23 Aug 2013

Thought Balloon: BEN AFFLECK CAST AS BATMAN - IS HE A GOOD CHOICE?

Stewart R: With Christopher Nolan’s highly successful - both critically and financially - Dark Knight trilogy now completed and seemingly never to be returned to, and thanks to a pretty successful summer for Warner Bros and DC courtesy of Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel lighting up the worldwide box office, we’re finally going to get Superman and Batman appearing on the big screen together in the Summer of 2015. The film is currently untitled, known for the moment as the Batman/Superman movie, but Zack Snyder will be helming and Henry Cavill will be returning as the last Kryptonian. The rumour mill had Warner Bros throwing money in Christian Bale’s direction to coax him back to the cape and cowl and a hundred-and-one casting suggestions littered the internet since San Diego’s annual Comic Convention.
The curtain was finally pulled back and the media savvy world gave a collected pause and intake of surprised breath today when it was announced that the newest iteration of Bruce Wayne and his crime fighting alter ego, Gotham’s Batman, would be none other than Ben Affleck.

A surprise to many certainly, but since he was rumoured to be in talks with the studio to direct the always whispered Justice League movie, it’s perhaps now understandable that he might’ve been in the frame for other projects and opportunities.

Suffice to say that Twitter, Facebook and hundreds of websites have today been ablaze and a’buzzing with the news and the reaction to the casting and the majority of it has been negative. There are even a couple of petitions that have been drawn up and circulated to have him removed from the role.

Sure, Affleck already has one pure superhero movie under his belt in the oft-derided Daredevil from 2003 and that is where much of the focus of venom and bile has been directed, but it’s not like the precedent for appearing as multiple superhero characters hasn’t already been set elsewhere (see Chris Evans, Halle Berry). Strangely, looking through many of the decade old reviews for that particular comic book flop, Affleck was praised for his performance as Matt Murdock at the time and many of the negative statements lay with that film’s director, Mark Steven Johnson, who, lest we forget, hasn’t proved to be a good superhero movie helmer following up by contributing towards the awful Elektra in a writing capacity and then directing the detestable Ghost Rider. There’s certainly no doubt that Daredevil is NEVER going to make it to the top of any 'Best Superhero Movies Ever' lists. Personally though, I thought Affleck put in a reasonable turn as Daredevil. A decade is a very long time to be looking back in an actor’s career to belittle current casting and I’m not convinced that it should form so much of the focus for fans today.

In order to explain why Affleck might be a good choice, I first need to explain why it’s a good thing that a certain other actor wasn’t chosen for the role

Many are upset that Christopher Nolan’s Batman world won’t be intersected into the new cinemascape that Cavill’s Superman exists within and there is a large popular opinion that Bale would have been a great fit in the new film. For a very long time now I have not been one of these voices. Bale and Nolan’s Bruce Wayne and Batman was an incredibly talented man, born with natural potential that set him apart from everyone else, yet at the same time, for the purposes of the character arcs in each of the films, he also had moments of incredible doubt and vulnerability that last for a fair chunk of the trilogy’s runtime. In this modern age of the cinema experience - and particularly with the superhero genre - studios and filmmakers are careful to make the protagonists as human as possible to ensure that as large an audience as possible can believe that these extraordinary beings are capable of great things, yet not far removed from some of the weaknesses that we see in ourselves. Bale’s Batman battled against adversity, against his own fears and won the audiences’ hearts as a result, yet this was not the world’s greatest detective, the super genius of the comic book world with a cold, confidence that rarely ever drops.

And lo, the meme machine did churn
In Snyder’s Man of Steel, the Nolan touch could still be seen in David S. Goyer’s screenplay and his depiction of Kal El, so brilliantly captured by Cavill on the screen. Superman grows up on an adopted planet, never feeling as if he truly belongs, discovers the truth of his origin and then agonises throughout his young adulthood over whether he can ever live as a human or how he should best use his powers. When the trial by fire arrives in the shape of Zod, Clark fights and fights hard, yet still doesn’t have a strict code by which he’s putting up resistance and oozes doubt throughout. This is a man with enormous, nearly immeasurable power and a sense of 'right', whose unsettled nature, compassion, lack of emotional control and self doubt can all combine together as one tremendous weakness, a very human weakness.

To have both Cavill and Bale’s Superman and Batman on the screen would lead us to watch two men entrenched in a battle over who could display the biggest bout of pained, soul searching and doubt over whether they should be heroes whilst rocking in a corner of the Batcave / sulking on the moon before landing the final punch two hours in. That much emotional instability in your two protagonists could work, but probably wouldn’t and I’m hopeful that we won’t be seeing anything like that materialise on the big screen.

On the other hand, with Clark Kent’s frame of mind and powerset pretty well set out by the climax of Man Of Steel, it leads to one great possibility - the man with the strength to topple buildings with his bare hands, who can fly around the planet in minutes yet doubts his abilities and place in the world faces off against the man with unlimitless determination, guile and cold ruthlessness, yet who only has the strength of a man (albeit a man in peak physical condition). This is very similar to the way that the Warner Animated division tackled this relationship in the Justice League series and many of the animated movies have treated the relationship in this way. Batman represents the pinnacle of what a mere man can be, standing shoulder to shoulder with beings who have super strength, rings that allow them to conjure fabrications out of nothing but light and their imaginations, Amazonian Warrior Women who can fly and deflect bullets with naught but quick reactions and armoured bracelets.

