Batman Backlash: Ben Affleck Has Nothing on Michael Keaton

Fanboys forget how unhappy they were back when Tim Burton gave comic actor the role

Comic-book fans have an understandable fear of not being taken seriously, particularly when it comes to a signature character like Batman, who has been subjected to no end of camp treatment and abuse (sorry, Adam West) through the years.

Still, the collective outrage over the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman reveals not only a stunning level of hyperbole (it’s not like they cast Andy Dick or Oliver Platt, for heaven’s sake) but a remarkably short memory, given how disappointed and disturbed people were when Michael Keaton landed the role back in 1989.

SEE ALSO: Twitter Lashes Out Against Ben Affleck as the New Batman

Keaton, of course, was best known as a comic actor, but director Tim Burton had worked with him on “Beetlejuice” and saw something there that others clearly didn’t. And while Keaton wasn’t particularly memorable, nor did he embarrass himself or torpedo the project, in what’s widely regarded as not only a firstrate superhero movie but a pivotal success — along with the X-Men trilogy, which launched a little over a decade later — that helped usher in the current age of comic-book franchises ruling the cinema roost.

Perhaps foremost, Burton’s “Batman” underscored that the primary star doesn’t really have to carry one of these movies, especially when he’s obscured by cape and cowl for much of the action. What really stood out about that film, in fact, was Jack Nicholson’s “Take that, Cesar Romero” twist on the Joker, just as Heath Ledger’s menacing turn helped elevate “The Dark Knight” and Liam Neeson brought gravitas to Christopher Nolan’s reboot “Batman Begins.”

SEE ALSO: Ben Affleck As Batman Gives Warner Bros. Upper Hand In 2015 Dating Game

What distinguished Burton’s “Batman,” ultimately, is how dark and serious it was, in a stark departure from the 1960s TV series and the comic villains in “Superman.” Those qualities were precisely what was lost as the franchise shifted into the hands of Joel Schumacher, despite replacing Keaton with two actors, Val Kilmer and George Clooney, ostensibly much better suited to the role in terms of looks and physical presence.

So while it’s easy to focus on the leads, what’s really important is the director and tone. And with “Man of Steel’s” Zack Snyder set to direct the upcoming Superman-Batman combo, it’s not like we should expect a bunch of “Biff! Wham! Pow!” graphics popping up on screen.

SEE ALSO: Ben Affleck Becomes The Latest Actor to Play Batman (PHOTOS)

It’s easy to forget, though, how outlandish and unexpected casting Keaton seemed at the time. As the actor told the Los Angeles Times in 2011, “There was no guarantee that any of this was going to play correctly when it was all said and done. There had never been a movie like it before. There was a lot of risk, too, with Jack looking the way he did and me stepping out in this new way. The pressure was on everybody. You could feel it.”

Come to think of it, if Twitter had existed when Keaton was cast, the service might have exploded.

In some respects, the latest Batman backlash will only help the movie, as the influx of traffic has already inspired other news outlets to weigh in (see CNN’s “The Lead With Jake Tapper” today), which will provide Warner Bros. with plenty of free promotion.

For now, however, write it off as another tempest in a teapot, more bluster in the batcave. And incidentally, with apologies to my bosses at Variety, anybody who would bother to take an online poll on whether Ben Affleck should be Batman is likely to be highly predisposed to voting “NO,” so the results are skewed to the point of absurdity.

Batman’s already made it to the ripe old age of 75, and once the fanboys have finished throwing their latest temper tantrum and cooler heads prevail, he’ll survive this, too.

The already shaky reputation of comic-book geeks, alas, might be another matter.

