Ben Affleck has been unveiled as the eighth live-action incarnation of Batman, and thus the first ever to appear alongside Superman in the same picture.
The news, revealed by Warner Bros. late on Thursday night, has been met with unease by many comic book fans. Celebrity geek Wil Wheaton tweeted: “Really looking forward to seeing Affleck bring the depth and gravitas to Batman that he brought to Daredevil and Gigli.”
As Wheaton’s retort typifies, the vast majority of negative responses stem from Affleck’s rather déclassé acting career, especially his role in the aforementioned mega-flop Daredevil. It received so much derision that in 2006 Affleck claimed he would never play another superhero again. Yet here we are, and here many wish we weren’t.
Are the fans right to be so negative about this casting? I don’t think so. The reaction is understandable, but that probably has as much to do with Affleck’s bad superhero past as it does with Batman’s colossally successful present. It doesn’t matter who in the world plays Bruce Wayne in Batman vs. Superman: if it isn’t Christian Bale, they’re going to have a hell of a job winning over the fans.
What fans need to remember, however, is that this film does not necessarily have anything to do with Christopher Nolan’s rejuvenation. It belongs to the franchise of the generally well-received Man of Steel, and it has the perfectly capable Zack Snyder at the helm. Yes, the Dark Knight trilogy created the best on-screen portrayal of Batman yet. However, it is not the ‘right’ portrayal of Batman, simply because there is no ‘one’ Batman, neither on-screen nor on paper. Adam West’s character from the 1960’s is just as valid as Bale’s, and with innumerable contributors to countless comics and graphic novels since 1939, there is an abundance of original material to be reaped.
This can all work to Affleck’s advantage, for fans shouldn’t expect to see the Nolan/Bale Batman. They should, instead, expect a Batman we’ve never seen on-screen before, a Batman who is neither domineering nor flashy nor cocksure. He should see Superman and feel inferior, but more passionate than ever that he can do his bit to fight crime.
After expressing his admiration for Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, rumours spread like wildfire that Zack Snyder would be adapting the graphic novel for Batman vs. Superman. He has since said that this will not be the case, but an aged, out-of-retirement Batman would really fit the bill for Affleck. After all, similar discussions have flourished concerning the relationship between the two characters, with some using Henry Cavill being 11 years younger as another criticism. It’s true that by the time the film is released, Affleck will be nigh-on 43 years old, making him 4 years older than any other Batman. But if anything, exploiting the age gap between he and Cavill is a great way to take the film. A ragged, experienced, “you may have superhuman powers you young whippersnapper, but I’ll teach you about fighting crime” sort-of Batman would definitely work. No doubt about it.
What’s left to criticise? His appearance? Some sources claim that ‘Batfleck’ is already working out two hours a day in order to bulk up. Still can’t wash the taste of Daredevil from your mouth? It was 10 years ago. Surely he can’t make the same mistakes twice. And with the overwhelming success as a director, perhaps Affleck will be more conscious how the camera perceives him. There was nothing wrong with his performance in Argo last year, and po-faced deliveries such as “I think my little story is the only thing between you and a gun to your head” can be easily imagined coming from the black mask.
I’m confident Batman is in safe hands, and if you think about it, we’ve never really had anyone who couldn’t play him half-decently. Kilmer and Clooney were tarnished by the films as a whole rather than their individual capabilities as the Caped Crusader. And if you look for reassurance from Man of Steel, we at least know Warner Bros. won’t be bullying Snyder like they did poor Joel Schumacher.