Vacating The Cowl: In Defense of Ben Affleck
In light of the recent rash of rumors and behind-the-scenes whispers spilling out onto the web regarding Ben Affleck vacating the role of Batman in the cinematic leg of the DC Universe, I think it’s important for everyone to understand a few key things. Prior to reading this, I strongly urge you to check out this comprehensive report I put together earlier this year which chronicles many of the UPs and DOWNs of Affleck’s relationship with the role (and, more importantly, the people responsible for making these movies):
This piece you’re about to read is going to expand on the What Happened? section of the above piece, as it seems more and more that a final decision has been made.
“Vacating The Cowl: In Defense of Ben Affleck”
By Mario-Francisco Robles (@I_AM_MFR)
Following my sharing of some behind-the-scenes gossip (aka “bochinche” for those of you who speak spanglish) I’ve been hearing that Ben Affleck’s run as Batman is over, I’ve seen some disconcerting remarks made about the actor. Some question his dedication to the role; Some wonder why he’d bail on it before even making a proper solo film; Others deride him for damaging the Batman brand by abandoning ship during this crucial pivot point for the DCU. But I think it’s important to understand that there’s a ton of blame to go around here, and very little of it belongs to Ben Affleck.
In fact, most of this is the result of a rash, reactionary studio that made several shortsighted decisions that almost permanently crippled a franchise that should- by every reasonable expectation- be at the top of the pop culture food chain.
The first thing that anyone mad at Ben Affleck needs to understand is that he didn’t need to be Batman.
As much as we all love the character, and are obsessive about comic book movies, we also have to understand that Affleck was at the pinnacle of his career when he signed on to be the new Bruce Wayne. He was an Academy Award darling who’d just fought and battled back to the top of the mountain after several years of being a punchline. We must not forget that in the early 00s, the Affleck ship had come ashore. Following a succession of poorly-received movies (in 2003 he released Paycheck, Daredevil, and Gigli. Talk about a rough year!), and some decisions made in his personal life that made him tabloid fodder, he was forced to lie low for a while.
From 03-07, Affleck appeared as more of an ensemble player in smaller films as he worked to rehabilitate a career that had started off so promisingly when Good Will Hunting made him a critical darling in 1997. Then in 2007, he found his first success behind the camera with Gone Baby Gone.
That was the first step towards climbing back up to the top.
Then in 2010, he released The Town, a film that he directed, starred in, and co-wrote. This suddenly put him back on everyone’s radar in a positive way, following six years of lying low.
His comeback reached its zenith in 2012 with Argo, another film he directed and starred in.
Argo would go on to win three Academy Awards, and Affleck won a pair of Best Director awards from the Golden Globes and BAFTA for his work on the film. So in the spring of 2013, Affleck was on top of the world!
With this kind of acclaim surrounding him, and having won back the respect of audiences and the film industry, the world was his oyster. He could’ve continued cementing himself as one of the great filmmakers of this generation, along with one of its finest actors, becoming David Fincher and Brad Pitt all rolled into one.
But then he threw everyone a curveball.
Mere months after reaching the pinnacle of a hard-fought comeback, it was announced that he’d signed on to be the new Batman. While the role is incredible, and it’s one that Affleck himself has compared to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it’s not exactly the first thing you think of for a then-40 year old actor who’s just worked so hard to become respected again. Why? Because you know it’s going to involve a huge time commitment, running around dressed like a giant bat, fighting dudes dressed like clowns. It’s a risky proposition that could either do wonders for you, or- in the wrong hands- lead you to a Daredevil-like backlash.
It’s the kind of job you only take if you have the utmost trust in the creative team you’re working with, and faith in the studio that’s making the film(s). And sure, he’s a Batman fan and he dug the novelty of his son seeing him as The Dark Knight, but believing in the quality of the work has to be the top priority when taking on a commitment like this.
And he had great reason to have that trust and respect at the outset!
Warner Bros. had recently wrapped its Dark Knight Trilogy that had gone wonderfully for both the studio and for director Christopher Nolan. They brought an air of prestige to the genre, and they showed that the studio was willing to support serious filmmakers wanting to do mature, thought-provoking things with comic book characters. So Affleck, at the jump, thought he was signing on for something that would do for him what it did for Nolan and Christian Bale. They were able to make these movies while actually adding to the luster and air of respectability surrounding their careers. It didn’t cheapen them, it made them even more loved.
He signed on for four films, which would’ve included Batman v Superman, Justice League 1 & 2, and The Batman, with a cameo in Suicide Squad. And- if we’re meant to believe some old rumors- the original plan was for his Bruce to “pass down the cowl” to a younger character in a sort nod to Batman Beyond. That way, he’d be in and out of this commitment within five years, and would have the flexibility to appear in cameos as Old Man Wayne in future DC movies if he wanted.
The problem is: The plan didn’t work out.