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  1. oliver says:

    Remaking successful non-American movies, millionaire directors starting kickstarter project like indies, casting Ben as Batman. Major Hollywood studios are in trouble…

  2. Mark says:

    Quite simply Afleck will be a great Batman/Bruce Wayne….he has the looks, tools and experience to pull it off…

  3. sharod vaughn says:

    There’s one crucial difference between this backlash and the Keaton backlash in 89, people were concerned that Keaton couldn’t play an iconic character because he hadn’t before. He’d only had comedic roles up to that point. No one questioned his acting skill, they questioned his ability to play THIS role. Plus the only established Batman persona on screen up to that point had been Adam West, so when Burton wanted to take the character in a different direction he knew Keaton could pick up the slack. Same as Nolan and Ledger, people weren’t sure he could pull off Joker, but Nolan wanted to take him in a different direction and saw something in Ledger he knew would work (See Oscar winning performance).

    With Affleck, people are questioning his skill as an actor because he’s already played a comic book character and it failed commercially. He’s had just as many bombs as he’s had successes. Affleck isn’t a bad actor, but he is bad for this part. You can be a great actor and not be right for a part. (See Clooney and Kilmer above). I’m guessing his casting was not in order to go in a different direction with Batman, or to fit the actor to the character, but just to have a recognized name attached and to fit the character to the actor and that rarely works.

  4. Ctw says:

    This total baloney. What the heck is the matter with Hollywood Ben alfleck as batman. Please they are totally blind in the casting and the fact they are making a sequel of man of steel a team up movie. Superman works alone enough said

  5. Mike Jones says:

    “Keaton wasn’t particularly memorable…”

    Are you f—–g kidding me?

  6. 2face says:

    You’re the one that don’t get it. Ben Affleck is precisely what Batman is not. Of all the million of different actors they could have chosen, they took the worst. It’s a joke casting at best. This will go down in history as the most clueless casting ever.

    What people like you don’t get, is what Batman is. He’s a guy that will stand up for the week against bullies in a direct physical way. Can you imagine Ben Affleck stand up for anything? Can you imagine him in a bar fight? He’s exactly the pretencious Hollywood stereotype coward sleeze bag, that every Batman fan absolutely will hate play this character. You have no idea of the backlash this will create.

    You are in for a nutty ride. That’s for sure.

  7. 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.

  8. Apryl says:

    Nice article, but don’t leave out the fangirls.

  9. AP87 says:

    Screw this if they’re gonna really mess with such an incredible franchise by putting in an absolutely terrible choice for the role why not just take the opportunity and really change the franchise by casting a black batman… In all honesty I’d rather a real dark night than have affleck but that’s just my opinion… I truly hope that either Ben sees the outcry of the fans and reconsiders his decision in taken on this iconic role or WB sees this and realizes how wrong this is and cast a new batman and moves Ben to be the villain in the movie.

  10. Josh says:

    Yeah but Keaton didn’t bomb in Daredevil.

  11. Matt Harris says:

    Ben Affleck will be a great Bruce Wayne! But who will play Batman? His Stunt Double?

  12. You can’t critize him for something he has not yet filmed,untill then it is pointless to debate it.i think he will do great,he is a great actor and director and you might be suprised as to how he will portray Bats.

  13. John Moon says:

    No offense but I don’t think your head is screwed on quite right. People aren’t underestimating Affleck, as Keaton was underestimated in 89, Affleck is being given exactly the discredit he has so thoroughly earned. Given the chance to play an iconic comic book hero in the past (Daredevil) he proved himself to be an unsympathetic, unloveable, downright boring hero. He’s proven time and time again that he does not have the acting chops to carry a movie on his shoulders. Gigli aside, every time Affleck steps into the “leading male” role he flounders. The problem is that he IS a good director, so when he casts himself in the lead role of a movie that goes on to be the best picture winner, Hollywood (spoken as dirty word) forgives the fact that “that was a good movie except Affleck’s character” came out of every mouth who went to see it. No one denied Keaton was a great actor, comedic or not. Comparing Affleck and Keaton is like comparing IDK any actor worth his paycheck to Ben Affleck. I won’t see this movie. I hope no one else will either.

  14. Scott says:

    I loved Ben Affleck in Argo, and I like his other work, but I just can’t see him that well as Batman.

