Ben Affleck has a rare job in Hollywood after playing Batman and Daredevil. Few actors can say they’ve played both a major DC superhero and Marvel movie universe.
But while Ben Affleck’s Batman has been in three movies now (four if you count Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League and five if he makes it into the final version of The Flash), his iteration of Daredevil has been almost entirely forgotten.
Released 20 years ago on Valentine’s Day 2003, Mark Steven Johnson’s noir blockbuster failed to capture the franchise 20th Century Fox was clearly hoping for.
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Daredevil would go on to gross $179 million (£145 million) against a budget of $78 million (£63 million) and currently has a poor 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But while the reviews were mixed, Ben Affleck’s performance was largely praised.
It’s easy to forget now how blinding Affleck’s star wattage was in 2003 and how weak he was when he was cast as Batman. After he was announced as the latest Dark Knight in 2013 of the 96,000 tweets sent in the first hour, 71% were against his solution, according to the media analysis firm Fizziology.
Even a change.org petition was set up that begged Warner Bros. “Getting Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the Superman/Batman movie.” Ouch.
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But when Affleck’s name first became associated with Daredevil, there was no backlash, no online hate campaign. Affleck at the time was as A-list as he got and his casting was a clear sign that Fox was taking this movie seriously.
Daredevil may not have been one of Marvel’s premier heroes, but Fox had enough faith in Johnson’s film to bless it with a hearty budget and one of the biggest box office draws of 2003 over the title.
Of course, Daredevil may be a Marvel movie, but it’s not a Marvel Studios movie. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the MCU as it is more widely known, officially began with Iron Man 2008. But the seeds of that universe were planted with the previous Marvel films and now looking at Daredevil, two decades later that movie obviously provided much of the tonal blueprint for what would become the MCU.
Perhaps it’s no surprise. Jon Favreau, who directed that first Iron Man and appeared on screen as Tony Stark’s happy-go-lucky bodyguard Happy Hogan, played a major role in Daredevil as Matt Murdock’s legal partner, Foggy Nelson.
And it was his work with Avi Arad (who produced Daredevil and later founded Marvel Studios) on that film that secured him the Iron Man gig.
But while many of the other pre-Marvel Studios movies have been retroactively cast into the MCU (Spider-Man: Far From Home finally made the canon movies of Tobey Maquire and Andrew Garfield, and Dr. Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness including Patrick Stewart’s Professor X. , which suggests that Fox’s X-Men series is now within the MCU continuity, if indeed it is parallel), Daredevil is an outlier – so far on his minimum.
While the MCU now has its own Daredevil (Charlie Cox took on the role for a Netflix series, a role he reprized in Spider-Man: Far From Home), there’s no reason why Ben Affleck’s Matt Murdock can’t exist as a multiplier. Daredevil.
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And given the amount of hate he’s received as Batman, wouldn’t it be nice for the actor to return to the one superhero role he’s been praised for? But then he might feel burnt out from the experience. Reflecting on the film in 2013, he told Playboy: “The only film I really regret is Daredevil. It just kills me. I love that story, that character, and the story remains that it was successful as it was with me.”
But Affleck is good in the movie. Although Bruce Wayne didn’t have much to do, certainly not in Snyder’s films anyway, Matt Murdock is a much more challenging character with a visual impairment, and it’s clear that Affleck took the role seriously, in consultation with blind actor Tom Sullivan .
“One of the things I was interested in [for] that film was not just looking blind or coming across blind but he knew what it felt like,” he said in the documentary CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusion. “[Tom] was very patient with me. I thought that was the most interesting thing about the film, actually.”
As a blind superhero, Daredevil is one of Marvel’s most exceptional characters. While the TV show version skimps on Matt Murdock’s superpowers (after being blinded as a child, he develops sonar-like hearing), the film delves inside Murdock’s head, letting us see what it’s like looking at the world.
There’s a lot more to love in the film, too, beyond Ben Affleck’s turn and Mark Steven Johnson’s crunchy action sequences. The late Michael Clarke Duncan makes a great Kingpin and Colin Farrell (who later played the Penguin in Matt Reeves’ The Batman) clearly relishes his role as the psychotic Bullseye.
But the least attractive character in the film, Elektra, was the only person I would see again. Although any plans for a Daredevil sequel were torpedoed at the box office, a spin-off film, Elektra, emerged in 2005, with Jennifer Garner reprising her role as the AI assassin. Ben Affleck made a cameo as Daredevil, but his scene was removed from the finished film. Elektra was a flop, earning even less than its parent film.
Twenty years later, Daredevil is worth revisiting. If you’re a deeply dyed Affleck skeptic, check it out to see one of his most bravura performances and if you’re a dedicated MCU head, then check it out to see where the foundation for your favorite movie universe was laid.
“Look, if I thought we were remaking Daredevil, I’d be out there picking myself,” Affleck told NPR in 2014.
If DC’s upcoming The Flash can include two Batmans (Affleck will reconcile with Michael Keaton, back in the role of the Caped Crusader after 30-plus years), then perhaps Marvel, through the multiverse, can two Daredevils unite.
Who knows, we might not have seen the last of Ben Affleck as The Man Without Fear…
Daredevil is streaming on Disney+ and Prime Video.
Watch a trailer for the upcoming Marvel movie Ant-Man 3