Will Ben Affleck reprise his uninspired Batman, and should we even care?
Ever since “The Hollywood Reporter” claimed that Warner Bros. studio executives were secretly maneuvering to “usher out” Ben Affleck from their upcoming Batman films, it has remained unclear whether he will be returning to play what he calls the “coolest f***ing part in any universe.”
Affleck was originally set to star, direct, and write, the upcoming “The Batman,” but once Matt Reeves replaced him as director, Reeves scrapped his script and is rumored to be in favor of a younger actor for the title role. Perhaps as part of a campaign to safeguard the part for himself – given that the studio will want to avoid appearing incoherent and divided – Affleck was adamant at San Diego’s Comic Con that he is still your Batman, telling Hall H attendees, “I am the luckiest guy in the world. Batman is the coolest fucking part in any universe, DC, Marvel. I'm so thrilled to do it.”
Further muddying the waters, however, is his own younger brother Casey Affleck (who, though less famous, happens to be a superb, Oscar-winning actor) saying in an interview, “He’s not going to do that movie [The Batman], I don’t think. Sorry to say.” When he realized his interviewee’s interest had been piqued, he added that he didn’t know what he is talking about and was making things up. Taking him at his word is indeed a mistake, as he is known for being a jokester and not taking Hollywood concerns too seriously. Since then, representatives of both brothers have insisted that Affleck will stay on as Batman, with the caveat: “as long as they’ll have him.” This, of course, clarifies nothing.
One thing little Affleck gets right in his nonchalant approach to the matter is that it doesn’t really make a difference if his brother plays Batman again or not. He got to do it twice already, and his take on the role has been kindly but accurately described by Casey Affleck as “an OK Batman.” He got fit, showed up, read the lines, made some concerned expressions, and went home with a fat paycheck.
These Batman films aren’t the vision of a writer or director, attempting to tell a story or express a perspective. They are the product of a corporation capitalizing on a valuable property in the hopes of making millions. Loyalty is only to money, and there is little interest in innovative filmmaking.
Brand alone attracted a gigantic audience to the opening weekend of “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the film that debuted Affleck’s Batman while pitting him against the Superman of “Man of Steel” (2014, the studio’s first “extended DC universe” franchise film) and introducing future films’ heroes Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and Aquaman. However, the film had a historically bad second weekend, likely due to terrible word of mouth and critic reviews.
Box office figures of late have demonstrated that movie-goers are no longer satisfied with simply spending their money on high-budget blockbusters. The demand for higher quality is growing, particularly given the alternative of staying home with a worthier film selection from a streaming service, which costs nothing extra. Rotten Tomatoes and other popular film review aggregate sites and apps provide an easy platform for potential ticket buyers to receive quick suggestions on what to see and what to avoid. And they seem to be listening.
Studio heads are thus attempting to add quality to their quantity and are setting aside a significant amount of their budget to draw top actors. While Affleck has demonstrated questionable acting skills throughout his career, he has enjoyed a rejuvenation over the last few years, with a startlingly strong performance in “Gone Girl” (with the right material and character, Affleck is a deliciously arrogant, self-pitying narcissist) and a producing Oscar win for “Argo,” in which he also starred. Warner Bros. has additionally cast venerable talents such as Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Shannon, and Jeremy Irons.
Yet, the Batman suit has been worn by many good actors in forgettable performances. Michael Keaton stands out for being charmingly cast against type, while Christian Bale is arguably the most convincing and magnetic Bruce Wayne—though a less inspiring hero.
Affleck will have a second go at Batman in “Justice League,” to be released this winter and featuring Batman alongside his army of heroes soon to star in their own standalone films. Its financial success is the only guarantee, if any, that Affleck will stay on as the dark crusader. Otherwise, Affleck has thus far offered nothing distinct or interesting as Batman, a mediocrity that will likely be repeated in “Justice League” but matters little to his future playing the part.
If Warner Bros. offers Reeves any significant creative power, he’ll surely opt for another actor. Reeves was behind the great last two “Planet of the Apes” reboot films and could bring much-needed engaging storytelling and imaginative action to “The Batman.” Yet, it remains: these films do not belong to their directors or their writers (or any creatives). They belong to industry businessmen hungry to accumulate capital and add value to their investments. Affleck will do as told, as will Reeves