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  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
from Film Forum, 02/13/03

Next week, Film Forum will feature an array of reviews from religious media critics on the new action film Daredevil, which is based on a long-running, popular comic book. Ben Affleck stars as the troubled, vengeful hero while Jennifer Garner (TV's Alias) plays the combative beauty who falls in love with him. Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile) and Colin Farrell (The Recruit) play the wild and crazy villains.

If you plan to see the film before next week's installment, here's a preview … or rather, a caution. You might be surprised how a film with a villain called "Bullseye" could fall so far sort of just that.

Daredevil follows the classic structure of a superhero story: A young hero suffers a grievous blow in his childhood that motivates him to spend his life fighting evil. The handsome and melancholy lawyer Matt Murdock comes complete with a complex and a costume, and like Spiderman and Batman he can leap from one tall building to the other, crash down on violent gangs in dark alleys, and defeat them single-handedly. Of course, he has a love interest. Elektra (Garner) is a spectacular martial arts "warrior" whose training comes in handy when she discovers her own reason to seek violent revenge. The romance that sparks between her and Murdock begins with a memorable first date: a rough-and-tumble fight on playground equipment, during which Elektra marvels at Murdock's abilites. Matt Murdock is blind. Every hero has his handicap.

And yes, Daredevil has a conscience, although a rather feeble one compared to Peter Parker's; he goes into a cathedral, just as Ben Affleck did in last year's Changing Lanes, to confess his sins and vent his moral angst. But whereas the hero of Changing Lanes was motivated to pursue more peaceful methods, Daredevil marches back out to kick some criminal butt. The message seems to be, if you can't get it done in the courtroom, don't leave vengeance in God's hands. Go deal out death and judgment yourself.

The film also glorifies the most rushed and reckless romance I've seen in such a film; Murdock and Elektra are rolling in the sheets before he even knows where she's from or what she does for a living.

It's not a total bust: Director Mark Steven Johnson directs stylish, spirited fight scenes and draws admirable energy and emotion from the actors. He also keeps the film focused on our hero's character development. But the dialogue is overstuffed with clichéd one-liners and frequently interrupted by an annoying and pretentious voice-over narration. Murdock is the only character we get to know; Elektra is too busy showing off her combat abilities to let us learn anything about her. Thus we are not given much of a chance to feel for these characters the way we felt for Spiderman or my favorite big screen comic hero, Unbreakable's David Dunn. Besides, who has a chance to feel genuine emotion while being bombarded by a ridiculous and overbearing soundtrack of generic and caustic rock songs?

Daredevil is just the first of many movies coming up this year that have their origins in the comics shop. Let's hope this means that things will only get better.

from Film Forum, 02/20/03

Michael Steven Johnson's Daredevil is this year's first attempt to bring a comic book to the big screen, a few strides ahead of Hulk, X-Men 2, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He seems to have pleased fans of the comic, but few critics came away enthusiastic about what they saw.

Ben Affleck stars as a Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who dons a red leather costume at night and ventures out to fight crime with his enhanced senses. As he deals out violent judgment for getaway crooks, this not-so-handicapped hero is torn between the desire for revenge and justice.

In this episode—you can bet this is the beginning of another franchise—Murdock experiences love at first "sight" with a neighborhood girl named Elektra (Jennifer Garner). A rather hasty and athletic courtship, one that rushes from violent sparring on a playground to a quick tumble in the sheets, leads Murdock into participation in Elektra's personal quest for vengeance. They have two mutual targets. Kingpin is a Herculean crime boss played by Michael Clarke Duncan, master of that menacing bad guy chuckle. Kingpin's zany assassin Bullseye, giddily over-played by Colin Farrell, is an expert at throwing sharp pointy things into other people's necks and foreheads. A series of violent confrontations and a flurry of bad one-liners ensue.

So, is Daredevil a hero to admire or just another vengeful egomaniac in tights? Religious press critics lined up to offer a wide range of opinions this week.

Gerri Pare (Catholic News Service) says, "the message is mixed in that Matt agrees seeking vengeance is wrong, but ends up back in his red get-up, declaring he is the city's 'guardian devil.' His character is clearly well-intended but continues to rationalize taking the law into his own hands."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) responds to the film's assumption that it carries some sort of religious significance in its array of Roman Catholic symbolism. "Any biblical standard which might have been seen was overshadowed by the vigilante aspect of the title character. Johnson never really takes the time to let us care about his characters or what happens to them. He keeps the camera so close to the action that, while it looks like something cool is happening, it is difficult to tell what it is, much less appreciate it."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) was surprised at the level of violence: "This is definitely a movie mature teens to twenty-somethings will probably enjoy the most, but adults who are into the comic book heroes will get a kick out of it as well. Sadly, there will be many parents who will take their young children to see this movie, because they think the PG in the rating means it will be 'kid-friendly.'"

Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) is even more troubled by the violence: "Daredevil is no Spider-Man. It's darker and considerably more objectionable. The violence is … quite explicit in places. Aside from the hero's moral turmoil and some cool effects … Daredevil is a comic book cliché that's most noteworthy for its abuse of the PG-13 rating." Similarly, Shaun Daugherty (Preview) concludes, "Daredevil has a dark, chilly tone with little comic relief. Substantial violence, a brief sexual encounter and objectionable words earn it negative acceptability marks."

Taking a pro-Daredevil position, Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) calls the film "a triumph of screenwriting redaction and well-utilized effects over weak characterization and generally uninspired casting."

Also somewhat impressed, Tom Snyder (Movieguide) says that Daredevil is characterized by "a strong Christian worldview." But that worldview is polluted, he adds, by "Romantic, pagan and satanic elements and symbols." He concludes, "The best part of the movie … is the way in which it resolves the moral conflicts within Matt/Daredevil's own soul. Matt eventually decides to take his priest's admonitions about justice versus revenge to heart, despite the personal tragedies he undergoes during the story."

Mainstream critics are lining up to dismiss the film as formulaic, noisy, and dull. "Daredevil … is little more than a hollow clone of Batman and Spider-Man," says Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly), "with far less idiosyncrasy than either." Michael Wilmington (L.A. Times) agrees that this hero falls far short of Tim Burton's Batman, Bryan Singer's X-Men, and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. "Those pictures played with our sense of wonder or nostalgia. They were fun to watch because of the loving way they elaborated the old pop myths of the superhero crime-fighters and their bizarre origins and peculiar lives. There's something ugly and chaotic about Daredevil. The movie is loud, clanging, and unimaginative."

Some, like David Elliott (San Diego Union-Tribune), took note of the questionable moral conduct of the hero. Elliott calls Daredevil's work "a revenge quest that pretends to be a moral, city-saving crusade. It's depressing even when volatile, because nothing matters except the frantic blowouts of violence, with solemn pauses for inane motivation, and some childish humor." He adds, "When Hollywood bakes a pulp pastry like Daredevil, the dough that rises isn't simply the budget. You can feel your mind becoming a sponge cake, so porous that air whistles through it like wind."

from Film Forum, 02/27/03

Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) recently posted a review on current box office champion Daredevil. He concludes, "For comics fans, it will be hailed as a wonderful realization. But for others, it may seem to be just another guy in a leather suit beating people up." He is also concerned about the film's PG-13 rating: "This is dark material that most under the age of 13 do not need to see."

And speaking of the blind superhero, ABC News reports that blind people do not necessarily see Daredevil as an inspiration. Brent Hopkins, communications specialist for the American Foundation for the Blind, says, "To live with a disability, you don't have to be a superhero."