So after discussing more pressing comic book matters last week and giving fanboys some time to cool off, I think it’s finally time to talk Batfleck.
By now, the entire planet and several parallel dimensions know that Ben Affleck was cast as Batman in the upcoming 2015 Superman/Batman crossover film, a direct sequel to June’s “Man of Steel.” The Internet instantly went insane, mostly panning Warner Bros. and DC’s decision and demanding they reconsider through rants, Tweets, and petitions, including one through the White House’s website, which the government thankfully pulled down. Considering those guys can’t even balance a budget or pass an effective piece of legislation, I don’t think we really want to get them involved anyway.
It appears that all that goodwill Affleck built up with critics and audiences with “Argo,” “The Town,” and “Gone Baby Gone” is exactly that – gone, baby. Even though Hollywood clearly did, it seems the web cannot forgive him for films like “Gigli,” “Paycheck,” “Surviving Christmas,” “Reindeer Games,” “Jersey Girl” (which I kind of liked, actually), and particularly “Daredevil,” which, I must admit, I also didn’t think was that bad. Well, at least he wasn’t too bad in it. It was written and directed by the guy who would go on to give us “Ghost Rider,” so seriously, let’s cut Ben some slack for having to work with such goofy, instantly dated material.
In fact, before we get into that superhero, let’s talk about that other superhero he played – Superman, or rather the man who once played Superman, George Reeves. In “Hollywoodland,” Affleck did a fantastic job portraying a man not made of steel, but of flesh and bone. My favorite role he’s ever played, that of fictional comic artist Holden McNeil in “Chasing Amy,” is also a testament to his ability to naturalistically capture real, raw emotion on film.
I didn’t even mention “Good Will Hunting” or the fun I had watching him in “Dogma” yet. And yes, he was the bomb in “Phantoms,” yo.
OK, “Armageddon” was super cheesy and “Pearl Harbor” is an insult to history, but this is a whole different type of blockbuster – this is the Dark Knight we’re talking about here. The Man Without Fear is like Batman in many ways, a gritty hero who cleans up the crime-ridden streets of his hometown, and if nothing else, his Daredevil proves that Ben has got the chin and the build for it. He eventually got Jennifer Garner out of that deal, too, so who can really blame him for at least attempting to save that schlock?
My point is that Affleck knows how to dig deep, and who better to play a rich white guy who polarizes the public than a rich white guy who tends to polarize the public? Bruce Wayne is a man who is both loved and hated by the people of Gotham, as is his alter ego, and Ben knows a little bit about that considering he’s living it. If he can understand Bruce Wayne, he can certainly get into the head (and mask) of Batman.
And as many columnists and bloggers have pointed out, this isn’t the first time that the casting of a Batman film has caused a major disturbance in the force of fandom. Michael Keaton, considered by many now to be the greatest live-action Batman of all time, was known more as a comedian in the late ‘80s, so when he was cast in Tim Burton’s 1989 smash hit, the studio received thousands upon thousands of letters asking that he be removed from the production. I was a bit young to remember that, but I do remember the impression that film left on me, even as a Marvel fan.
History repeated itself when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” in 2006. The outcry ranged from anger to homophobia (due to his role in “Brokeback Mountain”) to cries for a boycott before anyone had even seen him in the now iconic makeup. His Oscar-winning performance is what made that film what it is, and tragically, he passed away before he could be vindicated on screen.
If you weren’t in the room when an actor auditioned, then you can speculate and make all the jokes you want, but please reserve your judgment for a trailer or even opening night, if you can wait that long. Affleck has not had the perfect career, but few actors have, and while I agree there were other actors out there probably better suited for the role of Batman, I’m willing to simply wait and see.
I thought Christian Bale was the perfect choice when he began his journey into the Batcave, but looking back now, I don’t find his performances as compelling as I felt they could have been (his voice whenever he donned the cowl was a bit much), and “The Dark Knight Rises” left a lot to be desired. I don’t think writer/director Christopher Nolan ever quite nailed every nuance of that character completely, so maybe a fresh take will do the Batman some good.
On a somewhat related note, a website with dubious sources “confirmed” the casting of “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston as Supes’ archenemy Lex Luthor soon after the Affleck announcement, a rumor that has since been shot down despite him being such an obvious choice in both looks and personality. A lot of reputable sites ran with the story in an attempt to beat others to the punch, which is the sad state of journalism today, but I found it ironic that the casting practically everyone would have agreed with turned out to be false while the casting everyone thought was a bad joke was quickly confirmed.
As funny as all the Batman-with-a-Boston-accent impressions will be, I’m waiting for Affleck to get the last laugh. I’m not totally confident that will be the case, but I’m not ready to string him up by his grappling hook, either. At least not yet.
-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at [email protected]