Reviewed by Frank Lovece

Give the devil his due. After the success of the Marvel Comics movies X-MEN (2000) and SPIDER-MAN (2002), the resulting superhero wave might have begun cannibalizing its own conventions or spiraling into impenetrable insiderism. But this big-screen adaptation of the long-running comic-book series dodges those bullets. A larger-than-life action melodrama, it makes clear that superhero films are the next evolutionary generation of action movies: Now that Schwarzenegger-styled heroes have upped the action ante as far as the human body can go and remain even marginally believable, it's up to superheroes and virtual-reality realms like THE MATRIX to take it further. As a child, Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) was blinded by radioactive chemicals that also enhanced his remaining senses to a superhuman degree. Now a Manhattan attorney by day, he dons a red-leather suit by night and hits the rooftops as his alter-ego, Daredevil. He's been doing it a while, yet remains an urban myth, until the day Murdock loses a case and a guilty rapist (Paul Ben-Victor) is set free. Taking justice into his own hands, Daredevil tracks the man to a mob bar, leading to a rapid-fire, strobe-cut, free-for-all brawl that's like piston-rhythm poetry. Elsewhere in the film, Daredevil's leaping off buildings, tuck-and-rolling onto rooftops and swinging on retractable wires like Cirque du Soleil on speed. Murdock's routine is disrupted when a young woman catches his eye, so to speak. Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) is a well-trained martial artist whose father (Erick Avari) is trying to leave the criminal empire of business mogul Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. the Kingpin(Michael Clarke Duncan). Fisk has him killed by psychotic assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell), who can turn anything into a lethal weapon. When Daredevil attempts to help, Elektra mistakenly thinks he's her father's killer — and when Fisk sends Bullseye after Elektra, issues of vengeance, justice and loss are smartly and uncompromisingly played out. Visually arresting — if a little artificial-looking — the film makes exquisite use of an optical effect to mimic Daredevil's sonar-like "radar sense," through which Daredevil "sees" ripples of reality. Affleck is perfectly fine but doesn't have much range; Murdock/Daredevil seems a bit of a smug, albeit noble-minded, jerk from start to finish. But Garner, Duncan and Farrell play their characters as fleshed-out people, rather than mythic comic-book legends, while David Keith and Jon Favreau as Murdock's father and law partner, respectively, also remain grounded in reality. With the exception of Bullseye's murder of a little old lady — a scene which is, sickeningly, played for laughs — the movie's physical violence isn't gratuitous; it's the emotional violence that makes this a movie for grown-ups, not kids.