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“There Goes Daredevil”

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The pic’s already sparked a volley of critical pans, but somewhere in the midst of the big church-set confrontation ‘tween Ben Affleck’s Daredevil and Colin Farrell’s gleefully psycho Bullseye, I found myself wondering if the reaction against this middling action flick would’ve been so severe if it’d been released before Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.
It’s a moot question, of course, but reading some of the slams delivered by working critics, I can’t help coming away with two thoughts: 1.) Raimi’s movie raised the bar for superhero movies; and 2.) mainstream movie critics are really getting tired of them comic book rehashes.
Third weighty thought I had was this: anyone wishing to support auteur film criticism (the idea that directors are the primary overseers of movies) could make a good case contrasting Mark Steven Johnson’s pic with Raimi’s. Same basic story structure, same basic setting, yet the quality gap betwixt the two is wider than Stan Lee’s ego. Don’t tell me it’s the screenplay – when you get down to it, David Koepp’s webspinner work was little more than functional – or the acting. It’s the whole-hearted enthusiasm with which each director broached their material that makes the difference. Raimi unabashedly buys into it; Johnson doesn’t.
You can see this in the way Daredevil bobbles two of its big emotional moments: the seeming death of Elektra (Jennifer Garner) at the hands of Bullseye, plus the final confrontation ‘tween our hero and his big nemesis, Wilson Fisk a.k.a. The Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan, coming across much more jovially evil than you’d expect from the comics). In the first, we get hero and heroine flopping about on the rooftops, and we never once believe that the lady is gone for good. The second is so awkwardly staged and dialogued that neither Affleck nor Duncan are able to pull it off.
Yeah, I know: I’m tossing spoilers all over the place. But even if you haven’t read the comics that fed this flick – most specifically, the Frank Miller run that introed doomed ninja love Elektra – there are few moments that you won’t see coming, anyway. Even the pic’s wild card character, Farrell’s Bullseye (who, true to Miller’s rendition, can turn even an airline peanut into a murderous weapon), is a stiff. Only time he gets to be truly creepy is the post-film mid-credits coda.
That said, I can’t claim to have had the visceral negative reaction of the spoilsport big-league critics. The movie captures all the basic elements of the character and supporting cast (especially fine: Jon Favreau’s sharply done comic relief take on Franklin “Foggy” Nelson). You get your hero’s origin sequence, decent overview of his costume and civilian life, stodgily staged romance, plus two of the comic series’ better baddies. Like so many movie versions of longstanding comic book titles, the filmmakers can’t resist the urge to “improve” the basic story by merging and tightening (as in Tim Burton’s Batman, the killer who starts our hero on his crime-fighting path turns out to be his prime antagonist), but that’s a minor change. Scriptwriter Johnson ups the hero’s level of Catholic guilt and tamps down the darker aspects of ingenue Elektra’s character (in a Blogcritics piece, I recently wondered how readers coming to the character from the movie would respond to a reading of Elektra: Assassin – after watching Garner’s ineffectual hard-ass in action, the question remains), but, in general, he gets the details right. Watching Affleck’s Matt Murdock go to sleep in a sensory deprivation tank, I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if he tried to roll over in his sleep, though.
Where the movie flops on its back and gasps for air is in its fight sequences, which are so choppily and confusingly staged that I quickly gave up trying to follow ‘em. When the pic’s brief moments of computer generated “radar sight” are clearer than the actual camerawork, you know you’re in trouble. I bought the first scene where young Matt Murdock, waking in the hospital after the blinding accident that’ll also heighten all his other senses, freaks out amidst a chaotic cacophony of sensory stimuli. But I’m not sure that we, the viewers, were also supposed to experience this chaos trying to make sense of all the movie’s muddy fight scenes. Calling your hero “The Man Without Fear” doesn’t really mean much when the audience can’t clearly see what’s supposed to be so all-fired frightening.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.