by Lucius Shepard|
September 26, 2003
You can actually feel yourself growing stupider while you watch Daredevil.
As the bright and dark flicker-flickers on the screen, you have a growing sense
of vacancy and agitation such as a chicken might endure when it realizes its
legs are bound, its on a moving conveyer belt, and something sharp up
ahead is flashing down and doing truly creepy things to other chickens.
Youre not suggesting here that seeing Daredevil would prove fatal,
but the vagueness and frail apprehensiveness that come after suffering through
it seem redolent ofat the leasta Near-Death Experience.
Ben Affleck, the Worlds Sexiest Man according to People Magazine,
and dont you have to wonder whos on that selection committee,
because in most circles, excluding that of necrophiliacs, sexiness is generally
associated with vitality of some sort . . . Ben is having a
really bad career day. Dressed in a scarlet leather rig thats surely the
envy of every fetishist, emblazed with a double D that makes you think he might
work as a stock boy at some sort of Chains nThings franchise. Having to
upchuck dialog like, Can one make a difference? There are some days I
But then Ben is not only the Worlds Sexiest Man, hes also the
Worlds Most Vapid Actor (note to every other actor: you want
Afflecks agent, because the guys got to be an ace!), so he may well
belong in the Worlds Lamest Superhero movie.
When you arrive at the theater and settle into your seat, you have some hope for
the picture because its based on Frank Millers Elektra Saga,
one of the better comic book runs of the 80s, and you dont yet know that
director Mark Steven Johnson is Ed Wood with a budget and his
looks-like-a-movie-but-really-isnt plays more like an episode of Celebrity
Mismatch, that show in which just for yucks we try to put together two
Hollywood stars and see how little chemistry they can generate while surrounded
by popular brands of candy, soft drinks and toothpaste . . . His
movie, then, is an idiotic, crass, overstuffed jumble of story
lines held together by vacuous characters and ineptly conceived scenes (many
lifted from other somewhat less awful superhero flicks), all dressed up in the
usual post-Matrix camera tricks and some of the most abysmal CGI effects
to date, larded with spasmodic bouts of brainless violence and lapses into
sophomoric humor. Nevertheless, youre still hanging onto that little
scrap of hope when the opening shot fades up. A rat scurries down the street.
You understand this is Johnsons subtle way of telling you, its
going to be a dark ride.
Oh my God.
Bens doing a voiceover, telling us about his life.
Lets listen, shall we?
Daredevil, aka Matt Murdock, is another of the Marvel stable of tormented,
alienated heroes. Orphaned by hoodlums who slew his daddy, prizefighter Jack
The Devil Murdock; blinded in a tragic childhood accident for which
fate compensates by bestowing upon him incredibly heightened senses and a
brooding, tormented nature thats tailored for wreaking vengeance. As you
sit there, you wonder how Bens going to handle the role. Smug and
self-satisfied? No problem. Bored and dumbstruck? A snap. Dazed, listless,
pouting? All within the Sexiest Mans repertoire. But brooding and
tormented . . . ? The answer is, sometimes he winces and at
other times he furrows his brow and looks down. Down, you suppose, is the
direction of brooding and torment. Up, then, must be where fulfilled and happy
Okay. Youve got it.
The first time you see Daredevil in action, while cruising for a little
vigilante justice, he follows a rapist into a packed bar and proceeds to beat
the living doo-doo out of everyone in the place while they fire their pistols
non-stop, loosing maybe three, four hundred rounds, and, miraculously, nobody
Just the thing to inspire the kiddiestheyve been wondering how fun
it would be to play with daddys gun.
Turns out Daredevils day job is attorney-at-law. Got a nice little
practice. Only defends innocent people with no money, yet hes obviously
is making a killing at it, given all his fine clothes and gadgets and stuff.
Nights, he goes after the bad guys who slip through the cracks of the judicial
system. He loves his work . . .and hes a lover, too. It
isnt long before he meets and mates the Worlds Sexiest Woman,
Jennifer Garner. Shes playing Elektra Natchios, who in the Miller comic
was an assassin, but in Mr. Johnsons world is a supermodel or something
who just happens to know a mess of martial arts. Their foreplay consists of a
kung fu battle thats more than vaguely reminiscent of that heinous rape
thing our hero so deplores. Then comes the chemistry part. Watching Bennifer
and Jen make love arouses in you the same stuporous feelings you get when
watching bacon drippings congeal after drinking a few too many brewskis the
Dum de dum de dum . . .
