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Ben Affleck's 'Daredevil' (2003) Review: 12 Years Later, It's Still Terrible

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With Marvel's Daredevil already receiving rave reviews on Netflix, it seems as if the Man Without Fear has finally found a place to call home.

Granted, it wasn't always that way: few attempts to bring Daredevil to the screen have succeeded in any capacity, with most flat-out hurting the character's reputation.

Many cite the 2003 film adaptation as one of the best examples of this trend, as the film is consistently regarded as one of the worst Marvel adaptations ever.

Though, to be honest, there have been plenty of moments throughout the years in which overly enthusiastic fans slam a piece of work because it didn't live up to their expectations.

That being said, not only is Daredevil a terrible Marvel movie, it's just a terrible movie in general.

At its core, the film is about lawyer-turned-superhero Matt Murdock. As a child, Murdock is involved in a chemical spill that blinds him — however, the rest of his senses are heightened. Murdock develops his overpowered sense of hearing into a form of bio-radar — with these newly-found powers and a walking cane that doubles as a weapon, Daredevil is born.

It's far from the worst origin story that Marvel has to offer, and it's easily the best part of the film. The young Matt Murdock (played by Scott Terra) isn't that great an actor, but the tragedy that befalls him and his father is enough to pull viewers in.

However, once the film's main story begins (roughly 35 minutes in), everything starts to fall apart. The main plot focuses on Murdock trying to bring the Kingpin of Crime (Michael Clarke Duncan) to justice for the murder of his father, but that's only one of several different storylines. There are subplots for just about every character, and, while the threads are connected to one another, everything is presented in the most confusing and arbitrarily backward way possible. What begins as a simple revenge plot turns into a needless complex mess, and simply put, it's not going to hold anyone's attention.

This is largely because of the characters; while the plot is complicated, it could have been carried by a cast of likable heroes and villains. Unfortunately, Daredevil's characters are anything but likable — the cast is two-dimensional at best, and most of the characters' personalities swing wildly back-and-forth as the film progresses. The only characters that end up with any consistent characterization are Jon Favreau's Franklin Nelson and Michael Clarke Duncan's Kingpin, though their characters aren't nearly enough to save the rest of the cast.

The worst of the lot is the Man Without Fear himself: Ben Affleck's Daredevil personality is all over the place. The movie can't seem to decide if Daredevil should be an untouchable ninja or a vulnerable, everyday vigilante. An early fight scene shows street-level thugs nearly killing the hero, while an acrobatic wire-fighting spectacular against a trained killer results in no injuries for either party. On the other hand, Matt Murdock comes off as either a womanizing jerk or a stone-faced buzzkill, and neither version of the character is someone audiences will root for.

Daredevil's relationship with Elektra only makes things worse; it's a love story for the sake of a love story, and it's one of the worst ever put to a superhero film. It starts in an extremely uncomfortable fashion (no means no, Murdock), and everything afterward is an unbelievable waste of time. The film tells you to believe that these characters are falling for one another instead of actually showing it — there's no real chemistry, nor is there any reason for them to end up together. It all just sort of happens, and the story's conclusion doesn't carry nearly as much weight as it thinks it does.

Sadly, all of this is wasted on a film that genuinely looks great from time to time. There are some great shots littered throughout the film, and on occasion, the film's color palette is pure eye candy. However, with every step forward the film takes, it also takes a step back: for each gorgeous shot, there's a clunky transition straight out of a student film. For every striking color palette, there's terrible CGI. In general, the film doesn't look terrible, but it'll also pull you out of the action every couple of minutes.

As someone who hadn't seen the movie in its entirety, I was cautiously optimistic about watching Daredevil. I don't claim to be a big fan of the character — though I'd never had any problem with him — and I had no prior experience with the film. For all I knew, Daredevil was just another case of fans hating on something because it wasn't exactly what they wanted.

Oh, how wrong I was.

The movie isn't completely without its moments — there are some scenes that look fantastic, and some characters outshine the film's leads — but the rest of the film is complete and utter garbage. Compare Daredevil to Marvel's other big film of 2003, X-2: X-Men United, and it's clear to see why so many people hated it.

Even on its own merits, Daredevil is an absolute train wreck ... let's just hope that Netflix has a bit more success with the character.

★☆☆☆☆


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