Probably the nicest thing I can think to say about Daredevil is that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
It generally held my interest. The dubiously cast Ben Affleck didn’t disgrace himself. A lot of the film is nice to look at in a kind of elaborate music-video fashion. Colin Farrell is amusingly out-of-hand (he seems to be the only person involved who realized this was mighty silly stuff and played it accordingly), even if the trailer just had to include his best line (“I want a bloody costume!”) and spoil that moment. However … the movie, for all its glossy effort, is ultimately something to be shrugged off with a huge “So what?”
Now, I’ve never read an issue of Daredevil (I’m not sure I’ve ever even seen one), but I saw the movie with a group of comic-book fanatics and they didn’t seem displeased with this attempt to translate the character to the screen — at least as concerns the film’s relative faithfulness to its source. With this in mind, Daredevil may play well enough to fans — though anyone else is apt to find it a choppy narrative that rushes toward a perfunctory conclusion with cavalier disregard for things like motivation and character development, and which plays like an uneasy hybrid of Tim Burton’s two darkly disturbing Batman pictures, with the leather-bar Caped Crusader as re-imagined by Joel Schumacher in two subsequent travesties on Burton’s concept.
In most respects, Daredevil is an unabashed rip-off Burton’s Batman — right down to a cathedral setting, a troubled superhero hung up on his father’s death, a bad guy who overplays to everyone else’s underplaying and roses on the sidewalk. That would be fine — though not exactly original — if the film made any of this believable or moving or disturbing or even coherent. It doesn’t; it offers the mechanics of Batman and precious little else.
Even though writer/director Mark Steven Johnson did manage to create a good-looking movie, it’s pretty much all on the surface. Just setting a movie at night and filling it with menacing shadows and film noir rain-drenched streets does not automatically make for dark cinema in any but the physical sense. Someone also needs to clue in filmmakers on the fact that the moving shot looking straight down on Manhattan skyscrapers (I think this first cropped up in Peter Chelsom’s Serendipity) has become a pointless clichE. But then Johnson (whose only other directorial credit, Simon Birch, is a sanitized version of John Irving’s novel A Prayer for Owen Meany) would appear to like clichEs and heavy-handedness, if it comes to that.
You have to be pretty sold on such to insert a “heart-tugging” shot of straight-A report card belonging to young Matthew Murdock (Scott Terra) lying in a mud puddle just prior to the accident that blinds him and turns him into the person who will grow up to become Daredevil. Johnson lingers over this kind of detail far too long for any but the most inattentive viewer, yet doesn’t bother to explain why the preposterously named Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner, Catch Me If You Can and TV’s Alias) was trained to become the female Jackie Chan. He doesn’t bother to explain why Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) wants evidence manufactured against Elektra’s father (Erick Avari, Mr. Deeds) if Kingpin’s going to have the man killed anyway. He doesn’t bother explaining why anyone, after witnessing the clearly loony Bullseye (Farrell) demonstrate his proficiency with darts, would taunt this psycho. Instead, Johnson gives us incomprehensible “deep” pronouncements along the lines of “A man without fear is a man without hope.” I have no idea what that means and I very much doubt Johnson does either.
So what’s left? The film is enjoyable when Farrell is onscreen. In those moments, it has a truly nasty, funny edge to it. Then too, some of the ideas — Daredevil being able to “see” in the rain — are interesting and well executed. Even with the clichEs, the scene where young Matthew is blinded is effectively and cleverly handled. But none of it really adds up to much. It’s ultimately Affleck looking grim and bounding around in an absurd red-leather outfit that looks more like something you’d find in a bondage porno video than a big-budget movie (all he needs is a whip and some “Who’s your Daddy?” dialogue). The worst of it, though, is the movie’s almost complete lack of surprise. Everything — but everything — happens in such a mind-numbingly by-the-numbers fashion that the Batman-ripoff ending is apt to generate not awe, but an outburst of, “That’s it?”