Ben Affleck as Batman: Destiny or Disaster?

Ben Affleck Batman

In an announcement late Thursday evening, “Zack Snyder, whose Man of Steel has grossed over $649 million worldwide, said in a Warner Bros. press release announcing Ben Affleck as the next Batman: “Ben provides an interesting counter-balance to Henry’s Superman. He has the acting chops to create a layered portrayal of a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter, but retain the charm that the world sees in billionaire Bruce Wayne. I can’t wait to work with him.”

“We knew we needed an extraordinary actor to take on one of DC Comics’ most enduringly popular Super Heroes, and Ben Affleck certainly fits that bill, and then some. His outstanding career is a testament to his talent and we know he and Zack will bring new dimension to the duality of this character,” Warner Bros. exec Greg Silverman said in the announcement.

The Wise Guise immediately began a text message conversation about this latest development. The two most outspoken members, unsurprisingly being Joseph and Alex, share their thoughts this morning. Enjoy!

Joseph Williams

At the end of the greatest superhero movie ever, The Dark Knight, Batman tells Commissioner Gordon: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” And sure, while America loves a good redemptive comeback story like Ben Affleck’s Oscar win for Argo after his years in the Hollywood wilderness (and his wonderful, lasting marriage with Jennifer Garner), was there ever any doubt that America wouldn’t like whatever he did next? It was inevitable that Batman would be right… whatever Ben did next would be viewed with the skepticism and those who cheered the redemption from Daredevil and Gigli would heave those mistakes back at poor Ben Affleck soon enough.

And when Warner Bros. announced Thursday night that Ben Affleck would be the new Bruce Wayne/Batman in the sequel to Man of Steel to be released July 17, 2015, Twitter and Facebook erupted with horror, hatred, and skepticism. But these fans seem to have forgotten quite a bit. They seem to have failed to heed Lieutenant Jim Gordon’s wisdom… that perhaps this isn’t the Ben Affleck or Batman we want, but it’s the Ben Affleck and the Batman we need right now. But why am I so confident that Ben Affleck will be a good Batman, you may ask? Well, it’s not just because he’s the perfect choice, as Michael Calia writes in the WSJ this morning: “In fact, if there’s anything wrong with this casting, it’s that Mr. Affleck is too perfect for the role. He has it all: The shoulder-heavy jock’s physique, the chiseled facial features set to brood, the experience playing a tough but haunted leading character.”

It’s because, when you take a closer look, Ben Affleck has been destined to become Batman for us in this moment. He’s the Batman we need. And Batman’s the role he needs. Why? The arc of Batman’s cinematic journey over the past quarter century matches Ben Affleck’s career arc over the past decade and a half. It’s the perfect pairing. Destiny. The arcs didn’t occur at the same points in history, but their shape took eerily similar courses. After all, have you ever seen Batman and Ben Affleck in the proverbial Hollywood room at the same time? I haven’t either…

Batman (70% on Rotten Tomatoes) – Chasing Amy (90% on Rotten Tomatoes)

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Chasing Amy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most fans of Batman on screen look back quite fondly on the 1989 Michael Keaton-Jack Nicholson film that started it all. It had a comic book ethereal quality about it that was both fun, but also quite dark. Nicholson was deliriously delicious as The Joker and Michael Keaton has solidified his position as a phenomenal Bruce Wayne AND Batman. Its Rotten Tomato rating doesn’t reveal how well the film has aged with time. Just as Keaton’s Batman launched the brooding Dark Knight into movie history, Kevin Smith’s sassy Chasing Amy (1997) gave many their first look at baby-face Ben Affleck in a leading role. Loved by critics and enjoyed by the typical Kevin Smith cult following, Chasing Amy gave Affleck a leading role in a film that allowed him to be funny AND brooding. His development began early.

