U.S. Release Date: February 14, 2003
Distributor: Fox
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Writer: Mark Steven Johnson
Producer: Avi Arad, Kevin Feige, Stan Lee (executive), Arnon Milchan
Composer: Graeme Revell
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Favreau
Running Time: 1 hour and 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (action/violence and some sensuality)

A Devilish Mixed Bag
by C.A. Wolski

Since the success of the Superman and Batman franchises, it seems like movie houses have been awash in men and women in bright tights. The newest entrée on the superhero menu, DareDevil borrows heavily from other pictures in the genre, fellow Marvel Comics hero Spider-Man among them. But for all its failings, DareDevil is an entertaining and sometimes intriguing movie.

A minor character in the Marvel canon (at least when I was of comic book reading age), DareDevil is the typical psychically scarred hero who has committed his life to protecting the little guys. In this case, he oversees New York's Hell's Kitchen as a way to avenge his murdered father. Unlike most other superheroes, DareDevil is disabled. Blinded in a freak accident as a boy, he has acquired superhuman hearing, touch and smell. In his conventional life, DareDevil is mild mannered attorney Matt Murdock, defender of the weak and the innocent.

It's all pretty standard stuff reminiscent of both Batman and Spider-Man. But writer/director Mark Steven Johnson has added a couple of nice touches to the story, which illustrate the toll crime fighting is having on our hero. Early in the movie, after DareDevil has brought to justice a rapist Matt Murdock was unable to convict, we see the aftereffects of the fight—a lost tooth, a new scar to add to the hundreds covering his body, the rows and rows of painkillers. DareDevil might have superhuman powers, but he is also a human being. Later on, DareDevil is mistaken for a villain by one of the people he is sworn to protect, showing how thin a line justice treads.

But for all these nice touches, including an amusing sparring match between Murdock and his soon-to-be paramour Elektra (the stunning Jennifer Garner), and a couple of good fight scenes, there are numerous tooth-grinding lapses. Among them are Murdock's goofball partner Nelson (Jon Favreau) and Colin Farrell's Bullseye, who is the most over-the-top assassin in history and a real lowpoint in the young actor's already spotty track record.

Ben Affleck is surprisingly good filling the superhero shoes. By its very nature the genre requires the lead actor to take the role seriously. After all, the only way the audience will accept the inherent ludicrousness of a grown man dressed in a red leather outfit who fights for justice is if the actor in the red leather costume doesn't act as if it's ludicrous. Affleck is serious, but not stiff. He can be at least watchable when he wants to be. Garner is luminous as Elektra, but completely wasted. Fans going to see the movie just for her should skip it and stay home for Alias instead. She deserves a much better role to showcase her obvious talent.

The revenge story is pretty standard stuff with an arc that harkens back to Batman. The end fight with the villainous Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan) is a missed opportunity to explore the superhero's ironic relationship with evil—he needs it as a reason and motive to exist, which explains the culmination of the battle.

With the exception of DareDevil's sonar "sight," even the special effects are nothing special and even look a little amateurish by today's standards.

Still, the picture has no pretensions about being anything other than what it is and as an escape from a rainy afternoon it fills the bill admirably—at least until X-Men 2 premieres in May.

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