Dark superhero noir about a lawyer who becomes a masked vigilante by night, battling against the low-lives of New York's Hell's Kitchen
In the Marvel Universe of superheroes, Daredevil is the easiest to beat in a fight. Compared to Spider-Man, The Hulk and The X-Men, he is the vulnerable one, the blind one. You sense the crucial image here for the filmmakers is Daredevil (Ben Affleck) in the shower after a bar-room brawl, spitting out broken, bloodied teeth. Writer-director Mark Steven Johnson wants to do integrity so much it hurts, and his hero's vulnerability is a big step toward this ideal.
We first meet Daredevil seemingly mortally wounded beside a church altar, his origin story flashing before his eyes. He is Matt Murdock, raised by his father, boxer Jack 'The Devil' Murdock, in a rough district of New York. A grade-A student, young Matt is gutted to stumble onto his father acting as an enforcer for local criminals. He flees this scene and straight into a bio-chemical leak that robs him of his sight but magnifies his other senses, with his hearing so augmented that it provides him with a kind of radar or, more accurately, sonar.
Just like Batman and Spider-Man, Murdock's transformation into a masked man is only completed by his father's death. After refusing to throw a fight, Jack Murdock is beaten to death by a hood - revealed to be the young Wilson Fisk, now New York's criminal overlord, the Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan). This alleyway death, the local hoods and the fixed fight are indicative of the character's age. Invented in 1964 by Stan Lee and Bill Everett in an attempt to follow-up the success of Spider-Man, Daredevil was long thought of as a second-rate hero. It took an 80s reinvention by writer Frank Miller, whose sensibilities lay squarely in morally ambiguous, violent noir, to give the character some integrity, and it is Miller's interpretation that is referenced heavily here, often word-by-word.
Unfortunately, for all its ostensible seriousness and its faithfulness to its source material, Daredevil is more of a nu-noir. Its stab at gritty integrity is as convincing and authentic as the rock postures of its nu-metal soundtrack. The first two thirds are heavy with cliché. Matt Murdock falls in love with Elektra (Jennifer Garner) after her perfumed, slo-mo entrance into a cafe. She gets to flick her hair in slo-mo later during an appalling love scene (they're kissing one another's scars - how, like, meaningful). Elektra also gets to throw her head back in the rain, and she gets her shoulder smelt erotically by Affleck on a number of occasions.
As an action movie, Daredevil only takes off after the murder of Elektra's father by assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell), an Irish killer with an Oirish rap theme tune (House Of Pain, predictably). He steals every scene he is in with his murderous comic ability to turn anything - even a paper clip - into a deadly weapon. Employed by crime overlord the Kingpin, Bullseye is the most entertaining supervillain since Nicholson's Joker, and miles ahead of Willem Defoe's dull Green Goblin. Duncan is also immense, convincing in both sides of the Kingpin's character, as business magnate and gargantuan Bronx brawler. Rounding out this excellent support cast is Jon Favreau as Murdock's tubby lawyer partner Foggy, with his "As your attorney, I recommend..." routine nicked straight from Hunter S Thompson.
Ultimately, Daredevil just doesn't have the talent behind the camera to carry off its noir seriousness. But for all its clichés, it has a cracking third act, helped by doses of 15-rated violence.