Friday, April 17, 2015

Retro Movie Review: Daredevil (2003)

As I work my way through Netflix's Daredevil in plans on posting a review of the full first season, I thought I would post my original review of the 2003 movie written when that first came out. I am not one of the haters of that movie or Ben Affleck's performance as Matt Murdock / Daredevil. I do have to admit that it did not quite hold up as well when I re-watched it a couple of years ago (though I still liked it), so I adjusted the rating down by half a star.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: At times seeming like a Marvel take on Tim Burton's Batman, it still does justice to the Daredevil character.

Imagine what you would get if you took Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, cranked it through a heavy metal adrenalin rush and threw in some Ang Lee style martial arts for good measure.  That pretty much describes Daredevil.

This is the third movie in three years to bring the A-list Marvel Comics characters to the big screen (the forth, Ang Lee’s The Hulk, is due out this summer).  Like 2001’s The X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man, Daredevil draws heavily from the comic book source material but also creates its own world distinct from the four-color universe.  Purists may be annoyed by the liberties that the screenwriters take, but the basic storyline remains intact and provides for a highly entertaining movie.

Daredevil the movie at first might seem like a Marvel reworking Tim Burton’s first Batman movie.  Matt Murdock (Daredevil’s alter ego) experienced the trauma of witnessing the death of his father which drove him to dedicate his life to fighting crime.  He assumes the guise of Daredevil and stalks the dark streets of the very Gotham-like New York City seeking vengeance against criminals.  Because of his dedication to this vigilante crusade, he has trouble maintaining long-term relationships with the opposite sex.  Throughout the course of the movie, Daredevil comes face to face with the man responsible for his father’s death just as Batman confronted the Joker at the end of the first movie.  While the similarities exist, however, Daredevil is anything but a rehash of Tim Burton’s masterpiece.

Because of the myriad of characters that have graced the pages of comics, it makes perfect sense that strong similarities would crop up amongst the masked crime fighters.  However, Daredevil the character is no clone of the Batman character.  Matt Murdock was blinded in an accident as a child when he was doused with radioactive waste.  The rest of his senses, however, were magnified a hundred-fold.  Therefore, unlike Batman, Daredevil truly has a “super power”.  Murdock is also a struggling lawyer who is more concerned about helping people who are down and out than he is about how they will pay him.  A far cry from the millionaire Bruce Wayne.

Daredevil the movie ventures beyond the simple story of superhero vs. supervillian (in fact, it lacks a Joker-style supervillian).  Matt Murdock, lawyer by day and vigilante by night, wrestles with the moral implications of his crime fighter persona’s actions.  He seeks justice through the legal system as Matt Murdock the lawyer, but becomes frustrated when the system breaks downs.  That’s when he turns to Daredevil to try and even the scales.  Murdock’s moral dilemmas are central to the story.  He goes to a priest (who also knows of his secret identity) to confess his “sins” and to try and console his conscience.  But he finds little solace to curb his vigilante drive.

Ben Affleck gives Daredevil and Matt Murdock a strong presence, but the supporting characters add to the movie as well.  Jennifer Garner is sizzling as Electra – a fellow crime fighter that Murdock has a tragically short fling with.   Michael Clarke Duncan is an unexpected but excellent choice as the Kingpin.  Collin Farrell seems to take great delight in his role as Bullseye.  Unfortunately, the villains are portrayed as little more than caricatures, but the door is left open for further development in subsequent films.  Despite their lack of depth, though, Duncan and Farrell revel in their parts and they are great fun to watch.

Like The X-Men and Spider-Man, Daredevil does an excellent job of bringing the comic book franchise to the big screen.  Most fans should be happy with it, and the uninitiated will quickly be caught up in the action and drama.

Buy Daredevil and Other Early 2000 Marvel Movies on Blu-ray DVD from

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