When Daredevil didn’t screen for critics until the last minute, you had to think this film version of the Marvel Comic — starring Ben Affleck as the blind lawyer who kicks bad-guy ass by night as a masked vigilante in a leather outfit the color of red licorice — would suck big time.
Surprise. Daredevil isn’t laugh-out-loud lousy, it’s something worse: deeply, depressingly average. Writer-director Mark Steven Johnson, responsible for the wussified Simon Birch, tries to blend the dark world of Tim Burton’s Batman with the light touch Sam Raimi brought to Spider-Man and the result plays like a movie with no personality of its own.
Error No. One: the miscasting of Affleck. J-Lo’s intended gets by as lawyer Matt Murdock, fighting for lost causes in court, bantering with his partner, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (Jon Favreau), and picking up babes, such as Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner of TV’s Alias). “She sounds like a Mexican appetizer,” says Foggy. “She’s Greek,” says Matt, a line Affleck delivers with his patented smirk. Erektra is also an expert in martial arts, as she proves in a New York playground when she outjumps and outkicks Matt. This playful scene, using acrobatics as erotic foreplay, shows off Garner as the thinking guy’s sex symbol and brings out the best in Affleck.
That Affleck can’t give Matt or Daredevil is the haunted core of the comic-book hero Stan Lee and Bill Everett created in 1964 and Frank Miller darkened when he took over the drawing and writing in the 1980s. Matt, played as boy by Scott Terra, has been blinded in an accident involving toxic waste and then deprived of his boxer dad (David Keith) by an assassin named Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan in a performance that lets his jumbo cigar do the acting for him). The grownup Matt vows vengeance, but Daredevil is not such a super hero. His blindness has heightened his other senses, but aside from acrobatic skills he has nothing supernatural to help him. His bathroom cabinet is filled with painkillers and he sleeps in a sensory deprivation tank. To ease his conscience — this so-called Man Without Fear murders the criminals he can’t get convicted in court — he visits a priest (Derrick O’Connor) who must endure a mighty blather of moral conundrums.
In short, Daredevil dares very little. It’s glum without purpose or style. The one exception is Colin Farrell who dives into the role of Bullseye, a hit man who can turn any object — including a peanut — into a lethal weapon. This Irish actor has been getting royally hyped lately, as much for his dates (Britney) as his movies (The Recruit, Hart’s War). But here — with his head shaved, a target tattooed on his forehead and his Irish accent in lilting, wicked overdrive — Farrell steals the show by providing the one thing the show wouldn’t have without him: wit. After a battle with Elektra, Bullseye brags: “You’re good, baby, but I’m magic.” If only more of that magic had rubbed off on the movie.