Super Movies – Daredevil, Part 1

Yeah, you read that right. Imma’ spend two weeks on this joint, or whatever cool guys say. And yeah, that title card above is made up of three different elements from the clever opening credit sequence. I hope you appreciate it, because I spent like 20 minutes noodling with it.

Daredevil was the first superhero film to be written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, who had made his big splash in Hollywood by writing a comedy called Grumpy Old Men. He returned to the world of Marvel heroes with Ghost Rider, and will return again soon with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Daredevil was released by 20th Century Fox in 2003.

The opening scene tells us what we’re in for. Because on the one hand, there’s this gorgeous shot, based on a memorable panel from an actual Daredevil story from the comics.

But the scene doesn’t really go anywhere. Daredevil collapses on the floor of a cathedral, and the priest tends to him, removing his mask and calling him “Matt.” At which point, Matt Murdock’s voiceover (Ben Affleck) talks about your life flashing in front of your eyes when you die (blatant misdirection), and then we’re into the origin story flashback.

We meet young Matt and his father (David Keith), an over-the-hill boxer who works as a leg-breaker for the mob on the side. When Matt finds out what his father does, he runs away, straight into a barrel of toxic waste, which blinds him, but sharpens his other senses. The movie does an excellent job portraying Matt’s heightened senses with creative sound editing and impressive shots portraying Daredevil’s sonar-like hearing.

Matt’s dad, meanwhile, refuses to throw a fight and is murdered in the alley outside the arena. Yeah, another hero whose motivation is his parent being murdered in an alley. And how much you want to bet the guy who did it ends up being Daredevil’s nemesis in the main plotline?

Oh, and one other thing… You wouldn’t believe the number of Marvel shout-outs in this opening sequence. Not just the comics-accurate origin story, but every fighter “Devil” Murdock faces–Colan, Bendis, Mack, Romita–is a Daredevil comics contributor. And we get our first cameo with Stan the Man himself.

So anyway, flash forward a bunch of years, and now young Matt is Ben Affleck with a bad haircut.

He is in a rape trial against a low-life named after artist and former Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada. Quesada’s case is handled by a high-powered mob lawyer, and Quesada is acquitted. So Matt suits up in red leather to get a little rough justice.

Or I should say, red leather and pixels, because there’s a lot of digital stunt doubling here, which doesn’t really work well. Not only is the animation noticeably inhuman, but normal human Matt is shown taking incredible superpowered leaps of 50-100 feet.

But this leads into one of the best sequences of the film, in which Daredevil starts a fight in a bar full of thugs while stalking Quesada. In the course of the fight, he beats up a bunch of bad guys while taking advantage of his own unique sensory abilities by smashing the lights and fighting in darkness lit only by random flames and the strobes of guns firing. The sequence is brutal and visually stylish, and really helps wash that Batman-lite taste out of our mouths after the derivative origin sequence.

After beating up everyone in the bar, Daredevil pursues Quesada into the subway, where we learn his weakness: really loud, unexpected noises disorient him (although he seems perfectly inoculated to gunfire). Daredevil pushes Quesada onto the tracks, where he is cut in half by an arriving train. This really ain’t Batman.

It’s more like The Crow. Speaking of which, reporter Ben Urich (Joe Pantoliano) discovers this little homage when he arrives to cover the story.

Afterward, Matt returns to his apartment, where he removes his uniform to expose a body marked with dozens of scars, loses a tooth in the shower, chomps down a handful of pain relievers, then goes to bed in his sensory deprivation tank.

And at this point, 30 minutes in, I’m really digging the film. I like Daredevil’s costume, I like the darker approach to a superhero story, I like the way Daredevil’s unique powers are depicted, and I like the filmmakers’ obvious reverence for the source material.

Alas, now the real plot begins, and it’s all downhill from here.

For now, while out for coffee with his law partner Foggy Nelson (pre-Iron Man Jon Favreau), Matt meets Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) and courts her by fighting her in a schoolyard.

The fight is cute and balletic and excessively choreographed, the complete opposite of what we saw from Daredevil in the previous scene. Unfortunately, this is more like what we’ll see from now on. Elektra’s father is mobster Nikolas Natchios, who works for the Kingpin, Wilson Fisk.

Michael Clarke Duncan is big and physically imposing enough for the role, but otherwise, I don’t like his Kingpin, and I’m not sure whether it’s the writing or the performance. Duncan just never seems to be in total command the way the comics Kingpin was.

Anyway, Natchios wants to quit the mob, so Kingpin sends for oddball Irish hit man Bullseye, played by Colin Farrell.

Farrell has a wonderful intensity as Bullseye, and manages to straddle the line nicely between funny and creepy. Jeez, the movies half over and we’ve just barely managed to introduce all the characters. But the second half’s going to be totally slammin’, right?

Not entirely…

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