March 24, 2016


The 7 Reasons Ben Affleck Needs to Be a Great Batman

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic
Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

We're less than 24 hours away from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the anticipation to see how Ben Affleck does as the Caped Crusader is suddenly driving us half-insane. We've had almost three full years to adjust to the idea, and the WTF-ness of the original announcement has faded, only to flood our emotional radar again in full vivid color. Here's why, now more than ever, Ben Affleck needs to nail it as Batman.

1. It's important for the character
For the decade from 1995 to 2005, movie-Batman was in rough shape. George Clooney and (to a lesser extent) Val Kilmer were wrong for the part in two completely different ways, making it all the more relieving for Christian Bale and director Christopher Nolan to swoop in from England for Batman Begins. Bale, that shape-shifting Method madman, realigned the onscreen hero with his darkest—and purest, for some—comic book essence. It lasted a sensational seven years, and now The Bat's Hollywood stature hangs in the balance. Affleck dunking him back into that Batman Forever/Batman & Robin-shaped vat of acid would require more than a few years of recovery. This isn't Spider-Man, where you can just pick a new guy every few years with no consequences.

2. Henry Cavill already isn't a great Superman
Blaming Cavill for not winning our hearts in Man of Steel would be like blaming Samuel L. Jackson for not bringing his best acting to Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. There's not much you can do in a film as oppressively bleak, color-sapped and zest-zapped as Man of Steel—but even in a very different movie, the young Brit probably wouldn't have especially sold us. There's a reason DC so quickly went all-in with Batman v Superman instead of just making a second Superman movie. So for the comic book empire, still very new to this expanded universe movie stuff, to go 0 for 2 with the biggest superheroes ever would be a catastrophe on par with what General Zod and Supes created at the end of the last movie.

3. Wonder Woman won't be there long enough to offer that saving new-character grace
Early reviews are already noting what any Hollywood/culture observer could've confidently told you a couple years ago: Superman v Batman won't feature enough Wonder Woman, whose own flick we have to wait more than a year for. If Batfleck fails, Gal Gadot, in this dudes-in-capes-dominated field, isn't going to have enough quality screen-time to pick up the slack.

4. It's critical for Affleck an actor
When Affleck got cast (as the oldest iteration of Batman yet, btw), my first reaction was, "The man who directed the latest Oscar winner for Best Picture is going to be directed by the man who did Sucker Punch." Scary, scary shit. The last decade—Affleck's Married to Jennifer Garner & Becoming a Dad phase—was by far the brightest during the two-year spell where he directed and starred in Argo (three-time Academy Award recipient, seven-time nominee) and The Town (also nominated, once). His acting work since '05 has just been the stuff of memoir footnotes. The decade prior, '95ish - '05ish, was Affleck's Biggest Star in the World era (Good Will Hunting, Armaggedon, Pearl Harbor, Daredevil). 

So what comes next? If it involves acting, then a respectable Christian Bale-level-or-greater performance would be the perfect new foundation. If his heart's future was squarely in directing, none of this would really matter. But while he has one item on his directorial slate (an adaptation of Gone, Baby, Gone author Dennis Lehane's Live by Night), he's probably got a serious future ahead in this Batman business. Christian Bale showed what a successful stint as Bruce Wayne can do for an ambitious actor's career...but just imagine if Kilmer or Clooney had made the same mess two, three, four times in a row. There's no way Affleck, who's been in the headlines more as a divorceé gossip item in the last year than anything, doesn't want to take the Bale path. The acting future/directing future could be jointly important if he actually decides to direct the next Batman standalone.

5. It's crucial for DC Comics' new cinematic universe
The movie's subtitled Dawn of Justice because Justice League Part One is dropping Nov. 17, 2017. Before that comes the baddie posse flick Suicide Squad (Aug. 5, 2016) and the Wonder Woman movie starring Gal Gadot (June 23, 2017), but nothing can distract from how much Justice League will depend on Batman and Superman, without argument the two biggest comic book superheroes in human history. If too many of these early pieces fail at cohering into an interesting puzzle, the rest of DC's giant gameplan—The Flash and Aquaman and maybe some solo Batman in 2018, Shazam and Justice League Part Two in 2019, more and more and more—the whole thing might crumble with alarming alacrity.

6. Zack Snyder needs the help
One of the only ways to have high hopes for Batman v Superman is imagining the Dark Knight singlehandedly focusing and bettering the 50-year-old would-be adaptation king. Zack Snyder's track record is just so, so patchy. Dawn of the Dead might be one of the best examples of a successful remake in the history of movies. 300 and Watchmen are near-perfect adaptations of renowned graphic novels—and neither is an especially good film. (300 is very bad.) He wrote and directed the film we named much earlier and will not name again. (OK: rhymes with "trucker lunch.") He got handed the first Superman movie in seven years and in return gave us Man of Steel.

Did Affleck, a good and possibly great director, influence Snyder? Or did his manifestation of Batman, at least? For Snyder's sake, and for Affleck's, we hope.

7. And just plain old revenge on his Daredevil critics
Last time Affleck headlined a superhero movie, critics feasted on his blood. Consider: 

"The film keeps insisting that Daredevil's soul is in torment, but it would be hard to think of a star who seethes with darkness less than Affleck." –Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

"Affleck's rigid performance is a perpetual drag on the story." –J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader

"In these big movies, he seems a put-on movie star, a lazybones puffed by enormous helium bursts of publicity." –David Denby, the New Yorker

"He can play one thing—a genial guy with a sense of humor. Cast as something else, Affleck is still funny, but not on purpose." –Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

Now just imagine Affleck going to sleep every night for the last three years and quietly repeating those and many other critics' names, followed by, "Just wait till you see my Batman." And then, again, in the grizzled Batman voice, "Just wait till you see my Batman."

Listen to Fuse's latest episode of the Back of the Class podcast, where Juan, Esteban and Zach talk about blockbuster hype fatigue: