Before the popular Netflix series, Daredevil had another major but unsuccessful on-screen appearance in 2003, starring Ben Affleck. Unfortunately, Audiences were less than impressed with the inconsistent tone, feeble character development, and poorly plotted story.
This was the movie that almost turned off the comic book-loving star, Ben Affleck, from ever playing another superhero again. It would be thirteen years before Affleck would make the transition from Marvel to the DC Cinematic Universe, taking on the role of Batman in 2016. (That one didn't exactly work out either.)
So is Ben Affleck cursed? Was Daredevil always destined to fail? How the hell did this movie go so wrong where the Netflix series went so right?
Daredevil is certainly one of Marvel’s most complex characters having gone through many iterations in the comics.
He’s definitely not an easy character to translate to the screen.
Luckily, Daredevil did find success in the form of the 2015 Netflix series that perfectly captured a compelling character and his storyline by leaning into his darker side — until that show became a victim of Disney and Netflix's new streaming skirmish.
But the Netflix series wasn’t Daredevil’s first stint on-screen. The first Daredevil cinematic feature was released in 2003 starring Ben Affleck.
It decidedly bombed at the box office. Daredevil was so awful that Affleck himself said:
“By playing a superhero in Daredevil, I have inoculated myself from ever playing another superhero.”
Regrettably, Affleck did not keep this promise as he sadly went on to play Batman in the DC Cinematic Universe.
Where did Daredevil go wrong? Let’s have a look.
The movie starts with Matt Murdoch as a kid living in Hell’s Kitchen with his father, a washed-out boxer.
Matt is caught in a toxic chemical spill that blinds him but leaves the rest of his senses heightened. His intensified sense of sound gives off a radar that sort of allows him to “see.”
Basically, as long as there’s sound, Matt is technically able to see. This seems more like a minor inconvenience than a real disability.
After Matt’s father is murdered by the mob boss Kingpin, young Matt swears to use his abilities to eliminate crime in his city.
Noticeably absent from the movie is Daredevil’s comic book mentor, the blind martial arts master Stick.
Instead, Matt trains himself in one montage and then we jump to twenty-some years later.
Matt Murdoch is now a lawyer by day and Daredevil by night. In the Netflix series and the comics, Matt is an intelligent, capable lawyer, serving the innocent and less fortunate. He often uses his Daredevil persona to help investigate cases.
Here, we see Matt in court exactly once, representing a rape victim. He loses the case.
While we see Matt as a lawyer, there is no evidence that he is a good lawyer. Since the rapist gets off, Matt changes into Daredevil so he can kill the guy instead.
Daredevil is a New York urban legend, and some people (i.e., the police) question if he actually exists. This makes no sense. Daredevil literally just appeared in a crowded bar to attack the acquitted rapist. There are plenty of witnesses who could easily corroborate that they saw a dude with horns and a red leather bodysuit murder a guy.
The only guy who believes Daredevil is real is Ben Urich (Joe Pantoliano), a tough-talking journalist who argues with the police over the vigilante's existence. This, of course, leads to one of the most ridiculous moments in the movie, when Ben flicks his cigarette into a pair of capitals Ds (for Daredevil) spelled out in gasoline that Matt Murdock conveniently left behind at a crime scene.
Matt is also supposed to be very religious having been brought up Catholic. He dutifully goes to confession to receive absolution for his sins (i.e., murder) from the priest who knows his identity.
Look, I’m a lapsed Catholic. This is not how confession works. When the priest tells you “Go and sin no more,” you’re supposed to make an effort not to sin anymore. Matt has every intention of killing criminals next chance he gets.
Matt later meets and is instantly attracted to Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner).
When Elektra expresses disinterest and goes on her way, Matt decides to follow her. When she tries to walk away from him again, he grabs her.
Bad touch, Matt! This is usually the beginning of a police report and subsequent restraining order. As a lawyer who defends sexual assault victims, you should know this.
But Elektra is a highly trained martial artist and capable of defending herself.
Of course, Matt has a few moves himself.
This leads to the strangest part of the movie. Elektra and Matt have an all-out fight on a playground in front of a bunch of kids.
Not only does it look awkward to see these two fight on a playground, but Matt is doing a very bad job of hiding his identity. He’s whipping out backflips and ninja moves very casually. If he’s this blasé about showing off in public, it won’t take long before someone puts him and Daredevil together.
This scene should have been Elektra defending herself against the advances of a stalker, but for some reason, the fight turns flirty. Suddenly, she likes him.
There is no reason for Elektra to like Matt, much less have a romantic relationship with him. He harassed her, stalked her, and grabbed her.
Dear men: this does not work in real life. This is a good way to get yourself thrown in a jail cell with a guy named “Dung Beetle.”
There are two bright spots in this movie. The first is Jon Favreau who plays Matt’s law partner, Foggy Nelson.
Yes, Jon Favreau had a previous Marvel movie appearance and he gets in a couple of genuinely funny lines. Presumably, he’s taking notes off-set on how not to make a sucky comic book movie.
Then there’s the absolutely perfect casting of Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin/Wilson Fiske.
Not only does he pull off the look of the character, he really works the part. He’s just as intimidating and as deceptively charming as I would expect Kingpin to be. Vincent D’Onofrio from the Netflix series is recognized as the quintessential Wilson Fiske — and for good reaso — but D’Onofrio had more room to examine the character in more depth and capture Fiske’s complexity. The 2003 movie doesn’t give us any of that character exploration, but Michael Clarke Duncan did exceptionally well given the material he had.
And then there’s Bulleye, played by Colin Farrell.
Bullseye is an assassin, but he’s terrible at his job. From the target engraved into his forehead to the fact that he publically murders people, stealth is not this guy’s strong point. I have no idea why anyone, let alone Fiske, would hire him.
I hadn’t seen Daredevil in years, and it’s definitely worse than I remember. The tone of the movie is all over the place. It can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be dark and gritty or cartoonish in a way similar to Spider-Man (2002). The characters were underdeveloped at best and badly written at worst, Daredevil himself getting the worst treatment.
I was a teen when Daredevil came out, and I thought I remembered the score as pretty good.
It featured bands like Evanescence, Seether, and Fuel, popular groups in the early 00s and enjoyed by my emo music-loving teenage self. But after watching this as an adult, I can’t deny that the score does sound dated.
And I have to say that I truly loath Ben Affleck’s facial expressions here. I cannot stand that stupid smirk of his. He looks even more punchable than usual, and that's saying something.
I knew there was a reason I struggled to sit through Batman vs. Superman.
Rewind is an Inverse series that remembers the forgotten performances we love.