I've never grown out of a childhood fascination with Batman. Ask anyone who knows me and they'll tell you that I still carry a 'hip-ripper' wallet adorned with a Bat-symbol; I drink my tea (or coffee) from an over-sized Batman mug and, for a couple of years in the late 1980's and early 1990's, I was in cinema heaven when Tim Burton turned his quirky camera eye on Gotham City's Dark Knight. Of course, then Joel Schumacher got a hold of the franchise and, with 'Batman Forever' and the risible 'Batman and Robin', seemingly forever killed any hopes of a decent comic book adaptation ever seeing the light of day again.
However, you can't keep a good man down - or, in this case, you can't keep a good money-spinner down and, after a suitable period of mourning, Hollywood once again turned it's attention to comic books as a source for material to translate to the silver screen. But, in recent times, the material seems to have been approached with much more respect than was shown to Bruce Wayne over a decade ago. To wit, over the last five years we have seen 'X-Men' and 'Spider Man', two of the most successful films of recent times. Both stayed true to the comic book roots and spent time establishing the characters - it's like a wind of change blew through Hollywood executives' offices. They now seem to realise that audiences aren't just in the cinema for an instant hit of excitement, but are in it for the long haul. Make them care and believe about the characters in the first installment and they'll return, time and time, again for parts two, three and four.
And that's exactly where Daredevil scores a perfect slam-dunk. Brian Helgeland's script pitches the 'origins' side of the story just right. We get to see the young Matt Murdock being brought up by a single father, a washed-up boxer who is trying (and failing) to be a good man and stay on the right side of the law. The relationship between father and son is played out to perfection, with Jack Murdock realising his failings but instilling a sense of right into his son, kind of a 'do as I say, not as I do' attitude. The accident that robs young Matt of his sight and subsequent loss of his father are also handled well and Ben Affleck is able to use these events as a perfect starting point for his portrayal of the grown up Matt, whose thirst for justice (vengeance?) knows no bounds.
Once the ground rules are set, we are launched into a standard super-hero setup. Good guys and bad guys are painted in such over-the-top strokes that it's hard to take anything seriously - but that's the point. Witness Colin Farrell gloriously hamming it up as 'Bullseye', an Irish Assasin who can make a lethal weapon out of anything. Michael Clarke Duncan enjoys himself immensley as the Kingpin and Jennifer Garner smoulders as Electra, who doubles as an adversary for Daredevil and a love interest for Matt Murdock.
Support roles, too are admirably provided by the wonderful Jon Favreau as Foggy, Matt's friend and law-firm partner and Joe Pantoliano as Ben Urich, the reporter following the reported sightings of the vigilante super hero. But the movie really does belong to Ben Affleck, whose status as a leading man is growing admirably. Looking suitably heroic in costume, he gives Daredevil a human side - unlike Superman, this is a superhero who sometimes makes mistakes and can be prone to going too far (witness Daredevil's first run-in with a street thug)
Mark Steven Johnson's direction, too, is perfectly suited to the material. There are no flashy, day-glo set pieces here as the photography owes more to Burton's original Batman than to any of the later Joel Schumacher attempts. And the 'noir' approach pays big time, lending an appropriate 'adult' feel to proceedings. Here's hoping that if (as I suspect) this movie becomes a franchise, the movie execs aren't tempted to make it more kid-friendly in an attempt to sell more toys!
In closing, Daredevil easily matches expectations raised by last year's release of 'Spiderman' and throws the gauntlet down for this year's subsequent super-hero releases to pick up. It will certainly be interesting to see how "X-Men 2" and "Hulk" follow on from this.!