Read an alternative review by Eamonn McCusker (Region 2 DVD)
Daredevil is an outstanding example of big budget action film-making and the best superhero movie since The Crow. It's a triumph for its writer and director Mark Steven Johnson, who not only handles the action and special effects with great style and energy but even more importantly understands the value of story, characters and performances. He knows the best action scenes in the world are just hyperbole if you don't care about the people in them.
I confess I'm not much of a comics fan and I'd never even heard of Daredevil till I first read about this movie. Coming from the Marvel stable of superheroes, which also includes Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Hulk, his real identity is Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck), a crusading lawyer blinded by a childhood accident which also left him with his remaining senses heightened, giving him superhuman agility and reflexes. Driven to fight for justice by his father's murder, he patrols the night-time streets of New York as the leather-clad Daredevil, protecting the innocent and wreaking vengeance on the guilty.
In between fighting bad guys and hiding from the cops and suspicious journalist Ben Urich (Joe Pantoliano), Matt meets and falls in love with Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), a feisty heiress who returns his feelings but isn't giving it up that easily. Just to get her name, Matt has to fight her in the film's funniest scene, a flirtacious duel in a childrens' playground. Their happiness is short-lived. Elektra's father is in business with the Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan), the mysterious crime boss of New York City and, when he wants out, the Kingpin decides to have him killed, hiring psychotic Irish assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell) for the job.
Simple stuff but it's extremely well done, with unusually close attention paid to the characters and their relationships with each other. Too many superhero movies never even bother to give a reason for why their heroes and villains hate each other - they just assume they'll do battle because it's their function. Here every character has been well written, cast and acted so when the action comes, we're not just admiring special effects, we care about what happens.
The action is plentiful and it's surprisingly harsh. This is not a family film - it's a violent, occasionally brutal martial arts thriller which earns its 15 certificate. Daredevil is portrayed as a fairly ruthless vigilante, more Charles Bronson than Clark Kent and, to the director's credit, he explores this theme and gives Murdock serious doubts about the morality of what he's doing. This darker side means sacrificing the lucrative kiddie audience but it gives Daredevil more of an edge than your average comic book adventure.
Daredevil's fight sequences, like those in The Matrix, are a mixture of real stuntwork and CGI effects. They're inspired by Hong Kong martial arts movies, which is par for the course, and a team of imported Hong Kong experts acted as advisors, again nothing new, but in this case the fights are done with wit, energy and imagination. The computer effects are mostly seamless and sometimes eye-popping. Check out the shot of Bullseye improvising weapons from shards of falling glass.
Like I say, I'm not familiar with the Daredevil comics so I can't comment on how faithful the film is to the characters but the acting is well above average for this sort of film. Ben Affleck makes an impressive and completely sympathetic Daredevil and you soon forget how much his costume resembles Billy Zane's in The Phantom. He does the tortured superhero act so well, you have to wonder why it was that four Batman films couldn't work up any interest in the Dark Knight. Jennifer Garner, who of course makes delicious eye candy, is also perfect as Elektra, who hides a warm heart underneath the spiky surface. In the villains' corner, Michael Clarke Duncan's huge, booming presence makes Kingpin suitably larger than life while Colin Farrell's Bullseye almost steals the show as a twitchy, hateful gremlin of a henchman. Even the smaller roles are nicely filled out. Joe Pantoliano is always a welcome sight and Jon Favreau, from Swingers and Made, gets a lot of laughs as Matt's law partner.
Hollywood's in the middle of a fanboy phase at the moment with its big event pictures tending to be special effects fantasies aimed squarely at the male, teenage audience. While the effects and production design have usually been flawless, the writing, directing and acting have too often been way down the list of considerations. Daredevil demonstrates how this kind of film should be made and serves as a rebuke to all the mindless crap which has passed for action movies over the last few years.