In the Marvel Comics food chain, Matt Murdock and his alter ego Daredevil falls somewhere between the wise-cracking Spider-Man and the washed up Submariner. An underdog hero born of vengeance, Daredevil never achieved the superstar status afforded the Incredible Hulk or the X-Men. Instead, he steadily built a dedicated core of cult fanatics who empathized with the crime fighter and related to his character-driven adventures.
It's those same sympathetic souls who'll most appreciate director Mark Steven Johnson's Daredevil, a lackluster introductory installment that remains faithful to the character's origins but drops the ball whenever the hero dons his fetishistic leather mask.
Blinded as a teenager by toxic waste, Murdock (Ben Affleck) realizes that his other senses have drastically increased, providing him with extraordinary powers. Against all odds, the determined Murdock studies law, dedicating himself to putting guilty parties behind bars. But when criminals elude the justice system, Murdock takes to the streets as Daredevil to serve as judge, jury, and executioner.
Several memorable characters from the Daredevil universe show face for his inaugural big-screen adventure. Jennifer Garner plays love interest Elektra Natchios, a trained warrior whose criminal father has been targeted for death by the hulking mob boss, Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan). And Colin Farrell stars as the Kingpin's weapon of choice, a formidable mercenary knicknamed Bullseye for his uncanny ability to toss objects with lethal accuracy.
Mark Steven Johnson is a strange choice to helm a comic book film, even one as character-driven as Daredevil. Would you trust a man with the Grumpy Old Men franchise and Simon Birch on his resume to bring your action picture to life? Ninety percent of Johnson's screenplay is macho, clichéd one-liners Stallone would have cut from the Over the Top script. Seasoned vets like Joe Pantoliano must spit atrocious blurbs like, "Kingpin doesn't just kill you, he kills your whole family." These lines don't further the action, and feel like they were included strictly so the studio could lift them for the trailer. Jokes are built in for fans, though, as Murdock's father boxes John Romita (a legendary art director for Marvel Comics) and one-time Daredevil scribe Kevin Smith appears as a lab assistant named Jack Kirby (one of Marvel's original artists).
As expected, Johnson does his strongest work when his stars are out of costume. Affleck and Jon Favreau strike a friendly chord as scrappy law partners, and Garner matches her physical prowess with sizable acting chops. Her combustible courtship with Affleck in a school playground displays the type of exaggerated fun I wish the entire production maintained from start to finish.
It's the director's inexperience in the action genre that really clouds Daredevil's chances. His dark and shadowy visuals work against the choreographed battle sequences, which you'll strain your eyes to see. Daredevil dodges razor sharp shards of stained glass tossed by Bullseye, but it looks exactly like Spider-Man avoiding the Green Goblin's razors in that burning building. Our first taste of the devil in action is practically invisible. Yes, our hero is blind. The audience doesn't have to be.
However, nothing in Daredevil commands our attention, anyway. There are no awe-inspiring sequences to speak of, and lauded fight scenes - including Daredevil's anticipated confrontation with the Kingpin - are flat, poorly edited, and over before they begin. A truncated cathedral battle between Daredevil and Bullseye uses so much CGI, it might as well be framed in a comic book box and hand-drawn with Crayolas.
Johnson has chopped a potential bone-crusher of a vengeance flick into an audience-friendly PG-13 escapade. In the process, he sliced out most of the fun.
The special two-disc DVD features an impressive panoply of extras on disc one, including an apropos "for the blind" descriptive audio track and a feature commentary. Disc two is unfortunately less interesting, as not even Jennifer Garner's screen test can un-bore one of the least interesting "making of" documentaries ever made. Comic books, woo hoo! Also available is a director's cut with 30 extra minutes of footage cut into the film, plus a commentary track from Johnson and producer Avi Arad.
I double dog dare ya!