EDITORIAL: Affleck Is The Bat and There's No Going Back

God...Talk about REALLY BAD casting...And now begins the second downfall of the Batman series...the film after this will probably introduce Robin...then Batgirl! I am NOT seeing this movie if he is in it. There are over a million better choices, they could have picked someone off the street at random and made a better choice.

If you are taking in these sentences as my reaction to the recent news that Zack Snyder, director of Man of Steel and its upcoming sequel that will feature Batman, has cast Ben Affleck as the caped crusader well, you would be wrong. First of all because this wasn't my reaction (not even close) to the initial announcement and second because, despite the fact they are reactions, they are not aimed at Mr. Affleck. No, all of the above comments were made on various websites anytime between April and August of 2006. The person on the receiving end of all this criticism was Heath Ledger. When it was announced director Chris Nolan had cast the charismatic Aussie in the role of Batman's most notorious nemesis there was no shortage for cries of blasphemy or people proclaiming no one would ever measure up to Jack Nicholson from Tim Burton's 1989 film which in itself caused controversy by casting an actor known mainly as a comedian to play a vigilante that dresses up like a bat. As we all know now, both of these decisions turned out to be pretty well gauged and the people behind the scenes actually did have a pretty good idea of what they were doing. The argument will naturally be made here that Snyder is no Nolan (no, he isn't) or Burton (debatable, both have a flair for placing style over substance) and that he doesn't really know where he wants to go with this new incarnation of Superman and has simply placed Batman in the center of it to make the transition from stand-alone super hero films to crossovers more convenient for the folks over at DC to put together a Justice League film that might finally put them on track with what Marvel studios has now been doing successfully for over five years. If that is true the fan boys crying foul at the hiring of Affleck certainly stand a better chance of being proved right, but I'd like to believe that with the point Affleck is at in his career he sees something in this project that he can bring to the table. A fresh and interesting version of the Batman we've yet to see on screen before. Regardless of what direction this ends up going though, judgement should be reserved until July 17, 2015 and not a day sooner.

The bigger question still boils down to: Was Affleck a good choice? Clearly this is a very subjective question and one that people will bring all sorts of examples and justifications into to serve as proof as to why he may or may not make a good dark knight. For me, there is a very clear way of looking at things. Yes, it may seem like the "easy" choice as Affleck is one of the bigger stars to emerge and remain relevant in the last two decades and though his career had very early ups, some serious downs, and a fair enough middle ground along the way he has certainly come back in a way no one expected him to. Quietly making his directorial debut with 2007's Gone Baby Gone the actor Ben Affleck was still trying to shake the after-effects of the one-two punch that were 2003 and 2004. In those two years he made Gigli (a movie I've never seen, but is considered one of the worst films of all time), Jersey Girl, and Surviving Christmas. All three of these films were panned by critics and left out in the cold when it came to box office receipts not spelling good fortune for Affleck's future. 2003 was also the year of Daredevil and going back to watch that film you can see that it's not THAT bad and the trouble certainly wasn't in Affleck's performance, but in the direction of Mark Steven Johnson. The guy had only made one film prior to the big budget super hero flick and he simply didn't know what to do with it all. There are some good ideas in there, just as there were in his follow-up, 2007's Ghost Rider, but instead of casting someone like Affleck there he went with Nicolas Cage. Matt Murdock is a different kind of hero than Bruce Wayne, that is clear. Still, both are very layered, compelling characters who have equally rough backstory's and come out on the other side seeking some type of revenge or leverage. It is easy to compare two comic book heroes, but it is in how their alter-ego's are portrayed that truly defines how far they will go to see good win out over evil. Affleck was able to convey both the pain and physical presence of the character only failing overall because Johnson's unstable world with which he existed in was a bit of a mess. The good things that came out of these years though is the fact they made Affleck step back and look at his career, where he wanted to go from there, and how he needed to make that happen. That he has come from that to where he is now should do nothing but lend good faith to his casting as Batman.

