Saturday, February 15, 2003

Looking To The Stars: The Devil Digested

How could this happen? I mean, they had the talent behind it. They had the backing of the company. They even had a public willing to give the movie a chance after they all saw and believed that a man can spin a web. So how on earth could they have screwed it up this badly?

You guessed it. Starman saw Daredevil… and like most of the fans and nearly every respected critic out there, I found it… lacking. Okay, nobody is going to be sweeping the Razzies’ in a years time but this movie could have been so much better… but the bad dragged down the good. And just to show that Unca Stars isn’t all dark and gloomy, we’ll talk about what was done right first…

1. Ben Affleck

In my own little circle of geeks, I know I am one of the few who actually thought Ben Affleck could pull off this role. And I think he did. Granted, Ben has done some stinkers in the past (Reindeer Games, anyone?) but he’s a good actor for the most part. And more than that, he is one of us: a comic fan. And Daredevil was his favorite book as a teen. In fact, Ben wrote the introduction to the trade paperback collection of Kevin Smith’s “Guardian Devil” story and his love for the characters is very evident as he talks about Daredevil. And that love and devotion to the character of Matt Murdock shows in his performance.

2. The Bad Guys.

He’s Bald, He’s a Brit and he kicks a lot of ass. No, Not Grant Morrison!

The one actor’s whose casting DID bother me. Well, I apologize. I was proven wrong. True, the purist in me is a little put off by an Irish Bullseye, he does have the gist of the character down: pure psychotic menace with a dark sense of humor. I was willing to admit I was wrong when he pulled out the paper clips. I was sold during the scene on the airplane. (You’ll have to see the movie to get what I mean. I can’t spoil it.)

Michael Clarke Duncan also does a worthy job as Wilson Fisk. Anyone worried about an African American Kingpin should put all worries aside. He does Daredevil’s archenemy total justice. No bones about it.

3. The Radar Effects

While not nearly as high tech or impressive as one might be lead to believe by the movie’s press, the effects do a good job of conveying what the world must look like through Matt Murdock’s ears.

4. The Visual Look

In terms of style, the movie is gorgeous and looks like it was ripped right out off the pages. Everything is dark, somber, moody and gothic. Even the redesigned Daredevil Suit looks good.

Sadly, that cannot save us from the bad….

1. The Devil Destroyed

Daredevil does not murder. He may beat people senseless, but Matt Murdock has never intentionally killed a soul in the comics, through action or inaction.

In the movie, Matt kills a rapist after he manages to buck the system in court. He then agonizes the rest of the movie, wondering how he can call himself a good guy in light of the fact that he is doing this. In fact, he declares at the end when he has the chance to kill Wilson Fisk and doesn’t take it that he “is not a bad guy”.

There isn’t enough dung in all the stockyards of Fort Worth, to equal the amount of bulltish I need to call on that argument.

Of course someone argued with me this morning that by the end of the movie, Matt has changed into his traditional heroic self and the examination of his changing is more interesting than his original represent the law/fight for just duality conflict.

Well, maybe so. But why show that change in the first place? I heard people in the theater grumbling about how hard it was for them to sympathize with a hero who is, technically, no more different than the bad guy’s he is fighting against.

And the typical heroic nature is sucked out of Matt in another way. The blind man he was pushing out of traffic is cut out of the accident that blinded him in the movie. Aside from being a shocking bit of dramatic irony (Matt gets the condition of the man he was trying to save), it eliminates the tragedy inherit to Matt’s heroic nature. IE: his desire to help people, always seems to come back to hurt him later.

2. Rushed

In general, the movie feels very rushed, as if there was an effort to try and put so much in. As it is, we don’t get much in the way of character development or characters talking to one another. We don’t get any background into Matt and Foggy’s meeting in high school, or any indication that they are law partners and not just friends until a meeting at the office (where we get our one and only look at Karen Page). Ben Urich is in very few scenes and there’s nothing to show the friendship that he and Matt share in the comics being built.

For that matter, there is not anything that would give Urich any reason to destroy his article on Matt being Daredevil other than pure “the city needs a hero” civic-mindness, which Urich never seems to show the movie. Even Wilson Fisk, the bad guy of the piece, is given very little scene time and we are shown little evidence of his being a bad guy, except that he is having one of his disobedient hirelings killed and is willing to employ a sociopath like Bullseye.

The movie also violates the classic rule of “Show, Don’t Tell”. For one thing, how do we know Wilson Fisk is a criminal? Because Matt says so and Fisk admits as much while reading the paper. We never actually SEE him do anything evil directly, though. How do we know Daredevil is called “The Man Without Fear”? Because Fisk tells us so.

