Ben Affleck’s Daredevil came out on Valentine’s Day 2003, and that will always be deeply hilarious to me. Marvels’ first follow-up to Sam Raimi’s world-changing hit Spider-Man, Daredevil burst into theaters nine months later on a steed made of Evanescence songs and Affleck’s Pearl Harbor star power, and for some reason it was decided that the film’s best chance was to be released on the one night of the year when 80% of the nation’s couples are having an awkward dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. Did I take my then-girlfriend to see Daredevil on Valentine’s Day? I absolutely did. Has she spoken to me in two decades? She absolutely has not. But is that the movie’s fault? Literally no one can say. Perhaps if the soundtrack had been balanced out by some Hoobastank, our relationship might have lasted until Michael Chiklis’ Fantastic Four. The point is, Daredevil is one of the most successful Valentine’s Day releases in history, and that fact will forever astound and delight me.
Odds are someone had their first date in the vicinity of this early aughts superhero film, or at the very least has strange romantic attachments to watching a computer-generated Affleck do flips through the air and Jon Favreau wackily grope the breasts of a marble statue five years before he would give Marvel the keys to all of the money in the universe with Iron Man. Someone’s hand was being sweatily held by a teenager as Colin Farrell’s Bullseye killed an old woman with a peanut on a transatlantic flight, and at least one person was getting fingerblasted while young Matt Murdock wept over the corpse of his father Battlin’ Jack. Because of its bizarre release date and PG-13 rating, there’s a nonzero number of young couples who had the worst Valentine’s Day experience of their lives going to see Daredevil. That gives the film an unlikely yet no less incredible legacy as a date movie, and it’s high time we examined how it stacks up as the centerpiece activity of a romantic evening. And by “we” I mean “me,” with exactly zero input from you.
First of all, what is Daredevil? It’s the story of Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen who fights crime as the titular masked vigilante using superhuman senses gifted to him by a drum of nuclear acid that burned his eyes out of his head when he was a child. While attempting to bring down the villainous crime boss the Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan), he crosses paths with Kingpin’s hired assassin Bullseye and a wealthy Caucasian ninja named Elektra (Jennifer Garner). It’s one of the most early 2000s movies I have ever seen, complete with bullet time effects that were already dated in 2003 and a soundtrack that demands to be taken seriously on behalf of thirteen-year-olds everywhere. If you haven’t seen it in a while, don’t worry – all you need to do is imagine an exhausted Affleck lurching his way through an FYE and that counts as a rewatch.
But how does Daredevil hold up as a Valentine’s Day movie? To better examine that, let’s look at some of the classic date films – When Harry Met Sally. Sleepless in Seattle. Hitch. Quills. What do all of these movies have in common? The answer is, of course, charming lead characters and an engaging romantic plot, but Daredevil doesn’t have any of those things. No, the only discernable asset Daredevil has as a potential date film is awkward horniness. This is a perpetual state of being for many young couples, and Daredevil has it in spades.
Let’s break it down. First of all, 75% of the principal cast of Daredevil wears an amount of leather that would be considered a felony in any other circumstance. The title character’s horned red bodysuit looks like the type of thing you would purchase from somebody’s trunk in a strip mall parking lot for a night of dangerous seduction. Meanwhile, Elektra and Bullseye look like a scumbag vampire couples costume, with Bullseye sporting the kind of leather jacket that is more accurately described as a cape. Seriously, he’s dressed like one of Blade’s informants. The only reason nobody in this movie vapes is because it hadn’t been invented yet.
Daredevil and Elektra begin their courtship by engaging in a coyly flirtatious fight scene in the middle of a playground surrounded by children. Believe me when I say that this iconic sequence is rivaled only by the basketball scene in Halle Berry’s Catwoman in terms of “romantic interactions written by a screenwriter who was fed nothing but cocaine and seawater for three straight weeks.” It’s impossible to ignore the primal chemistry wafting off of Affleck and Garner as they engage in sexual combat on the seesaws before a crowd of rabidly excited children. Indeed, after a rousing preamble like this we can hardly wait for their oddly chaste love scene to occur later on in the film, and that’s in addition to all of that aforementioned sex leather. It’s like someone made a movie based on a horniness algorithm developed by screaming “teenage boners” at a graphing calculator for three hours.
