So unless you’ve been off Twitter or Facebook for the last 24 hours, I’m sure you’ve heard the startling news that Warner Brothers has found their new Batman… and everyone is pissed! No, seriously, like EVERYONE! I have absolutely never seen this volume of nerd rage… to quote Taylor Swift, “like… ever.” Is it warranted? Well, as for Warner Brothers, they should honestly be thrilled that people are this passionate about the casting at all. Ben Affleck IS Batman. Cue the sound of ten million memes being posted.Photo credit: s_bukley / Shutterstock.com
But it’s a startling choice for a number of reasons. One, Affleck is a “big name.” Everyone who’s been to the movies in the last 15 years knows him, when you ask most comic fans who should play any given super hero, most of the time they reply “an unknown.” The bigger an actor is, the higher chance you have that their personal life, prior roles, even political stance could overshadow their portrayal of a comic book character come to life. And fans don’t want anything coming between the printed page and the big screen. They don’t want to see “Ben Affleck as Batman.” They want to see “Batman” period, the way they know him from the comics or other media just brought to life.
In recent years, Hollywood has usually been more than happy to oblige… to mixed results. For every Henry Cavill, you get a Brandon Routh. For every Hugh Jackman, you get an Eric Bana. The results are even mixed for mid-tier actors. Robert Downey Jr. was well-known, but had been in a career slump, only for ‘Iron Man’ to propel him back to super stardom. But then, there’s Ryan Reynolds whose ‘Green Lantern’ was a hollow, splashy mess.
Those that are defending Affleck, point to his recent high profile accolades for ‘Argo’ and ‘The Town.’ But Nicholas Cage (‘Ghost Rider’) and Halle Berry (‘Catwoman’) were also Academy Award winners for Lead Actor and Actress respectively and Josh Brolin (‘Jonah Hex’) was a nominee for Best Supporting Actor before his unfortunate turn as DC’s gun-slinger. Their movies were just disasters!
A huge problem Affleck faces is his very public “private life.” We all know everything about him. He grew up in a rough neighborhood of Boston. He shot to fame alongside best pal Matt Damon, winning an Oscar for their first screen play. He immediate dove into making hollow, drab big budget popcorn flicks like ‘Armageddon’ and ‘Pearl Harbor’ and started dating starlets, making him (to this day) tabloid fodder. He’s happily married to Jennifer Garner now, but before that he had high profile romances with Gwyneth Paltrow and who could ever forget “Bennifer,” the nicknamed bestowed on him and his very famous girlfriend Jennifer Lopez. The name has endured for almost as long as her solo nickname “J. Lo.” And yes, he’s one of those actors who is very politically active and outspoken… something movie-watchers have long found insufferable on the part of celebrities. Very few leading men have such a high profile, and many of them, including Tom Cruise and Will Smith, have experienced recent slumps, with once again, audiences unable to disassociate the actors from their roles.
Another problem I am seeing vocalized is people’s inability to look past his former roles. In some of his earliest films, ‘Dazed & Confused’ and ‘Mallrats,’ Affleck with his large stature and square-jawed good looks was cast as the arrogant bully. In ‘Armageddon,’ ‘Pearl Harbor’ and ‘The Sum of All Fears’ he was but a cog in bloated, underwritten popcorn flicks. In ‘Bounce’ and ‘Gigli’ he was floundering in efforts to recapture the sensitive, romantic charm he had exuded in ‘Chasing Amy’ while unfortunately showing no chemistry with real-life girlfriends Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez. I won’t even get into the all-too-easy ‘Paycheck.’ That joke writes itself. But in most of those cases, those movies were made ten+ years ago and the man has been working steadily since. Isn’t there a chance he’s improved just a little?
But in recent years, Affleck seems to have pushed himself in new directions, taking on more challenging and fleshed-out roles. His Batman will be his first “big, budget Hollywood action” leading role since… well, ‘Paycheck.’ In recent years, he’s taken smaller supporting roles in less commercial films and developed and directed ‘Gone Baby Gone,’ ‘The Town’ and ‘Argo’ all of which garnered him various awards. So at least he appears to be recommitted to the craft of film making and improving his perception.
Warner Brothers said they wanted an older, seasoned Batman in the film. Many candidates surfaced including Josh Brolin and Max Martini. Many fans were still clamoring for ‘Mad Man’ lead Jon Hamm, who would be unavailable due to his commitment to the show which will be filming at the same time as this movie. But, although we may still see him as O’Bannion in the high school flick ‘Dazed & Confused,’ Affleck is 41, a good 11 years older than Cavill’s Man of Steel… and just over a year younger than Hamm.
Then there are those that are simply Christian Bale devotees. Get over it. It happened. It’s over.
The biggest challenge Affleck is going to face is the same one Cage and Berry faced, and the same challenge he himself has faced having starred in numerous big tent pole films that may or may not have made a lot of money, but that for the most part are critically panned. He’s “just the actor.” These super hero movies too often are made by committee and Warner Brothers is notoriously heavy handed in their dictates, even with the comics. Expect a script written by at least five separate people. It seems in recent years, they’ve relaxed a bit and given directors like Christopher Nolan and Zach Snyder more freedom. But… you hear rumors. Inconsistencies. One time Snyder is saying there are absolutely no references to a greater DC Universe in ‘Man of Steel.’ Next thing you know, Superman and Zod smash a Wayne Enterprises satellite during their epic battle. And there’s a military pilot who may or may not have a connection to Green Lantern. And a codeword that may or may not be an Aquaman reference. So… guess we’ll see.
Whereas with Marvel’s movies, especially in the cases of the ‘Iron Man’ movies and ‘The Avengers,’ the studio seemed to give a lot of freedom to John Favreau and Joss Whedon, respectively, to fully realize their visions. With DC and Warner Brothers, I just get the feeling they’re going to hold the reigns a bit tighter.
Ultimately, I feel that the casting of Affleck has its challenges. His high profile in Hollywood, his indelible former roles, the fact that J. Lo once included a love song to him called “Dear Ben” on one of her albums… but I’m old enough to remember when Beetljuice got cast as Batman the first time around and the uproar that caused. AND when white hot George Clooney was cast in the same role and the complete lack of uproar that caused. Ultimately, I think should this movie rise or fall, it won’t be on Affleck’s shoulders. It’ll be because of the script, the director’s vision and Warner Brother’s ability to butt the hell out.
But carry on with the memes. They’re pretty funny!
Feel free to tear me a new one below in the comments section!