Directed By: Mark Steven Johnson

Starring: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Favreau

Now that Daredevil has taken off on Netflix as arguably Marvel Studios' greatest triumph outside of the cinema, the character of Matt Murdock is squarely in the limelight. Known from comic lore as a blind lawyer with enhanced, sonar-like abilities and keenly honed martial arts skills, Murdock is to Hell's Kitchen what Spider-Man is to Manhattan as a whole. But while Spidey zips around the city by day, Murdock fights crime primarily at night, when he has his biggest advantage. As a result, this is a darker superhero story, and one that has proven a little more difficult (or at least less overtly fun) for the studios to adapt.

But of course, that hasn't stopped them from trying! The 2003 film, Daredevil, by 20th Century Fox actually came out before Marvel Studios even got going with the cinematic empire we know and love today. In fact, Marvel Studios only regained the cinematic rights to Daredevil in 2013, so for a long while the 2003 film was all we had relating to this popular hero. But with the Netflix series now thriving, I wanted to take a look back at the film to examine the foundation for Daredevil in modern entertainment.

Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) is a blind man practicing as a lawyer in his native Hell's Kitchen. He works with his best friend Foggy Nelson (Jon Favreau) at a small, private firm, where he endeavours to stand up for the disadvantaged. By night, however, Murdock dons his Daredevil suit, using his advanced abilities to combat a criminal underworld run by the mysterious Kingpin, who by day is business mogul Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan). Murdock's desire to fight crime, we learn, was sparked by his father, an amateur boxer, being killed by mobsters for refusing to fix a fight.

As he circles closer to Fisk at the root of the city's crime problems, Murdock gets tangled up in an increasingly personal conflict. He meets Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), herself a gifted martial artist and crime fighter whose father, a businessman, is hunted down by the assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell). As Daredevil, Murdock tries and fails to save Elektra's father, and she is led to believe that it is in fact Daredevil who killed him. From that point forward, the film speeds up as Daredevil and Elektra seek to accomplish the same goal while being pitted against one another. Fisk is the mastermind and criminal overlord whose demise they both ultimately seek, but Bullseye proves to be the more active villain, and the greater obstacle. In the end, however, it comes down to a predictable showdown between Daredevil and Fisk.

As a review by Roger Ebert put it succinctly, the movie is actually pretty good. It's gotten a little tarnished over the years as superhero films have gotten bigger and deeper, but in the context of its 2003 release it had some strengths. That's not just to say it was good for its time; give this film another watch and you may be impressed at the restraint with which the whole thing was done. Sure, it's a big film with some larger-than-life sequences and classic superhero tropes, but compared to some of the building-bashing nonsense we see these days, it's more of a character study than anything else. For that, the cast deserves credit and Affleck, as has been the case on numerous occasions in his career, probably didn't get the respect he deserved for this work.

In terms of the plot (or at least the origin portion of it) and characters, the film actually bears a strong resemblance to the series currently running on Netflix. The main omission, however, is a big one. Colin Farrell's Bullseye character, while perhaps inherently absurd, is captivating on screen, and probably ought to have cemented the villain as a mainstay in Daredevil-related projects. Indeed, even all these years later a popular online slot game based on the 2003 Daredevil still lends more time to Bullseye than other characters; the game offers players the chance to invoke their inner Daredevil through an interactive Bullseye feature that goes above and beyond the usual limits of casino gaming. Meanwhile, the likes of Kingpin and even Elektra are essentially used as background art. That might be a little bit of a harsh description to carry over to the film, but the order of it is accurate: Bul lseye shines, while Elektra and Kingpin do fine supporting work.

All things considered, Daredevil is a little bit better than its reputation. It's certainly not the best superhero film we've ever seen, but it's far from the worst. And it's particularly interesting to watch again if you've become a fan of the Netflix series. Fans of the Daredevil comics will have already known that this hero's background story and surrounding cast of characters is just as firmly established as those for, say, Spider-Man or Batman. But for those who may not know the comics as well it's striking to see how much of the story from 2003 has carried over into the current Marvel Studios project. All that remains now is to get Bullseye into the series, and for those who are interested, Charlie Cox (who plays Daredevil in the series) is into the idea.