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Thursday
Jun092011

Cinema de Gym: 'Daredevil'

Kurt here. For those of you just tuning in, Cinema de Gym is an experimental series in which I give my two cents on movies that play in an in-house theater at my local gym, where I'm attempting to shed "writer's pounds." Instead of seats, this screening room has treadmills and such, and plays a daily film on a loop. For the first installment, we chatted about Barry Levinson's Bandits. Today, inspired by Nathaniel's "Mutant Week," the subject is Daredevil, the 2003 handicapped-hero flick and the third big comic book movie of the Aughts (following, of course, X-Men and Spider-Man).

This is an easy movie to belittle for a whole mess of reasons. Box office clout be damned, Ben Affleck makes for an unwieldy superhero, especially since he was nowhere near his lean Town physique when this film was shot (directing just literally takes it outta ya, I suppose). That he looked a lot older than 30 at the time certainly didn't help matters, and both age and unwieldiness compounded the secondhand discomfort of that red leather suit, which, frankly, wasn't worth the poor cows' hides.

Then there was the silliness of Colin Farrell's Bullseye who, however well cast, would be one of the first of many counterproductively-comical superbaddies, saddled with meta lines like, "I want a bloody costume."

Farrell as Bullseye, Garner as Elektra

But I hardly count this among the worst of our last decade of superhero cinema, as the subsequent years would give us beauts like Jonah Hex, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and, oh yes, Elektra. Before the spinoff, I thought Jennifer Garner excelled as Daredevil's sai-wielding vigilantess, balancing sex appeal with girl-next-doorness and fitting much more nicely into her S&M gear than future hubby Ben. She certainly has this movie, not Alias, to thank for her big-screen career.

Moving on, I'm with Roger Ebert in regard to the film's visual f/x, which the uncannily prolific critic championed heartily upon the film's release. In a movie of fickle success, writer/director Mark Steven Johnson – whose own professional fickleness we'll get to in a sec – finds some handsome ways to envision the tricky nature of hero Matt Murdock's powers, which are akin to Sonar in that the blind crime fighter can "see" sound vibrations. Specifically, a scene in which Elektra stands in the rain so Matt can see her face via droplet sound waves is quite purdy, if overtly digital.

Matt Murdock. No relation to Scott Summers.The thing with Cinema de Gym is, I only see 15- to 30-minute snippets of the film in question (depending on the day's endurance level), so I ought to discuss the segment. What I saw of Daredevil was in fact a lot of down time – the slower bits in which Matt chats with his co-worker and Hollywood-prescribed best bud, played by future Iron Man helmer Jon Favreau. Matt, a lawyer, has a built-in taste for justice, but that's not all that interesting. What I liked were curious details about his handicap, like how he folds bills of different denominations in different ways, so as to feel the correct amount. I remembered that part from first viewing, and saw it again in my gym segment.

About Mark Steven Johnson, the guy's got a really odd filmography, penning a grab bag of screenplays and directing a few of them to all-over-the-map results. In the '90s, he wrote the Grumpy Old Men movies, Simon Birch and Jack Frost (the Michael Keaton weepie, not the straight-to-video slasher), then did Daredevil before writing and directing...Ghost Rider and When In Rome.

[Pause] ...whoa.

At a recent party, someone told me he felt Daredevil was the movie that shaped the superhero film as we now know it. I'm not sure about that, but it certainly seems to have been a tipping point for its director.

Conclusions?

1. Ben Affleck is wise to have not returned to comic book cinema (assuming it would have had him back).
2. If nothing else, mediocre superhero movies can lead to loving, lasting Hollywood marriages.
3. Supporting parts in superhero flicks can give actors the comic book director's bug. (Might the long-awaited Wonder Woman be helmed by Thor's Kat Dennings?)
4. I'm suddenly dying to see what Mark Steven Johnson does next, and I imagine he's open to suggestions. The floor is yours, TFE readers.

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    [...] s details about his handicap, like how he folds bills of different denominations [...]

Reader Comments (9)

I love J.Gar! Can you believe a couple of years later I actually paid good money to watch "Elektra" after suffering through this one? That is how far my endless love of an actress will take me to.

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJose

I am tempted to say this is the worst movie I've ever seen, but it wouldn't be fair, as I'm not at all a comic book movie person. I was dragged to the theater and sequestrated inside by a mob of so called friends who after that went to see something else... I'm kidding, but I still remember the experience I had seeing this. Never again.

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradelutza

the director cut is less worse and i remember i saw the movie for Farrell and Garner is more manly than Affleck

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercaro

adelutza -- i went of my own accord and leaving the theater I hated myself to such a adegree that i feared i would never forgive myself. awful awful movie.

June 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

"Shaped the superhero film as we see it" is probably X-2. And Nat: REALLY? Mostly because I could never view this as worse than Batman "insert ice pun here" & Robin. Affleck is bad, but Michael Clarke Duncan is certainly better here than in his Oscar nominated role (not like that's a big hurdle), I liked the prologue and Garner and Farrell were very good. Overall: Original cut: C-. Director's: C. This isn't the worst superhero movie ever (no question Batman & Robin) but it is certainly the least interesting.

June 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Volvagia -- yes, really. This is to me the absolute nadir of the genre. At least Batman & Robin has really outre over-the-top elements that make it fun to watch or at least mock. This movie is TERRIBLE and uninteresting. I'd even prefer to sit through Elektra again and that's almost as bad!

June 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Wow, Nat. I, too, am a little surprised by the hatred. (I'm also surprised no one's mentioned the proposed reboot. Definitely not worth it, in these eyes.)

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