Ben Affleck as Batman: A Reversal of Fortune?

Ben Affleck Batman Poll
Paul Drinkwater/Getty Images

ANALYSIS: Recent industry goodwill toward Affleck has not induced a state of public amnesia about his acting career.

One prevailing theory of the past awards season is that, having been overlooked for a directing Oscar nomination, Ben Affleck enjoyed a surge of industry goodwill and public indignation on his behalf that ultimately pushed “Argo” into the winner’s circle. General opinion of Affleck has, of course, been steadily on the upswing since 2007, when he helmed a flinty, tough-minded Boston crime drama called “Gone Baby Gone” — his first and still finest achievement as a director — and proved that, however little respect he may have engendered as an actor, he had found his true calling as a filmmaker to be reckoned with.

SEE ALSO: Batman Backlash: Ben Affleck Has Nothing on Michael Keaton

His next two efforts, “The Town” and “Argo,” fulfilled that promise handsomely, cementing his reputation as a maker of crackerjack suspense thrillers grounded in a strong sense of place. They also revealed him to be, like Clint Eastwood and other thesps-turned-helmers before him, a skillful director of actors (Amy Ryan, Jeremy Renner and Alan Arkin drew Academy Award nominations for their work in “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town” and “Argo,” respectively). It has been, for Affleck, an altogether astonishing reversal of fortune, the sort of grand comeback story that Hollywood loves but rarely scripts for itself: An industry golden boy, having reached the limits of where his talents could take him via the accepted channels, had dared to reinvent himself, pulling off an improbable career move with a startling degree of success.

At this point, if it had been revealed that Affleck were in talks to direct “Batman vs. Superman,” the news might well have been greeted with a certain measure of optimism, perhaps even modest praise. But yesterday’s revelation that he had been cast as Batman instead is, to put it mildly, another story entirely, one that has elicited little short of blind outrage and perhaps threatened to undo his public favor; there are precious few casting announcements that could inspire thousands of moviegoers to sign Change.org petitions urging a studio to reconsider. (You’d think Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor or Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs might have pushed our concerned young consumer-activists to launch a protest movement or two, but real-life personalities don’t engender the sort of obsessive protectiveness reserved for comicbook superheroes.)

Industry goodwill does not, it seems, have any bearing on fanboy approval, and the generally high regard for Affleck up until yesterday’s announcement seems predicated on an enthusiastic appreciation for his directing abilities and a mild tolerance at best for his acting work. That he has become a more persuasive presence behind the camera than in front of it seems hard to argue against — we like his daredevil streak, but not his Daredevil — and if his newfound cachet as a filmmaker has led many to forgive the likes of “Gigli” and “Jersey Girl,” it has not exactly obliterated their memory.

Affleck, of course, never stopped acting even as his directing career soared. He gave himself key roles in both “Argo” and “The Town,” and executed them solidly if unmemorably. His recent acting choices have shown a smart, adventurous sense of range, from 2009’s “Extract” and “State of Play” to the recent “To the Wonder.” And he’s clearly ramping up again: The Batman news is only his second major casting of the year, following his attachment to David Fincher’s hotly anticipated “Gone Girl.”

It’s also worth noting that Affleck has done marvelously subtle work as an actor in recent years, something easy to overlook if your moviegoing diet consists exclusively of cape-and-cowl fare. In 2010 he gave a finely shaded dramatic turn as a high-powered corporate executive brought low by the economic crisis in John Wells’ “The Company Men.” And in Allen-Coulter’s 2006 true-crime story “Hollywoodland,” Affleck delivered perhaps his finest performance to date, as the ill-fated 1950s actor George Reeves — a revelatory change-of-pace role in which he captured the bitter trajectory of a wannabe star gone to seed.

There is a measure of irony in the fact that Affleck did his best acting in the part of a none-too-respected actor, and it’s amusing to consider that the man who showed us the tragic face of TV’s Superman will now star on the bigscreen opposite Superman himself. To speculate prematurely on the outcome at this point, as so many doomsayers have done already, would exceed the limits of professional discretion. But in a spirit of unpopular optimism, I will offer that Ben Affleck has impressed us most as an actor by projecting not gravity but vulnerability, and vulnerability is an essential, often-overlooked quality in any bigscreen superhero. And if the enormity of the public outcry against him is any indication, he may well have succeeded in slipping back into a role he has played better than just about anyone else in recent memory: the underdog.