As I outlined in the aforementioned History Lesson, the time commitment began to suffocate and overshadow his non-DC career. His passion project, Live By Night, suffered tremendously because of the delays and retooling that went into BvS– a film that didn’t end up doing his career any favors. Whatever your opinion of the film is, there’s no denying that the reception of BvS was not ideal for Mr. Affleck. Critics hated the mangled theatrical cut (after Warner Bros. hastily, and bafflingly chopped a half hour off of the film that hobbled the story’s flow), and fans gave it an extremely tepid CinemaScore of B.
[Editor’s Note: Since audience metrics like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb can easily be manipulated, and can be voted on by people who haven’t even seen the movie they’re voting for, we must disregard audience scores on sites like those. The only audience metrics the industry pays any attention to are ones like CinemaScore and PostTrak, which poll actual people as they leave the theater to get their direct response to what they’ve just seen on opening night- because opening night crowds are usually the most hardcore fans. Those fans gave BvS a B, the same score they gave to Green Lantern and Catwoman.]
Beyond the reception Batman v Superman received, it’s important to note how the studio mangled all three of his Batman appearances:
- Batman v Superman: The aforementioned chopping of a half hour from the theatrical cut, which hurt the story. It’s fairly unanimous that the Ultimate Edition was the better version of the film, yet the studio meddled and it backfired
- Suicide Squad: The studio, once again, meddled. They essentially kicked director David Ayer out of the editing bay, hired outsiders to come up with six focus-grouped alternate cuts, and it resulted in a film that- while being received better by fans (B+)- was also panned
- Justice League: I don’t think anyone reading this needs a reminder of what the studio did with this movie
With that in mind, if you were Affleck, would you be inclined to continue trusting these people?
“But It’s The Dawning of A New Era!”
Look, no one is more of an optimist than I am. As I spoke passionately about on Friday’s episode of the El Fanboy Podcast, I truly believe that the new leadership at DC Entertainment is going to turn this corner and give us a DCU worth cheering for again. But part of “turning the page,” is creating a whole new launch pad for the series. Nobody wins if Ben Affleck appears in The Batman, only to have him bow out afterward. The studio needs an actor who’s ready to commit for many years to come, somebody who’s younger and hungrier- the way Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot are.
Had the studio stuck to the original plan, the seeds would’ve been planted by now for a Cavill/Gadot type of actor to inherit the cowl as either Terry McGinnis, Dick Grayson, or who ever else they’d want the next cinematic Batman to be (my pick would be Armie Hammer). And Affleck would be able to transition into the “occasional cameo as Old Man Wayne” stage of things. But with all of the shake-ups, changes, and course-corrections that have gone on since 2016, that’s no longer a satisfying option.
So at this point, it’s really in everyone‘s best interests for Affleck to bow out.
The only way this could’ve worked out, beyond sticking to the original plan, is if Affleck were willing to sign a new deal and agree to play the role as Batman for another five or six years (i.e. into his fifties). But when you consider everything I’ve outlined: Why would he? What’s in it for him, at this point? The career he’d worked so hard to rehabilitate is back at a low-point, and if he wants to get back to being the “beloved filmmaker behind such gems as Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo,” then the only way to do that is to get back out there and make great films like those again; Not committing even longer to a DC franchise that’s trying to rebrand itself and crossing its fingers that mainstream audiences will embrace it again after being so Meh about Justice League.
So if you’re disappointed…trust me, I get it. I loved Ben Affleck in this role. I was never part of the anti-Affleck brigade (remember the backlash when his casting was announced?). I thought his work in Batman v Superman was spellbinding. I could not wait to see more of the Batman we glimpsed in that warehouse scene. I would’ve sawed off my left pinky toe for a standalone detective noir The Batman movie that gave me more of the great chemistry between Affleck and Jeremy Irons as Bruce and Alfred, respectively.
But when you really think about, if it’s true that he’s gone, could you really blame him? And, conversely, with all that’s gone on with the DCU, wouldn’t you rather an actor who’s ready to go the distance as Bruce as the character gets a soft reboot in the form of Matt Reeves’ The Batman? Imagine only having Affleck for one more movie, then recasting the role, while Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Cavill’s Superman remain firmly in place. How unsatisfying would that be? With all of the uncertainty about the DCU’s future, you need to have the actors portraying the Trinity firmly established for the foreseeable future, since they’re the backbone of the entire Universe.
So please keep all this in mind when you react to these rumors and lament Ben Affleck’s exit from the DCU. It stinks, but it’s kind of the only reasonable outcome we could ask for from all involved at this point.
Ok, now it’s time for me to go sit in a corner and lament what might have been…cause it could have been special. Sigh.
Thanks for reading!
Editor-In-Chief and Co-Founder of Revenge of The Fans. Previously, he's written for Latino-Review, IGN, Moviehole, and The Splash Report. He's also the host of the top-rated show The Fanboy Podcast and the co-host of The Revengers Podcast. E-Mail: MFR@RevengeOfTheFans.com | Twitter: @I_AM_MFR