Re-fflecktions on The Batman

by Patrick Gibbs

When the news first broke that Ben Affleck had been cast as Batman, a lot of people were gasping in disbelief. I was among them, but for a very different reason than most: I wasn't worried if Ben was right for the Bat, but rather, if the Bat was right for Ben.

The one time favorite target of critics and tabloids alike had brought his career back from the brink of death by unexpectedly becoming the most artistically and commercially successful star turned director since Mel Gibson, and his Oscar snub for Argo had actually come as something of a boon, getting the last of the significant holdouts to rally around him and demand that the bad films and hype of the past be cast aside and that this hardworking artist get s fair shake. Affleck was on top of the world, finally out of anyone's shadow (Matt Damon, John Krasinki and Gus Van Sant even found themselves in Ben's shadow with Promised Land not even coming close to Argo. ).

So why on earth would someone in that career high position want to step, no, crawl, into the shadow of Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan? There was finally a big screen Batman that was almost universally accepted and loved, and whoever had to follow that was going to have a tough task ahead. I stood up for Ben, theorizing that his presence behind the camera could only be a good thing, and the sudden arrival of Argo scribe Chris Terrio simply had to be connected. No, this was going to be great for DC, but still . . . would it be great for Ben?

I was wrong about it being great for DC, of course. Terrio (who by all accounts was brought on
independently of Affleck) .gave us a script that made David Goyer and Zack Snyder's Man of Steel screenplay look almost flawless by comparison, and while Ben gave his all to the performance, his Bruce Wayne was quite bland and stoic compared to Bale, and his Batman wasn't Batman until the post "Martha" third act. Yes, some people argue that the pitch black, angry, vengeful Batman was great and exactly what the "Dark Knight" should be, and that it was the best part of the film, and almost but not quite respect their right to be hopelessly wrong about that. I think that a Batman who has gone over the edge is an interesting idea in a comic book, and had some potential in a film, but a sadistic and bloodthirsty Caped Crusdader who suddenly goes all instantly heroic after Short Round burns him shouldn't have worked for anybody.

And now the talk is all over the net today that Warner Bros. may not be planning to keep Affleck under the cowl much longer. The Hollywood Reporter broke the still unconfirmed story, stating that the actor would be "gracefully phased out."

Seeing all of this talk, I felt the need to chime in with some thoughts on the rumors, because A. I was very vocal when Ben was cast, 2. This is all still unconfirmed and there's a lot of weird statements being made, and D. I find my own musings endlessly fascinating, so naturally I assume you do, too.

If there is anyone who has a reason to want to get Ben Affleck out of the batsuit, it is Ben Affleck. The part that I was indeed right about was that this has not worked out as a particularly beneficial career move for him. The famous Hello, Darkness My Old Friend viral video was the best thing he has appeared in over the past couple of years, and unfortunately that includes his latest directing effort, Live By Night. There were multiple reasons that film stumbled, and why he did not work in the lead role, but the bad press that lingered for Dawn of Justice and the bulked up frame that made him look even more out of place as a wide eyed young man turned mob boss were both factors in its undoing (perhaps an even bigger one is the fact that the only thing fresh and new to do with a organized crime drama is playing out on CNN as we speak is a bigger one, but they were still factors.).  It is not inconceivable that both the star and the studio are feeling that it is not in either group's best interest to keep him around for the long haul. There's a lot of talk that because Matt Reeves and the studio are looking at a new trilogy, and some stories even speculate that Ben will stay with the Justice League movies but that the Reeves trilogy will stand alone, featuring an actor that will not be in his fifties when it is over. That makes some sense, but at the same time, I don't think anyone (including Reeves, a shrewd driector who gave us the best film of this summer) particularly wants to see Bruce Wayne's parents killed again. If there is anything super hero filmmakers and fans are acutely aware of right now (apart from the fact that female superheroes can work spectacularly well) it is the fact that if you rebooting a story everyone knows, you can have a Homecoming, but you can't go back to the same house we've seen over and over again.

If they are truly phasing Affleck out entirely, by far the best option is to pass the identity of Batman on to Nightwing. This is something we haven't seen on film before (I'm a fan of the ending of The Dark Knight Rises, but Dick Grayson's Robin stepping into his mentor's boots is something more than that.). Admittedly, I'm a lifelong Robin fan, but many others are not. But the fact is that anyone can be Batman. Christian Bale finally made it difficult for anyone else to be Bruce Wayne. For that last reason alone, I think a baton passing of some sort could be the best chance of making something unique and lasting out of Reeves' solo Batman outings. If they merely recast Bruce Wayne yet again, I for one will have a hard time being excited. I will still see it because it's Matt Reeves, but while I do not consider Nolan's films to be definitive for the simple reason that there is no definitive take on a character that has seen so many incarnations, I still feel that it's too fresh in people's minds, and Bale made Bruce into a fully rounded character like no actor before him.

All this being said, the most important point to keep in mind is that it is far too early to count Ben Affleck out. The guy is a cockroach, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.  He can survive what kills everyone else (and the fact that a sequel to The Accountant is in the works demonstrates this fact.). Whether it is as Batman or  not, Ben Affleck will rise again. And personally, my hopes for Justice League are currently at an all time high, and I know I'm not alone.

We'll say what comes out in the coming days/weeks.

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