To that end, and in my opinion, the casting of Ben Affleck makes perfect sense provided that this formula is the one to be roughly followed. Affleck is a fine actor who has tended to deliver his best performances when playing po-faced men with little to smile about embroiled in very serious matters. For proof of that you just need to see his turns in his own directorial efforts The Town and Argo. To be honest, most of the criticism of Affleck’s casting utilises performances from over a decade or more ago as evidence, yet in the past decade he’s only acted in a handful of films and many of his performances could be regarded as good, if not better. Heck, even the smirking charm of his younder days in Good Will Hunting and Armageddon still holds up well. It's the more mature we can expect him to be dipping into though and I can instantly see Affleck’s smileless chin standing out from underneath the Batman mask as he delivers a cold and calculated performance as the Gotham crimefighter who’s meeting someone who could truly be considered ‘out of his league’ for the first time, yet he doesn’t flinch for even a second.

The bigger question will be the billionaire playboy aspect of Bruce Wayne that is certain to be included, yet this is not going to be the late twenties/early thirtysomething laddish behaviour of Bale’s Bruce, jumping into hotel water features with busty young ladies.  At 41, Affleck is going to be playing an older Bruce Wayne, with that youthful exuberance likely to be less of a factor and I suspect that Warners and DC will be looking to avoid too many comparisons with Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark. It's more likely we may get the odd wry smile at some grand public party and impeccable politeness whilst schmoozing with the Gotham elite before having to excuse himself from the party and getting down to Batcave, supercomputer business and detective science.

The fact that Affleck is a good bit older than Cavill’s 30 years - Kal El is even said to be 33 in Man Of Steel - could be played upon well with Bruce Wayne’s experience being pitted against Clark Kent’s relative naivety when it comes to superheroics, fighting crime and thinking on his feet. That seems to be the instant line that the Batman/Superman director has shot for in the statement that he released stating "(Affleck) has the acting chops to create a layered portrayal of a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter, but retains the charm that the world sees in billionaire Bruce Wayne," said Snyder. "I can't wait to work with him."

Getting back to Daredevil - yes it still deserves one more mention - there’s also the fact that Affleck must be pretty well prepared for the physical aspect that comes with training for and then playing the Caped Crusader having gone through the process previously. He’ll know what to expect and that can count for a lot. When you put all of these elements together there’s plenty to support this casting choice, not only for this upcoming film, but for any potential Justice League movie that may spin forth from it.

Whatever the divided opinion and fan reaction, you can guarantee that everyone’s bum will be on a cinema seat in July of 2015 to see just what sort of Batman Ben Affleck can make and if he can turn the negative wave that may still be following him into a positive turnaround and fan acceptance. An even bigger question to address now should perhaps be who will write the final screenplay for the Batman/Superman movie as it’ll be no good having two actors working at the top of their game if the script isn’t up to scratch!

5 comments:

Andy C said...

Sounds like a terrible choice to me but its massively refreshing to read a positive opinion. I REALLY hope you are right, Stewart. I thought Nolan's Batman films were excellent but don't particularly rate Bale in this role so I support a change of casting. On the face of it, Affleck seems like commercial suicide but fingers crossed. Great to see that the PCG have avoided jumping on the bandwagon. Respect due.

badger said...

Nice article Stewart,having read most of the crap online today about Ben Affleck playing Batman I have just one thing to say to the fanboy community "It's just another superhero movie so why take it so seriously " after all real life is more important than yet another comic book movie,and I do think we are getting a little swamped with them.Still kind of glad I don't take this hobby of mine as seriously as some do.

Andy C said...

Good point badger, if you find it makes you angry you are taking it too seriously. Awesome hobby but its not real.

Stewart R said...

Thanks for the comments guys!

Have now corrected my slight bit of misinformation in that Mark Steven Johnson didn't actually direct Elektra, he was just given a writing credit and produced it!

Matt C said...

I don't have a problem with the casting of Ben Affleck, makes sense as he's obviously someone Warners want to continue their relationship with (especially after Argo) and they were already dangling a directorial gig (and potentially the role of the Dark Knight) in front of him when they were still looking at Justice League as the next stage after Man Of Steel. He's got the chin, after all!

My concern is that Synder, Goyer etc didn't get a proper handle on who Superman is in Man Of Steel, so it worries me that they're throwing Batman into the mix too quickly, potentially sidelining Kal-El. I know a lot of people said it's all about the sequel, that's where they'll nail who Superman is, but they didn't have that problem with Batman Begins, and if I have to wait for the sequel for the film-makers to show they have an understanding of the character, why not go straight to that story in the first place?!

Which they can't now because Ben Affleck as Batman will muddy the waters of that supposed narrative thread.

That's cynical me speaking (I didn't hate Man Of Steel like many did, but it was a massive letdown) but you can bet I'll be there on opening night with fingers crossed.