OPINION: I was as surprised as anyone when Ben Affleck was named the new Batman by Warner Bros. While I know I will be incurring the Wrath of Khan from a certain segment of Deadline readers for saying this, I do not share the alarm expressed by just about all 300+ Deadline commenters who’ve condemned the move and feel it’s awful for Affleck, Warner Bros, and humanity as a whole.
This is the biggest Affleck surprise I can recall since I saw Gone Baby Gone and was surprised to see that he was a helluva filmmaker. I guess what I’m saying is, Affleck has earned some rope from us; he knows what he is doing. I know he’s read the script, and he loves the concept. After watching Robert Downey Jr unexpectedly (at the time) establish himself as a global superstar after he auditioned for and won over Marvel for Iron Man, I see a lot of upside for Affleck to bolster his global viability, without a lot of career risk. This is a giant coup for the fledgling Greg Silverman-Sue Kroll regime at Warner Bros. Not only in their effort to create global hits, but also in their effort to strengthen studio ties to Affleck after the turbulent exit of Jeff Robinov (who’ll be looking to bring guys like Affleck over if and when he ever takes the top film job at Fox).
Even though I couldn’t understand all of the gravelly dialogue lines he delivered from beneath the Batmask, Christian Bale’s three turns as the Caped Crusader gave him global cred. They didn’t discount his other screen performances, either. That’s because, like Affleck and Downey, Bale wasn’t a newcomer when he took the job (newbies from George Reeves to Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh seem to get imprinted by the role and disappear after). His Batman persona also didn’t stop Oscar voters from giving Bale the trophy for his performance in The Fighter.
Affleck isn’t the same guy he was when he made 2003’s Daredevil, or when he hurt his career by starring with off-screen squeeze Jennifer Lopez in Gigli. After that, he smartly worked his tail off to write his career a second act as a writer-director who stars in his own films. That is his identity now. He’s the guy who directed, produced and starred in the reigning Best Picture Oscar winner Argo, and he has The Town and Gone Baby Gone under his belt. Name another filmmaker outside of Christopher Nolan whose last three films stack up with that kind of quality? Even if he moonlights as Batman, it doesn’t change that true identity. And I thought he did a great job acting in Argo and The Town.
Also, those painful career lessons made Affleck shrewdly selective. If this works, he will have created a great role he can return to in between his directorial outings, the same way that Downey will do for future Avengers installments. Affleck won’t have to carry these movies himself, and I’d be surprised if he made a freestanding Batfilm.
I have been waiting for Warner Bros to turn a corner with its DC Comics crimefighter universe, beyond Batman and Superman. They’ve taken a step in that direction even if it is by combining those two characters. Now, they have a bona fide leading man in the fold (because Henry Cavill could not pack a movie house right now if he wasn’t wearing the red cape). Suddenly, the next step, the inevitable Justice League film, looks intriguing and I bet more big names will enlist by the time that movie gets made. Sure, I’d feel better if Nolan was still steering it all, but a lot of people liked Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel. The DC franchise effort seems to be in good hands. And imagine if Affleck really likes the job enough to rescind his previous pass and direct that Justice League movie?
Now, I know Batman doesn’t work for everybody and that George Clooney had a famously awful time battling Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr Freeze character in Batman & Robin. But that was just a flat-out misfire with such cringe-worthy campy dialogue that I recall Clooney’s prankster pals creating a For Your Consideration roadside billboard they knew he would see while driving, that had him pictured as Batman uttering the line he said while apprehending the villain: “Freeze, Freeze.” Those mistakes weren’t made under Nolan’s ,and if Snyder and the studio can ace this movie and follow it with a Justice League ensemble two-thirds as sharp as The Avengers, Marvel will have real superhero competition on its hands for the first time.
Well before Kevin Feige took the reins and Disney paid $4 billion for Marvel, it’s worth remembering that superhero factory spent decades wandering the wilderness with a trail of bad movies, awful rights deals and a bankruptcy. Now, Marvel rivals Pixar for quality control. What I’m saying is, nobody knows if these moves work until you see the movie. On paper, landing Affleck is a potential game-changing move for Warner Bros and DC Comics to use a Batman-Superman pic as a way to finally launch a Justice League franchise that will spawn spinoffs of other characters like Wonder Woman, films that are hard to launch cold.
As for those people signing online petitions against Affleck, I bet they were the same yokels raging when Daniel Craig was named to succeed Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. That worked out pretty well. Does anyone really think these naysayers will miss a movie that has Batman and Superman squaring off for the first time in a major studio feature?