  15. Eric says:

    I’m pretty sure the audience remembers Dare Devil, Gigli, Reinder Games and Paycheck. Casting Aflec is the same as casting Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern. Reynolds should have either been Flash for DC or A revamped Deadpool for Marvel. I’d much rather see someone like Jeffrey Donavan from Burn Notice take up the mantle. It feels like Hollywood is just forcing a big name in hopes of bigger returns. A well made movie wouldn’t need the gimmick. Just really watch Dare Devil again.

  16. Billy Mae West says:

    Anybody who trusts the “higher ups” at Warner Bros to make decisions on a film based quality is an idiot. Ben Affleck was chosen because the “higher ups” believe that he’ll make the most money at the box office. Zach Snyder is the one that has to deal with it. I’m only going say one more thing; Daredevil.

  17. Coming so soon after the Dark Knight Trilogy Bale should have been asked to do Batman again with Chris Nolans involvement for continuity purposes, to keep changing the person playing the main role is riduculous. I think Warner Brothers have made a big mistake with their casting this time. The voting situation from loyal fans proves this mostly saying no to Affleck.Change your mind WB and do what it takes to get Bale back. The rewards will be worth it.

  18. Dog woman says:

    What is happening The stand for WB, which BA is director attached long time! He quit … Then batman .. But already got another director?I am just reading IMDB, but it is so fast to change director ! What is happening WB?

  19. charlie4862 says:

    Tim Burton didn’t cast Kilner, he had nothing to do with Batman Forever. Also, few people are annoyed by Ben Affleck being cast as Batman, so don’t make up stories.

  20. Greg says:

    People also forget that Heath Ledher, the gay cowboy, romantic comedy, heartthrob, was not a very popular casting for The Dark Knight but look how that turned out. Plus, Val Kilmer was better than Bale, this can only be good for Batman.

    • Movie Man says:

      Audiences have had nearly two decades to decide what kind of actor Ben Affleck is, and they’ve decided he’s a credible ‘indie’ actor but a terrible superhero. Nobody was saying that Heath Ledger couldn’t deliver as the Joker after his performances in Lords of Dogtown and Brokeback Mountain, both of which were incredible.

      But wait, you just said that Val Kilmer was better than Christian Bale. S*** I just fed the troll, didn’t I…

  21. isaac says:

    This is a travesty, if they want to say this is good for batman they need to look back into history. We had to wait how long for a good batman reboot at this rate I will be a senior for the next one, I’m in my early 20s. No one I know is happy by this and I believe Ben Affleck should just not take the role. I will not watch this it’s a shame warner bros does not listen to their fan base

  22. Dan says:

    I have a feeling that the higher ups at Warner Bros. know what they’re doing. Yes, Affleck might flop at this role or he might just surprise the fans and Warner Bros.

    If not, then at least Warner is getting good publicity right now….

  23. rob says:

    and so it ends. you don’t have to be a comic nerd to understand what’s so wrong about this news. just fing terrible.

  24. Tim says:

    This article assumes that what’s happening is similar to when Keaton was cast, which is wrong.

    What’s happening is almost a mirror image of “Batman Forever” where Michael Keaton left and wasn’t persuaded to stay.

    If you ignore that history is repeating itself then yes, maybe Ben is an excellent choice.

  25. inthegrae says:

    There is a major difference between Affleck and Keaton. The article says it itself. “Keaton was best known for…”. People knew Keaton from a few comedic movies. Same as they only knew Heath Ledger from a few pretty boy roles. But we hadn’t seen all Keaton and Ledger could do. We prejudged them. Affleck has a lengthy body of work going back 2 decades. We know what he can do. We know where his wheelhouse is where he’s succeeded in front of the camera. It’s his success behind the camera that has won a lot of us over. We’re not prejuding him. We’re judging him. Most of us are going to see Ben Affleck up there wearing a mask. Not Batman.

  26. therealeverton says:

    Keaton remains the best actor to play Nruce Wayne, and his total (Wayne & Batman) stands comparison with Bale’s.

