When Warner Bros. eschewed Nikki Finke and other Hollywood trades and dropped the news that Ben Affleck would play Batman in Zack Snyder's upcoming "Man of Steel" sequel, fanboys reacted with expected caterwauling. (See, also, the outrage after Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker and Michael Keaton was cast as Batman.) A surprise, however, was the response from the critical community, many of whose members hopped on the Team Affleck bandwagon during the awards run for last year's "Argo."
Affleck going from Best Picture to Batman would be like Obama deciding that after his second term he would like to host The Tonight Show.
-- Mike Ryan (@mikeryan) August 23, 2013
The unifying idea in those select tweets is that Affleck, after finally struggling back up from the pits of "Gigli" (which, in a twist, was released 10 years ago this month), had sold out once again by agreeing to star as Batman. That Affleck, by following in the footsteps of Oscar-winning actor Christian Bale, had reverted back to Bennifer and "Daredevil" and paycheck roles like "Paycheck."
Putting aside for a moment the argument about whether Zack Snyder's "Batman Vs. Superman" movie should exist in the first place (the characters in "Man of Steel" were the film's strength, not its spectacle; Superman fighting Batman could become total spectacle), is that actually fair?
Well, no. From a sheer business perspective, of course, it's the right move for Affleck in every sense. This is a huge payday for him, the type he probably has never had in his entire life. (Warner Bros. did not report the specifics of Affleck's deal, but assume Brink's trucks were involved.) Playing Batman sets Affleck up as the next global superstar in a world where global superstars are becoming extinct. To wit: At 41, he's younger than Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and Will Smith, and in prime position to reach their level by 2016 thanks to both Batman and David Fincher's "Gone Girl" adaptation (which will likely arrive in theaters six months before Snyder's "Man of Steel" sequel). As an actor, Affleck has always been a step behind pal Matt Damon; after Batman, that's going to change.
There's also a creative benefit to playing Batman, assuming everything plays out according to expectations. (To say nothing of the likelihood that the idea of correcting mistakes he made in "Daredevil" was enticing to Affleck as well.) Affleck was rumored as Warner Bros.' top choice to direct "Justice League," but that never happened. After "Man of Steel 2," maybe it does. Affleck himself, it should be noted, didn't crap all over superhero films when asked about the "Justice League" notion by In Contention editor Kris Tapley last year. Instead, he sounded positively excited about the idea of doing one:
"I would love it," he said. "My interest is really just in, you know, if I like the characters and if the stories seem smart and surprise me. The things that people look for. So those things exist in the superhero genre. And when they do, I think it's really exciting. I think they exist in the science-fiction genre. If you look at 'Blade Runner' to 'Alien' to 'Aliens' on down through today. So it's just about finding a good script, honestly. I wouldn't be into something or not based on the genre."
Here's the part where detractors would note that, despite coming out in two years, the script for "Man of Steel 2" is not finished (there are other reports, however, that it is completed, and that Affleck read a version before signing on). If true, that's a problem -- but for Snyder, not Affleck. On this film, Affleck is just the hired gun; assuming Warner Bros. has kept its plans to make "Justice League" ("Dark Knight" and "Man of Steel" writer David S. Goyer was commissioned to help with that project when "Man of Steel" sequel plans were announced), it's possible that a good script will be waiting for Affleck in 2015 or 2016 when "Justice League" would likely shoot.
There are consequences to that potential future: If Affleck makes "Justice League," that would further delay his adaptation of Dennis Lehane's "Live By Night," which TheWrap reported had been pushed to an indefinite date because of "Man of Steel 2." UPDATE: According to the Los Angeles Times, "Live By Night" is still set to shoot in 2014, with the Batman-Superman film coming after that.
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If "Live By Night" doesn't happen, though, is that so bad? Affleck has done the Lehane crime thing ("Gone Baby Gone"), the period-piece thing ("Argo"), and the Boston thing (everything). Isn't the idea of a filmmaker like Affleck making a giant superhero movie -- which he would also star in -- more fun and exciting? Superhero films have become exhausting in recent years, but maybe Affleck is just the man to restart the genre in ways we can't even imagine right now. After the way he came back from "Gigli," why write him off?
Yet even if people do -- even if the idea of Affleck spending the better part of the next decade playing Batman and making superhero movies seems like a drag, especially after adult dramas like "Argo" and "The Town" (and even "Gone Girl") -- there's this silver lining: Affleck is still only 41. Clint Eastwood, a great comparison for Affleck (especially if you subscribe to the idea that superhero movies are the new Westerns), didn't direct his best films until after 60. George Clooney, the man many pointed to as a model for Affleck (and, it can't be ignored, a terrible ex-Batman), is 11 years older than his protege. At 41, Clooney had directed "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind." It didn't win Best Picture.
By those metrics, Affleck is well ahead of the game. He can make "Live By Night" or the Whitey Bulger movie with Matt Damon -- or both -- 10 years from now. He can win Best Director at 60. Or 65. Or 70. He can only play Batman right now. Let the guy have some fun.
COUNTERPOINT: Batman Is Bad For Ben Affleck