Spoilers for Man of Steel.
Christopher Nolan left behind a gap. A hole if you will. He had no interest in universe building at one point, Marvel’s gigantic Avengers universe collision began just as The Dark Knight came out. By the time Rises was wrapped up there was a state of confusion. The Batman film franchise became incredibly popular and yet it wasn’t connected to any larger scale DC Comics film universe blah blah. Over five years late after Marvel’s own first team-up effort, Man of Steel was the first baby step to building the webbing of a new cinematic universe based on DC Comics properties.
To many, including myself, the work of Zack Snyder and Goyer hampered the film into a washed out and dull feature removed of color, character, drama and all necessary scope in creating a Superman movie. Man of Steel deserves its own analysis but, quite frankly, it was at best a ‘functional’ effort. Nolan left a gap, however, finishing his Dark Knight franchise and then giving Snyder some superhero tips. The news is that Nolan is out and Goyer, Snyder and some newcomer now have to helm the next chapter of the DC Comics cinematic universe all by themselves. That newcomer is the completely new Batman, Ben Affleck. Join me as we take a look at exactly what Affleck has to offer in the role of Batman and beyond.
When we’re discussing Affleck as Batman we have to also discuss the very idea of ‘roles’. Many people often dismiss actors for their lack of action or creativity, that perhaps they just read words off a page and do a little walk. It’s true that so many films nowadays are populated by actors who simply don’t care or are simply doing it for paychecks. I don’t need to name names because you all know exactly the sort I’m talking. Ben Affleck is not in this sort of people, he truly gives a warmth and care to mostly every film he’s in.
A quick scan of his history reveals that he’s won a few Golden Raspberry awards and nominated for a quite a few to begin with. It’s very easy to dismiss Affleck when we consider his history over ten years ago with the likes of Gigli and Armageddon. I imagine he was one of those young faces who was being pushed into action hunk-stardom, perhaps against some of his better wishes. When we consider Affleck in the context of today, however, we see that he’s down something of a DiCaprio. He’s gone from ‘teenage heartthrob’ (I have no idea what that means but it’s stuck) to something of a force in modern filmmaking, with some thanks to Clooney’s mentoring. Who himself was Batman. He has The Town, Hollywoodland (where he, technically, played Superman) and now the 2012 Best Picture Argo under his belt. It took time for DiCaprio to reveal his true acting vernacular and the same can somewhat be said of Ben. In some respects he’s been an underdog for quite some time.
The likes of Armageddon and Pearl Harbor might, to be fair, make Affleck more bankable than you think. He exists within both the wider consciousness as an action prettyboy and, now at least, in most circles as an extremely talented director, writer and actor. The Michael Bay ilk and other films did at least give Affleck some box office blockbuster chops. Given the demand that the new Batman role will hold over the next holder of the cowl, well, it’s kind of interesting to see the logic behind the studio decision. Someone who was at the very heart of the late-90s/early-00s blockbuster craze who has now evolved into a mature, quick-witted and constantly surprising talent. Affleck retreated from blockbusters to try and carve out his own place in filmmaking and he’s done it. The Batman role is merely a tipping hat, an invitation if you will, back into a place into the blockbuster world that has itself changed and evolved.
This is the logic behind hiring Affleck. He is blockbuster-knowledgeable and a very strong, creative individual. No other man can claim to have made a film about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis and also about the hypothetical meteor-rain apocalypse. With Batman it’s not just about the ability to perform but the ability to cope. Christian Bale infamously lost and gained tens of pounds inbetween each Dark Knight film, Heath Ledger sunk himself deep into the role of Joker and many other creatives within the Dark Knight universe have also sacrificed, trained and worked towards creating compelling visions of characters. Affleck has the creativity, mentality and maturity to also bulk up and research the role in mind. It just so happens to be the caped crusader this time round.
One can’t talk about Ben Affleck being Batman without discussing his other ‘big’ superhero role, besides his minor bit as Superman in Hollywoodland. I am being completely honest when I say that Daredevil is a pretty underrated film. It is still quite uninspired and shallow but it has certain charms to it. It’s visually erratic and captures a chunk of realism about the Marvel mythos unlike any other superhero flick, its dark cinematography lends an air of mystique to the whole picture. The Daredevil suit and general characterization is all really washed-out, I will admit, but there’s a certain atmosphere about the film that makes me still somewhat get pulled into it. Colin Farrell bemusedly playing Bullseye can’t really take away from a film that manages to feel involving, and perhaps its down to the performances. The low-key charisma from Affleck and the power-play of the late Michael Clarke Duncan really does add a strange momentum to the film.
Daredevil divides a lot of people, I understand that, and it isn’t the ‘go-to’ picture in defending the Affleck casting. I could wax all day about his blockbuster chops, creative drive, mental commitment and past superhero roles but, well, I do understand the call to arms. I understood it when Ledger was cast and I understood it when Marvel hired Downey Jr. for Iron Man. There is great difficulty with change, especially when that change appears so unfamiliar and foreign to us. Brokeback Mountain and Batman? Some 90s hasbeen as goddamn Iron Man? I’m not saying that these casting decisions will always surprise and delight us but I am calling for a certain lawful reception. Affleck could be the worst Batman forever, he could bomb back into his post-blockbuster days. He is however innocent until proven guilty, but there is one aspect of is career that I will bet ‘all-in’ on enhancing the forthcoming film.
Alongside performing in the new Batflick, Affleck will also be co-writing the script with Goyer. Ten years ago this would appear as a tragedy but today it might be a great piece of news. To dissect Man of Steel‘s problems would take us an entire column but, in short, it probably comes from Snyder and Goyer’s tunnel-vision view of Superman and their own action palettes. Nolan’s involvement with the film reportedly ended just before filming, and he indeed voted against killing off Zod and some of the destruction. Affleck is most definitely a great screenwriter and talent who can bring a presence to the storytelling unlike any other of the talents. His films are grounded in a degree of reality, just like Snyder’s, but he has a great touch of breathing humanity and humility into the likes of Argo and The Town that keeps those films grounded in emotional familiarity. I for one welcome a writer who might be able to see new ways and bridges within the DC Comics world.
If the rumors are also true then we are also possibly going to see Affleck as director of Justice League on top of this. With Bryan Cranston just a press release from being Luthor and a whole host of writers and directors unannounced, Del Toro is apparently also involved, I will genuinely admit that the DC Comics side of the comic book film phenomenon might have a fighting chance against Marvel. Competition always creates greater products. With Affleck on board the DC Express there’s not much to fear. There are always chances of miscasting, but I think he has the chops and ability to bring a whole new life to the greatest detective.