    No super hero had ever been cast to universal acceptance, so the “outrage” is nuggatory. Be happier if he was directing too, but the DC Cinematic Universe seems far more slapdash than Marvel’s. if the rest of the Justice League were around during Man Of Steel, what were they doing instead of trying to help save the world?

    • Greg says:

      Batman is human, Flash can’t fly to outer space, Aquaman was scared, Green Lantern was on Oa, Martian Manhunter was on Mars, duh, Cyborg just lost his arm in Metropolis and is being rebuilt, and well assume Wonder Woman just wasn’t around.

  27. john says:

    I will not watch this movie. Thanks Affleck for killing another comic book character. Of all the people to play this roll why him?

    • PS says:

      Because WB are douchebags, who have no faith in their comic heroes and rely on stunt casting to get an audience. Batman has a built in audience. They wouldn’t need a name actor, just an actor that fit the bill. But they are desperate and want to play it safe. Well, they have lost me. I’m not going to see that movie in the cinema. Also they are uncreative, have no game plan and simply always try to get actors that played Marvel comic heroes before.

  28. Movie Man says:

    What I can’t get my head around is why anyone involved in this film would bother taking this Affleck gamble in the first place. C’mon, Affleck? Casting a less polarizing or even B-level or unknown actor based on talent would have been a better decision, focusing the discussion on how the studio and filmmaker care just as much about delivering a good story as they do marketing a big tentpole film.

    Yes, Affleck is a remarkable actor and Argo and The Town were phenomenal. But that’s because he really shines in those types of roles. Audiences haven’t forgotten Daredevil, which is a whole lot closer to Batman than any of Affleck’s critically acclaimed work. The fact is, Affleck can’t carry a franchise, and Batman and the superhero genre at large are simply not his forte…

    When you look back at Tim Burton’s 1989 film, you indicate that the target audience doesn’t need the material to be elevated by singular star power. I agree, but Keaton’s casting was wholly unprecedented, and not tarnished or overshadowed by a universally panned and completely lame turn as a superhero a decade earlier. You cited Jack Nicholson as the saving power of the ’89 film, and Ledger in the more recent iteration. So basically, this upcoming movie isn’t worth betting on unless they get someone incredible to play a villain in a once-in-a-generation performance. Where I come from, we call that a fat chance.

    You also mention that the poll results are “skewed to the point of absurdity.” What’s lost in this conclusion is that this polled reaction is driven by fans. These are people who would otherwise WANT to see this film, but won’t bother with it because of the casting of Affleck. Or perhaps they will bother, but they’ll wait to see it at home. Either way, no matter how good Affleck’s performance will be, box office returns will suffer. There’s no mystery here. The studio should be able to see this flop coming from a mile away.

    I’m a professional in the entertainment industry, and I like to nerd out over the vague alchemy of target demographics. I’m also a fan of big-budget spectacle. And you can say that all of this is just my opinion, but when that opinion is shared by millions of people who won’t show up at the box office, you’ll agree that the opinion of the fan is the one that matters. So Brian, if you want to wager that the latest Batman backlash will only help the movie, you better save your pennies, because that’s a bet that you’re going to lose.

    • PS says:

      Good assessment. I just hope that the people that are upset by the casting off Affleck won’t cave in and go to the cinema after all. The only way we can show it to WB is by not going to the cinema.

      • PS says:

        Yeah, in that sense they are lucky that the movie is 2 years away. But I do hope people will hold on to their anger, stay at home and download the movie. As I will do. I made up my mind. I will sit it out, just like I sat out the unnecessary Spider-Man reboot.

      • Movie Man says:

        Very true. Release date and box office competition will be interesting factors in that turnout…

  29. Slogan Media says:

    The consensus here is Ben could be pretty good.

