A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 425 – Daredevil

Daredevil – April 29th, 2011

Andy introduced me to Daredevil as a comic book hero when I was in college. I read two books, Born Again and The Man Without Fear and felt like they gave me a pretty good feel for the character. I didn’t immediately feel the need to go hunt down everything else about the character, but I liked him and I liked the world he was set in. So when this movie came out and started to get not-so-great reviews I was disappointed. Not crushed like I would have been if, say, Batman Begins had stunk up the theaters, but it was sad to know that apparently a hero I quite liked hadn’t been done as well as he deserved.

So the thing is, I never bothered to watch it. Andy told me it was bad and I’m not overly fond of Ben Affleck as an actor (I’ll get into why in a moment) and I just never felt the need. Watching it tonight I decided it isn’t so much that it’s a bad movie. I think I know from bad movies, so I can say this with some authority. We have bad movies in our collection and this doesn’t even approach most of them. What it is, is something worse than bad. It’s mediocre. It is middling at best and that’s a real shame because it’s clearly had a lot of care put into homage to the comics, which says to me that the people making it actually give a damn. So how did it turn out so blah?

I found it rather hard to care about pretty much everything in this movie. Having read enough of Daredevil’s origin story to know where he comes from, I was hoping that some of that would be captured in the movie. Instead it’s whipped through in a flashback. Lots of things happen in this movie, like the people making it wanted to make sure they covered as many bases as possible. Which is likely part of the problem. Got to include the origin and the law office and Elektra and Kingpin and Bullseye and the journalist and the cops and vengeance and redemption and come in under two hours. I honestly think this might be a case of too many fans involved in the making of the movie, wanting to include too much love for the source. Looking at the trivia there’s character names based on all the various creators of the character. There’s homage to issue covers and old themes and so on. Kevin Smith, a notorious comic book fanboy, has a small role as a character named Jack Kirby. This is not a movie made by people who didn’t care, like I suspect X3 was (still bitter about Callisto) and I think it was overkill. There’s a point where when you make a movie with an iconic character who’s been around for decades and had several major storylines, you have to step back and pick and choose what to include because you can’t use 40 years of comic books as your movie storyboards. And I think that’s just what they tried to do here.

It gets messy. We start out with Daredevil, whose secret identity is Matt Murdock, a young and idealistic lawyer who was blinded as a child due to a freak accident. Said accident took away his sight but enhanced his other senses to the point where his hearing serves as a form of sonar (I know the movie and comics call it radar, but if it’s supposed to be echolocation it’s sonar and yes I will remain pedantic about that) so by using the sounds around him he’s able to “see” his surroundings. He trains hard, somehow learning martial arts in secret. The comics explain his training and I found it odd that a movie so full of homage didn’t find a way to mention his mentor, Stick. Anyhow, mild mannered lawyer by day, crime fighter by night, Daredevil exacts justice that Matt Murdock often can’t get legally due to crooked lawyers and a flawed legal system. Oh, and he’s also out for vengeance for his father, a boxer who was killed by crime boss Kingpin for not throwing a fight. Toss in a beautiful woman named Elektra, who’s thoroughly trained in martial arts herself and also the daughter of one of Kingpin’s associates, kill off her father and set her on a mission for revenge and also have a reporter trying to find out who Daredevil is and what he’s out to do and you’ve got this movie. Starts okay, then falls apart. And I totally forgot to even mention Kingpin’s hired hitman, Bullseye, in there. Cause yeah, our villain hires another villain to do his dirty work.

The result of all of this is that we get almost no time to spend on any one of these characters or plots. Murdock himself gets the origin flashback, and I admit I liked the kid they had playing him and I liked his relationship with his father and how it all played out. I liked the reveal of his sonar and the visual effect for it. But once that’s over it’s all fleeting introductions and very little in the way of character development. Elektra gets some background where we find out her mother died in front of her and her father’s had her train in self-defense since she was five. But that’s about it. We meet Murdock’s law partner, Foggy (played by Jon Favreau, who seems to do a nice job in these sidekick roles) but get no background on him whatsoever. Hell, we don’t even get to know the backgrounds for our villains. Kingpin grew up in the Bronx and Bullseye is Irish. That’s it. That’s all we get.

Aside from that it’s all fight scenes and kissing. Because there’s this dramatic romantic plot for Murdock and Elektra where he can’t tell her who he is (classic superhero trope), but then they also square off and spar in the middle of a playground full of kids. Cause yeah, Matt, that’s totally subtle and not giving anything away at all. And then there’s more action and more action and then Matt goes to confession and then there’s more action and then some poignant scenes for him and Elektra and more action. It’s uneven and undecided and frustrating.

Honestly, going into this I expected the weak point of the movie for me to be Ben Affleck. He seems like a decent guy and all and he’s been making a name for himself as a director, but most everything I’ve seen him in has him playing a version of himself and I wasn’t sure he could pull this off. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he wasn’t terrible. He didn’t nail the role but he didn’t ruin it. The only thing I disliked was his constant half-smirk, but I think that’s just how Affleck’s face is built. But really, I didn’t hate him here. I liked Jon Favreau and I liked Michael Clark Duncan as Kingpin and I even kind of liked Colin Farrell’s twitchy Bullseye. Jennifer Garner as Elektra was easily my favorite role of the movie though, and given how mediocre this movie ended up being I can see why the second one wasn’t a second Daredevil movie but an Elektra movie instead.

