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In Defence of Batfleck: Why Ben Affleck will make a Great Batman

ben-affleck-batman-suit

By Phil Boothman.

Late Thursday night, it was announced by Warner Brothers that the role of Batman in Zack Snyder’s Untitled Superhero Mash-Up Film, also known as the sequel to Man of Steel, would be played by none other than Ben Affleck.

Then on Friday, the internet went insane.

The casting decision had some high-profile supporters, particularly Kevin Smith who, as both a Batman fanatic and a good friend of Ben Affleck, seems more qualified to make judgments on the decision than most, but the vast majority of the internet went into a nerd-rage meltdown railing against what they see as a travesty to the source material and the worst thing that has happened to Batman since Joel Schumacher gave George Clooney rubber bat-nipples.

It would seem, then, that in this case I am in the minority: I like Ben Affleck as an actor, and I think he is well-suited to the dual role as both Bruce Wayne and Batman.

Most of the criticism brought up against Ben Affleck comes from two of his past roles: the multiple Razzie-winning cinematic atrocity Gigli, and Affleck’s previous superhero outing Daredevil. While there is little that can be said in defence of Gigli, Affleck was far from the worst thing in it, seemingly thrust into a starring role before his time and offered poor writing to work with.

Daredevil, on the other hand, is not as terrible as people seem to remember it. The plot and general writing is far from perfect, admittedly, but the overall characterisation is decent, with some standout performances from Michael Clarke Duncan as the hulking Kingpin and Colin Farrell as the manic hitman Bullseye. Even Affleck’s characterisation is good, with a clear delineation between his superhero persona as the brooding, sinister Daredevil; and his cheekier, cockier secret identity as Matt Murdock.

However, the main point to bear in mind when comparing these films to Batman vs Superman (a working title I’m going to use for the sake of simplicity) is that they are both around ten years old, and there are far more relevant, not to mention recent films to look at before critiquing Affleck’s acting ability: The Town and Argo to name two. Both of these films show that Affleck has matured into a far more grounded actor, capable of portraying complex, layered characters, than he ever was in Gigli or Daredevil. Look at Doug MacRay in The Town, for example: he is a brooding, violent criminal who hides the illegal side of his life from his new girlfriend, and strangely comparable to Batman in this way.

Similarly, in the ten years since Daredevil’s release, superhero films have changed to the point of being unrecognisable when compared to those of past decades. Simply because Affleck was in a sub-standard superhero movie a decade ago doesn’t mean he is going to ruin a contemporary superhero film which is also presided over by some of the most qualified filmmakers working today.

Moving on to actual expectations of the role, and I believe that at the very least Affleck will be a far better Bruce Wayne than Christian Bale ever was: Bale’s interpretation, while he had his ‘playboy’ moments over the course of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, was altogether more damaged, and constantly felt as though he was hiding his true identity. The Bruce Wayne of the comic books and earlier films is far cockier, more arrogant and generally charismatic than he is in Nolan’s films, and Ben Affleck has the skills to pull off a more faithful version of the character.

Elsewhere, various sources suggest that Affleck will be portraying an ‘older, more experienced’ Batman than Henry Cavill’s relatively green Superman, which means that the version of Batman we’ll be seeing in Batman vs Superman is going to be a very different beast to any other portrayal of the character we’ve seen thus far on the big screen, which means the role requires an actor different to those we have seen in the role before. And ultimately, who better to play an older, more experienced superhero than an older, more experienced actor?

The sad truth, however, is that there would have been a furore surrounding the news regardless of who was cast in the role: creators of comic book movies have long since learned that it’s impossible to please everybody when making these films, and a decision some people love is going to be hated and despised by others. But the naysayers out there would do well to remember that there was a very similar outburst of anger on the internet when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker in The Dark Knight, and that led to one of the greatest on-screen villains of all time. Really, we should just be thankful that we live in an age where we can get A-list stars like Ben Affleck playing a role like Batman, or that we’re even getting a Batman vs Superman movie at all.

As a final note, to the people who created and signed a petition to have the role re-cast: grow up, you’re making nerds everywhere look bad.

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  • http://cultfix.co.uk/doctor-who-is-she-23563.htm GoodYear92

    I didn’t like Argo from the standpoint that it falsified Britain’s refusal to aid in America’s rescue of the hostages for no other reason than it would make a more dramatic film, but Ben’s acting wasn’t an issue. He was outshined by others (Alan Arkin, for one), but he did a comparably good job.