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  1. Watch Dog says:

    Aside from his questionable talents as a actor and director, he is a POMPOUS ASS.
    People see that side of him and it is not in his favor.
    He is not loved and Batman need love.

  2. Oliver Flores says:

    Touché on the vulnerability-angle. Having said that, I still think Ben Affleck would make a better Plastic Man or even a John F. Kennedy than a good Batman. Lol. No that I’ve signed any petitions, mind you. (I wasn’t planning to see this sequel anyway. I just find this backlash fascinating.)

  3. Geinseer Ogando says:

    Great article. Thank you for educating these crying kids. Viva team BatFLeck!!

  4. occultology says:

    Ben Affleck will be a fine Batman. Relax, America. This could have been much worse. Batman is NOT being played by Jaden Smith.

  5. The best part of being culturally creative in theatrical and entertainment arts (and there are various forms and crafts that play a part), is that you get to grow and develop as an artist. With your craft in harmony with your personal talents that you may love, you are vulnerable and hopeful, even very brave to expose so much of yourself to so many. You do move through stages and phases and experience enlightening adventures that many can understand, with ups and downs all the time, because the art is the risk you take to be authentic….and like any part of life, it’s all a learning process.

    Especially the work that wasn’t necessarily our finest ~ yet those bring powerful lessons, We learn more about being artists, in our vulnerability, then at any other moment.

    Lucky are those who get to do what they love! That is a misfortune if they do not ‘get there’, and perhaps one can change that someday as I realize many do not even like their work.

    The promise of an artistic endeavor holds exploration up to an artist, for they can create ~ hopefully something with their better nature, or optimum potential and in the process, show us all something new. remember, Al Pacino wasn’t always Scarface material, not when you compare Panic in Needlepoint Park, however, good work that it was, right?

    Regardless if ones vision for their project, or their personal work is supported or not, the true artist will struggle through it, and accomplish what they can, at best, they may make their masterpiece out of the adversity. Michelangelo, anyone?

    I wish this for Ben and those engaged in the process of developing the work they wish to, and not bending down to what others want them to create, but allow their own organic creativity to make their own choices and artistic endeavor.

    After all, many have sold out in Hollywood over the years, corrupting their audiences with commercial crap and dummying down the audience for the publics favor… rather then remaining true to the artists vision.

    Kudos to those who care enough to realize that doesn’t work out well, and eventually, the public complains regardless. I see a win-win with this group, regardless.

    Wonder what David Mamet thinks?

    Peace

  6. Am says:

    This is a mildly entertaining, if vaguely cruel, farce. Affleck has some talent as a director, but his decision to take this role — in this particular iteration no less — belies any seriousness he was going for. This job is pretty much a suicide mission, mostly because Man of Steel was a huge misstep. Yeah, it made money, sure, but Warners was pushing it hard (we all know why) and has a top-drawer marketing department to do it. It (the property) could have made more. Much more, I’d argue. And did anyone else get the sense that after the power people in the studio got one look at their finished product, they quickly realized their work was going to be cut out for them? I’m not talking about the public statements, about it potentially being WB’s ‘best performer ever’ — that’s just well-placed spin for an extremely important piece of the giant moneymaking puzzle. The plan to make the next Man of Steel a combo pack is a smart move, ingeniously making this last Man of Steel irrelevant, while still building off of it. The problem for all involved, however, is that they’re sticking with (stuck with, in reality) Snyder at the wheel. Example: Last summer, just prior to TDKR release, the excitement was nearly palpable for a superhero film with an auteur’s signature. There was almost a whif of insanity in the air around LA. That kind of excitement you can’t artificially generate. It’s the sort of excitement that only comes when a studio knows they have something artistically, shall we say, worthwhile — on top of a surefire can-not-lose monster at the box office, of course. Hollywood is made of artists, after all, or, at the least people who are inclined to appreciate artistry, in the oldest, most classical sense. I remember reading about a lot of turmoil within the top ranks of Warners just about the time Snyder and co would have been delivering their initial cut — coincidence? Sure, maybe. But I get the sense, even now, that everyone thinks, ‘It could have been better.’ And for the naysayers, there are so many reasons Man of Steel is a laughably bad movie, it would be tiresome to list them all. A midpoint battle in an IHOP with an inexplicably German-accented female baddie in ridiculous humanoid suit is a highlight. And who could forget the random white-bread family, whom we know nothing about, whom Supes saves at the ‘climax.’ Inept, in a word. The suits at Warner bros aren’t idiots. In their defense, can you easily blame them for going along with Nolan on this one (possibly the worst person hit by this Superman fiasco, swept under the carpet or not — even though now he’s safe to win an Oscar)? What is slightly surprising, to me at least, is the way Variety seems to be jumping so wholeheartedly on this franchise-building bandwagon (nice, subtle picture selections for all the Affleck stories, by the way) like they weren’t an objective publication, but I guess there’s too much money to be made not to, so why not? Perhaps I’m being hypercritical. As for the ‘goodwill’ of giving Affleck this role, I think it’s just another example of the industry actively measuring any given artist’s limit with the use of simple persuasion, or hoodwinkery, just to find out 1. If he’ll indeed sit still, and 2. (and more to the point) If he has the awareness to even see what’s happening.

