It was the day before my 39th birthday and I was doing what I do most every night… sitting in the tree in my back yard eating pomegranates drinking Argentinian Malbec (trust me, there is NOTHING like an Argentinian) and surfing Facebook. That’s when I saw a link that I was quite sure would lead to an article on The Onion. The story it led to announced the hilarious prospect that Christian Bale’s successor as Batman would be none other than Shannon from Mallrats: Ben Affleck. I laughed out loud until I realized this wasn’t The Onion, this was The Hollywood Reporter.
What the hell? This was real? What were they thinking? Is this Batman or Bean-town man? Is he going to say “I’m Batman, how you like them apples?” Does that make Matt Damon a shoe-in for the role of Nightwing? Will he insist we call him “Benman”? Look, I know we can all agree that “Affleck was THE BOMB in Phantoms”, but is he right for the Caped Crusader?
Most of the internet didn’t think so and neither did I. Petitions were drafted to kick him out of the role and thousands of jokes circulated comparing him to George Clooney’s saga-assassinating turn in 1997’s Batman & Robin while pointing out that his nickname is often said to be “Ben ‘I Can’t Act’ Affleck” while his best buddy’s is “Matt ‘My Friend Can’t Act’ Damon”. Naturally, the vitriol was oft pointed directly at Affleck’s prior superhero turn as the title character in 2003’s Daredevil.
And a raucous time was had by all (and as, at the time of this writing, the news is less than one week old, said raucous time is still echoing around cyberspace like the Joker’s laugh). After a time, however, I started to think a bit harder about this strange choice and I stopped thinking of George Clooney and started thinking of another actor: Michael Keaton.
Leading up to 1989’s Batman Warners considered a slate of obvious A-list action stars for the role of Batman and his alter ego Bruce Wayne (including Tom Selleck, Mel Gibson and, oh my, Charlie Sheen). When comedian Michael Keaton (then best known for the likes of Mr. Mom, Night Shift and Beetle Juice) was announced for the role DC Comics fans went ballistic, flooding Warner Brothers’ offices with over fifty-thousand letters of protest (real letters before emails became widespread) and the choice was condemned by producer Michael Uslan, writer Sam Hamm and even Batman creator Bob Kane.
Keaton remained and his dark, brooding performance shared little with his previous, more comical roles. This performance was instrumental in launching the saga under director Tim Burton and making it a worldwide success (until Burton’s successor Joel Schumacher beat it to death with his ugly-stick when the aforementioned Batman & Robin abomination more seeped than debuted on screens). Bob Kane did ultimately approve of Keaton’s performance and indicated his successor, Val Kilmer was the closest to his vision for the character of Bruce Wayne. Kane died shortly after Batman & Robin showed him what Clooney did to the character. Coincidence?
The point is, there have been casting surprises in the past when it came to this very character (and the similarly often recast James Bond enjoyed quite the backlash when the now-popular Daniel Craig was announced). Doesn’t Affleck deserve the benefit of the doubt here, or does this announcement suddenly undo every single stride the poor man has made and suddenly he’s “Gigli” again?
Does Affleck’s experience as the somewhat comparable Marvel character Daredevil count for him or against him? First of all that was a full decade ago (and 12 years before the 2015 release date of the new Batman/Superman movie (actual title to be announced). It may be a completely moot point. On the other hand, while Daredevil isn’t often the “favorite” superhero film of comics fans, it’s fair to point out that Affleck has the experience in a similar costume with similar athletic moves. That makes him, by far, not a shoe-in, but it is more experience than most actors have had. Further, Affleck took great pains to keep Daredevil as close to the comic as possible. Was that always a success? No, but then again, Ben Affleck didn’t direct Daredevil.
He did, however, direct Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo, the last of which earned the Academy Award for Best Picture and actually featured the character of Jack “King” Kirby, the comicbook legend himself. Does this mean the other half of Bennifer will suddenly make a good Batman because he can direct? No. However, rumor has it that Warners’ interest in Affleck isn’t simply to bring the Dark Knight to life but to bring the entire Justice League to life as the director of that team’s ensemble film. Imagine an Avengers-level super team up with the critically acclaimed Ben Affleck in the director’s chair as well as the Bat-Tights. Say what you want about him as an actor, but not only is Affleck a better director than Man of Steel’s Zack Snyder, Affleck is a better actor than Snyder is a director.
In that the 2015 release date of this sequel will mark 12 years after Daredevil, can the actor (who will be in his mid-forties upon the film’s release) pull off such feats? Why not? According to Zack Snyder, who is producing the sequel, heavy influence has been taken from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in which an aging Batman reappears in Gotham City to reign in the crime that has run rampant… and runs afoul of Superman during his crusade. Why shouldn’t Batman be a few years older and more wizened than his Kryptonian friend (currently played by Henry Cavill, over ten years Affleck’s junior)?
Twist that Rubik’s Cube thrice more and check out the next dimension of interest in Affleck as the Dark Knight. In what most movie buffs consider to be Ben Affleck’s finest performance as an actor he actually did play a DC Comics character already… and it was Superman… sort of. In 2006’s Hollywoodland, Affleck gave a very fine performance as George Reeves, the actor who played Superman on television for a decade. I’ve been a film critic for over a decade myself and I can tell you, Affleck gave an excellent dramatic performance, both in and out of that familiar Superman costume and even full-blown Affleck haters have said he deserved an Oscar for his acting in that role.
Am I defending this choice and saying that Ben Affleck is an excellent choice for Batman? No, I’m not. I probably feel the same way you feel about it. What I am saying is that it’s not only too soon to tell how this is going to pan out, there is also plenty of evidence to suggest that this might turn out to be a win for film and comics fans alike. After all, anybody who can accept Tom Cruise as LeStat has no business whatsoever complaining about Ben Affleck as Batman.
You may not be a big fan now, but Affleck was the BOMB in Phantoms.
NEXT WEEK To Be Continued…continues with more on ALL THINGS COMICS in its amazing serialized format with the occasional One-Shot like this one. So pop that cork, have a sip and enjoy… and if you do, remember nothing beats an Argentinian.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.