Late last night, I was very surprised to not only discover that the new actor to play Batman had been announced, but that it was Daredevil himself, Ben Affleck. Affleck will assume the role of the Caped Crusader in the new Superman film, a sequel to this year’s disappointing (in my opinion) Man of Steel.
I have always liked Affleck; for a long time I was “Team Ben” in the wholly unnecessary need to choose between Affleck and his long-time friend and collaborator Matt Damon. He seemed like the more “frat-boyish” of the two and at that time that was what appealed to me. I sat through a lot of questionable movies because of my affinity for Affleck and suffered through his questionable relationship with Jennifer Lopez (immortalized in one of my favorite episodes of South Park). My love was so blind that I not only saw Daredevil and kind of liked it, I actually own the film on DVD (though I don’t know that I’ve ever watched it). Though my affection for Affleck softened over time, I was so pleased when he seemed to find himself as a director. I thoroughly enjoyed Gone Baby Gone and The Town and Argo was easily my favorite film of last year. Hindsight proved that Affleck has limitations as an actor and I was totally OK with the idea that he would be behind the camera for the remainder of his career. I knew that he would probably still do the occasional film, but he was finally being taken seriously and had earned the respect of the industry that I thought those roles would be few and far between and would mostly be in smaller films.
And yet….here we are, with Affleck assuming a decidedly not low profile or dramatic role. His venture back into the world of superheroes is even more surprising, given the fact that he had seemed to swear off returning to this type of role after Daredevil. In 2006 Affleck said “By playing a superhero in Daredevil, I have inoculated myself from ever playing another superhero. … Wearing a costume was a source of humiliation for me and something I wouldn’t want to do again soon.” (Thanks to Art for reminding me of the quote) Now people say a lot of things and that may have partially been a reaction to the critical and commercial failure that was Daredevil, but those are still some strong words for someone who 7 years and an additional Oscar later would return to the world of comic book heroes
Strategically, this move just doesn’t make sense to me. Affleck had a lot of momentum with his directing career and while staring in a super hero movie doesn’t necessarily carry a stigma with it, it does seem like a lateral move at best and a step back at worst. Many fine actors have entered the worlds of DC and Marvel comics, but none of them have done so while building a career in directing. There’s nothing inherently wrong with him trying to be both movie star and director, but it could be read as a lack of full commitment to either. I’m guessing that the hope is not that this role will be a one and done guest appearance in another superhero’s movie and if that is the case, heading up a movie franchise is a time commitment that doesn’t leave a lot of free time for directing movies, a time commitment in and of itself. I am worried that he can’t do both well and if I had to choose for him, I’d choose directing. I’d much rather see 3 Ben Affleck directed movies in the next five years than 3 Ben Affleck acted films.
This is not to say that I think Affleck will be terrible; while I think his talents lay behind the camera and that his acting has inherent limitations, I don’t think he’s a bad actor. Given the right project, he can actually be quite good. He put himself in Argo and other than a gratuitous shirtless shot (not that I’m exactly complaining), he was very good. I think he’ll do an OK job as The Dark Knight, though following Christian Bale is not an enviable task. I don’t think he’ll personally derail the entire franchise; director Zack Snyder might, but I don’t think that Affleck will approach the abomination of Ryan Reynolds and The Green Lantern. This just isn’t the choice for him that I would have made right now.
Some other thoughts:
- I’d kind of forgotten about this, but I saw someone online question why they didn’t just pick Joseph Gordon-Levitt to assume the role of Batman, given the ending of The Dark Knight Rises.
- This casting selections has been good fodder for some jokes, ranging from casting ideas (Matt Damon as Robin or Jennifer Garner as Wonder Woman) to suggested title ideas, given Affleck’s Boston heritage (The Dark Knight Looks Wicked Pissed Off Tonight, I’d Definitely Give Him Some Space, Charlene). Personally, I’m voting for Kevin Smith as The Penguin.
- Fanboys will have to help me out on this – is there some sort of unspoken thing that actors don’t jump between the Marvel and DC universe?
- Vulture looks at what everyone said the last time Affleck was a superhero.
- Honestly, Affleck will probably only benefit from sharing screen time with Henry Cavill. The latter is pretty, but I’m not all that positive that he can actually act or that he has any charisma.
- My one real hope is that we retire the Batman sounding like he gargled with gravel voice. That was all Bale and grew tiresome, plus I don’t even know if Affleck could pull that off.
So while I don’t think that the casting of Affleck will be a train wreck, I can’t say that I 100% support or understand this move for him professionally. Batman is something of an iconic role (again – taking into account that Zack Snyder is involved), but I don’t necessarily think that an iconic role is what Affleck needs right now. For the franchise, it seems that there were other qualified options that didn’t bring the “baggage” of being another superhero (albeit one that is unlikely to be revived) or who wasn’t such a known quantity. It will be interesting to see the pairing of Cavill and Affleck, since there is a sizable age difference there. A young upstart Superman interacting with a more veteran Batman could be an interesting premise. But big picture, this seems to be a step back for Affleck. I think his strengths play more to distinguished director rather than guy in a cape. As handsome as Affleck is, I’d prefer to see less of him on the big screen.