It's been nearly two years since the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman and the subsequent explosion of the internet. Two long years of deep breathing exercises and long periods of time spent in the fetal position later, those who once so strongly opposed the idea of Batfleck seem to be coming around a bit. Images released of Affleck in the new Batsuit have assuaged the fears of many naysayers, while others were encouraged by the trailer that dropped back in April. Some, however, remain unconvinced. And perhaps for good reason; well, one in particular, but we'll get to that.
Affleck's first days as Batman were brutal, even by today's standards, but the initial backlash was far from unprecedented. Heath Ledger probably had it even worse. Comic book fans are notorious for being extremely difficult to please when it comes to casting. If a role is filled by an actor that wasn't openly campaigned for by the legions, fan response will be unfavorable to say the least. Merciless, narrow-minded overreactions litter the internet, and that one grade school lesson about books and their covers is quickly tossed aside.
Let's start by dispelling some of the principal arguments against Affleck's casting that you've likely heard ad nauseam over the last few years.
Dissenters were quick to point out Affleck's previous cinematic misfires, namely Gigli and Reindeer Games, as examples of his sub-par abilities as a dramatic actor. His 2003 portrayal of Matt Murdock in Daredevil has received more negative attention in the last year or two than it ever did during its original run in theaters. Yet the vast majority of films used to exemplify Affleck's skills are at least a decade in his rear-view. More recent, well-received performances in dramas like Hollywoodland and State of Play are suspiciously ignored. Starring turns in award winners like The Town and Argo—both of which he also directed—go entirely without mention.
It should be abundantly clear that Affleck has come a long way in his twenty-plus years in Hollywood. And even if it isn't, and you still find yourself hung up on all the bad movies he once made, try naming a superhero actor that hasn't appeared in at least one stinker of a film. You would be hard-pressed to do so. Michael Fassbender appeared in Jonah Hex just five short years ago. Robert Downey Jr. was in Gothika and a Tim Allen movie (the clip is in French, but you get the idea.) Hell, even Christian Bale made Equilibrium and Reign of Fire before he donned the cape and cowl.
Affleck has his share of lame duck films on his resume, but his recent work on both sides of the camera shows serious promise, at the very least. Feel free to rewatch Gone Girl if you disagree.
He Wasn't in Your Fancast
As previously discussed, comic fans aren't easily pleased. When a character is cast, regardless of how well-suited the actor is for the role, there will always be a group that would have preferred someone else play the part. Affleck's casting was about as out of left field as castings get; no one saw this coming.
So maybe you didn't have Ben Affleck in your fancast. Who did you have? Let's break down a few popular candidates.
Karl Urban - Urban's Batman audition tape (a.k.a. 2012's criminally under-appreciated Dredd) was a visual spectacle that ultimately bombed at the box office, though few would blame Urban. His mask-covered face and growling voice practically screamed Batman. But let's not forget, Batman is only a persona created by Bruce Wayne, a half of a whole. Would Urban truly out-perform this guy as Gotham's favorite son?
Josh Brolin - It’s undeniable: the only actor confirmed to have met with director Zack Snyder for the Batman role, aside from Affleck of course, would have looked great in the Batsuit. And a bit of movie magic could have easily covered up the fact that the 46-year-old is only 5’10". But, much like Urban, Affleck would appear to be a more natural fit as Bruce Wayne.
Michael Fassbender - With his run on the X-Men franchise likely coming to an end, Fassbender has been rumored for a number of high profile roles, from Batman to Bond. But his commitment to the film adaptation of Assassin’s Creed—which shoots later this year—will likely mean him having signed a multi-picture contract. Couple that with the upcoming Prometheus sequel, and Fassbender’s dance card looks all booked up with franchises.
Christian Bale - A large contingent of fans pushed for Bale's return to the character he played so well in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. The studio appeared to be listening, reportedly offering Bale as much as $50 million to reprise his character in Batman v Superman. Bale's departure may appear to be a major loss on the surface, given his abilities as an actor, but his version of the Caped Crusader simply would not have worked in a Justice League film. More on that in a bit.
There are dozens of other potential fits, but the point is this: just because you believe that there exists another actor that would make for a great Batman doesn't mean that Affleck can't play the part.
Some have taken issue with the fact that Affleck will be 43 by the time Batman v Superman finally makes its way into theaters next March. Actors in their forties are not often cast as superheroes, especially not in a hyper-demanding physical role like Batman. The modern age of comic book movies sometimes demands an actor play a role for upwards of a decade. Which begs the question: will Ben Affleck be able to realistically portray the Dark Knight when he's in his fifties?
The short answer: yes, and not necessarily because Affleck can pull off the look of a man 10 years his junior. Affleck will be able to pull off Batman when he's in his fifties because he'll be in his fifties. Some of the very best Batman stories feature an older, grizzled Caped Crusader, and many of them simply wouldn't work with a 30-year-old in the role.
The idea of a fully-formed Batman and all that entails is an exciting prospect. The audience won't have to endure the sort of awkward sidekick introduction we saw in Batman Forever: the Bat family could theoretically be fully formed already. And audiences have to be thrilled that the DC Cinematic Universe will be skipping the traditionally obligatory origin story. Frankly, Snyder's vision of an older, world-weary Dark Knight squaring off against a younger, somewhat inexperienced Superman is rather inspired. How have we never seen this in a comic book film before?
But by far the most exciting aspect of a veteran Batman will be what he's got going on behind the cowl. The most crucial element to Batman's character in the DCCU, the only thing that will make him relevant and at-all necessary to a Justice League team that features aliens, Atlanteans and Amazons, will be his mind. With god-like beings capable of nearly any physical feat running around, of what use is the brawling, world-renowned martial artist that we've traditionally seen on film? Batman is only a valuable member of the JLA if he's the smartest person in the Watchtower. Always three steps ahead of everyone else, the World's Greatest Detective would have to be the master strategist he is in the comics to bring anything of real value to the table. An older Batman can provide the sort of brains, experience, and maturity that a young Batman couldn't.