An additional component of Daredevil’s strength as a Valentine’s Day movie depends entirely on how your date feels about bald men, because this film features several of them. Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, and Joe Pantoliano are all sporting gleaming, hairless skulls, with Farrell looking more or less exactly like Pantoliano’s character from The Matrix. (It’s possible he spent several weeks shadowing the veteran character actor, considering this was the first time Farrell had appeared bald on screen and would’ve likely needed some guidance to complete his physical transformation.) Duncan reportedly put on 40 pounds of mass to play the Kingpin, and he covers his mountainous physique with extremely expensive, finely tailored suits. And Joey Pants plays an old guy in a big floppy cap and alarmingly tiny glasses, so really, you’re filling in a handful of bald dude bingo cards with a single viewing of Daredevil. This could either make a Valentine’s Day viewing of Daredevil a monumental success or a sobering cautionary tale, but it is undeniably one of the film’s most formidable elements.
These details are all part of an equation that adds up to powerful eroticism, and the fact that much of the movie takes place at night, a.k.a. the time of day when nudity happens, will likely have you and your date thinking ahead to what the evening might hold after the end credits of Daredevil begin to roll. Simply put, Daredevil is one of the best films you can watch to make your date both vaguely aroused and impatient for the movie to be over. However, that impatience will begin to work against you the very moment either one of you actually tries to pay attention to the story. If the physical aspect of hot people kicking each other doesn’t do anything for you, it’s objectively the worst date movie ever made – it’s corny and ludicrous even for a comic book film, with bland action and even blander characters. (There’s a director’s cut that’s roughly 30 minutes longer, but in completely undetectable ways; after a while, you just notice you’ve been watching Daredevil for longer than that activity is normally supposed to take.)
Daredevil has the misfortune of being a cheeseball superhero flick about a character who didn’t inspire a ton of excitement back in 2003, if you’d even heard of him at all. By dragging a date to see it, you were rolling the dice on boring a potential romantic partner out of ever wanting to be associated with you again. But please don’t take this to mean that the way to improve the Daredevil viewing experience is to attempt to explain absolutely anything about the Daredevil universe. It doesn’t matter if your date is a die-hard Marvel fan or has never heard of comic books before in their entire life – they do not want to hear your Daredevil trivia.
I’m serious. Don’t you dare bring up how fan-favorite Daredevil writer Frank Miller had to ask for permission to use the character of the Kingpin because he had previously been exclusively a Spider-Man villain. Resist the urge to share that tidbit about how Elektra was eventually brought back to life by weird magic to go hang out with Wolverine. And don’t you even fucking think about mentioning Stick. The solution to Daredevil’s failings as a Valentine’s Day film isn’t to give your date a crash course on five decades of Daredevil comics; it’s to not show your date Daredevil.
The calculated boldness of releasing Daredevil on Valentine’s Day will forever inspire me to do things that make absolutely no sense and are borderline self-destructive. Somebody somewhere had a clear vision of dropping this brick on a demographic of teens and twenty-somethings trying to plan a romantic Friday evening, and because the universe is a cruel and cacophonic symphony, it worked. It’s a mathematical certainty that every single couple who went to see Daredevil has since broken up; studies have shown that the only strain worse on a relationship is the loss of a child, and even then, the data is inconclusive. However, I remain in respectful awe of the film and its monolithic status as the only date movie to feature Joe Pantoliano smoking cigarettes in a fanciful hat and Colin Farrell as a man who brings throwing stars on an airplane.
Oh, is it time to debate ‘Joker’ again?
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