directed by Mark Steven Johnson
(20th Century Fox, 2003)

An awful lot of people spit blood. Even the hero wrenches a bloody loose tooth from his mouth after one bout of fisticuffs. Daredevil is an orthodontist's dream.

But for fans of the comic book, Daredevil is more of a nightmare. Conceived initially as an adult flick, the R rating was trimmed to PG-13 before hitting theaters -- but still, the movie that remains is darker and more brutal than I expected from the optimistic Marvel hero.

As is expected whenever Hollywood borrows a page from the comics, Daredevil is very different than his four-color counterpart. Filmmakers got the hypersenses right, but they also gave the hero the inexplicable agility, strength and acrobatic tendencies of last year's superhero blockbuster, Spider-Man.

And, unlike the comic-book Daredevil, this one has fewer compunctions when it comes to killing bad guys. His moral code is shaky, his outlook cheerless. Director Mark Steven Johnson's take on Daredevil is meaner and moodier than Tim Burton's Batman.

Ben Affleck plays Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer by day who takes to the rooftops at night in an unending quest for justice. His familiar red tights have been replaced with a leather jumpsuit (a la 2000's X-Men), and his arrogance quotient has been multiplied by a factor of 20. Where Murdock in the comics is a staunch advocate of the legal system, Murdock in the movie takes justice into his own hands and metes out punishments -- often to an extreme, and encompassing bystanders -- whenever he feels the system has failed.

Although the hero's origins are slightly altered, the special effects used to show viewers his hypersenses are top-notch -- although his sudden ability to cope with the influx of stimuli is never explained. On the other hand, the digital effects that show him (and, to a lesser extent, Elektra and Bullseye) leapfrogging about the city with superhuman agility are below par.

Daredevil's counterpart and sometimes lover Elektra Natchios also suffers in this adaptation, although Jennifer Garner does the best she can with the material provided. The big romance between Matt and Elektra, for instance, is based on little more than scent and a martial-arts mating dance on seesaws. Her fighting skills -- which in the comics make her one of the world's deadliest assassins -- have been significantly downgraded.

On the upside, Michael Clarke Duncan is excellent as the enigmatic crimelord Wilson "Kingpin" Fisk -- I wish he'd been given more to do. Even better is Colin Farrell as Bullseye, an amoral Irish assassin with a deadly eye and wicked knack with a peanut. (It should have troubled filmmakers that the villains of this piece are so much more interesting than the heroes -- and that several ruthless murders elicit laughter from viewers.)

Key players like Franklin "Foggy" Nelson (Jon Favreau), Ben Urich (Joe Pantoliano) and Karen Page (Ellen Pompeo) have been reduced to minor roles. David Keith does a bang-up job in a flashback as Murdock's father, a washed-up prizefighter, and there are several tips of the hat to people instrumental in Daredevil's evolution, including cameo appearances by co-creator Stan Lee and influential writers Frank Miller and Kevin Smith.

Daredevil suffers from a lack of identity. This movie wants him to be Spider-Man and Batman, but there is no clear middle ground between them. Perhaps he should get back to us when he figures out who he is.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 15 March 2003

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