SECTION SIXTEEN
MOVIE REVIEW

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COLUMN EIGHTY-EIGHT, APRIL 1, 2003
(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)


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DAREDEVIL
(OR DAREDEVIL MEETS THE RECRUIT)
(Copyright 2002 Joe Viglione)

Daredevil is a special creature from "the House of Ideas", Marvel Comics Group, though there is no denying he is based on a character from their competition,  D.C.'s Batman.  Minus the wealth and young buddy this vigilante one ups Bruce Wayne in the super powers sweepstakes. Instead of the bucks to buy James Bond-ish cars and build a Bat Cave, Attorney Matt Murdock has heightened senses---not "merely" the intuition that the Bat relies on.

When Superman the film  delivered Christopher Reeves and the Batman TV series brought us Adam West, it spoke volumes about finding not-so-famous actors who wouldn't overshadow the colorful characters from the pulpy pages adored by millions.  Not only did Michael Keaton destroy the strong image that actor West  forced through the comedic routines, Jack Nicholson upstaged The Joker.  That West and Cesar Romero didn't get to play their mind games inside the otherwise fine Tim Burton Batman is a cinematic tragedy.

Which brings us to Ben Affleck.  You know, it's not as frightening a prospect as the thought of a latter-day Nicholas Cage playing Superman, and Affleck does create a wonderful Matt Murdock.  Not only that, David Keith was born to play the short-lived Jack Murdock, the similarities between him and Matt Damon's buddy are very interesting.  The problem with Daredevil is that when it stays within the world created by Stan Lee (who, when doing his Alfred Hitchcock walk-on, is just totally intriguing for Marvel Comics fans), the film is fantastic.

When it becomes The Matrix meets Tim Burton's Batman by way of the Sopranos, it gets watered down in typical Hollywood color-by-the-numbers fashion.  Joe Pantoliano as Ben Urich is very good, but he gives out a yelp much like when Keanu Reeves came up behind him in Matrix, and isn't Keanu the cinematic cousin of Ben Affleck?---two actors with better looks than acting talent?

Affleck's stiffness works to Murdock's benefit---who better to play a blind man than an actor still groping and wandering around in the professional dark?  Affleck could turn out to be the next Rock Hudson, an actor who ---legend has it---made one of the worst screen tests in film history, a screen test allegedly shown to aspiring actors so that they would get a sense of how great an unskilled individual could become.  The mob story gets more than just a clone of actor Robert Iler from The Sopranos as one of the bullies beating up on Scott Terra, the youthful Matt Murdock.

Michael Clarke Duncan hardly resembles the lost soul from  The Green Mile--- as the powerful African American version of Kingpin (and what a unique take on one of Marvel's most compelling villains!) his abilities add immensely to the mood. The clip shown on the Jay Leno show of Kingpin meeting with Matt Murdock is simply brilliant, Duncan's comment that "no one is innocent" details the master criminal's philosophy succinctly and with a charm not in the comic books.

What is becoming a bore today in film, though, is this incessant "Martial Arts" kick.  From James Bond to all the Matrix clones you can imagine, enough is enough.  There is a wealth of activity in the comics and why oh why won't Hollywood go to that well and keep bringing fresh water to motion pictures?  Original ideas and fascinating twists abound in the comic book pages, psychological yarns that are not that difficult to translate to film.  Reinventing the wheel and repainting the Mona Lisa seems to be the bane of Hollywood in the late '90's and the new millennium.

Which takes this full circle back to Timothy Burton's Batman.  The parallel between the creation of these anti-heroes down to the red roses is too close to cloning. Colin Farrell hits a bullseye with Bullseye, his good looks removed for acting skill that upstages Ben Affleck.  Farrell and Michael Clarke Duncan have that intangible chemistry sought after but not often found when pairing up evil-doers plotting their villainy, while the true sparks could've generated if Bullseye had a "normal" alter ego and got buddy buddy with Matt Murdock. 

If Hollywood is going to stray from the original concept at least they could do it with a bit of cleverness---see Ben Affleck's quote in a February issue of Entertainment Weekly where he wants people to start a rumor he's having an affair with Farrell.

Daredevil has much to be proud of; Affleck is finding his way as an actor and looks great as the attorney--- the sets are dark and beautiful, but there's a sense of restraint from director/screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson.  A feeling of "let's not stray from what we think the public wants."

This attitude certainly did much for Spiderman, to the chagrin of true Spiderman fans, and Daredevil does not get totally abused in the same way. But it still isn't what those of us who grew up on the character expect, know or love.  Maybe it will  take Dr. Stephen Strange to break the mold and be a comic book hero that Hollywood doesn't desecrate, a character that can be himself.  Then a movie masterpiece can be expected. 

For now Daredevil is good escapism, a PG13 world full of action and violence with images of The Exorcist overflowing, so much Hunchback Of Notre Dame Catholic Church stuff permeating the decor. And what a time to have an abundance of  Catholicism on celluloid---what on Earth is that all about?  The Stigmata finale is also rather suspect, but all in all, Daredevil is a lot better than the fears many fans had regarding what the big screen would do to a beloved cult creature.  When all is said and done it's enjoyable and worth watching a few more times when it hits cable.

(C)2002 Joe Viglione
P.O. Box 2392
Woburn, MA 01888
tel:(781)935 5386  ##

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