Holy Backlash, Batman!
Batman has a new nemesis: the fanboy. When Warner Bros. announced on Aug. 22 that Ben Affleck, 41, had been cast as the Caped Crusader opposite Henry Cavill in director Zack Snyder’s upcoming Batman/Superman film, it triggered a wave of contempt from those who worship at the altar of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The fear: Affleck would bring a smug shallowness to the hallowed crime fighter.
Twitter was seething with rage. In the first hour after the announcement, there were 96,088 tweets about the casting — and 71 percent of them were negative, according to social-media research firm Fizziology. An online petition asking the studio to reconsider the casting collected 75,000 signatures in the first few days. Even some politicians weighed in: New Jersey Senate candidate Cory Booker, who reportedly counts Affleck as a donor, and Vermont senator Patrick Leahy, who had cameos in the last two Batman films, both came out in favor of the actor. Another petition on the White House website asked President Obama to replace Affleck, but it was quickly taken down because, well, that’s a stupid thing to ask the president.
Some degree of vitriol is expected when a decision like this is made. God help Mr. Mom star Michael Keaton had today’s Internet existed when he was cast in 1989’s Batman. Heath Ledger was scorned by cranky commenters when he was first announced as the Joker for 2008’s The Dark Knight — a role that won him a posthumous Oscar. The mainstream media have actually been the main defender of Affleck’s casting, with critics such as Christy Lemire and EW’s own Jeff ”Doc” Jensen urging moviegoers to give him the benefit of the doubt. Even Joss Whedon, now the movie and TV maestro at DC Comics’ rival Marvel, tweeted his support for Affleck. But there has been only silence from Warner Bros., DC Comics, and Snyder.
It’s too soon to judge whether this is bad for the star or the franchise, but the hand-wringing (at least some of it) may be premature. Here are three reasons to look forward to Affleck in the 2015 movie — and two reasons to temper your optimism with a little caution.
Stars Always Play Batman
Few people ever get their Underoos in a bunch over a Superman casting. That’s because filmmakers like to cast relative unknowns in the role, such as Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh, and Cavill — guys who don’t bring any previous baggage with them. His face shrouded in a black mask, Batman is an enigma who shows little emotion other than barely restrained rage. Putting a famous face in the cowl automatically instills the character with much-needed relatability. Affleck could bring a wounded, steely efficiency to the role, based on his performances in Hollywoodland, The Town, and last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Argo. Unfortunately, angry fans are reacting to his work a decade ago in Jersey Girl, Gigli, and the Marvel blind-superhero film Daredevil. That last movie, by the way, made $179 million worldwide.
The Long Game
Even people who dislike Affleck as an actor can respect his storytelling chops. He is, after all, a Best Picture Oscar winner. Fans who were frustrated by Man of Steel should note that Affleck could help elevate the quality of the entire DC/Warner Bros. brain trust. He is now a key part of Warner Bros.’ plan to create a series of connected DC Comics adaptations, leading to an eventual Justice League film. There’s been speculation that Affleck might direct that film, or a stand-alone Batman film, but even if he doesn’t he will still have tremendous story sway as the star.
The Charm Offensive
The Caped Crusader hit his low point with Batman & Robin, and its star George Clooney has clearly been more discerning ever since. Affleck seemingly made a similar choice after his career bottomed out. He took his lumps and has painstakingly rebuilt his professional life. Having been through that wringer, Affleck could lend serious veracity to the role of a seasoned vigilante who does his duty without the aid of superpowers, and who bears the scars of it. Affleck could also distinguish himself from Christian Bale by capturing the charisma of Bruce Wayne, who was played by Bale as mainly grim and stoic. Still, Affleck will face some valid challenges once he moves into the Batcave:
Tough Act To Follow
Bale had the advantage of playing Batman after Clooney. In Affleck’s case, there’s a much greater chance of falling off Bale’s high bar. Director Snyder is known more for visual panache and exaggerated emotions than authenticity; Affleck will need to be careful to ground the character in reality so his Bat doesn’t end up in the belfry.
In A Word, Daredevil
”Wearing a costume was a source of humiliation for me, and something I wouldn’t want to do again soon,” Affleck reportedly said in 2006 while promoting Hollywoodland, in which he played another man haunted by a comic-book role, the late Superman star George Reeves. Whatever changed Affleck’s mind, the stakes are far higher now. There’s nowhere to hide if you screw up Batman. Even if you are wearing a mask.
The Tale of the Tweets
”Affleck’ll crush it. He’s got the chops, he’s got the chin — just needs the material. Affleck & Cavill toe to toe — I’m in.” @josswhedon
”I hope it works out. Snotty little fanboy weiners.” @scottEweinberg
”Affleck is going to kill this. Mark my words…. I completely think this is a genius new way to take it.” @joshgad
”Do you know what this means? It means that I’ve seen Batman naked!!!” @ThatKevinSmith
”Its not like they cast Woody Allen as Batman. Calm down.” @lizzwinstead
”For the first time in history, I kind of want Superman to win.” @TheBatman
”In the Ben Affleck version, Batman’s parents kill themselves.” @ChaseMit
”WORST NEWS OF ALL TIME.” @TIMtationX
”I just…I just CAN’T WITH THIS. If you need me I’ll be dead.” @JenStansfield