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Revenge of the Comic-Book Nerds

"Daredevil" delivers the first purely comics-driven movie. Is America ready to join hands with the Comic Book Guy? Plus, more Oscar malaise.

11:00 PM, Feb 13, 2003 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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If this seems like picking nits, it is, but that's because the audience is spending its allowance of disbelief-suspension on the idea of the superhero. A good script lets us run freely down the rails once we buy into the central conceit and doesn't ask us to continually make excuses for movie logic.

Similarly, Johnson's direction is unsteady. Nearly every action sequence in Daredevil suffers from too many cuts and jumps. In The Conversations master film editor Walter Murch observes that most sustained action pieces have 14 cuts per minute. The fights in Daredevil surely double that pace.

As Murch observes, "After each cut it takes a few milliseconds for the audience to discover where they should be looking. If you don't carry their focus of interest across the cut points, if you make them search at every cut, they become disoriented and annoyed, without knowing why." The problems with the action sequences in Daredevil go beyond annoyance. It's difficult to follow what is happening to whom and how characters get from one place to another. If Johnson is trying to give the overall impression of chaotic violence, he has succeeded, but as a story-telling mechanism these scenes are incoherent.

On the plus side, the acting in Daredevil is more than adequate. Ben Affleck is blessedly innocuous. Colin Farrell does fine work with the 20 or so lines allotted to him. However the movie's real glue is Garner's Elektra. At once vulnerable and playful, Garner doesn't overdo the tough-chick schtick. She gives the movie sweetness and heart and while it's not clear why Elektra would fall for a guy like Murdock, she sells the hell out of it.

In a sense there's something in Daredevil for both Marvel and DC fans to cheer. If the movie finds broader acceptance in the general audience this weekend--and I suspect it will--then it will signal that the comic-book sensibility, not just the big-name franchises, is ready to be embraced by mainstream America.

A successful weekend for Daredevil will mean that we're all comic-book geeks now. Worse things have happened.

A FEW NOTES on the Oscar nominations: Some weeks ago I wrote about the coming Oscar snub of The Two Towers and on Tuesday the first act of this slow-motion travesty came to pass: The Academy Award nominations were released and The Two Towers was nominated for just six awards and, although it got a Best Picture nomination, it won't win.

The nominations themselves are a good barometer of where the voters are on a movie. The Two Towers was overlooked in some expected places (Best Director) but the Academy also ignored it in areas where it should have been a lock--Costume, Cinematography, and, most shockingly, Best Adapted Screenplay. If a movie that compresses a 400-page classic into a brisk, compelling 3 hours isn't a stunning achievement in adaptation, I don't know what is.

But to fixate on The Two Towers is to miss another minor injustice. In Hollywood the year 2002 will be remembered for many things, not least of which is Steven Spielberg's annus mirabilis.

The '90s were an uneven period for Spielberg and his productivity was lacking: He made only six films in ten years. But in 2002 he made two very, very good movies. The double of Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can is as good as any in recent memory--certainly more impressive than Steven Soderbergh's ballyhooed 2000 pair, Erin Brockovich and Traffic. It has been a long time since a director accomplished what Spielberg did in 2002, yet he has been ignored by the Academy again, garnering a paltry three nominations for his work.

By contrast, two Miramax movies, Chicago and The Hours, received a combined 22 nominations.

No one is going to cry for Steven Spielberg, of course. If he feels blue about the Oscars, he can always buy Rob Marshall and force him to dance naked in the Spielberg mansion money room.

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.