Okay, okay, so let's get down to it already. Affleck would appear to be bringing the necessary acting chops to the role, and it's no longer really relevant whether or not there may be another actor that the fans would rather see. So if Ben really is capable of playing Batman for the next decade, why is it that he may not have been the best choice?
It seems unlikely that Ben Affleck will be willing to play the Robert Downey Jr. role in the DCCU
Robert Downey Jr.'s starring turn in 2008's Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe and rocketed him to super stardom. In the seven years since, Downey has become the poster boy for the MCU, having starred in four additional Marvel films and cameoing in a fifth. After the release of next year's Captain America: Civil War, four of his last five movies will have been Marvel films. Clearly, Marvel has made every effort to put RDJ front and center, and it would make sense for DC to do the same with Ben Affleck, especially considering the popularity of his character.
One of the more underrated aspects of superhero casting is commitment. It's almost assumed that an actor will be willing to drop everything for a chance to play a comic book character, and to play that character in as many sequels and spinoffs as the studio desires. The level of commitment that Downey has shown to Marvel is admirable, but will Affleck show the same dedication to DC?
Affleck reportedly signed on for a 4-5 picture deal, but he’s also attached to a half dozen non-DC projects over the next few years. Couple that with Affleck’s clear desire to do more creative, behind the camera work (surely he realizes that two of his most well-received starring roles came in movies he directed, right?) and we could have some serious scheduling issues with the Dark Knight in the very near future.
Put yourself in Ben Affleck's shoes for a moment. You've enjoyed a lengthy acting career in which you've endured more highs and lows than Vincent Chase and Nicholas Cage put together. You finally appear to have found your niche, having directed a trio of critically-acclaimed films of which you've had total creative control. Are you really willing to hit the pause button on this burgeoning career behind the camera just to be at the constant beck and call of the DCCU?
The initial reaction of the common fanboy would naturally be, "of course, it's freaking Batman. Plus, no big screen Batman has ever played the role in more than three films, so why is this a problem?"
A shared universe is not something that DC has ever attempted before. Previous Batman films have never done more than mention Metropolis in passing. Affleck will likely be expected to be the Bat for the next decade or more, assuming the DCCU performs well.
But surely the new shared universe won't fall entirely on Affleck's shoulders, right? How important will Batman be to the DCCU, exactly?
To wit: the Dark Knight has what is widely considered to be the greatest rogues gallery in all of DC—perhaps all of comics*—and nearly every one of them is a Gotham-centric character. Gotham is home to the majority of the great baddies in DC, and what good is a hero without a great villain?
*Spidey’s adversaries are certainly in the conversation.
Superman may have been the opening act of the DCCU show, but Batman and his rogues are the main attraction. We’re seeing it already in the Suicide Squad film. Take a look at that cast photo. You’ll notice:
- one Flash villain (Captain Boomerang)
- one government agent/soldier (Rick Flagg)
- two villains primarily associated with the Suicide Squad (Slipknot and El Diablo)
- a witch that has no primary affiliation with any one character or group (Enchantress)
- and four Batman characters (Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Killer Croc, and Katana)
Batman characters taking up nearly half the squad is no coincidence, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are at least a dozen other Batman rogues that could fit a primary villain role, many of whom have never appeared in a live action film. How many Aquaman villains can you name without Siri or Google lending a helping hand? How about Wonder Woman? Cyborg?
Batman (and his rogues) are the key to the entire DCCU. And that key may be needed more often than you might think.
Let's not forget how vital Batman is to the Justice League itself. One of the truest examples of an actual polymath in all of comics, the depths of his mind are incalculable. In addition to the character traits discussed earlier, Bruce Wayne possesses an accomplished proclivity for military tactics and strategy. We're not just talking about a guy who's read Sun Tzu's The Art of War: Batman is an expert on guerrilla warfare and various other irregular strategies. Should the Justice League be faced with a true extinction-level event/invasion*, they could be in deep trouble without Batman calling the shots.
*Read: unlike the first Avengers** movie. Seriously, at any point did you feel that anywhere other than Midtown Manhattan was in any real peril?
**No disrespect to Joss Whedon intended. That man may be a polymath himself.
So is DC screwed here? Perhaps not, but they will be forced to cater to Affleck's needs more so than with their other Justice Leaguers.
Here are few solutions to Affleck's theoretical resistance to returning to the character somewhere down the line:
- An obvious, if only temporary, solution would be to allow Affleck the opportunity to direct himself in any Batman solo films, should he want the job.
- Another would be to allow Affleck's Batman to eventually take a step back from the Justice League after an adventure or two, not unlike the conclusion of JLA: Tower of Babel (or its equally impressive animated adaptation.) This would allow for major events to continue occurring in the film universe, with Batman presumably working behind the scenes or focusing his efforts on Gotham.
- Still another solution, though one not really worth exploring just yet, would be a recasting of the character after a few appearances. It would certainly be one of the more controversial incidents in shared universe history, should this version of the DCCU last long enough for recasting to become a necessity.
- The most ambitious, high-concept solution would be for DC to dive headfirst into the multiverse. Introducing the idea of alternate realities to film audiences may seem like a stretch for some, even though DC has actually been expanding its multiverse for decades now. This would allow for different actors to play alternate versions of already-existing characters in the DCCU, albeit in alternate dimensions. Members of the CW's shared universe have already discussed this possibility, and it could be introduced in a Flashpoint adaptation, which just so happens to be a likely candidate for the 2018 Flash solo film.