Film review

Hell Is For Heroes

DIRECTED BY Mark Steven Johnson

STARRING Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan

Opens February 14, Cert 15, 105 mins

Created in 1964 by Marvel Comics supremo Stan Lee and legendary Golden Age artist Bill Everett, Daredevil has always been far more than a mere Spider-Man knock off. He's Marvel's vengeance-driven answer to DC's Batman—a parallel never more apparent than when the character was revitalised in the '80s by writer/artist Frank Miller (more or less as a dry run for his groundbreaking Batman opus, The Dark Knight Returns).

Director Mark Steven Johnson and star Ben Affleck (Daredevil aficionados since childhood) have taken Miller's most celebrated story arc and delivered an exuberant, action-packed superhero romp laced with noir overtones. Daredevil is the dark vigilante epic that Tim Burton's visually resplendent but utterly static Batman should have been.

New York lawyer Matt Murdock (Affleck), blinded in his youth by an accident that robbed him of his sight but left his remaining senses functioning with superhuman sharpness, prowls the rooftops of Hell's Kitchen at night, delivering bone-crushing justice to local mobsters as Daredevil, the leather-clad Man Without Fear. Driven by the memory of his brutally slain boxer father, Jack "The Devil" Murdock, Daredevil is closing in on Manhattan gang boss The Kingpin (Duncan) when he falls for ninja-cum-heiress Elektra Natchios (Garner). Targeted by Kingpin's rabid, sharpshooting assassin Bullseye (Farrell), Daredevil and Elektra play out their fraught romance against a backdrop of increasingly wild, high-stakes encounters with the bad guys.

Speaking of whom, Colin Farrell's Irish accent makes its US debut attached to the most OTT performance of his Hollywood career. Whether Bullseye's wasting overly-chatty grandmas or somer-saulting from motorbikes at 90mph, Farrell chews the scenery with a hunger reminiscent of Nicholson and Pacino at their freakish scene-stealing best. Garner makes for a beautiful, sexy and tough-as-nails Elektra, Joe Pantoliano (as reporter Ben Urich) and Jon Favreau (as Murdock's wisecracking partner, Foggy Nelson) contribute quality support and Duncan (his voice switched to ultra-bass and his biceps pumped to the size of watermelons) was born to play the towering Kingpin.

But this movie belongs to Affleck. J-Lo's main squeeze puts his trademark easy-going charm on hold (apart from the odd romantic aside) and portrays a grim-faced, driven hero, tortured by his past and given to furious bouts of righteous violence. Plus, Affleck's a fucking big bloke who looks impressive in scarlet leather without the need for rubber muscles. His Daredevil looks like a hero, simple as that. Of all recent superhero movies, Daredevil is the most unapologetically faithful to its source material. Johnson has created a whirlwind comic book adaptation that stays true to Frank Miller's illustrations without sacrificing pace. Particularly impressive given Johnson's previous credits as scripter of Grumpy Old Men and director of restricted-growth tear-jerker Simon Birch.

Daredevil makes it three in a row for Marvel (after the success of X-Men and Spider-Man) and kicks off 2003's extended slate of fantasy blockbusters with gusto. Cunningly packaged to appeal to die-hard fans and casual viewers alike, this is unpretentious comic book mayhem at its melodramatic best.

Rating: 4 / 10


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