  30. Nelson Torres says:

    Warner just wants to kill off DC so they can blame the fans for their failure and they don’t have to step up into the arena against Marvel. Affleck is a fine actor in his type of role. Batman is not one of them. The fact is that the executives have now idea behind the psychology of the visual medium and its effect on the modern audience. That’s the reason for so many of today’s box office mega failures. FIlmmaking is not a case of just throwing darts at a board. You must think things through, not running around the office farting out ideas. I always thought Ted Danson would make a great Batman. He fits perfectly for the seventies version. Batman is a stoic character. Maybe Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Armie Hammer, Julian MacMahon, or my personal favorite Javier Bardem. It’s too bad but the perfect Batman would have been Burt Lancaster with Kirk Douglas as the Joker.

  31. Dead In Hell says:

    I’m tired of hearing about the negative fan reaction to Keaton being cast as Batman. It just isn’t a valid comparison. Michael Keaton was and still is a brilliant comedic actor, and Burton’s films were largely played for laughs. Also, Burton’s films weren’t very good. They were the best we had at the time, but they were still cheesy and lacked faithfulness to the source material. We no longer live in a world where Tim Burton’s shoddy adaptations are the high water mark for Batman in film.

    After Nolan’s adaptations, and his brilliant casting decisions (for both heroes and villains) this is just a huge disappointment. Affleck just isn’t Batman. He’s not believable in the role. He isn’t suave or charming enough to be Bruce Wayne (REAAAHH VIEEWWWWW) and he isn’t intimidating enough to play Batman. When he tries to get intense, he becomes a joke.

    • PS says:

      Oh, speak for yourself. Burton’s Batman movies were every bit as good as Nolan’s. If not better. They had a different approach back then, but they certainly do not pale in comparison. I prefer watching Burton’s Batman’s over Nolan’s any day of the week and twice on sunday.

  32. Roosevelt Morris says:

    Karl Urban (Dredd) would have been the perfect choice… The reason we all believe in Batman is because of the person who’s wearing the suit… Affleck can’t even pull off being a believable Bruce Wayne so how could he be Batman? Karl Urban has the Look, Voice, Charisma, Attitude, Presence, shall I go on, no need because those few things I mentioned Affleck is lacking in all areas… Noone takes him serious as a Super Hero after DareDevil tanked, if that was the case then why not get Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern) to play Batman… Seriously people its not that hard…

  33. The Chosen One says:

    This is just Variety kissing Ben Afflecks ass.

  34. J. Schro says:

    And, to be perfectly honest, I was shocked when Christian Bale was cast as Batman (Though the only thing I really knew him for was “Newsies” at that point…)

  35. J. Schro says:

    He’s not the Batman we want. He’s the Batman we deserve.

  36. Don K. says:

    Come on Brian, Michael Keaton? That was more than 25 years ago. I seriously doubt any of this Affleck backlash is from the same people. This has to be much more extreme than that anyway, because now there is the internet and social media forums for individuals to vent on. And I have never seen this kind and size of outcry about an actor being cast for a role ever! It is pretty overwhelming actually. Luckily nobody has begun rioting in the streets…yet.

  37. Mianathy says:

    Perhaps we’re all just scared of what kind of Batman they are trying to create over there. I am also thinking that they already held auditions or whatever and CHOSE the one guy that fits their preferred character and since we had Bale as the dark, brooding, tortured Batman, perhaps now we’re going to get .. I don’t know.. can’t even speculate about what Affleck brings to this picture. His beard? His old age… no offence..

  38. PS says:

    “wasn’t particularly memorable”?? Are you kidding me? He was easily the best Batman to date. While Affleck is not. The difference with Keaton was, nobody really saw him in an action movie before Batman. But Affleck was in many action and even comic book movies. Enough to know that he sucks and isn’t the right choice for Batman. This is just stunt casting. And why cast the guy, who apparently sucked as Daredevil, to play Batman??

  39. Comic book fans are revealing a “short memory” re: Keaton’s casting?!? That was 1988 (the movie came out in 1989 — Keaton was cast at least a year earlier) — a *quarter-century* ago!!!

    Many of the fans criticizing the casting of Affleck weren’t even born then; many others were too young to see the Nicholson/Keaton BATMAN.