    I haven’t yet seen The Town (though, I’ve heard good things about it), or Gigli, or Daredevil, so Argo is literally all I have to go on. And from that, I would say he’s a competent enough actor to take on the cowl and cape of Batman.

    I disagree that he will necessarily make a better Bruce Wayne than Christian Bale, though. Christian and Christopher Nolan understood that there were three sides to the character: the tortured boy who saw his parents shot down; the “playboy” facade he presents to the public; and the beast within the suit.

    Now, I can well imagine Ben nailing Bruce Wayne’s public persona of the carefree billionaire just as well as Bale did (lest we forget Bale’s arrogant purchasing of the hotel in Batman Begins, and his charade about trying to run a red light in The Dark Knight when he was actually saving a man’s life). The real Bruce Wayne also shouldn’t be a problem for him (which, as you say, was the most prominent aspect of Bruce’s persona during Nolan and Bale’s three films). But I do have trouble imagining him bringing to live Batman quite as Bale did. I understand some people have issues with the voice Bale used in the Batsuit (it went somewhat overboard in the last two films, I will admit, but that was largely because Nolan elected to further enhance it in post-production), but for me it helps to personify Batman as an almost separate entity to Bruce Wayne. Keaton, Kilmer and Clooney all played Batman as just Wayne in disguise, but Bale played it like a beast in a man’s body – and I’m not sure I see Ben being able to do that. I think it’s much more likely he’ll play it more akin to the previous three.

    • EmpathDigital

      I’m afraid I disagree with you almost entirely. Firstly, the idea that any part of Batman is a ‘beast’, as you put it – calling him a ‘beast’ infers a certain animalistic quality, a lack of control, but Batman represents rigid, almost fascistic control. Look at ‘The Dark Knight’ – the three-way conflict which is the core of that movie is between Batman, the Joker and Two-Face, and each symbolises a different ideal of life: Batman represents order, the Joker represents chaos, and Two-Face represents chance, and in the end order wins out, but only manages to do so by sacrificing freedom and personal privacy (the act of turning every cell phone in Gotham City into a sonar device). To my mind, there is nothing ‘beastly’ about Batman at all – he is a symbol, yes, but one which cannot exist without adherence to rigid codes of conduct.

      Similarly, the argument that the ‘tortured boy who saw his parents shot down’ is rooted in the Batman side of the character: everything he does as Batman is done to avenge his parents, to make sure that the chaos that has ruled Gotham for so long does not win out and take more innocent lives than it already has. This part of the Wayne/Batman character is not a separate part, it exists as part of the Batman persona Bruce Wayne has adopted to avenge his parents.

      I suppose my main problem with Christian Bale’s interpretation of Bruce Wayne is that it was incredibly easy to work out that he was Batman: Coleman Reese, a lowly Wayne Enterprises accountant, deduces Batman’s secret identity without too much difficulty, and Blake works it out as a kid, after spending very little time with Wayne. There is an argument that it is the enhanced powers of deductive reasoning that encouraged Wayne to pass the cowl onto Blake, but he still shouldn’t have been able to figure it out from a single meeting. Yes, there are a few moments when Wayne has spurts of playboy-ism, but where you argue that Keaton, Kilmer and Clooney all played Batman as Wayne in disguise, Bale is ultimately guilty of the opposite: he played Bruce Wayne as the ‘alter ego’ of a dominant persona (Batman), a protective shell formed around the primary identity as Batman in order to conceal the truth of the matter and for that purpose only. I argue that the two personae should be completely distinct from one another, so as to draw suspicion away from Wayne as Batman’s secret identity. I will agree that this hasn’t really been achieved on-screen, but in my opinion Bale is in no way the definitive Batman and it’s problematic to cling to the idea that he is.

      Whether or not Ben Affleck pulls this off any better than the Batmen who have gone before him remains to be seen, but I think it’s important (although near-impossible) not to get stuck drawing comparisons to Christian Bale’s interpretation of the character: as I said in my article, this version will likely be very different to any version we’ve seen on the big screen before, and it should be treated as such.

      • http://cultfix.co.uk/doctor-who-is-she-23563.htm GoodYear92

        Referring to Batman as a “beast” or “animalistic” does not necessarily infer he is out of control. I was merely implying that the persona of Batman adopts certain predatory characteristics akin to animals. It’s hardly a stretch to refer to Batman as something of an animal in the way he goes about fighting crime, considering his guise is that of a bat; an animal. Yes, Batman has rules he adheres to, but his method of crime fighting is predominantly about his physicality and preying on those who prey on the fearful.