  7. An excellent article, wonderful reflection upon a very talented director, and careful musing (parsing) the skill of a journeyman actor who delivers.

    But the comment: “…he helmed a flinty, tough-minded Boston crime drama called “Gone Baby Gone” — his first and still finest achievement as a director” is the film Ben Affleck will be remembered for in the future.

    Everything else that follows will be his fun, richly deserved.

  8. blaine says:

    Wait a second, I think people are being way to harsh on Affleck. I am not a huge fan of his, but when I look at his profile and I already hear he is buffing up for the role, I can see him pulling it off really well. Much better then that talentless blowhard Clooney (What were they thinking when they cast that guy)?
    Personally I think Affleck is going to surprise us all and do a great job.

  9. kathy culligan says:

    I can’t understand this backlash. I think Ben Afleck is a great actor and director as well as a decent and good person. I think if more people spent there time doing what he does,our world would be a better place

  10. Someone somewhere must like this jerk.. Argo was never ever an Oscar winning movie and this is just one further indication of the ridiculous… He must have some compromising pictures locked away somewhere

    The Lone Ranger now rides for Warner Bros

    • JoeR says:

      I think the reason ARGO won Best Pic was because there were THREE movies in the running showing America’s “victories” in the past: ZERO DARK THIRTY, LINCOLN, and ARGO. Bur ARGO depicted Hollywood having some influence in the victory…so OF COURSE it won the Oscar!

  11. “Recent industry goodwill toward Affleck has not induced a state of public amnesia about his acting career” owch!! I would have loved to see them cast Scott Adkins. It seemed meant to be. I like Ben Affleck a lot but Scott Adkins is the action movie freaks’ choice.

  12. NardoE says:

    What happened to Josh Brolin rumors. He has an intimidating strength that could stand toe to toe with the man of steel, basically a god, and make him blink first. Don’t think BatBen has that type of presence.

  13. Michael Castelaz says:

    I think most of the coverage that I have read about “Batfleck” has missed the biggest point. Warner Bros hired Mr. Affleck out of a misguided need to have a recognizable star taking on the cape and cowl. Perhaps they even suspect that Man of Steel’s less than stellar performance with audiences and critics alike has to do with a relatively unknown actor portraying Superman. The fact is, that the characters themselves are the stars of these films, not the actors. Putting a huge star – any huge star – into the role of Batman is a mistake.

    Reports are also quick to point out that Michael Keaton and Heath Ledger were unpopular choices for their respective roles in the series, but neglect to mention the unique scenarios in which both of these choices were made. Keaton had just collaborated with Tim Burton on Beetlejuice, a fact that would not escape today’s fans if Zack Snyder had ever made a good film and directed a great performance out of any of his stars.

    Heath Ledger was still shedding the cloak of his heart throb image, but had given some amazing performances – most notably Brokeback Mountain. So while he wasn’t any fan’s first choice to play the iconic Joker, the near universal praise for Batman Begins granted Warner Brothers and Christopher Nolan enough good will to trust him.

    If Man of Steel were a good film, and if Zack Snyder were a filmmaker who knew how to do anything beyond make an image look pretty, the fans would be willing to trust him, and accept Affleck. But with Man of Steel being just about the worst possible Superman film, with the idea of Superman and Batman sharing a film for the sequel, and with Warner Brothers retaining this terrible creative team, Ben Affleck is the last straw.

    And lets all move past the 1980’s perception of comic book and sci-fi fans being “nerds” or “fanboys,” OK? It demonstrates how excruciatingly out of touch everybody in this industry truly is.

