Saturday, January 29, 2011

Overcoming Adversity With Impressive Attacks: Daredevil Ages Well As A Superhero Film!

The Good: Action, Acting, Character, Mood
The Bad: Feels derivative of Batman
The Basics: When the blind Matt Murdock cannot get justice for victims as a lawyer, he runs through the night as a vigilante in Daredevil

The superhero genre is one that is, frankly, quite tired. It is fairly formulaic and in the end, most superheroes blend together, save how they achieve what they do. That is, Spider-man, Superman, Batman, they all end up having the same essential goal, but how they achieve it is different. As a result, there are only so many superhero stories one may see before one has pretty much seen it all. In a lot of ways, it's like sitcoms today; putting out a new one is like trying to squeeze one more into an already saturated market. It was with that in mind, that I sat down to Daredevil, which makes sense as I have named 2011 my Daredevil year (check out my review of Guardian Devil here!).

Matt Murdock, a blind defense attorney by day, has the alter ego Daredevil by night. When Murdock's father was killed for not throwing a boxing match, Murdock vowed to fight in the name of good in Hell's Kitchen. Now, years later, he is a vigilante and he is alone, fighting the good fight by day and making sure the justice that he can't get as a lawyer is delivered at night. When the Kingpin, the mobster of Hell's Kitchen decides he wants to eliminate the competition, he sends Bullseye. Bullseye is a hitman who can hit anyone or anything with a projectile and he never misses. When Bullseye kills a prominent member of the business community, Elektra, who has been involved with Matt Murdock, believes Daredevil is to blame and she vows revenge. While attempting to stop Bullseye, who has sworn to Kingpin he will kill Daredevil, Daredevil must avoid Elektra and convince her he is not to blame for her father's death.

While Daredevil has much of the same darkness and ambiguity of Tim Burton's Batman (and Batman Returns), it still has a decent feel to it that makes us want to keep watching it. Murdock's encounters with Elektra are easy to watch and there is definite chemistry between them. Lacking Murdock's clear goals, Elektra becomes something of an intriguing wildcard in the mix of the film. Daredevil is a great example of a person with an honorable goal, but a questionable execution of it. So when Daredevil insists he is not the bad guy at various points in the film, it is certainly up for debate.

Daredevil personifies the moral ambiguity of today, where people have the generally right idea about what is right and wrong, but how they execute their beliefs seems uncertain or contrary to morality. Thus, it makes a great deal of sense that Daredevil is blind, what better manifestation of ambiguity?

And the effects that surround Daredevil as we "see" how he visualizes the world are very clever. His heightened senses are intriguing and it's always clear in Ben Affleck's performance that the character is blind. That takes a special balance and Affleck maintains it. So, while the special effects are very cool, they do not hold a candle to the acting. Affleck here becomes Matt Murdock and Daredevil; there is no trace of Affleck, which is what good acting ought to be.

In fact, the casting throughout Daredevil is astonishingly good. Jennifer Gardner IS Elektra. Gardner manages to do a great job of personifying the hard-hitting heroine. She's put in a rough place, playing a strong female character without simply reprising her famous Alias role. She manages to do it, though and quite well. Elektra is different in body language, tone and costuming than Sydney Bristow.

The villains are pretty impressive as well. Michael Clarke Duncan is cold and powerful as the Kingpin. He manages to not be simply the thug he was in The Whole Nine Yards, too. He's more reserved, more businesslike, more professional and Duncan brings all of that out in his performance. Finally, Collin Farrell is wickedly villainous, without a trace of humor, as Bullseye. The cast comes together with very natural chemistry and coherence, creating a distinctive feel to Hell's Kitchen that is different from Gotham in Batman.

So while there is some of the good vs. evil that we've come to expect from superhero films, Daredevil makes it feel new and somewhat original with greater emphasis on character and an intriguing twist with a somewhat disabled hero. Daredevil feels new because it is not relying on special effects and it puts greater emphasis on quality acting and fleshing out of characters than most superhero films.

Having only read a single Daredevil comic, I am not qualified to speak on how this film stacks up in comparison, but it seems to me that anyone who is into action-adventure films will find something to enjoy here. If you can handle violence, this film will be fine, but it's not a film for kids.

For other super hero films, please check out my reviews of:
Iron Man 2
The Dark Knight
Wonder Woman


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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