        Animalistic: of or pertaining to animalism.
        Animalism: Behavior that is characteristic of or appropriate to animals, particularly in being physical and instinctive.

        No, the torment itself isn’t restricted to just Wayne or Batman, but how it manifests itself when in and out of the suit has always seemed to me to be different. His sadness and his rage are two sides of the same coin, just as Bruce Wayne and Batman are, and as such they rarely converge. So, it creates this perception of a third identity, sitting right alongside the playboy facade that Gotham knows and loves(?), and the rage-fuelled Bat that prowls the streets at night. At least that’s how I see it, but you’re more than entitled to disagree.

        I agree that Bruce’s “secret” was rather too transparent at times in Nolan’s films. The Dark Knight Rises is guiltiest of this, what with having both Bruce and Batman retreat into seclusion at the same time, eight years prior to the start of the film; return more or less in tandem with one another; then “die” at the exact same time. I had to stifle a laugh when Blake mentioned that no one would ever know who it was that saved Gotham. Well, they’d have to be extremely stupid not to work it out!

        On a final note, I only drew the comparisons to Christian Bale in reference to your own: “…I believe that at the very least Affleck will be a far better Bruce Wayne than Christian Bale ever was”. Whilst Bale is the definitive Bruce Wayne/Batman from my point of view, I’m also willing to give Ben a chance, and I share your view that the uproar in response to news of his casting was unwarranted.

        P.S. I’ve had to type this out in a rush, as my electric is running dangerously low, but I just thought I’d say well done on the article. I neglected to do so in my original comment.

  • Sharaz_Jek

    I’ll try to keep myself from judging if an actor fits a role before actually seeing him/her in it. There have been so many times in the past where people really surprised the public (or at least me) with their strong performances, e.g. Daniel Craig as James Bond, Matt Smith as the 11th doctor or, to stay with the Batman-franchise, Heath Ledger as the Joker

    • EmpathDigital

      I think this is absolutely the right way to approach the issue – people are stressing out about something we won’t see on-screen for two years yet, and Affleck could well be a surprise to the naysayers yet.

  • SakuraPandaTeaTime

    I honestly thought it was a joke when’s first heard it. It was a long time ago, but to me, Affleck is always the annoying jock type character who can’t do comedy but isn’t serious enough for real acting in Kevin smith’s films. I can’t see him doing a serious role as a psychotic, rage fueled intelligent detective like Batman. I’m open to having my mind changed but my gut instinct is as bad as the reaction I get when I eat too many chillis

    • EmpathDigital

      It’s been a long time since Affleck was stuck in those sorts of roles, and he’s done a lot better with serious roles since. If you’re open to having your mind changed, watch The Town and Argo and see how different he can be to your opinion of him.

      • SakuraPandaTeaTime

        He stars in those too? I thought he just directed.

        • EmpathDigital

          Yeah, he stars in them as well – Gone Baby Gone was his directorial debut but he didn’t appear in it, but then he was also the lead in The Town and Argo. I can recommend both of them, they’re both good films.

  • DarkForgottenLostEvil8.5Doctor

    Batfleck. I am seriously loving that word.

    • EmpathDigital

      It’s not bad, is it? It sprung up on Twitter almost immediately after the news broke.

  • Galadhanu Ohtaryondo

    We need Adam West back.

    • EmpathDigital

      Care to elaborate on that?

      • Galadhanu Ohtaryondo

        Ben Affleck wouldn’t have been my choice.
        I signed a petition for Adam West to be in it.
        Did I make nerds look bad?
        No.

        • EmpathDigital

          I never implied that you did – a petition to include a well-known and beloved actor in a film is very different from a petition to fire someone from a job they’ve already been offered and accepted based on the fact that you have a feeling they won’t be very good in that role. My point about nerds being made to look bad is based on the nerd archetype of a negative person who complains about things like this on the internet while making no positive contributions to the things they talk about and obsess over, whereas really being a nerd should be defined by positivity for the thing or things you love. So no, you didn’t make nerds look bad at all.

          • Galadhanu Ohtaryondo

            I actually didn’t know it was true that batfleck was real back when I signed it. :P
            I might not watch the movies with it, but I won’t complain about it on the Internet.

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