her alter ego on “Alias,” which probably accounts for some of her ability here. She’s also pretty easy on the eyes, which makes here somewhat forgivable. (I remember telling a friend that I was dreading her acting in the film, and his response was, “But she’s in leather.”)
Other aspects of the film bring it to a laughable level, most noticeably Colin Farrell’s so over-the-top portrayal of Bullseye. Farrell, who seems to be appearing in just about every new movie to hit the theatres, lays it on so thick that you will find yourself laughing non-stop when he’s on screen.
In some ways, the filmmakers have attempted to make a superhero movie with more teeth than they have before. Generally, the Superman films had a candy coating to them, as did last summer’s Spider-Man. Even the overtly dark Tim Burton “Batman” films had a certain amount of camp. “Daredevil” does make some pretty gutsy moves, such as our hero sitting idly by as a subway train bisects a wrongfully acquitted rapist, earning the film a modicum of respect.
There are also a few gems in this film, including a cameo from Kevin Smith, who has done quite a bit of writing for the Daredevil comic book. Jon Favreau has put on some weight to shine in a “Rudy”-esque supporting role of Murdock’s lawyer partner. Additionally, if you manage to sit through the whole film, don’t leave before the humorous tag in the credits.