Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) is blind. As blind as a bat. An especially apt description since the Biohazard spill that snuffed out his ocular abilities replaced them with a sonar-like ‘vision’. Sure the headaches that this super hearing causes are a pill popping drag, yet his awareness of distance and balance are beyond compare. So how does Matt use his newfound abilities? Well, he doesn’t serve up some cold, hard justice to the Biohazard Corporation. He shouldn’t have been skateboarding around the docks’ Biohazard Warehouse anyway. No, he works as a pro bono lawyer who at night kits himself out in crimson leather and kicks some recently-acquitted-but-guilty ass. (Tip: seeing as he makes such a habit out of this, never accept Ben Affleck as your pro bono lawyer. If you can afford it, pay for one who might be able to see the evidence and ensure a conviction thus saving themselves a restless night and some expensive leather dry cleaning bills.)
OK. OK. There is some guff about a dead dad, a very rushed relationship with a billionaire’s daughter (Jennifer Garner) and two baddies; Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) and Bullseye (Colin Farrell). Kingpin runs the city’s underworld from the Fisk Corporation where he kills anyone’s father who gets in his way and leaves a rather incriminating red rose at the scene of the crime. Bullseye can expire anyone with anything and never misses (unless his target has signed up for Daredevil 2). We are introduced to him playing darts in an English pub that looks very much like a New York bar. Some fat bloke calls him ‘Irish TRASH!’ and he kills him with paperclips. Now Farrell is gloriously hammy doing anything in this, he even answers his product placed phone like a pantomime villain, but he could have mentioned to the script editor that in the UK ‘TRASH’ is not an insult, it is merely an Americanism for rubbish.
Daredevil clunks along, bumping into clichés like it has forgotten its Seeing Eye dog. Yes, it is unfortunate that the repetitive grammar of comic books means that the death of a father and the use of a red rose have been seen at the multiplex before. The child’s discovery of powers post trauma is understandably predictable fare. Yet should the punch-ups seem so pointless and artificial? Should a movie centred on a hero make the mistake of never showing the hero do anything particularly heroic? In the comic books, the most significant pages are when the hero fails or realises a paradox in their existence. Yet Daredevil lacks any derring-do or dashing deeds, making it very hard to respond appropriately when he clearly fails. A series of greatest hits from the tri-coloured pages are shown here yet they lack the definition that the context of a monthly 24 page comic book gave them. Daredevil the movie is steeped in tragedy, yet any depth has been left on the wafer thin pages.
Why am I so hard on Daredevil? Isn’t it just another comic book/superhero cash-in? Surely I should have expected the highly saturated MTV visuals, incoherent action sequences and blundering nu-metal soundtrack. Well, no. Recently we’ve never had it so good when it comes to comic book adaptations. Sam Raimi’s Spider-man (2002) was so full of boyish enthusiasm and visual verve that you could ignore the bad plot and enjoy the great storytelling. Both Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) and M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000) showed intellectual depths in their genre pieces that matched John Ford’s later westerns. These two films were brilliant entertainments that explored the mythology of their source material and their imagined characters relation with a real world. When you add the non-superhero adaptation successes of Ghost World (2001) and Road to Perdition (2002), you have a series of clear examples that cinema is legitimising another maligned form of art. The superhero genre is striding ahead with a confidence and artistry that should be applauded. Daredevil is the first misstep. An average flick, a poor bastardisation of Batman (1989) and Spider-man. So lazy, it does not even achieve the low standards of fun spectacle, cool one-liners or an engaging love story. The real problem is the huge opening box-office. After the salad days, comes the period where the studio will release any old piece of costumed star pap and market it into an event. It was bound to happen yet should not be ignored. At least we have Ang Lee’s The Hulk to save the day before sequels and rip-offs rule the roost.