daredevil (2003)


director: mark steven johnson

ben affleck, jennifer garner, colin farrell

You know something’s amiss with the first shot of Daredevil, a relatively standard shot of a sleek black rat on the rain-slick pavement of a New York street. It takes just a second to realize that the rat is digital - something about the plastic tightness of its fur, and an almost cartoonish cuteness in its features as it sniffs the air. If you wanted to be harsh, you could say that it’s downhill from there for Daredevil.

Daredevil is a product of the Marvel Comics golden age of the 60s and early 70s, a period when men in tights were re-drawn as troubled human beings, as much victims of their superpowers as heroic saviours of a world in peril. Daredevil is Matt Murdock, lawyer by day, crimefighter by night, a blind man whose other senses were enhanced spectacularly by the radioactive waste that took his vision. (It’s always radiation, for some reason.)

As played by Ben Affleck, he’s something of an emotional con man, not above using his blindness to play on people’s sympathies or pick up women, such as unhappy little rich girl Elektra Natchios (a lithe but underused Jennifer Garner). Callow is Affleck’s strong suit, and it would have been interesting - if basically self-defeating - to see him explore the hero as heel. As a superhero, alas, Affleck is buff, stiff and unconvincing, but no more so than any of the dozens of actors who’ve paraded across the screen in tights, trunks, capes and cowls.

The major drawback of the superhero film is the tacit, shared knowledge that a screen hero is only as good as their special effects; even in this age of miracle CGI and jaw-dropping wire fights, we’re aware of the wires, digital or not, and heroic virtue - even the tortured variety presumed of the modern comic book hero - is as difficult to play as it is essentially tedious.

Which is why Colin Farrell, as the psychopath Bullseye, is the sole lively spot in this otherwise dreary film. Bullseye is virtueless, a merry killer who can dispatch an annoying seatmate on a coach class flight without fear of prosecution. He’s as bad as he wants to be, and Farrell plays him with eye-rolling, tongue-lolling glee.

Clambering up a church pipe organ in pursuit of Bullseye, Daredevil and his villain suddenly turn into digital cousins of that ersatz rat in the first shot, shoddy bitmap avatars leaping up the organ pipes like monkeys. If the film hadn’t already squandered its goodwill in perfunctory plotting dressed up with bombastic camerawork, it would have failed here, too close to the end to feel like a bit of a cheat, too uninspired to feel like anything but an extended ad for a video game.