Blinded by a chemical spillage as a child, Matt Murdock finds that his other four senses have been heightened to an almost supernatural degree. When his boxer father is killed by gangsters after refusing to throw a fight, Murdock dedicates his life to exacting justice upon those who escape it, both by day as a lawyer, and at night as the masked crime fighter Daredevil. Tormented by his father's death and the crime that surrounds him in New York, Murdock (Ben Affleck) leads a lonely existence until the day he meets Elektra (Jennifer Garner), the beautiful daughter of a prominent billionaire who happens to work for the mysterious crime boss The Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan).
Daredevil was always very much Marvel Comics' equivalent to DC's Batman – a man tortured by the loss of his parents, who walks a fine line between defender of the peace and violent vigilante. Of course, Daredevil's gimmick is the fact that his blindness gives him ability to swoop through the city using sound and touch, devoid of any fear he might otherwise experience. It's a great character, but writer/director Mark Steven Johnson's attempt to bring him to the big screen is something of a mixed bag. The film works almost the opposite way to last year's other Marvel yarn Spider-Man, which actually lost some of its momentum once Peter Parker got into his costume. In this case, Daredevil works pretty well when Ben Affleck is fighting crime in his cool burgundy outfit, but doesn't always hold up elsewhere.
It's almost an obvious thing to say, but much of the problem is Affleck – he certainly looks the part and does a decent 'blind act', but his bland delivery and minimal charisma keep Matt Murdock a two-dimensional character, unlike, say, Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker. It's not helped that virtually every other character is both better acted and more interesting, from Jon Favreau's wisecracking lawyer partner and Joe Pantoliano's chain-smoking New York Post hack, to Garner's smouldering, knife-wielding heroine and Duncan's imposing mob boss. And Colin Farrell's interpretation of Bullseye, the merciless assassin with a pin-point throwing ability, is superbly entertaining – Farrell only has a handful of lines, but exudes more screen presence here than in Affleck's entire back catalogue. The film's best scenes are always when he's on the screen, and there's an exciting showdown between the pair in a church towards the end.
Johnson does his best to explore the notion of 'justice' and what that really means in modern society – Murdock will only take on clients he knows are innocent, even if it means struggling to make a living (much to his partner's irritation), and it's quite shocking when we see Daredevil let a rapist who escaped justice in the courtroom die horribly under a subway train. But the director undermines himself with some supremely silly scenes – Murdock and Elektra's kung-fu fight in a kids' playground, or the moment when Affleck 'sees' Garner for the first time as raindrops fall upon her face – as well as some lumpen dialogue and the fact that there isn't really any plot. Johnson directs in that fast-cutting, post-Crow style that most moody urban actioneers seem to have these days, all tilted angles and swooping crane shots, and there's the requisite number of anthemic rawk songs on the soundtrack. As superhero flicks go then, Daredevil is vastly better than the likes of Batman & Robin or Spawn, but not in the same league as Tim Burton's Batmans, the first two Supermans, or Bryan Singer's X-Men films. It's reasonably entertaining though, and watch out for cameos by director/comic buff Kevin Smith and the ubiquitous Stan Lee.