Batman Returns (81% on Rotten Tomatoes) – Good Will Hunting (97% on Rotten Tomatoes)

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Of the pre-Nolan era, Batman Returns is often the film remembered most fondly. At the time, the McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and glass coffee mugs cross-promoted the early 90s film with Danny DeVito playing the comic book villain he was born to play and Michelle Pfieffer purring her way into Bruce Wayne’s heart despite clawing her way into Batman’s nightmares. It was campy. It was over the top… but it was still Tim Burton’s accessibly dark Gotham City universe that made everyone love Batman. And then there was Good Will Hunting. Also released in 1997 like Chasing AmyGood Will Hunting provided a supporting role for Affleck, but launched him into the Hollywood zeitgeist as the new Boy Wonder with fellow Oscar-winning screenwriter, Matt Damon. Ben Affleck won an Oscar. He was the next big thing. Batman on screen was riding to heights that Adam West only dreamed of…

Batman Forever (41% on Rotten Tomatoes) – Armageddon (39% on Rotten Tomatoes) & Pearl Harbor (25% on Rotten Tomatoes)

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Armageddon

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… Then things started to spiral out of control. Batman Forever was still a popular film. It did very well at the Box Office and Batman was still buzzworthy. Nicole Kidman? Jim Carey at the peak of his career? Tommy Lee Jones? Oh yeah… Batman hadn’t been this campy since the BOOM-POW-WOMP era of the 1960s, but it was still fun. Critically, it was a significantly worse film with Joel Schumacher at the helm instead of Tim Burton. And yeah… Val Kilmer. Freakin’ Val Kilmer. He wasn’t the worst. But he was far from the best. Similarly, Ben Affleck entered into a time period in his career arc when he was a leading man with box office success…. with the critics beginning to doubt his ability to be a legitimate, Oscar-worthy actor. Armageddon and Pearl Harbor made TONS of money at the box office, but critics found a lot to hate in both of them. Ben Affleck and Batman were both still riding high, though, at this point in their cinematic arcs. But both were about to come crashing down.

Batman & Robin (12% on Rotten Tomatoes) – Gigli (6% on Rotten Tomatoes) & Daredevil (45% on Rotten Tomatoes)

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Gigli

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Freakin’ George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell and Uma Thurman and a hapless Bane and Mr. Effin’ Freeze played by Arnold himself. Sigh. When I saw Batman & Robin on opening weekend, my cousin spilled her entire coke in my lap during the previews. Similarly, Batman & Robin poured cold cola all over the lap of the Batman franchise. It was just plain horrible. It put Batman into exile, to be enjoyed only by animated TV series viewers and Six Flags Amusement Park roller coaster riders. Then, there’s Ben Affleck. And Jennifer Lopez. And one of the worst movies ever made… GIGLI! Just saying it creates a scowl and bad taste in your mouth. And most of us never even saw the movie. Similarly, Ben Affleck’s first and only previous foray into superhero films was Daredevil. And it is panned as one of the worst superhero films of all time. So Batman’s arc hits rock bottom… and so does Ben Affleck’s.

But there’s more to this point of the story that provides keys to Ben Affleck’s true destiny as Batman. Batman & Robin released in the summer of 1997… and off into the darkest corners of the BatCave went Batman. That same year is when Ben Affleck first came onto the scene… and while Daredevil was terrible, it did plant the seeds of Ben Affleck’s ultimate redemption story… because costarring right there alongside him was the beautiful Jennifer Garner… future Mrs. Ben Affleck!

Batman Begins (85% on Rotten Tomatoes) – State of Play (84% on Rotten Tomatoes)

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State of Play

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all know Batman’s story. 8 years later, Christopher Nolan resurrected the Caped Crusader with Batman Begins. It forever raised the bar for how we judge superhero movies. Nolan showed us that comic book movies could also be great movies, period. Critics loved it. Fans loved it. It wasn’t Batman at his peak yet, but he was making a phenomenal comeback, slowly and steadily. As for Ben Affleck, he made less films. He married Jennifer Garner and started a family. He watched a lot of Red Sox games. The few films he made between 2003’s nadir and State of Play in 2009 weren’t very good and critics panned them. But they weren’t as bad as Gigli. And State of Play is one of the most underrated political thrillers ever, starring Affleck as a suave congressman, and Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams as feisty journalists. Critics liked it. Those of us who saw it really enjoyed it. I still remember walking out of the theater saying to my friends, “Ben Affleck might be back. This could be the start of his return to legitimacy.” But I didn’t realize the heights he’d reach. Nor did I realize what Nolan’s Batman had in store for us.