This movie could have really used a Daily Bugle headline (or whatever paper Urich works for) or a scene of people in the streets talking abut the latest news about Daredevil with a headline “Man Without Fear”. Cliched? Yes. But then again, some things are cliches because they work.

3. The (Not So) Special Effects

In the words of my friend Gillian, whom I saw the film with “he’s not Spider-Man”. It’s true. Some of Matt’s jumps and flips (the scene where he rebounds upward between two walls in an alley comes to mind) seem to improbably defy physics. Improved agility and dexterity granted… but not THAT improved.

4. The direction

The fight scenes are shot too close in and give very little idea of the scope of their locals. While the city background shots are epic in their sprawling over the urban landscape, it all falls apart when we do extreme close-ups on Ben Affleck as he is punching a guy.

Also, some scenes in the movie (Elektra’s training scene in particular) seem to have been pulled out of a music video as opposed to a film. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bit of background music as much as anyone. But whereas Spider-Man and Superman depended upon deep instrumentals by John Williams and Danny Elfman to convey character emotions, this movie has Bullseye doing stunts on a motorcycle to Rob Zombie and Drowning Pool screaming “You can’t stop me!”

5. Too many in-jokes and asides.

Okay, I know I may take a beating for this one… but this movie had way too many asides and in-jokes for the die-hard Daredevil fans. Case in point: the quick-eared will catch mentions of the most recent Daredevil writers and artists of note (Miller, Mack and Bendis are fighters Jack Murdock beats on his way to a fight with John Romita…). Kevin Smith and Stan Lee both do cameos and there are characters named Jack Kirby and Jose Quesada as well as references to a Lee case.

It feels, at times, if the movie was written as a gigantic scavenger hunt for the fans and that any thought of plot or characterization fell toward going down a checklist of “Things The Fans Want The Movie To Have”. Speaking of which…

6. The script.

The movie seems to have been written by going down a list of the best moments the entire series and trying to find some way to connect the dots. I can just see the writers now…

Bullseye killing Elektra. Check. Daredevil fighting Bullseye in a church? Check. Ben Urich destroying his article on Daredevil? Check.

The dialogue in this movie is just… horrible. As wonderful as the visuals are, the internal monologue and dialogue just grates on the nerves like adamantium claws on organic steel. (What, am I the only one sick of the fingernails on chalkboard analogy?) The romantic talk between Matt and Elektra, for example, is as hokey and groan inducing as anything since Episode Two. Speaking of which…

7. The romance and lack thereof.

I’ll be blunt: the “romance” in this movie sucks. As I said, the romantic scenes are unconvincing. The “first love”, year-long college relationship of Matt and Eletkra in the comics is condensed into a one night stand, brought about through a butt-kicking contest and the amazing love that changes Matt Murdock happens over a course of about (as best I can tell) three days.

8. Jennifer Garner and Elektra in general.

She isn’t really given much to do besides be pretty. I mean, Elektra has never been a very well developed character to begin with. And her fight scenes are a joke. I don’t believe for a second that she could beat up Carol Channing, much less Ben Affleck.

Then again, there’s some difference between training to fight and actually doing it. I’ve never been formally trained in any martial arts, but I’ve never lost any fight I’ve been in.

Speaking of which, if I may make a technical note about Elektra’s training? From what little I know of the Martial Arts, isn’t it a bad thing to train with a different sensei every year? I mean, it takes years to master ONE martial art. I can’t imagine that getting a basic education in several is going to help much against a Master of one. For that matter, it is never said if she trained in more than one... just that she had several different teachers. What if it was a different akido instructor ever year?

Either way, we’re supposed to believe that these rich girl with little practical experience fighting can beat a guy like Matt who has been training himself to become a vigilante and fighting bullies since he was 12. Even allowing for the fact that he is likely holding back a bit while trying to talk reason to her? As the eskimo said to the fridge salesman, I ain’t buying it!

9. The Costume

Bullseye says it best. “I want a bloody costume.” He needs a bloody costume.

Overall, the spirit is there but the flesh is weak. There’s a lot of talent here, but the writing doesn’t give it much to work with. The plot is weak and all over the place, trying to do too much and cover too much of the Daredevil mythos in too little time.

And, oh yeah. Daredevil doesn’t kill. Ever.

Final Ranking (emphasis on the rank) :3-4 Stars out of 10.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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