Daredevil (2003)
Main cast: Ben Affleck (Matt Murdock/Daredevil), Jennifer Garner (Elektra Natchios), Michael Clarke Duncan (The Kingpin/Wilson Fisk), Colin Farrell (Bullseye), Jon Favreau (Franklin 'Foggy' Nelson), Joe Pantoliano (Ben Urich), David Keith (Jack Murdock), Scott Terra (Young Matt Murdock), and Erick Avari (Ambassador Nikolaos Natchios)
Director: Mark Steven Johnson


Comparisons to last year's Spiderman is inevitable, as both movies follow pretty much the same structure: bio-hazardous roots of origin, some kiddie flashback to losing a father figure that started the hero off on his vigilante career, a costume that even the most indiscriminate leather queen will cringe at the thought of wearing, vengeance, and of course, a woman.

Matthew Murdock's day turned rotten when as a kid, he witnessed his beloved father acting as a toady for the local Kingpin only to get blinded by biochemical material conveniently located around him. Apparently nerds wanting to buff up quick should dunk themselves in a soup of nuclear waste, because Spiderman gets hairy palms (er, yeah) and now Daredevil gets to have his other four senses enhanced to superhuman sharpness. I'm envious. Sex must be amazing for this guy, and as a bonus, he doesn't have to worry if his partner is fat, thin, pretty, or ugly. Quick, gimme my tub of bio-hazard material now.

But what this movie has that Spiderman doesn't is that it portrays Matt Murdoch as a really nice antihero. He takes my breath away. It isn't Ben Affleck's nicely downplaying his smug school of acting to portray a man who is more lost in the darkness inside that he would like to admit to himself, but the beautifully melodramatic script that combines the best of Asian noir overblown grandiosity with painful yet chilling Byronesque melodramatics - this steals my breath away.

There's a woman, and she's Elektra. Her origins are changed a lot from the comic version of Elektra, but Jennifer Garner wields her sai blades with style. She's essentially playing her Alias character, to be honest, with the same Daddy fixation but minus the non-stop weepiness that made Alias unwatchable for me. She kicks ass, and she in fact threatens to steal the show from the artfully smudged and disheveled Mr Affleck.

Forget the impressively choreographed fights and slow-motion CGI-enhanced scenes of Daredevil's supersonic sensory system at work. It's the poetic overblown moments that bring a tear to my eye - such as when Matt asks Elektra to stand in the rain so that the vibrations of raindrops hitting her face can allow his sonar sensory system to "see" how she looks like. This is a case of a man falling hard for a woman who can kick his ass, her looks coming only later - how nice that she's gorgeous, but that's secondary to these two's deliciously dark and twisted courtship. For Elektra and Matt, foreplay is pugilism inspired by Hong Kong martial arts movies (Mr Affleck must have studied Jet Li's style in holding his guide stick/weapon the way one would hold a sword). It's a shared feeling of losing someone they love so much that they all but isolate themselves from emotions, blanketed by fear and alienation. In fact, love between these two is like an obsession, and I love it. Who would've thought this cheesy movie would have a love scene so beautiful, backed by Evanescence's beautiful My Immortal, that it makes me tear up inside?

Oh yeah, Colin Farrell's Bullseye? Best villain ever. He doesn't wear the atrocious outfit Bullseye wears in the comics, although his line about wanting a costume cracks me up. He's like a pit bull terrier morphed into a human being. His penultimate confrontation with the Daredevil in a church is lifted right out of a Tsui Hark movie, complete with blatant (but amusing) attempt at inserting religious imageries with Bullseye as Jesus and Matt as the devil. Really! Then again, the comics are always rife with religious imagery, right? Isn't Matt an Irish-Catholic, his conscience struggling with his need for vigilante-style "eye for an eye" justice?

Michael Clarke Duncan lets loose in his role as the Kingpin, with always a knowing twinkle in his eye as he hams it up nicely.

But forget the fancy footmoves and aerial acrobatics. The true magic of this movie is how it portrays loneliness and heartbreak in the most heartbreaking Wagnerian style. This Daredevil watches passionately as a subway train bisects a rapist into two. Rain falls at convenient moments for scenes of dramatic and intense moments. Yet, with Mr Affleck and Ms Garner emanating chemistry of nuclear meltdown proportions even as they imbue their characters with heartbreaking and tangible isolation, their coming together feels so right, so perfect.

Daredevil plays out like a dark paean to this modern age's sense of isolation and cynicism in a melodramatic yet effective manner. While Peter Parker is young and he might one day learn to be truly jaded, mad and bad Matt Murdoch's ultimate redemption by love is the tale I will savor in the end. Daredevil is one of the most romantic movies I've seen in a while.

Who would've thought it? I actually love a movie where the hero in costume makes me laugh. Yes, Matt, follow your priest's advice: ditch the costume in the sequel, okay?

Rating: 95


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