    Anyone who saw Keaton in CLEAN AND SOBER back then knew that Keaton had dramatic chops.

    The question re: Affleck is whether he brings his ARGO game (good) or his RUNNER RUNNER game (bad). if the latter, I’m afraid the fans who are critical of the casting decision will be proven correct.

  40. Dave says:

    I like how this guy leaves out how Ben played a superhero prior and the movie was a giant turd, that’s why we’re seeing backlash. Ben should stick to films like Argo and directing, sorry.

  41. J says:

    Wait for the movie to come out. Then be the judge.

  42. AA Jabrams says:

    You’re forgetting the biggest meltdown of all– Ledger being cast as Joker. 97% of the world had a nervous breakdown over that bit of casting.

  43. Michael Keaton never played a superhero character before playing Batman, and he showed us all he could not only deliver, but he also showed his serious acting chops. Ben Affleck on the other hand has played a superhero in a movie before, and we all know how he butchered Daredevil, and was not convincing in a action role of that level.

    If he could be accepted as Daredevil he will never be accepted as playing Batman. Not to mention the Bruce Wayne/Batman for this movie is supposed to be a much older Batman as depicted in Frank Millers The Dark Knight Returns. Not only is the Batman in that story much older but also has much more muscle mass than the younger Batman.

    Casting Mr. Affleck is a total miscasting ! They should go with someone older that can play an older and grittier Batman such as Clancy Brown, or Ron Perlman.

    • AA Jabrams says:

      They’re not doing Frank Miller’s DKR. This is a bridge to the Justice League film.

      • darkshadow136 says:

        That’s good news, but I still can’t see Ben Affleck as Batman. When I see Him I don’t see an actor capable of reaching the dark and serious personality of Batman. When Michael Keaton was cast back in the 80’s I actually thought he had a chance of doing right by the character. I must have been a minority at the time.

  44. Gio says:

    Wow Brian. So essentailly the audience (you know, the people who buy tickets to movies and keep the industry afloat and you employed) are just stupid. We haven’t a clue about anything. Will Affleck ruin the Batman franchise? No. Is his casting uninspired and awful? Yes. I along with many think it is and last time I checked we have the right to our opinion. We haven’t forgotten about Cloooney nor Keaton that is why folks are reacting so strongly. This seems like ‘stunt/hot today’ casting just like Clooney/Keaton were at the time. This is why some of us aren’t excited.

  45. The main difference is that Tim Burton’s a pretty doggone good director. Zach Snyder isn’t.

  46. Elfego says:

    If people would care to take a minute and remember Ben Affleck as the fallen angel Hell-bent on the destruction of the universe in “Dogma,” they might just realize that he could not only pull this off, but most likely do the role justice.

    If Affleck fails, it will be because Zack Snyder failed him. “Man of Steel” was the worst movie of this summer. I don’t think even the capable Mr. Affleck will be able to save the sequel, if Snyder delivers more of the same dreck he’s already dished out.

    Directors have much to do with movies’ quality than the actors playing in them. The director brings the vision; the actors are just there to be posed and deliver a performance as the director tells them to.

    Affleck is a capable actor, who has proven he can play a tortured, superhero-like character. Snyder, on the other hand, has yet to prove that *he* knows what to do with iconic superhero material.

  47. kenmandu says:

    Let’s stop indulging these retarded adolescents…

  48. Jack Toney says:

    Why can’t WB give us what DC made? Batman in the comics is a huge guy, 6’5″ muscular, towers over
    the enemy…no Batman in the movies has ever been that and unfortunately I don’t think Affleck will be..
    My one plus on Affleck is that he’s a writer too and a very good one, so maybe he’ll be able to add
    significantly to the script if need be.

  49. Jamie says:

    Gary, You are saying Affleck destroyed one superhero franchise because he is a bad actor. How do you then feel about George Clooney as he also destroyed the very franchise we are talking about and it took some very good directing to reset it. Now are you saying Clooney has no range?

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