By Marc S. Sanders
Mark Steven Johnson is probably a director you never heard of. He made two very bad movies based on Marvel’s character Ghost Rider featuring Nicholas Cage. Still Johnson has one redeeming quality and that is the very underappreciated Daredevil featuring Ben Affleck in the title role.
It’s not so much that Affleck is good in the role as blind lawyer/vigilante Matt Murdock aka the title character. More so, is that Johnson writes and directs a solid film very faithful to the source material. So, reader, what if you tell me you never read the comic books? My reply, so what! There’s still a lot of fun and colorful characters to get caught up in and you should have no trouble getting the hang of it.
Michael Clarke Duncan’s hulking physique was always his best attribute and serves him well as the crime warlord Kingpin aka Wilson Fisk, the puppet master of Hell’s Kitchen and the man responsible for the death of Murdock’s washed up boxer father. Colin Farrell chews the scenery (maybe little too much on my repeat viewing many years later) as Bullseye, a mercenary villain who can use any object as a precise throwing weapon, whether it be a card, a pencil, or shards of glass. It’s a ridiculous and unlikely talent but Farrell makes the most of it and the character serves as a perfect foil to the blind vigilante hero who uses his remaining four senses to skillfully fight and dodge and acrobat his way through rooftops over the city at night.
Jon Faverau (before directing Iron Man) is welcome relief as Murdock’s legal partner with some good humor material. Jennifer Garner is filler in the role of Elektra, a skilled fighter with trident weapons in each hand and the film’s standard love interest looking for revenge. Garner is nothing special. I’ll say it. She’s here based on her looks and her body and at the time she was the action go to gal (thanks to her TV show Alias) when Angelina Jolie was not available.
Affleck is fine in the part. He’s got the looks and physique. You can easily believe he’s a lawyer. If anything, I could have done without his voiceover narration. I think the film narrates itself fine without additional instructions. I’d argue that Affleck and Johnson could have taken this franchise further. At the time, it actually got good reviews. What did not help were the published exploitations of Affleck with his girlfriend at the time (now new bride), Jennifer Lopez (and later Garner), as well as his other poor choices of roles like Gigli and the insultingly embarrassing Pearl Harbor. (Main character Raif McCauley I have not yet forgotten!!!!)
Years later, some of the fight scenes look clunky. Some of the mid 2000’s alt rock is a little much (but Evanescence is always welcome, especially during a nicely dramatic rainy funeral scene). However, Johnson still has some tricks up his sleeve that work really well. He uses a great filming technique where Daredevil can see by means of sonic waves of sound thus making him more attuned to the trajectory of a bullet or where to find his adversaries. So, to pit a blind guy against the greatest marksman…yeah that’s a dual worth seeing. This gimmick was invented in the comics by Stan Lee and John Romita, yet very well captured in the medium of film. Another great bit is to translate how Daredevil can tell if a person is lying, a great skill for any lawyer to have. He can hear their heartbeat. Duh! Especially well done is how Murdock can see the facial features of Elekra during a brief escapade in the rain. Johnson CGIs it in midnight blue to leave an impression. Yes, Garner’s best moment comes when she’s animated in CGI blue.
The film offers a great theme of superimposing the devil image of the vigilante against the backdrop of the catholic church and other opportunities for a cross to intrude a scene. It hints that Matt Murdock is a religious catholic, but not enough. It seemingly questions the actions of its hero. Affleck even asks himself at one point “Am I the bad guy?” It’s a good additional dimension to the character; one I wish Johnson capitalized on a little more. When is a vigilante truly crossing over into the realm of sin?
Daredevil is worth watching and not worth comparing to the Netflix series. The product is served in two different mediums, one of which has the luxury of telling its story over a span of 10 hours each year. The original film, though, is condensed quite well in origin and character. Live with that and feel forsaken.