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Daredevil (February 11/03)

Folks walking into Daredevil expecting another Spider-Man are going to be in for a bit of a disappointment. The style and tone of the two movies couldn't be more different, with the most obvious difference being the modus operandi of the respective heroes. Spider-Man is an eager-to-please do-gooder, willing to stop criminals but in a fairly good natured way. Daredevil is a grizzled vigilante who thinks nothing of beating the stuffing out of a evildoer - if Charles Bronson's Death Wish character had been a superhero, he would've been Daredevil.

Like Spider-Man, Daredevil begins with a look at how our hero acquired his superhuman powers. We meet Matt Murdock as an adolescent (and played by Scott Terra), who's blinded in a freak accident involving nuclear waste. But he soon discovers that even though he's lost his sight, his remaining four senses have been heightened to such a degree that he's now able to function on a much higher level. The story cuts to many years later, and Matt (Ben Affleck) is working as a lawyer alongside his partner, Franklin "Foggy" Nelson (Jon Favreau). At night, he becomes Daredevil - a red-leather-wearing vigilante who punishes those he feels deserve it. Meanwhile, Matt's begun a relationship with the mysterious Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) - a woman who's got some secrets of her own.

Comparisons to Spider-Man are inevitable, especially considering Daredevil is the first comic-book flick to hit since the tremendous success of that film last summer. But such comparisons aren't really fair, since the two films contain such vastly different protagonists. Daredevil is far more conflicted than Spider-Man ever was, going so far as to visit a priest regularly for absolution (more often than not, though, he seems to just get a speech from the man). The character seems genuinely torn between his need to do good in the world, and his propensity for violence. He wants to make a difference, but realistically realizes that certain people need to get hurt in order for that to happen.

Director Mark Steven Johnson utilizes an appropriately gritty look in filming the majority of the movie; much like Tim Burton's Batman, the bulk of the film takes place in grungy darkness. Daredevil does all of his crime-busting at night (after his alter-ego has spent the day working as a lawyer, natch), so we're treated to a dank and rainy view of New York City. But it works; the over-the-top colors of Spider-Man would've seemed completely out of place in Daredevil's world.

As the titular Daredevil, Ben Affleck makes for a surprisingly affecting superhero. The character of Matt/Daredevil is rife with flaws, and Affleck does a good job of manifesting both the easy-going Matt and the angsty Daredevil. Jennifer Garner isn't really given much to do here (her work on Alias is far more layered and complex), but Favreau is frequently hilarious as Matt's sidekick. Michael Clarke Duncan is appropriately menacing as the villainous Kingpin (a character that's actually white in the comics), but this movie belongs to Colin Farrell. Playing Bullseye, an assassin-for-hire with a grudge against Daredevil, Farrell is clearly having a lot of fun in this small role. He's so good, in fact, that it's easy enough to wish the film had been called Bullseye.

Having said that, the film does have a few elements working against it - with the most obvious being the occasionally shoddy special effects. Much like Spider-Man (this'll be the final comparison, I promise), Daredevil relies on computer wizardry to give its characters the appearance of being capable to perform feats that no human could ever duplicate. But the problem is, computer technology just isn't at the point where it can effectively replicate the way a living, breathing person moves. And the inclusion of such effects aren't exactly subtle; there's no questioning exactly where the actor ends and the simulation begins.

And though there's not much of a storyline here - the film essentially follows a few days in the life of Daredevil - the film is a surprisingly entertaining and engaging comic book adaptation. But the gritty tone will most likely turn off a good portion of the audience, who'll no doubt be expecting another light-hearted romp in the vein of Spider-Man. Still, for those who like their flicks to be a bit more hard-edged, Daredevil should fit the bill nicely.

out of

© David Nusair