Ben Affleck holds a rare position in Hollywood having played both Batman and Daredevil. Few actors can say they’ve played a major superhero in both the DC and Marvel movie universes.
But while Ben Affleck’s Batman has cropped up now in three movies (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 completely forgotten.
Released 20 years ago on Valentine's Day 2003, Mark Steven Johnson’s noir blockbuster failed to birth the franchise 20th Century Fox were clearly praying for.
Read more: Ben Affleck praises Kevin Feige
Daredevil would end up grossing $179 million (£145 million) against a $78 million (£63 million) budget and currently holds a meagre 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But while reviews were mixed, Ben Affleck’s performance was largely lavished with praise.
It’s easy to forget now how blinding Affleck’s star wattage was in 2003 and how dim it had become when he was cast as Batman. After his announcement as the latest Dark Knight in 2013 of the 96,000 tweets sent in the first hour, 71% disapproved of his casting, according to media analytics firm Fizziology.
There was even a change.org petition set up that urged Warner Bros. to “Remove Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne in the Superman/Batman movie.” Ouch.
Yet when Affleck’s name was first linked to Daredevil, there was no backlash, no online hate campaign. Affleck at the time was about as A-list as it got and his casting was a clear sign that Fox were taking this movie seriously.
Daredevil may not have been one of Marvel’s frontline heroes, but Fox had enough faith in Johnson's film to bless it with a hearty budget and one of 2003’s biggest box office draw’s name above the title.
Of course, Daredevil may be a Marvel film, but it’s not a Marvel Studios film. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU as it’s more widely known, officially kicked off with 2008’s Iron Man. But the seeds of that universe were sown with the Marvel movies before it and looking at Daredevil now, two decades on, it’s clear that that film provided much of the tonal blueprint of what would become the MCU.
Perhaps it’s no surprise. Jon Favreau, who directed that first Iron Man while also appearing on screen as Tony Stark’s quip-happy bodyguard Happy Hogan, had a major role in Daredevil, as Matt Murdock’s legal partner Foggy Nelson.
And it was because of his working 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 consumed into the MCU (Spider-Man: Far From Home finally made the Tobey Maquire and Andrew Garfield movies canon, while Dr Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness included Patrick Stewart’s Professor X, suggesting Fox’s X-Men series is now within MCU continuity, if in an parallel reality), Daredevil — so far at least — is something of an outlier.
While the MCU has its own Daredevil now (Charlie Cox took on the role for Netflix’s eponymous series, a role he essayed again in Spider-Man: Far From Home), there’s no reason why Ben Affleck’s Matt Murdock can’t exist as a multiverse Daredevil.
Read more: Clooney warned Affleck to not play Batman
And given the hailstorm of hate he’s received as Batman, wouldn’t it be an appealing prospect for the actor to return to the one superhero role he was actually lauded for? But then maybe he feels too burned from the experience. Reflecting on the movie in 2013, he told Playboy: “The only movie I actually regret is Daredevil. It just kills me. I love that story, that character, and the fact that it got f***ed up the way it did stays with me.”
Yet Affleck is darn 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 Affleck took the role seriously, consulting with blind actor Tom Sullivan.
“One of the things I was interested in [for] that movie was not just looking blind or coming across blind but knowing what it felt like,” he said in the documentary CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusion. “[Tom] was really patient with me. I thought that was the most interesting thing about the movie, frankly.”
As a blind superhero, Daredevil is one of Marvel’s most exceptional characters. While the TV show version is sketchy on Matt Murdock’s superpower (after he’s blinded as a kid, he develops sonar-like hearing), the movie burrows inside Murdock’s head, letting us see how he’s visualising the world.
There’s a lot more to love in the movie, too, beyond Ben Affleck’s turn and Mark Steven Johnson’s crunchy action sequences. The late Michael Clarke Duncan makes for an imposing Kingpin while Colin Farrell (who’d later play another supervillain, the Penguin, in Matt Reeves’ The Batman) is clearly relishing his role as the psychotic Bullseye.
Yet it was the film’s least absorbing character, Matt’s love interest Elektra, that would be the only one we’d see again. While Daredevil’s modest box office takings torpedoed any plans for a sequel, a spin-off movie, Elektra, did arrive in 2005, with Jennifer Garner reprising her role as the sai-wielding assassin. Ben Affleck did lens a cameo as Daredevil, but his scene was cut from the finished film. Elektra was a flop, earning even less than its parent movie.
Twenty years on, Daredevil’s worth taking a look at again. If you’re a deep-dyed Affleck-sceptic, check it out to see one of his most bravura performances and if you’re a dedicated MCU-head, then watch it to see where the foundations for your favourite movie universe were laid.
“Look, if I thought we were remaking Daredevil, I’d be out there picketing myself,” Affleck told NPR in 2014.
If DC’s upcoming The Flash can include two Batmans (Affleck will be co-starring alongside Michael Keaton, back in the role of the Caped Crusader after 30-plus years), then maybe Marvel can, via the multiverse, unite two Daredevils.
Who knows, we may 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 upcoming Marvel film Ant-Man 3