Did you leave the door to your apartment unlocked? Maybe you should pick up some
of that new Pepsi Twist on your way home.
As youve been watching, bits of dialogue come to your ears.
I didnt catch your name.
I didnt drop it.
To your immediate left, several skinny, wan-looking young boys accompanied by a
pudgy middle-aged man with Coke-bottle specs seem glued to the screen by this
Does everybody have to go through this to get your name?
Try asking for my number?
To your right, three popcorn-munching pre-teen girls giggle at the brisk
Its hard to keep track of the movie, because Johnson is
determined to cram around a hundred issues-worth of Daredevilish information
into a hour forty minutes or thereabouts. The whole things like the
digest version of a novel, a trilogy with the second book left out. Its
more fun watching the audience drool and gibber. No wonder, you think, George
Bush won the election.
A few inconsistencies appear. Daredevil, not gifted with superpowers, is capable
of keeping pace on foot with a car. He can leap from a skyscraper, fall a tenth
of a mile and catch hold of a wire without ripping his hand off. He can avoid
machine gun fire.
The man seems pretty darned healthy for a guy who guzzles pain pills and takes
downers to sleep.
Villains materialize from the Johnsonian chaos. Theres Bullseye (Colin
Farrell), an unerring marksman who hits everything he aims
at . . .except one. Hes got his grouch on for Double D
because Daredevil once made him miss. Talk about pique. Bullseye has about 8-10
minutes of screen time, much of which he spends donning his cool leather
coatit goes Whoosh! each time he puts it on, whirling it like a
matadors cape. You consider obtaining your own sound effect. A cigarette
lighter that sounds like a nuclear explosion. A cell phone that sounds like the
whack of a guillotine blade severing bone when you flip it open.
Bullseyes head is shaved and has a telescopic range-finding display
tattooed on his forehead. He looks, you think, like Andre Agassi turned S&M
The interest of Mr. Pudgy Guy and his pet children peaks whenever Bullseye makes
an appearance. They hunch forward and rest their chins on the seats in front of
them. You begin to have suspicious thoughts regarding their relationship.
Then theres Kingpin.
In the Miller comic, Wilson Kingpin Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan) is
an enormous white man who is mad for evil and capable of tossing cars around.
Duncan is appropriately enormous. My God, the man is his own CGI effect. But he
plays the role with all of the dread panache of Urkle on steroids. Hes
responsible for several murders and lots of other evil stuff, and this has
something to do with the plot.
Even the pre-teen popcorn munchers are beginning to look disengaged, but
theyre going to go to school tomorrow morning and tell everyone how cool Daredevil
is, because it wouldnt make them look cool to have seen an uncool movie.
Maybe this also helps explain George Bush.
All the big fight scenes, you observe, have been edited into incoherence.
Jennifer Garner is the most physically incompetent female action actress since
Geena Davis tried her hand at swashbuckling in the gloriously albeit
unintentionally funny Cutthroat Island. Thinking about how frightened
Geena looked each time she whipped out her sword makes you laugh, something
that Daredevil does not. Its a hell of a lot darker ride than you
expected. The film may not end. You may be stuck here forever with the popcorn
munchers and Mr. Potential Child Molester and his sickly brood, watching
Jennifer worry about her motivation and Ben practice his scowl. There are worse
fates. You pass the time enumerating them. There are seven in all, you decide.
Eight, if you believe that an Iraqi invasion is not beyond the realm of
But it does end, it really does . . . though end is
perhaps not the term youd use. It collapses. Finally deflates. Finishes
dissolving into a puddle of Johnsonesque putrescence. You stagger up and head
along the aisle. You feel collapsed, deflated, dissolving. The popcorn munchers
brush past youtheir giggles sound muted and joyless, squiggles of random
girl noise more than expressions of delight. Glancing back at the screen, you
catch the announcement that therell be a sequel. Your step falters, you
reel. Somethings wrong inside you. The aisle seems to go on forever,
angling up and up, a long dark tunnel at whose end people are waving,
silhouetted against the light, a beautiful, soft white radiance. Your old
friends and relatives, waiting to welcome you into an environment wherein there
is no pain, no worry, no Daredevil. You hope thats whats happening
because . . . Jesus! A sequel. You just cant wait.