Daredevil (review)

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There, up on the screen! It’s–! It’s–!

It’s Ben Affleck in a leather jumpsuit.

Sure, maybe he looks cool, posed majestically on the cornices of Manhattan rooftops in the rain, voiceovering his existential despair and superhero angst for us in a growling monotone, imploring us to, you know, really get the loneliness of the freakishly abled avenger for justice. But he’s not fooling anyone. He’s just a guy on a soundstage in a silly costume, getting wet under the rain machine and wondering what’s for lunch today.

And he’s not a very interesting guy, at that.

The enticing semi-psychotic dark-side sexiness of Michael Keaton’s Batman? Not for Ben. The square-jawed all-American nice-guy appeal of Christopher Reeve’s Superman? Ben says Thanks but no. Is it that Affleck’s Matt Murdock has no personality, or that Affleck himself hasn’t got one? For a guy who’s apparently a huge comic-book geek, I’m just not feeling that excitement, that “ohmigod can you believe I’m playing a Marvel superhero?!” frisson that Affleck surely is experiencing. If this guy ever flew around the elementary school playground with a cape made from the sweater his mom made him wear buttoned around his neck, I’m not seeing it. Uber-geek (and Affleck pal) Kevin Smith has a brief cameo here, as not even a superhero sidekick, and you can practically feel the hair on his arms standing up and saying “Can you freakin’ believe this?!” But Affleck (The Sum of All Fears, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) looks, for the full 90-something-minute running time, like he’s waiting for the director to yell cut so he can go back to his trailer and play Xbox with the bored torpor of an already world-weary teenager.

Affleck’s not the only one who’s not really here. Michael Clarke Duncan (The Scorpion King, Planet of the Apes) put on 400 pounds or so to portray the crime boss Kingpin, and boy I hope it wasn’t too hard to take it back off, cuz he’s got little to do but stand around throwing roses at people, and he appears to realize it. The idea of one mean dude in charge of all criminal activity in New York City is so nebulous and so unexplored that it becomes a nonissue — and Duncan can’t emanate the malevolence to make us forget that. Joe Pantoliano (Cats & Dogs, Memento) barely makes an impression as the old standby character, the superhero-chasing reporter — he exudes so little threat that we never fear that he’ll expose Daredevil’s secret identity. Not that we care if Matt is exposed, anyway. There’s something distasteful about his nocturnal crime-fighting hobby, actually — not the vigilante aspect itself but the fact that he’s a lawyer by day. He’s like a John Ashcroft wet dream: a supposed servant of the public trust who, when the system doesn’t go his way, takes it outside to beat the shit out of a guy whom he, unilaterally and without appeal, deems as deserving of such irreversible punishment.

Where’s Captain America when you need him?

Jennifer Garner (Catch Me If You Can) is meant to be Michelle Pfeiffer-Catwoman scary-sexy as Elektra Natchios, Daredevil’s on-again, off-again girlfriend/nemesis, but she and Affleck have no chemistry. CGI versions of their characters do get to chase each other around, and carefully choreographed pseudo foreplay/martial arts battles occupy them for a fair chunk of time. Also, she has boobs, heh heh. There’s not much to Elektra beyond that.

I don’t much blame the cast — they’ve all been effective in other roles. I blame writer/director Mark Steven Johnson, responsible for the terrifying Jack Frost, the schmaltzy Simon Birch, and now this. Honestly, how is it possible to sap the deliciously oily charisma of Joey Pants? And yet it is done here. (Colin Farrell [The Recruit, Minority Report] as psycho killer Bullseye escapes denaturing, but then, he’s got personality to spare.) Johnson’s script is watered down, his characters completely undeveloped, and most everything onscreen fails the internal-consistency test: Murdock, whose every sense, especially hearing, has been heightened by his blindness, is so agitated by every little sound from blocks away that he sleeps in a metal box half under water to block out the sound, and yet he wears leather? How does the creaking not drive him insane? And why would a masked vigilante intent on maintaining his anonymity and near mythic proportions risk being discovered, after killing a bad guy, by taking the time to carve his initials 6 feet across into a concrete subway platform, using no discernible tools, and then fill the carved-out logo with some sort of flammable fluid — which he presumably had to go find somewhere, because where in that tight catsuit could he be storing it?

So that Joey Pants can come along later and toss a lit cigarette in it and light it up, is why. Johnson is so concerned with things looking cool — flaming marks of Zorro and superheroes posed on rooftops — that he forgot to make us care.

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