Hey folks, Harry here and I get the oh so delicious honor of *sauntering to my keyboard with a come hither look of overheated exasperation* introducing Alexandra (pant pant) DuPont's DAREDEVIL review. Hearing a gal go pitter and patter over a subject so dear... it's enough to make one swoon and dreaming of long discussions about other such topics whilst swaying in a hammock beneath huneysuckle blossoms and sipping the mint flavored tea with Ms. DuPont... sigh... Here she is...
Alexandra DuPont's Daredevil FAQ
You've seen Daredevil?!
Between a dress fitting and registering for assorted tchotchkes at Austin Books , indeed I have.
Lucky bitch! How's that "X-Men 2" trailer they're attaching to the film?
It is marvelous -- and, in keeping with the post-2000 Marvel Studios philosophy, it's largely character-focused. Judging from the fleeting shots in the trailer, there's more and better action, some cross-country travel, enough characters to fill a mutant "Love Boat," and (get ready, Lickerish) a front-and-center role for Hugh Jackman , who looks like he may have many funny/cool moments in the film. Personally, I loved (a) the bit where police tell Logan to "drop the knives," and he rolls his eyes and responds, "I can't," and (b) the trailer-closing moment where Wolverine shoots his claws at a not-at-all-frightened cat. Hated Famke's hair.
Huh. Well, what's the upshot on Daredevil? You know, many of us TalkBackers are primed to hate it.
[Sighs] May I ask why, as if I didn't know already?
It stars Ben Affleck! And it's directed by that Simon Birch guy!
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I thought Daredevil was actually pretty solid -- and the preview-screening rats around me seemed to agree. Even worse, Affleck gives a nuanced, twitchy, compelling performance that may be his best yet.
The movie's not perfect, mind you -- I'll get into that in a minute -- but I'd argue that if Daredevil had come out before Singer's X-Men and Raimi's Spider-Man, people would be heralding it as the first character-driven Marvel superhero movie of quality. It's surprisingly good.
Oh, give over! You liked Pearl Harbor!
Listen: A movie can be degrees of "good" or degrees of "bad." I know that sounds painfully obvious, but you wouldn't know it to read most chat-room pundits these days. Everything "SUCKS!!!" or "ROCKS!!!" even as old-school critical tools (evaluations of craft, intent, passion, and characterization, or even the simple appreciation of kooky little eccentricities that can make a bad film interesting) are discarded in favor of Eminem-style online fronting -- a fiesta of exclamation points that makes me wonder why a striving artist would even bother trying to please us in the first place.
Take X-Men, for example: As a colleague and I discussed in a recent review of the X-1.5 DVD, the wire-work in that flick is Katherine-Hepburn shaky and the storyline's largely pedestrian, but strong characterizations push the steamboat over the peak. Just so with Daredevil. Despite the fact that the movie gets a lot of things exactly right, I suspect it will polarize the online community -- but, as Moriarty put it, if you can shrug off some of your excess comics baggage, there's a mildly tragic, mildly sexy, mildly nasty little piece of entertainment to be had. And I'm sorry, but Daredevil's action scenes are better than any of the set pieces in the first X-Men.
What?s the story?
Oh, you know: Kid has rough childhood; kid gets blinded by toxic waste; kid's remaining senses are heightened to sonar-like intensity; kid loses father to sadistic mobsters; kid grows up to become pro bono lawyer by day and masked vigilante by night; Kid hunts down local godfather even as he falls into a tragic relationship with doomed, ass-kicking tycoon's daughter. It's all boiled down (maybe too boiled down) from the classic Frank Miller comics, then wrapped around a very cool flashback frame story that takes up literally two-thirds of the movie.
"Too boiled down"? What does that mean?
Well, if Daredevil has one problem, it's that some of it seems abbreviated -- particularly w/r/t the Kingpin, who's barely developed as a nemesis, even though he's nothing short of fascinating in the comics. (Seriously: I'm thinking of one Miller/ Sienkiewicz yarn -- the title escapes me -- where there's this whole irono-tragic subplot where the Kingpin's trying to get medical treatment for his dying wife and there's nothing he can do despite his iron grip on the city and the whole thing plays out like "The Godfather" with Lex Luthor as Vito. Anyway.) I'm all for Michael Clarke Duncan as an actor -- Big Mike! Fook! Imagine the size of his flute! -- but he comes off more as a big, cuddly guy in a nice suit than he does as the Machiavelli of crime.
