Marvel Movie Madness! Part 28: Daredevil

A daring proposition.

by | July 12, 2011 | Comments

Enter Marvel Movie Madness, wherein Rotten Tomatoes watches all of the significant Marvel movies ever made. Full Marvel Movie Madness list here. Tune in! We give you our thoughts, and you give us yours.

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Part 28: Daredevil (2003, 45% @ 211 reviews)

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson, starring Ben Affleck, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan

Tim: Why on earth does this movie have such a lousy reputation? The mind boggles. Daredevil is a second-tier movie about a second-tier Marvel character, and so it follows that it lacks the operatic grandeur, emotional complexity, and mind-bending special effects of the Spider-Man and X-Men movies. Therefore, taken on its own modest merits, Daredevil delivers. The backstory is generic as all get-out (kid loses dad to bad guys, gains super skills, resolves to wage a one-man war on crime), but there’s a nice twist here: Daredevil is blind, and his other four senses are extraordinarily heightened. It’s nice to have a hero who turns a physical handicap to his advantage (and the visual effects artists deserve props for depicting Daredevil’s amplified perceptions). It’s also refreshing to have a character who’s a semi-regular churchgoer; even though there are plenty of folks in the Marvel universe who are allegorical Christ figures, I’m glad one of these films makes room for some actual religion when its hero explores (albeit not terribly deeply) the moral weight of his vigilantism.

As a native New Englander, I’ve always had a soft spot for Ben Affleck; he has the look of a classic movie star, but he also exudes an air of vulnerable decency that makes for a sympathetic hero. Michael Clarke Duncan is effectively menacing as the Kingpin, Colin Farrell plays Bullseye with roguish exuberance, Jon Favreau is solid as always as the best friend, and Jennifer Garner is convincing as an action heroine. Garner and Affleck also have pretty excellent chemistry in this movie (maybe they should go on a date or something). And there are some better-than-average musical choices throughout, though they can’t all be winners (N.E.R.D.’s “Lapdance” and House of Pain’s “Top O’ the Mornin’ To Ya,” oui; Evanescence, non). I don’t want to oversell this thing, but for popcorn thrills, you could do far worse than Daredevil. Call me crazy, but I think this one’s due for a critical reappraisal.

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Ryan: Usually, Tim, when you’re able to concede some words of praise for movies that were widely panned, I’m with you, because I appreciate the fairness of acknowledging silver linings. But to say that the mind boggles when considering Daredevil‘s reputation, and that it might warrant a critical reappraisal… I have to draw the line somewhere. I tried to give this movie the benefit of the doubt, particularly during those early scenes when, as you’ve mentioned, Daredevil’s backstory threatened to suffocate itself with cliches (“My client is not on trial here!”). And for the most part, the first half hour isn’t completely terrible. I’ve come to realize that, personally, I much prefer watching superheroes duke it out with their enemies in well-choreographed hand-to-hand fight sequences, as opposed to battles that rely heavily on special effects. Daredevil’s early raid on that dive bar packed a lot of punch, and aside from a bit of dodgy CGI work, it’s a pretty solid fight scene with nicely orchestrated action.

Unfortunately – and this conflicts with another point Tim has made – Ben Affleck has absolutely no charisma in this movie! Normally I find him to be a decent actor, but he was unbelievably bland here. The chemistry, it can be argued, is there between him and Jennifer Garner because, frankly speaking, she really seemed to be phoning it in as well. Oh, and while we’re on the topic of Dare-Lektra, their playground flirt-battle was the moment the movie’s “benefit of the doubt” expired for me. Come on, that was ridiculous. A blind dude engages you in Hong Kong-style wire-fu on the teeter-totters, and he asks you where you learned how to fight? I think I’d be freaking out right about the time he followed me down the street by smell alone. I’d also like to point out that the two lovebirds met each other a grand total of three times before the climactic battle with Bullseye.

I don’t know, Tim. There were just too many moments that hammered on my sense of logic, and the tone drifted from campy to serious and back again far too easily. The movie is riddled with cliches executed (presumably) without a hint of irony, from the ex-girlfriend breaking up with him on the phone to the slow pan across the roaring fireplace during the love scene, and the actors seem relatively bored throughout. With that in mind, and considering I did enjoy the close-up hand-to-hand fight scenes, I think the 45% Tomatometer is fairly accurate.

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Jeff: Taken out of context, the idea of a blind lawyer who fights crime with the heightened sense perception he gained after being doused with radioactive chemicals is pretty ridiculous — but if you read the books, particularly during Frank Miller’s outstanding run, you know he’s one of the more realistic, readily identifiable heroes in the Marvel universe.

With a little work, then, Daredevil could have been a pretty killer superhero movie — the character’s history is soaked in noir vibe, gritty urban crime, and one horrible tragedy after another. What did writer/director Mark Steven Johnson give us instead? An inexcusable mess, larded with hambone acting and awful dialogue, not to mention one of the most excruciating sequences in the Marvel filmography, earlier pointed out by Ryan: the Affleck/Garner playground dance.

Like Ryan, I found that scene ridiculous, but I’d already lost hope for the movie by that point. The best action sequences in the world couldn’t paper over this script — and along those lines, while I agree that Ben Affleck didn’t do himself any favors here, there isn’t a lot any actor could have done with lines like “I prowl the rooftops and alleyways at night, watching from the darkness. Forever in darkness. A guardian devil.”


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