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The latest in the resurgent trend to bring comic book heroes to the silver screen, Daredevil is a dark, violent movie more in the vein of Tim Burton’s Dark Knight Batman than last year’s Marvel-based blockbuster, Spider-Man. While it falls far short of being a mainstream crowd-pleaser, Daredevil does take enough chances to earn a modest recommendation.

The Right Matt for the Job

Flamboyance comes from the villains in Daredevil
Flamboyance comes from the villains in Daredevil

Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck, The Sum of All Fears) is a blind pro bono lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Fulfilling a pledge made with his father, Matt has dedicated his life to justice and to fighting for the underdog. He is a man without fear and he never, ever gives up.

Matt’s so tightly wound up in his one-man justice league, he refuses to defend clients he knows (through his own internal lie detector) are guilty. Taking things to the next level, when Matt the lawyer fails to win his case against the corrupt by day, Matt the Daredevil serves justice by night as an unforgiving vigilante.

As a 12-year-old, Matt was exposed to hazardous chemicals that blinded him, but gave him heightened awareness in all his other senses. A dark, moody character, Matt is rarely given the opportunity to let down his defenses. When he does, it only leads to pain, either physically or emotionally. He’s the kind of cursed character who finds the people he cares for meeting untimely ends.

One ray of light that enters his sightless world is Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner, Catch Me If You Can). She’s a stunning vision of beauty and an accomplished martial artist; she’s the ultimate femme fatale and every bit Matt’s equal. But even their relationship is imperiled when Daredevil is implicated in the murder of Elektra’s father.

Behind the murder is The Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile), one big man who is basically a Mafioso type, complete with a runt of a henchman. Kingpin is also aided and abetted by a uniquely talented Irishman named Bullseye (Colin Farrell, The Recruit).

Keep the Faith, Matt

Once again, like in Burton’s vision of Batman, flamboyance comes from the villains. In this case, Farrell gets to ditch his fake American accent and stick to his native Irish lilt. He provides morbid fun, in a very warped and violent fashion. (The film’s funniest moment actually comes, at Bullseye’s expense, midway through the film’s end credits.)

Just like his name indicates, Bullseye is a master marksman — and one who can turn the everyday paper clip or playing card into a deadly weapon. He’s one bad boy who needs to cut down on the coffee, but his over-the-top, frenetic mannerisms are a nice counterbalance to the somber, calculated movements of Daredevil.

What makes Daredevil himself interesting is his emphasis on spiritual themes. From the film’s beginning, when Matt comments on how every neighborhood has a soul, to the end, when he realizes some days all you need is faith, there’s the understanding that the character is working on a far deeper level than the nerdy Parker kid who got lucky and became Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.

For the most part, Affleck succeeds in bringing out the broodiness in his character. Like Bruce Wayne, Matt Murdock is deeply wounded by the world around him and he has the emotional scars to prove it. He’s an introspective character who clues viewers into his mindset through voiceovers. Some days, Matt says, he believes one man can make a difference. On other days, though, he’s lost all faith.

And faith is a big part of Matt’s life. A regular visitor to confessionals, Matt has a devil’s advocate relationship with his priest as the scales of justice weigh the struggle of good versus evil.

Go Get ‘em, Matt

Centered around a blind lawyer (and on top of it all, one who’s not a multi-millionaire), Daredevil takes some chances with the storyline and other characters as well. Aside from Farrell, there’s also Garner’s effective performance as a strong woman with a tender side. It’s to Garner’s credit that Elektra shows brains, spunk, and muscle.

What the film lacks, though, is a sense of pacing. As directed by Mark Steven Johnson (Simon Birch), the action scenes are muted and unspectacular.

The film also lacks a decent score that can heighten the emotional territory the film covers, from danger to love to excitement. As with his work on Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Graeme Revell delivers a virtually non-existent score that features too much choral music and not enough inspiration. The film also attempts to crank it up with a collection of grunge rock tunes from tomorrow’s has-beens, like Hoobastank and Nickelback.

Nonetheless, Daredevil is effective in creating its own vision, on its own terms, of a comic book hero in the real world. By focusing on the characters instead of whiz-bang action, Daredevil offers a case study in heroes to a world that desperately needs more of them.

Daredevil is a movie with soul. And it’s a soul strong enough to redeem the film from its sins.