  14. gingerfires says:

    Well… I read this is the so-called treatment for the script…http://wp.me/piFbJ-9c

  15. Dave Andrews says:

    What a bunch of losers! Ben Affleck has just the right look. Much more so than Keaton, Kilmer or Clooney ever did and he’s already got that reserved cool personality that fits the broody Bruce Wayne to a tee. They’ll have to beef him up a bit and they certainly will but he’ll do fine. He’s a good choice and you’re all going to feel like idiots when he pulls it off. Well, that’s not true. In the end, you’ll disappear into your little hovels and pretend you always knew he could do it.

  16. Daniel K. says:

    Ok, in no way am I going to bash Ben Affleck as an actor. I believe the man has done enough in some form or fashion to warrant this “big-name” casting gimmick as everyone is calling it. Even the people here taking shots at Ben can agree that the man has done a few good movies that everyone enjoys. We applaud his efforts, his hard work, and will continue to wish the man success. However, Batman is a very conflicted and haunted role (whichever storyline you choose), and I believe Ben is not the right person to portray it. If Ben was a fan of the superhero in any level, I would’ve hoped he would have declined the offer knowing he didn’t fit the part. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Comparisons to past Batman casting decisions aside, I just feel that Warner Brothers should acknowledge the backlash of their audience, rethink the casting decision, and move on to create something amazing. Henry Cavill was not very well known, they took a chance on him BECAUSE HE FIT THE BILL, and he did great. Whether people agree that the movie was good or not, we can agree that Cavill held his own. So why can’t WB take that chance again and make it their own instead of slapping a name on the character? I have decided, and it is horrible to hear myself say this, not to watch this movie in theaters. It might surprise some people to hear that I’m not even a Batman fan, always been a fan of Superman, but to hear this casting decision is simply a bad MARKETING decision made by WB. I really do hope this gets fixed. Just a side note, if they want an option for a haunted, brooding, intimidating, meatier Batman, I’d like to suggest Jason Momoa. His presence in Game of Thrones gives argument that he would pull off the role perfectly.

  17. William Kramer says:

    This whole backlash thing is dumb. I really want to go Jay and Silient Bob on some of these arrogant people. Its Affleck, friends with Kevin Smith, who wrote a Batman comic. I have faith in Affleck in everyway, his only challange will be when he puts on the mask. I hope Affleck even gets Damon a cameo some how and piss more people off. In the famous words of Jay ” Affleck you da bomb yo”

  18. Christy says:

    Calling Ben Affleck a bad actor is the “thing” to do but clearly not accurate.

    Yes, he’s an incredible director who looks delicious (lucky Jennifer!) all while being a fine actor. Oh, and he’s likeable.

    Perhaps all the drama is really frustration from men not being able to measure up with all he has to offer. Maybe they just need to learn to accept what they’ve got and go buy a Porsche already!

    Are people really going to miss the gravel gullet take on Batman that Christian Bale brought to the table?

    • PS says:

      Nobody is missing Bale. I’m glad that Bale is gone. Also there is no measuring up to Affleck. As he has nothing to offer. It’s just that he is totally miscast as Batman. Simple truth. Nothing more, nothing less. WB was looking for a name and not someone that fits the part.

  19. Rafael Lopez says:

    I dont see Ben as a deep and brooding Batman. Will this be a quirky, lanky, fun Batman? And will he even come back to film sequels, if he does happen to pull off the first installment? I wish you the best Ben but come on, dont start what you wont finish. Thanks, Crybaby Bale for that.

  20. The announcement was quite a surprise to the “Geek” community which has been tweeting and memeing non stop since last night. Had he been named director, not actor, I think it would have been accepted better. It will be interesting to see what Hollywood’s reaction is: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151894601842625&set=a.459431762624.228849.39367342624&type=1&theater

  21. Billy Mark says:

    As for “Batman,” Affleck would’ve made a great Batman – TEN YEARS AGO!

  22. While I am as disconcerted by this decision as any other Batman fan, I will remain optimistic, mainly because fan boys pitched a fit about Heath Ledger playing the Joker in the The Dark Knight. All the anger went away when the first teaser was released – so rather than flipping out over this decision now, at least have the patience to wait for a trailer before jumping to a snap judgement of a feature film. Of course, the ideal thing would be to watch the entire film first and then make your assumptions on whether or not Affleck would make a good Batman. of course none of you are going to do that so what’s it worth trying to talk sense into all of you?

  23. Billy Mark says:

    “Gone Baby Gone” is Ben Affleck’s “finest achievement as a director?” LMAO That flushing sound is Chang’s last ounce of industry credibility slipping down the toilet.

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