April 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Daredevil

April 29, 2011

Daredevil

I have a fondness for Daredevil. Not for this movie – for the Marvel comic series about a man with no fear. Before I discovered Daredevil, and the Frank Miller Daredevil in particular, I had a general disdain for Marvel. It came from years of The Incredible Hulk and Spider Man cartoons in my youth. In my mind Marvel was a technicolor world of crazy magical hijinks – the kind of thing that gave comic books a bad name. DC on the other hand was the home of Batman and Swamp Thing and the Watchmen. In the nineties DC – through the Vertigo label – became the source of all that was cool and awesome about comics. Dream and the Endless. Tim Hunter. John F-ing Constantine. Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman were in DC’s court. Then again, Frank Miller had started out over at Marvel, and around a time when I was collecting everything he had ever written I picked up a bunch of his Daredevil stuff. Sure, okay, Daredevil is a blind man whose super power is that he can see, but he’s also super cool.

As a result of my love for the comics I was looking forward to this movie, and also as a result my reaction to the film was slightly more vitriolic than it might have been if, say, an Aquaman movie had been disappointing. I have said in the past that this is an awful movie, but the truth is that it’s simply a fairly mediocre movie. It’s just a little bit less than adequate, really. But I found this to be profoundly disappointing in a Daredevil movie.

The plot is a kind of amalgam of several of the Frank Miller story lines. It has an abbreviated origin story about how the bookish young Matt Murdock was blinded (this time by liquid hazardous waste instead of a glowing green bar of radioactive waste.) We get to see his father, the washed up prize fighter who is working as muscle for a small time crime boss in Hell’s Kitchen. After Matt is blinded he discovers that his other senses have become ultra powerful. When his father is killed for refusing to throw a fight Matt becomes obsessed with justice – becoming a conscientious lawyer by day and a masked vigilante by night. We see him meet and clash with Elektra, the love of his life, and we see her swear vengeance on Daredevil because she believes that he’s responsible for the death of her father. There’s a bunch of fight scenes, some pretty cool special effects, and a very disappointing showdown between Daredevil and the Kingpin.

Part of the problem with this movie is that it can’t seem to settle on a single tone. It wants to be a serious story of a man obsessed with vengeance for his father’s death. It also wants to be a sort of romance story. It also has a lot of pure cheese – mostly on the part of Colin Farrell as Bullseye – a villain apparently more obsessed with witty one-liners than with all the casual killing he does. The movie very quickly touches on a number of iconic moments in the general Daredevil story arc from the books but doesn’t stick with any of them long enough to flesh them out. So like the digital representation of Daredevil himself in the movie the plot leaps implausibly about and looks fairly fake as it does so.

Ben Affleck is not awful in the role of Matt Murdock. He actually does a convincing job of portraying a blind man some of the time. This is one of the better aspects of the movie – it realistically portrays a blind man in a sighted man’s world. I appreciated seeing things like the braille printer in Matt’s office and the way he folds his money to distinguish denominations from each other. He has a watch with a flip top so he can feel the hands. He walks convincingly with a cane. Clearly, a lot of research was done here. Then he goes and spoils it all by having a very public fight in a playground with Elektra. (At least in the comics when Matt and Elektra battled for the first time in college he was wearing a scarf over his head as a disguise.) Really there’s not much attempt made to hide Daredevil’s “secret” identity in this movie. By the end of the film I think the only major character who doesn’t know who he really is is his old friend Foggy Nelson.

Another thing I give this movie credit for is the wonderful “sonar” effect showing us how Matt sees the world using his hearing and sense of smell. It looks cool and is entirely plausible in the world of the movie (if you can accept that Matt can somehow dodge bullets as he hears them coming.)

I just wish that the rest of the film could live up to that. It doesn’t though. It’s a bit of a mess, really. I has a great deal of narration at the start telling us what we’re seeing, which always pisses me off (except in Creeping Terror, where it makes me laugh my ass off.) It is packed with supposedly symbolic imagery which has no relevance to the film. (I dare you to count the crucifixes and angels.) If you want to drag religion into your comic book movie that’s fine with me, but at least have it make sense for the character instead of being window dressing. It ends up feeling like writer/director Mark Steven Johnson wants to make an epic film but doesn’t quite know how. There are hints at the paradox of a lawyer turned vigilante and how laws cannot be upheld by vengeance, but they, like so many little tidbits in the movie, aren’t fleshed out at all.

It frustrates me that it feels like this movie is such a near miss. It does some things right, and it has some intriguing things to say about the character of Daredevil. It is absolutely packed to the gills with homage and reference to the comic books. All the same, it falls flat and feels shallow and unfulfilling. The best thing in the entire movie is Jennifer Garner as Elektra. She’s cool and flawed and fascinating. It made me with there were a movie with just her in it – and then there was. We’ll review that tomorrow.

April 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment