Daredevil is, at best, a schitzophrenic movie. I don’t say that because at times it wants to be an action movie, and at times it wants to be a romance – all comic book/superhero movies do that. What I mean is that, clearly one person envisioned a taut, intelligent superhero movie about an average kid who made the best of a bad break, and falls in love; while another person saw “The Matrix” on DVD and said “Let’s do that in our movie!”

Despite some of the bad press the movie has received in the last two days, I went into “Daredevil” hoping for the best: at the very least, be true to the title character. Daredevil isn’t one of the more well known Marvel properties, so you’ll be forgiven if you didn’t know that the story revolves around Matt Murdoch (Ben Affleck), lawyer for the downtrodden. You see, as a boy Matt got some Biohazard in his eye, stripping him of his sight but enhancing his other senses to the point that he needs to sleep in a sensory depravation tank. His powerful hearing also provides him with something of a sonar effect (akin to the type of thing bats use to navigate), which allows him to “see” to an extent. (Also of interest is that his sense of smell allows him to detect how fine Jennifer Garner is before she’s even in the same building as him.) Using his super-senses and a modest array of weaponry inspired by a blind-man’s cane, he suits up in red leather and patrols Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil. How’s that for backstory?

Anyway, I don’t want to get too far into the plot of the movie, mainly because there’s not much to get into. I will tell you that Jennifer Garner plays Elektra, all around hottie, kung fu expert and daughter of a billionaire whose name sounds like “nachos”. Billionaire Nacho Dad is connected to Wilson Fisk, a/k/a the Kingpin (Michael Clarke-Duncan). Meanwhile, John Favreau sits around and drinks coffee, and Joe Pantoliano writes about Daredevil and Kingpin for the NY Post, and lights subway platforms on fire in his spare time.

As I hinted to earlier, this is a movie that suffers from a lack of clear direction in the script. Clearly, the writers were trying to avoid making “Daredevil” seem too much like a carbon-copy of “Spiderman”, despite the swoopy camerawork and the presence of a pessimistic newspaper man. But in trying to distinguish themselves, the writers seemed to have split their duties to the point where this felt like two separate movies with the same characters, and the projectionist was simply swapping reels at random. The scenes where Affleck appears as Murdoch (or, as Darren called him, “Blind Lawyer Guy”) were fairly well written for this type of film, and Affleck & Favreau really took ownership of the banter between their characters. But it seems someone else was in charge of whenever Affleck appeared on screen as Daredevil, and as such, the fight sequences suffer from Matrix-envy. The fights pass mostly without dialogue (thank god), but when the characters start punning, it’s almost cringe worthy. And some of the fight sequences don’t even make sense – I mean, for a guy whose powers are limited to Miracle Ear and being overwhelmed by the urine smell that plagues NYC, he doesn’t have much of a problem leaping insane heights without much effort, even if he can’t tell the difference between honey and mustard. Also, how about explaining to the audience why Kingpin is insanely strong, but needs a cane to walk, BEFORE it becomes the turning point in a fight scene! Would that be asking too much?

But I digress. The other part of this equation for mediocrity is the direction of Mark Steven Johnson, whom you may know as the director of “Simon Birch”. The script must have said something about the mood of the film being “dark”, because they sure as hell didn’t go overbudget on lighting. Watching the film, you get the distinct feeling that Johnson owes Blockbuster some back rental fees on the aforementioned Matrix and Spiderman, not to mention most of the John Woo cannon, because you won’t have much trouble spotting the bits he lifted and inserted into “Daredevil”. He was more in his element during the “Blind Lawyer Guy” scenes, mainly because no one had to kick anyone’s ass with a cane. Add in the overscoring of the action sequences with cheesy pop/metal music and some HUGELY poor CGI effects, and you’re left with a totally uninspired and derivative directorial vision.

To their credit, the actors did the best they could with what they had to work with. But even Clarke-Duncan can’t make a line like “I was brought up in the Bronx, you wouldn’t understand this sort of thing” sound plausible, in any situation. As is the case with most masked hero movies, Affleck is at his best (and that’s being generous) when he’s Murdoch, whether he’s bullshitting with Favreau (who stole most of their scenes together right out from under Affleck) or wooing Garner. For her part, Jennifer Garner was the perfect choice for Elektra, or at least the obvious one, since her character on “Alias” isn’t much different from Elektra – young girl, well trained in the deadly arts, out for revenge…and looking great in damn near anything she wears. (Only JJ Abrams gives her much better dialogue to work with, so…)

I haven’t yet mentioned Colin Farrell, cast as professional assassin for hire, Bullseye. When he throws something, he never misses. That’s his whole shtick. Well, that, and he knows some really inventive ways to kill a man. Finally “allowed” to be Irish in one of his movies, his character is as big and broad as the panels that inspired him. You can see he’s having great fun with this movie, even when he’s forced to utter horrible fight banter. (I mean, his name is his catchphrase? Whatsupwitdat?) In a particularly poorly written climax to his final fight scene with Daredevil (and a scene which sharp-eyed Christians might find insulting), he almost seems to be apologizing to the audience. But most of the time, he’s damn fun to watch.

I know this seems like it’s awfully negative, but there were some things this movie did right. It got the origin story right, more or less. The story, such as it is, focuses more on the destructiveness of revenge than the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” deal. The groundwork has been laid for all the characters to come back for a (hopefully better-written) sequel. (Or, for that matter, they’ve effectively set up the Elektra character and moved her on for a spin-off.) There’s more, but if I go on any longer, this isn’t going to be an “instant” review, is it?

Overall, the film was enjoyable for what it was, but not nearly the quality of superhero film of “Spiderman” or “X-Men”. (As a side note, the trailer for “X2” ran prior to the movie, and it looks to seriously improve on the first film.) “Daredevil” tried to be too much flash, not enough substance. Focusing the movie more on the characters and less on the implausible Hong Kong fighting sequences would have helped give the movie a focus and kept it from being a “knock off” of its more successful Marvel brethren. Not great, but not total shite.