Ben Affleck holds a rare position in Hollywood playing both Batman and Daredevil. Few actors can say they have played a major superhero in both the DC And Marvel movie universes.
But while Ben Affleck’s Batman has now popped up in three movies (four if you count Zack Snyder’s part of Justice League and five if he makes it to the final cut of The Flash), his iteration of Daredevil has been all but completely forgotten.
Released 20 years ago on Valentine’s Day 2003, Mark Steven Johnson’s noir blockbuster failed to bring to life the franchise that 20th Century Fox was clearly praying for.
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Daredevil would eventually gross $179 million (£145 million) against a budget of $78 million (£63 million) and currently holds a measly 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But while reviews were mixed, Ben Affleck’s performance was largely critically acclaimed.
It’s easy now to forget just how dazzling Affleck’s star potential was in 2003 and how lame it had become when he was cast as Batman. After his announcement as the latest Dark Knight in 2013 out of 96,000 tweets sent in the first hour, 71% disapproved of his casting, according to media analytics company Fizziology.
There was even a change.org petition set up at Warner Bros. insisting “to remove Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the Superman/Batman movie.” Ouch.
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But when Affleck’s name was first linked to Daredevil, there was no backlash, no online hate campaign. Affleck was pretty much A-list at the time, and his casting was a clear sign that Fox was serious about this movie.
Daredevil may not have been one of Marvel’s front-line heroes, but Fox had enough faith in Johnson’s movie to bless it with a hefty budget and one of the biggest box office draws of 2003 over its title.
Sure, Daredevil might be a Marvel movie, but it’s not a Marvel Studios movie. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU as it’s more commonly known, officially kicked off with 2008’s Iron Man. But the seeds of that universe were sown with the Marvel movies before it and when we look at Daredevil now two decades later , it’s clear that movie was a big part of the tonal blueprint of what would become the MCU.
Maybe it’s no surprise. Jon Favreau, who directed that first Iron Man while also appearing on screen as Tony Stark’s fun-loving bodyguard Happy Hogan, had a major role in Daredevil, as Matt Murdock’s legal partner Foggy Nelson.
And it was because of his collaboration with Avi Arad (who produced Daredevil and later founded Marvel Studios) on that movie that earned him the Iron Man gig.
But while many of the other pre-Marvel Studios movies were retroactively included in the MCU (Spider-Man: Far From Home eventually made it into Tobey Maquire and Andrew Garfield’s film canon, while Dr Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness made Professor X of Patrick Stewart, suggesting Fox’s X-Men series is now within MCU continuity, if it’s in a parallel reality), Daredevil – at least so far – is something of an outlier.
While the MCU now has its own Daredevil (Charlie Cox took on the role for Netflix’s series of the same name, a role he reprized in Spider-Man: Far From Home), there’s no reason Ben Affleck’s Matt Murdock can’t can exist as a multiverse Daredevil.
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And given the hailstorm of hate he’s received as Batman, wouldn’t it be an enticing prospect for the actor to return to the one superhero role he’s actually been acclaimed for? But then he might feel too burned by the experience. Looking back at the movie in 2013, he told Playboy, “The only movie I really regret is Daredevil. It just kills me. I love that story, that character, and the fact that it was so messed up sticks with me.
Still, Affleck is damn good in the movie. While there’s never been much to chew on with Bruce Wayne, certainly not in Snyder’s movies anyway, the visually impaired Matt Murdock is a much more challenging, nuanced character, and it’s clear that Affleck took the role seriously, in concert with the blind actor Tom Sullivan.
“One of the things I was interested in [for] that film not only looked blind or appeared blind, but knew what it felt like,” he said in the documentary CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusion. “[Tom] was very patient with me. I honestly thought that was the most interesting thing about the film.”
As a blind superhero, Daredevil is one of Marvel’s most exceptional characters. While the TV show’s version is vague about Matt Murdock’s super strength (after going blind as a child, he develops sonar-like hearing), the movie lodges in Murdock’s mind and shows us how he visualizes the world.
There’s a lot more to love about the film besides Ben Affleck’s turn and Mark Steven Johnson’s crisp action sequences. The late Michael Clarke Duncan provides an imposing Kingpin while Colin Farrell (who would go on to play another supervillain, the Penguin, in Matt Reeves’ The Batman) clearly enjoys his role as the psychotic Bullseye.
Still, it was the movie’s least engaging character, Matt’s love interest Elektra, who would be the only one we’d see again. While Daredevil’s modest box office earnings torpedoed any plans for a sequel, 2005 saw a spin-off movie, Elektra, with Jennifer Garner reprising her role as the sai-wielding assassin. Ben Affleck shot a cameo as Daredevil, but his scene was cut from the finished film. Elektra was a flop and earned even less than the parent film.
Twenty years later, Daredevil is worth another look. If you’re a die-hard Affleck skeptic, check it out to see one of his most bravura performances and if you’re a dedicated MCU head, check it out to see where the foundations for your favorite movie universe were laid.
“Look, if I thought we were making Daredevil again, I’d be protesting myself,” Affleck told NPR in 2014.
If DC’s upcoming The Flash can feature two Batmans (Affleck will co-star with Michael Keaton, returning as the Caped Crusader after more than 30 years), then maybe Marvel can unite two Daredevils through the multiverse.
Who knows, maybe we haven’t seen the last of Ben Affleck as the man without fear…
Daredevil streams on Disney+ and Prime Video.
Watch a trailer for the upcoming Marvel movie Ant-Man 3