The Dark Knight (94% on Rotten Tomatoes) & The Dark Knight Rises (88% on Rotten Tomatoes) – The Town (94% on Rotten Tomatoes) & Argo (96% on Rotten Tomatoes)

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Since 2008, both Batman and Ben Affleck have returned to greater heights than ever before in the Hollywood power structure. Nolan’s The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises were critical darlings and two of the top seven highest grossing films in history. Many believe that The Dark Knight‘s best picture snub forced the Academy to change the structure of Best Picture nominations. They weren’t just great Batman films. They were great films. Meanwhile, Ben Affleck returned to critical favor behind the camera and not in front of it when he directed Gone Baby Gone. But then he realized he could do it all. With The Town, he was back in the game in front of and behind the camera. Like Batman at the end of The Dark Knight, Ben Affleck was riding high. Then, Argo came out. Critics and viewers loved it. But just like when Bruce Wayne/Batman was broken in half by Bane and sent to the giant hole in the ground, Ben Affleck’s heart was broken in two when his greatest directorial work to date was snubbed from a Best Director nomination. Just as Batman was picked up by the faith of the true believers in Gotham, Hollywood voters gathered around Affleck, awarding him and his film every award they could possibly give them, leaving Ben Affleck returned to the heights of Hollywood glory.

And now, after such an up-and-down career establishing himself as a legitimate actor and screen presence, why would so many be so skeptical? Do we really want another non-descript, good-looking young guy donning the cape? Or would we rather have someone that has that internal fire that drives Bruce Wayne and Batman to broodingly dole out justice to those who need it most? And if anyone has learned any lessons in life to share as an older and wiser Batman to a younger and less developed superhero, isn’t that Ben Affleck? I rest my case.

Alex Beene:

Joseph’s theory is interesting, to say the least. Perhaps destiny did play a part in Ben landing the role. He has been the golden boy around Warner Bros. for the last few years, producing the critically and commercially successful “The Town” and following it up with last year’s Best Picture winner “Argo.” There’s no denying the guy has talent.

And there’s something in Batman’s cinematic history to add to Joseph’s timeline: the franchise has a long history of fan doubt in terms of the selection for the Dark Knight and his supporting cast. The outrage over Michael Keaton being selected as the hero in Tim Burton’s 1989 outing actually made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Strange to us now, the selection was seen as a shocker at the time, mostly because Keaton’s resume up until that point was primarily composed of comedy pictures like “Beetlejuice” and “Mr. Mom.” Similar disdain was touted when Heath Ledger landed the coveted role of the Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” and we all know how that turned out.

If you think this set-up is building toward me telling you we should be cautious to judge WB’s decision before we see the first footage, then you have another thing coming. History tells me I shouldn’t be so rash to condemn the option DC and their parent company are taking, but history also tells me past efforts along this same line end badly.

Take the later “Superman” films from the Christopher Reeve series and “Batman and Robin.” All were hastily put into production to capitalize on the big financial gains the initial successful films made. The results were disastrous: “Superman III” was basically a Richard Pryor showpiece with the Man of Steel in the background. The fourth film – “Quest for Peace” – was such a disaster it killed off the franchise for over 20 years. Ditto to “Batman and Robin,” an atrocity still made fun of until this day.

“Batman and Robin’s” key problem wasn’t just the deplorable screenplay and over-the-top direction; the studio quickly OK’d it following the big box office of “Batman Forever.” The movement to get the film out by summer 1997 had more to do with merchandising (selling toys, promotional deals, etc.) than making a decent blockbuster. The results showed in a bomb so massive it put the Cape Crusader into cinematic retirement for nearly a decade.

And this is what the Superman/Batman collaboration film reeks of: a hastily made attempt to cash in on the successes of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy and “Man of Steel,” while creating a DC-version of the massive popular “The Avengers” series at Marvel. And, much like when big-name-star George Clooney was thrown into the role in 1997, now we have another big name (ironically, one of Clooney’s Hollywood buddies) Ben Affleck slapped into the black costume. For a dream project such as this, it seems like such a shoddy attempt to grab fan’s cash, not their enthusiasm.

Do I hope it stinks? Of course not. I don’t think it will be as awful as “Batman and Robin,” either; Zack Snyder may be an incompetent director, but he can at least squeeze some exciting action sequences out of his casts. Still, my gut reaction to the madness isn’t good. They have my money come July 2015 regardless. Whether I’ll leave thinking I’ve got my money’s worth or wanting a refund remains to be seen.

(Picture at top of this post came courtesy of Fansided.com)

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Posted on by Joseph Williams in Featured, Movie Previews, Movies

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