Despite the good intentions of Daredevil-worshipping director Mark Steven Johnson, the adaptation of the Marvel comic hero prefers to remind viewers of last summer’s “Spider-Man” (another red-clad hero in New York) rather than set its own path.
As Matt Murdock, Ben Affleck’s broad shoulders are squeezed into the deep red of Daredevil’s costume, but, like in life, the clothes do not make the man. Square-jawed throughout, the humorless Affleck possesses none of the self-deprecation or self-discovery of Tobey McGuire’s Spider-Man. The resulting superhero is a dense, unfeeling character, a pursuer of justice through esoteric means.
The film begins with a flashback, where we see young Matt Murdock (Scott Terra) as the subject of ridicule by school bullies (led by “Sopranos”-progeny Robert Iler) and meet his Heineken-loving boxer father (David Keith). Jack “the Devil” Murdock demands young Matt avoid fighting and become something respectable “like a doctor or lawyer.” Matt catches his father in the act as hired muscle for the mob, and while fleeing the scene gets splashed in the face with an anonymous bio-toxin. He loses his sight, but his other senses are augmented by the chemical waste.
His father is murdered when he refuses to throw a boxing match and a red rose is left on his body – the killer’s calling card. The young Murdock swears revenge, and a superhero (sort of) is born.
Instead of using the original story of Matt Murdock’s transformation into Daredevil, where he loses his sight saving a man from an oncoming car, the script turns Murdock into a victimized vigilante, establishing an internal conflict for Murdock to rise above. Murdock’s intrinsic changes feel forced as a result.
As an adult, Murdock is an attorney, who, upon losing cases, takes judicial matters into his own court – after hours – as Daredevil. Instead of using Murdock’s gifts for cunning in the courtroom, screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson elects a violent outpouring for Murdock’s blessing in disguise. This violence is covered carefully by New York Post reporter Ben Urich (Joe Pantoliano) who coins the epithet “the man without fear” for the crime fighter.
Serving as a one-man army against crime, Murdock eventually crosses paths with the Kingpin, Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan, “The Green Mile”). The Kingpin hired Irish assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell, “The Recruit”) to off his billionaire business partner Nikolas Natchios (Erik Avari). Coincidentally, the daughter of said business partner, Elektra (Jennifer Garner, TV’s “Alias”), is Matt Murdock’s love interest. The plot entangles the two in an obvious case of whodunit regarding Elektra’s father. Daredevil, in her eyes, is the chief suspect.
Styled similarly to Tim Burton’s two “Batman” pictures, “Daredevil” takes place almost exclusively at night. The characters bounce around in battles in some amalgamate of the unfettering agility of Spider-Man and the leaping and bouncing of martial arts flicks. It is a combination that ultimately doesn’t work.
The action sequences between the twitchy Bullseye and Elektra, and Elektra and Murdock (their playground scene has the fight choreography of a student film) are an overly-stylized, terribly unrealistic festival of floating and levitation. A superhero like Spider-Man is given reprieve from these criticisms because he is a man-spider, but Matt Murdock is simply a blind guy aided by sonar – this gives no cause for his physically unrealistic talents.
This over-the-top display of the ridiculous drives “Daredevil” away from the amazing control of “Spider-Man,” and “Daredevil” becomes a negative hyperbole of a superhero film. While the screenwriters could’ve made a hero intelligent and forthright, they instead dumb him down, plague him with his own victimization and ultimately torment the filmgoers with recycled pap. It is a formula that even within the expanded reality of the superhero film genre, is tried, tired, retread.