Not only does he now have a starring role in what will no doubt be one of the biggest movies ever (no exaggeration) but he also has built a better relationship with the studio that released both The Town and Argo (which will likely allow him the freedom to make more films like The Town and Argo in between Bat gigs). Taking this role and signing on for more than one film, as is now being reported, means Ben Affleck is not just going to be back on top for making well-received movies and starring in his own films, but he will be starring in films he isn't in control of, but will be of guaranteed box office success. This is something Affleck hasn't truly been able to do as an actor since his downfall early on in the millennium. Since re-evaluating his career and stepping back into small-scale filmmaking he has, for the most part, stayed out of the limelight of other peoples films except for the occasional venture into small parts such as those in Hollywoodland, State of Play and as a part of the large ensemble in The Company Men. Each of these along with his starring roles in his own films have done well to prepare him for what it will take to make a convincing Bruce Wayne and an intimidating Batman. Simply look at his character in The Town, Doug MacRay, the guy is a fierce and intimidating persona that ultimately has a conscious that wants to allow him something more, something meaningful. This soft side only comes out in his most personal moments otherwise he is a stone cold statue of a man that intimidates those he rounds up to do his heists with him. If Affleck can pull this off while wearing the cowl I see no reason why he wouldn't stand to make a fierce enough crusader to satisfy spectators. Not to mention, as Patton Oswalt so eloquently put it, Affleck is an actor who has, "tasted humiliation and a reversal of all personal valences -- kind of like Grant Morrison's "Zen warrior" version of Batman, post-ARKHAM ASYLUM, who was, in the words of Superman, "...the most dangerous man on the planet"? Think for a second and admit that Ben Affleck is closer to THAT top-shelf iteration of The Dark Knight than pretty much anyone in Hollywood right now."

It is an interesting thought. If you can't get behind that or may go as far as to say that sure, he could do fine under the mask, but what about when he has to play Bruce Wayne? That seems like the easier side of things to be honest. Ben Affleck, the celebrity, could probably play Bruce Wayne, the billionaire, in his sleep. Ben Affleck has been playing that role for several years now, but again if you simply go back to his more recent, supporting work you will see that if he is to combine the vulnerability and humanity he showed in The Company Men while pairing it with the slick, oily traits of his State of Play character he would have a nice balance of the humble and determined Bruce Wayne that Alfred sees and the persona he has to put on for Gotham City. Besides these thoughts, there is the added value of Affleck being able to play things for laughs and while I doubt Snyder won't have any problem retaining the tone of his films that clearly took away from Nolan's Bat-series, there is always a plus side to having an actor who can add the necessary amount of relief from the constant bombardment of actions and heavy themes that this film no doubt intends to offer.Speaking of Nolan, as he is now off shooting his space epic, Interstellar, and will be less and less involved in these types of films we can look at it as an added bonus that Affleck will become a part of this universe. Even if you don't like him as an actor you'd be hard pressed to find someone to back you up when calling him a bad director. He has quickly become one of his generations best directors and considering many of the complaints for Man of Steel were centered around both David Goyer's script and Snyder's direction it can't hurt that with Nolan overseeing less of this sequel that a skilled writer and director who knows how to craft seriously intense sequences and allows character to drive his narratives will be on set giving input.

I wasn't convinced when I first heard the news, I wanted someone, like Christian Bale, who was a bit of an indie actor, not too well-known, but might have starred in a few smaller films that were well-received critically. It would certainly make it easier for an actor of that stature to disappear into the role while someone like Ben Affleck felt uncomfortably close to George Clooney status. Still, after sitting back and taking in every possible scenario and aspect of the situation I can't help but see how this couldn't at least turn out to be pretty damn good. He has the look, the chops, and the intuition as a filmmaker to help craft a truly memorable super hero film. I'll be rooting for him to prove all of those petitioning for his removal right now, wrong come July 2015. Ultimately though, this will be a landmark film simply due to the fact that these two iconic characters will share the live action screen together for the first time and if there was anyone who could possibly embody the caped crusader on screen and force the creative teams behind the scenes to up their game it would be someone like Ben Affleck. If we want a landmark film to match this landmark event, I don't know that anyone in Hollywood could help make that more of a possibility than Mr. Affleck right now.


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