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DAREDEVIL

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Joe Pantoliano, Jon Favreau, David Keith
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 103 Minutes
Release Date: July 29, 2003

“I hope justice is found here today…before justice finds you.”

Film ***1/2

There have been some decent film adaptations of various comic book creations, such as Spider-Man and X-Men, but for my money, Daredevil is the absolute best comic book movie to come around in ages, alongside the Blade movies, as well as the current and much underrated LXG. This live action recreation of the man without fear has everything that a comic book movie should, as well as some extra ingredients you might not always expect, including that of character development. To be totally honest, the character of Daredevil himself has always stood out, for me at least, as one of the far more appealing comic book characters mostly because of the traits he carries with him and the moody backdrop of the story. Writer/director Mark Steven Johnson has thoughtfully kept both of these notions in tact with his interpretation of the vigilante avenger of the night.

The cursed spirit at hand is that of Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck), who was blinded at the age of 12 by an accidental encounter with toxic chemicals. He lost his sight, but received a supercharged enhancement in his remaining five senses. He is given a sharp radar sense that can guide his lost sight. Haunted by this, in addition to the loss of his father (David Keith), who was murdered in front of his eyes, Matt vows from that point on to serve justice one way…or another. He grows up to become a lawyer in his hometown of Hell’s Kitchen, prosecuting scum by day and avenging justice at night as Daredevil, the man without fear.

Murdock’s life soon takes a turn for the complicated when one day, he crosses paths with a beauty named Elektra (Jennifer Garner). The two spark a connection, then start a romance, which is immediately threatened by the criminal acts of local crime boss Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan), and his live wire assassin henchman Bullseye (Colin Farrell). Elektra’s father, a former associate of Kingpin’s, is taken down by Bullseye, though the evidence points toward Daredevil, it sparks an intense battle between her and Murdock’s secret identity.

What I appreciate mostly about Daredevil is that it manages to really stay true to the dark origin of the comic book. This is perhaps the first movie of its kind since Tim Burton’s Batman to stray far away from the family friendly aspects of your average comic book movie. A good example is an early sequence, where Daredevil lays justice on an accused rapist who Matt was unable to convict in court. I didn’t expect a moment of such dark nature to be included in a movie like this, but I’m glad it was. Another plus is the intimacy between Murdock and Elektra, which was more than I expected, as well.

The movie simply has everything going for it, in everything from its production design to the performances. The cast, in particular, is nothing short of fantastic. Ben Affleck, who I always thought would make an appropriate substitution for Batman because of his jaw structure, gives a unique and restrained performance as the title character. Not since Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman has an actor conveyed the condition of being blind to a full extent. Affleck is remarkable in every way, shape and form, right down to the simple facial gestures in making his performance believable. The one who manages to just about steal the show is Colin Farrell whose over-the-top performance as Bullseye is a pure knockout. Farrell, who’s made a career of playing protagonist, seems to be having a huge blast chewing the scenery. Michael Clarke Duncan is perfectly cast as the monstrous Kingpin, putting his physical presence to tremendous use, and Jennifer Garner, apart from giving a dynamite breakthrough performance, is purely a sight for the eyes as Elektra. The movie also gets good supporting work from Jon Favreau as Murdock’s law firm partner and Joe Pantoliano as the journalist covering Daredevil’s trail.

With the comic book movie-making machine at full speed, Daredevil is easily my choice for the top pick of the crop. It’s a hugely entertaining piece that stays fully true to its original origins, and presents a hero that is something of an original. Not only one of the best comic book movies to date, but also one of the best films of this year so far.

BONUS TRIVIA: You can catch Ben Affleck’s pal Kevin Smith in a small scene as a lab technician.

Video ****

To start things off, this will ultimately go down as one of the top DVD releases of the year if not the decade, because it excels in every field in a big way, starting off with an amazing anamorphic transfer. For a movie that has more dark sequences than it does light, Fox does this presentation absolute justice. The picture quality is simply amazing, capturing every inch of detail in every possible shot, including the frequent shots of Daredevil’s radar sight, which appear in stunning quality. This four-star presentation is hands down the best one I’ve seen all year.

Audio ****

No surprises here. I knew after seeing the movie in the theaters, it would soar on DVD, most of all in that audio department. The 5.1 mix manages to be something of an assault on the senses, putting the viewer not too far from the shoes of Matt Murdock himself. Daredevil’s radar senses alone payoff extravagantly well, creating a remarkable presence of dynamic range, as sounds seem to come from every angle possible. Action sequences, music playback, and dialogue delivery all get high marks as well. A monumental piece of audio.

Features ****

An incredible package. It’s so packed with extras, you wonder why it wasn’t given the Five Star Collection label. Disc one includes a commentary track with writer/director Mark Steven Johnson and producer Gary Foster, as well as a trivia track and an enhanced viewing mode that includes numerous onscreen offshoots that reveal insight into the production.

Disc two includes even more, which is divided into two separate areas, The Film and The Comic Book. Featured are two lengthy made documentaries on both the creation of the film and the comic book, as well as an HBO First Look special, Jennifer Garner’s screen test, a Kingpin featurette, a multi angle screen study, three music videos, six additional featurettes, and trailers, as well as trailers for 28 Days Later and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Summary:

Daredevil, as unique and original as the character was when created, is for my money one of the definitive comic book movie adaptations. Credit both a marvelous cast and strong creative team for bringing this superhero to a larger than life format.

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