This tendency to distill -- to hurry the narrative along at the expense of diving deep -- also hurts Affleck's performance a bit. Mind you, I have almost nothing but praise for Mr. Lopez in this film; he gives a sensual, non-verbal performance, and he's particularly good at conveying the physical pain that results from his heightened senses. There's something deeply touching about the moments when his main squeeze Elektra (Jennifer Garner) removes his aviator specs to look at his lazy, fogged-over eyes. Affleck gets taken for granted a hell of a lot, I think, because he's good-looking and radiates an essential frat-boy normalcy that geeks hate -- but I simply can't dismiss J-Bo or his deeply solid work in such films as Dazed and Confused, Changing Lanes, Good Will Hunting or even Chasing Amy, which I sort of despise as cinema but love for that one-minute monologue Ben gives in the car.
But back to the subject at hand: The only really weak link in Affleck's work as Matt Murdock is that we never really feel his great struggle with vengeance; instead, because this movie needs to chug along, we see a single, pull-no-punches scene where he kills a rapist, we see a scene where he feels kind of conflicted about his bloodlust, and we see a scene where he declares himself "one of the good guys" and turns his back on his cold-blooded ways. It's Cliff's Notes Daredevil, I'm afraid -- and one wishes that director Mark Steven Johnson had crawled around in Matt Murdock's head for 10 more minutes (or explored the by-the-numbers Murdock/Elektra romance for 10 fewer minutes).
But you said you LIKED this movie!
Oh, very much. For one thing, it's often funny, and the action scenes, though heavily edited, are beautifully constructed. For another, there are many, many visual nods to the classic Miller comics -- I mean, anyone who can dismiss that spectacular opening image of Daredevil curled around a cross, bleeding his own private stigmata over the stained-glass saints while dressed in a devil costume, is just plain ungrateful.
For another, Jon Favreau is a hoot as "Foggy" Nelson -- it's as if his character from "Swingers" has subsisted on donuts for a year and mortgaged his soul -- and Colin Farrell steals the film as an Irish lunatic who can turn any household item into a weapon. (Dear Lord, the man ricochets a peanut into an old woman's mouth and chokes her to death just to shut her up on an airliner!) Joe Pantoliano coasts through the film on a sled of weary bald cool as reporter Ben Urich, and the obligatory introductory scene between Murdock and Elektra is a funny, ball-busting riff on the whole "meeting cute" trope. (They had to meet cute, folks; at least it's a courtship wrapped in a playground fight scene.)
And then there's the efficient way the movie tells its obligatory "origin story" and the way it conveys Daredevil's sonar vision as a series of sound-strobed negatives -- an effect that seems obvious but was probably devilishly hard to come by. And stand up straight, lads -- Jennifer Garner can wear those leather hip-huggers. (This is a movie that seems destined to drive many people to the gym out of sheer embarrassment.)
Finally, I have to give some extra-special praise to the team that designed the sound mix for this film; they dunk the movie in just the sort of jarring, eerie, overdubbed noise bath one imagines Daredevil's every waking hour would sound like to him -- to the degree that it?s a relief when Murdock retires to his isolation tank for the evening. It's artful and maybe a little unnerving; if you're noise-sensitive, you might want to bring some ear plugs, but audiophiles should love the workout. (That said, the rock songs will date this film badly in a few years. But it could be worse: The score could be by Michael Kamen.)
How's that CGI?
About as good as it was in Spider-Man. Take that for what you will. As impressive as the advances in integrating CG characters into real environments have become -- the light-matching work in this movie looked superb to my uneducated eyes -- the CG Daredevil "stunt double" nevertheless moves in a plasticine manner that makes him terribly easy to spot. (It's kind of like spotting stunt doubles in episodes of "The Fall Guy," only shinier.) But then, this is a movie where people seem bounded by the laws of physics until they suddenly leap 20 feet off a building, soaring like cliff-divers in the Vomit Comet; if you can buy that, you can probably handle a leather-clad man moving like a character from Toy Story in a handful of long shots.
That said, the comparisons to Spider-Man don't end there. Daredevil, for all its strengths, was the first of these new Marvel movies to make me realize that the whole superhero genre is straitjacketed by a dangerously rigid dramatic structure: Tragedy followed by Angst followed by Revenge followed by Acquired Nobility. It strikes me that the sequels are where all these movies will finally be set free to explore some dramatic territory that doesn't involve howling about lost father figures and unrequited love. If Daredevil 2 gets a green light -- and it might -- then we'll be getting in to the whole "Elektra: Assassin" territory and some juicy Kingpin stuff and I'll totally be there with my eight bucks.
Warmest, Alexandra DuPont
P.S. Coming soon, barring disaster: an interview with a much-beloved cartoonist.