Ben Affleck to Don the Batman Cowl

benaffleck

Tell me that this couldn’t be Bruce Wayne. Go ahead, tell me.

by Aaron Einhorn
And it’s time to queue up the geek rage once again.

This happens fairly commonly in our community, and to some extents, it makes sense. If there’s one thing that defines a geek, as opposed to just a fan, it’s passion. Geeks are passionate about their interests, which means that when news comes out about the latest development in those interests, we’re not at all shy about sharing our praise. Or, conversely, hitting the internet to spew our bile and hatred.

This has hit the web repeatedly over the last six months – from the reactions to Iron Man 3, Man of Steel and The Wolverine, through the casting of Peter Capaldi as the latest Doctor on Doctor Who, and now to the announcement that Ben Affleck is set to take up the role of Batman in the sequel to Man of Steel (as-yet-untitled, because I can’t imagine they’re going to call it Superman/Batman after all their efforts to not title the recent films starring those characters by the character name).

So, what is my reaction to this casting news? I am thoroughly in the “undecided” category.

First off, let’s look at Affleck himself. Ben Affleck is a solid B-List actor in my opinion. He’s rarely given a performance that I would describe as “brilliant,” but he also rarely stinks up a film that he’s in. He’s been in some films that were fantastic (Shakespeare in Love, Dogma, Good Will Hunting, Argo), some that were terrible (Armageddon, Gigli) and quite a few that are simply good. And again, his performance usually hits me as “solid.” Not brilliant, but not bad.

Ben_affleck_daredevilThe exception, of course, is his previous foray into superhero films, Daredevil. Though opinions vary, I have never been able to enjoy anything about that film. To be fair, I saw it under less than ideal circumstances – I saw it at a Drive-In, and the projection was off enough that this was the movie that made me feel like I was the blind one, but I really hated it. As a fight geek, the playground battle between Murdock (Affleck) and Elektra (Jennifer Garner) is in my Top Five awful on-screen fights, and the solution to how he manages to defeat the Kingpin has never made sense to me. (Rain should make the radar image more confusing, not less so. Sorry.)

I’ve been told that the Director’s Cut makes a difference, and I own said cut, although I have yet to force myself to watch it. Maybe it’s time I give it a try.

That said, Affleck himself has never been my problem with that film. In fact, most of the performances in the film are ok, with some verging on great. (The late Michael Clarke Duncan was a superb Kingpin, and remains one of the best examples of why color-blind casting is a Good Thing.) My problems are mostly script and directing issues, so it’s hardly fair to blame that film on Affleck, any more than I blame Batman and Robin on George Clooney.
Ben Affleck’s Batman will not be Christian Bale’s Batman, but that’s ok. He shouldn’t be the same. Bale’s Batman exists in a very dark world, where there are no superheroes, and only one vigilante. Affleck’s Batman needs to share a world with the Man of Steel, which is going to require a different touch.

The one place I have an issue with Affleck has been his very public criticism of the film.

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Heath_Ledger_as_the_JokerStill, that’s hardly his fault, and we’ve certainly seen Chris “Captain America” Evans express regrets about Fantastic Four. So, I’m prepared to cut Affleck a little slack. Would Affleck have been my first choice? No. But he’s far from the worst possible choice in my opinion. And we’ve certainly been surprised by casting choices in superhero films before. Or has everyone forgotten when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman way back in 1989? Or even Heath Ledger’s casting as the Joker? (I wrote an article critical of that very bit of casting back on my old blog at Underneath The Mask, and wow, was I wrong.)

Now, that said, am I optimistic about the success of the film? Well, define “success.” Warner Brothers has shown that they have some idea about how to make movies that are about superheroes, and how to make them profitable. Man of Steel did a very respectable box office ($649 million world-wide is nothing to sneeze at) and The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are numbers Two and Three, respectively, in domestic box office.

So, will Superman/Batman be a financial success? Oh, probably.

But we all know that DC’s intention in bringing these two characters together is, at least in part, to replicate the success Marvel has had with their Cinematic Universe. And I don’t think they can manage that.

If you look at DC/Warner Brother’s recent successful superhero films (and television series), they’re each fundamentally apologetic for their comic roots. Smallville, Batman Begins, Man of Steel and Arrow all did (or do) everything they can to run from the comics, trying to ground the characters in “reality” and putting them in outfits that almost suggest their comic outfits, but try to move past that. The one film they produced that didn’t follow this model was Green Lantern, which was just terrible.

And meanwhile, Marvel is giving us a film about gods fighting Dark Elves; soldiers fighting their best friends revived as cyborg assassins; a film with a walking tree, a talking squirrel and a green-skinned warrior woman who fight evil across the galaxy; and a movie about a superhero who will kick your ass an inch at a time.
guardians-of-the-galaxy-concept-art-comic-con

Marvel is enjoying the hell out of making superhero movies that honor and respect their comic book roots, while DC is busy apologizing for those same roots. And for that reason, no, I’m not real hopeful for Superman/Batman (or whatever they end up calling it) – especially since I think they need one more solo Superman film so that Cavil’s version of the character can properly explore the consequences of Man of Steel.

Of course, that said, I’ll be there opening night to check it out, because nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong. You see, as much as I’m willing to be critical (and in fact, I think being critical is important. We can’t accept anything just because we’re desperate to see our favorite characters on the screen. We need to push Hollywood to give us those characters and to do it well.), I love superheroes, and I love seeing them on the screen. I want a long-running Justice League franchise out of DC. I think healthy competition is good, and the Marvel films, as great as they are, can only benefit from having to compete with an amazing set of films from Warner Brothers.

In the meantime? Let’s lay off of Affleck until we’ve seen what he can do, ok?