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Daredevil (2003)
Writer and director: Mark Steven Johnson

review by Debbie Moon

Growing up in Hell's Kitchen, New York, with his washed-up boxer Dad, Matt Murdoch has it tough. Things get even tougher when he's blinded in a toxic waste accident. But, as we all know, radioactive waste has a tendency to give you superpowers - and Matt's remaining senses are sharpened into a kind of aural radar, opening the way for impossible feats of agility and some mean street-fighting skills. He overcomes his disability to become a lawyer, championing the poor and downtrodden - and by night, he roams the streets as the vigilante Daredevil, bringing brutal justice to those the law can't touch.
   But being a hero in a corrupt world isn't easy. He's starting to blur the line between justice and brutal vengeance; a sharp-eyed reporter is on to his secret; and when love enters his life in the form of beautiful heiress Elektra, his night life and day life collide, with catastrophic results...
   The first half of the movie has a lot going for it. Half comic-book origins issue, half 'mean streets' noir, it conjures the ambition and the tragedy of Murdoch's early life perfectly. Moving to the present, Ben Affleck is convincing as the affable but driven lawyer - accepting fish instead of cash from his impoverished clients, teasing his more ambitious business partner, and exploiting his disability to chat up girls. His romance with Jennifer Garner's warm, wary Elektra is believable, and gives us the best scene of the film - a flirtatious martial arts workout in a playground, cheered on by delighted kids.
   Unfortunately, Murdoch's day life is simply drawn better, and more interesting, than his nights of costumed capering. Writer/director Johnson seems to be working from a checklist of plot points - crime lord, assassin with unnatural abilities, unexpected (yeah, right) link to the hero's past, love interest as target... The most promising idea - a tragic misunderstanding that leads Elektra to blame Daredevil for the assassin's deeds - is rushed through in a few scenes, with little attempt to explore its effect on their relationship. The plot moves inexorably through confrontation with the assassin to taking down the Kingpin himself, but there's a distinct feel of a movie going through the motions. The clichéd evil these men have done just isn't enough to make us care whether they're defeated or not.
   Yes, Daredevil is watchable, amusing, and, some ropey CGI aside, looks fantastic. Solid performances from Jon Favreau and Joe Pantoliano help shore things up, and Jennifer Garner in leather can never be a bad thing. But if you're any kind of comic-book fan, you're more likely to get excited about the accompanying trailer for X-Men 2 than about anything in this enjoyable but rather disappointing movie.
Daredevil poster
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Daredevil artwork


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