Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ben Affleck is the New Batman, and Why You Shouldn't Worry About It

Earlier this evening,  news came out that Ben Affleck will play Batman in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman film, to be directed by Zack Snyder and co-star Henry Cavill.

And the Interwebs went bat-shit insane. Pardon the pun. There were some people in the Twitter-verse that had good things to say, but there were also people that seemed to regard this as a sign of the end times. Including my wife, whose irrational hatred of Affleck actually scares me sometimes.

I'm a pretty huge comic book fan. And I'm a pretty huge movie fan. And so I have no qualms suggesting that everyone CALM THE FUCK DOWN. Seriously, take a breath. Now allow me to go into why I not only don't mind the news of Affleck as Batman, but actually think it could wind up being awesome.

First off, lay off Ben Affleck. Here's a guy who, at an age when most of us are binge-drinking chronic masturbaters, managed to write a screenplay that won an Academy Award. He made a great movie. And the idea that Matt Damon wrote the screenplay while Affleck refilled the printer paper has pretty much been shot to hell by the three other movies Affleck has co-written, all of which were great.

What came after Good Will Hunting was not so great. But consider, if you had just won an Oscar for screenwriting, and were now one of the biggest names in Hollywood, and all of a sudden had Agents and Managers and Studio Chiefs telling you you're going to be the next big thing? And you were 25 years old? You would try to become a big Hollywood leading man too. You would date movie starlets too. You'd form a production company and create a reality show too.

So, Affleck spent the next six years doing all those things. He was in some good films, like Shakespeare in Love and Boiler Room. He made some decent films, like Changing Lanes and The Sum of All Fears. But he also made Armageddon, 200 Cigarettes, Forces of Nature, Reindeer Games, Bounce, Pearl Harbor, and Daredevil. Some were bad movies he happened to be in, but some were movies in which he WAS one of the bad things.

And then came J-Lo. He started dating Jennifer Lopez and they were fucking everywhere. He was in her music videos. They were splashed all over the tabloids. There were countless paparazzi encounters. And Affleck stopped looking like his old scruffy Boston frat boy self. He started looking more and more slick. More fake. More, it has to be said, like a pop star's arm candy. Combine his chasing of box office leading man success with J-Lo's seemingly insatiable appetite for publicity and we all got sick of them. The final nail in the coffin was the one-two punch of Gigli and Jersey Girl. To call those movies terrible is an insult to terrible movies. They were diabolical. They are proof of a godless universe. And after they came and flopped, and his shitty follow-up Paycheck bombed (and there could not be a more aptly named film), it seemed as if Affleck's career was over.

Normally when movie stars hit these kinds of points, they often sink into direct-to-video hell, headlining terrible quickie films in a sad attempt to keep their stardom above water. They can also go mental and start joining cults, releasing solo albums or starting careers as professional boxers. But Affleck didn't do that. He took his lumps, went away for a year or two, and when he had processed just what the hell happened, he started tentatively coming back. Here was a guy who knew we were sick of him. Who knew he had worn out his welcome. Who knew he hadn't lived up to the promise. In interviews he even acknowledged this.

So, when he came back, it actually seemed as if he had processed what it was about his career and his decisions that led him to that point, and he had learned from them. His private life was much more private, even though he had married actress Jennifer Garner. He took smaller supporting roles in smaller films. But it was his directing that cemented what Affleck's new career was going to be. Gone Baby Gone was one of the best received films of the year, and Affleck's direction was confident and stylish and signified real talent. His next film, The Town, was even better, and his last film, Argo, won the Best Picture Oscar. He is more than just an actor who directs, he is an actual major talent behind the camera. And he makes films he cares about. And as an actor, the films he's appeared in since his comeback have shown growth too. He was excellent in State of Play, Hollywoodland, Extract, The Company Men, and The Town. The films may or may not have been successful, but he was never a let down. He delivered. And I think he's ready to try again for film like this.

So, I hope I've made you reconsider Affleck a little bit. But what about him as Batman? Well, if you are thinking of Christian Bale's Batman in the Nolan trilogy, then yeah, Affleck seems an odd choice. Even with newly reinvigorated acting chops, he could never come close to Bale's intensity. But Nolan and Bale's Dark Knight trilogy is completed. It's over. It's done. This is a new vision of the character, and that's not a bad thing, necessarily. Any approach to a franchise, even when it's one you like, will over time become stale and tired. Does anyone think that Connery's last James Bond film was his best? Not even close. Fresh blood, fresh eyes, fresh talent is essential.

Affleck is not going to play it like Bale did, and we shouldn't want whoever plays Batman next to even try. Copying Bale is a bad, bad idea. Trying to make the next Bat-film a Nolan ripoff is a bad, bad idea. The next time Batman appears he has to be different. The tricky part is that you want a different approach that still feels true to the core of what Batman is, otherwise we get this:

So, relax. This film is not going to be a continuation of the Nolan bat-verse. Affleck or not, it was never going to be that. Allow for the possibility that this guy could actually bring us a version of Bruce Wayne/Batman that may be less tortured but could be still recognizably Batman. A Batman that will still kick-ass. A Batman that may, along with Cavill's Superman, pave the way for that Justice League movie we've all heard about for years.

And if you still can't get over it, then don't go see the movie. Don't give them your money. But let's perhaps allow that Affleck is not the anti-Christ. I've got faith that with a good script, he could wind up being a totally different, but still captivating, Dark Knight.

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