Let’s face it: Ben Affleck is not going to be quite as bad as the Twitter naysayers are suggesting. Even in Daredevil he wasn’t completely awful, and his recent films – mostly directed by himself – have shown that he has matured into a decent, if not spectacular, screen presence. And let’s think back to Good Will Hunting, in which Affleck was the best thing, showing a genuine hint of charisma and intensity which admittedly he hasn’t come close to recapturing since.
Where the announcement that he will be the next Batman is troubling is that it hints at a lack of direction at Warner Bros. When Christian Bale was cast as Batman for Christopher Nolan’s reboot, it was motivated by Warner’s desire to distance the character from the notoriously camp frivolity of the Schumacher films. While some now like to make fun of the gravelly voice he adopted for the Batman persona, as well as the way his mouth would often be found agape while donning the cowl, Bale brought a much-needed sense of integrity and authenticity to the role. He was the Batman that Warner Bros needed and the fans deserved after the be-nippled batsuits and the horrible puns. Coming off the back of much-admired – and wildly differing – performances in American Psycho and The Machinist, Bale had the kind of method kudos that Affleck the actor can only dream of at the moment. He wasn’t an unknown, but he also wasn’t tainted by overexposure, and more than anything else he was renowned for the sheer physical commitment he gave to his roles. Giving the part to Bale, then, was a statement of intent by Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. that they were very serious about Batman, that they wanted him to be a complex, nuanced figure that would also provide a tangible visual presence that was closer to the original beefy comic incarnation. Like him or not, Bale was an integral part of the success of the Dark Knight trilogy, and his interpretation of Batman is the definitive version in the eyes of large parts of $2.5bn-worth of audiences.
If Bale represented a change for the gritty, the real, and the authentic that dovetailed with the studio’s desire for a darker and more grounded reboot of Batman, it’s difficult to see what Affleck brings to the proposed new movie (and by extension, what Warner intends to do with it). As an actor, he has been rather watered down. Successive failures in the movies that he starred in – Daredevil followed by Gigli in between listless performances in Armageddon and Paycheck – have emasculated his reputation as a performer, and while his comeback as a director is remarkable, Affleck is still in a recovery stage as far as his reputation as an actor is concerned, which is why Warner’s decision is so puzzling. Perhaps the studio was inspired by rival Marvel’s recruitment of the likes of Shane Black and Kenneth Branagh, whose careers as directors were moribund before answering the call to helm Iron Man 3 and Thor respectively. Maybe Warner believes that Affleck’s Oscar win for Argo will bestow critical gravitas on the Batman/Superman megaproject. Neither of these scenarios hint at anything like a clear, thought-out vision for what the next Batman needs to be.
Twitter can be – well, mostly is – a fickle, temperamental place, prone to the wildest reactions to the slightest issues. While most of the negative comments are (comically) overblown, the general nature of their concerns is understandable and even valid. Fans are simply concerned that an actor who has not shown himself to be much of a compelling screen presence has been chosen to replace one of the finest actors of his generation who headlined a trilogy of movies that redefined what the superhero genre is capable of. Given the way Affleck has commendably resurrected his career through directing, and the esteem with which Batman is held by millions of fans worldwide, it’s unlikely that anyone would actively want him to fail. We will just have to wait and see what Zack Snyder and Warner will do with him, but right now it’s difficult to see what Affleck can bring to the table that will move Batman forward.