5 Reasons Ben Affleck Will Make a Great Batman
Warner Bros. recently announced their decision to cast Ben Affleck as Batman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel, Batman vs. Superman, and the Internet had such a vitriolic meltdown that I initially thought Ben Affleck had murdered a bunch of pregnant teenagers while wearing a Batman costume. Comic book fans across the world have already convinced themselves that this is the worst tragedy in modern history, and they all seem to agree that Ben Affleck might as well be fashioning their collective childhoods into a makeshift condom for his million dollar Hollywood penis and using it to jackhammer Bob Kane's skeletal corpse into bone-powder sex dust.
However, we've been wrong about this kind of thing before. Ben Affleck playing Batman in a Superman movie is hardly the end of the world, and if history is any indication, it might not even be that bad.
"That" is an important qualifier to keep in mind.
People Hated It When Michael Keaton and Heath Ledger Were Cast in Their Respective Batman Movies
Pre-Internet fanzines and such were enraged when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman. The headline "Mr. Mom Is Batman?" was thrown around a lot, as were pictures of Keaton's mulleted face as it appears in Clean and Sober juxtaposed with images of the brooding Caped Crusader to achieve maximum ridiculousness. Check out this fan-submitted letter to the Los Angeles Times back in 1988, when Keaton's casting was first announced -- reading it now, it comes off as the most insufferably pedantic thing ever written (the guy says that clearly Burton had decided to turn Batman into "a manic comedy" despite the fact that he had not seen any footage of the movie yet, and everyone who has since seen Tim Burton's Batman can agree that it is precisely the opposite of a manic comedy). Yet it is exactly the same tone and self-appointed-expert viewpoint that scores of Twitter and Tumblr users are taking. There are fucking petitions getting passed around, demanding that Ben Affleck be fired immediately and replaced by somebody they will unanimously approve of (no such actor exists), perpetuated by people with exactly zero experience in filmmaking and absolutely no connection to the creative process behind Batman vs. Superman.
"Hey, guys, I've thought of something: What if we don't make it shitty?"
And Michael Keaton turned out to be a freaking awesome Batman. The debate continues as to whether his or Christian Bale's portrayal is the best (in my opinion, Keaton is the better Batman and Bale is the better Bruce Wayne, if for no other reason than Keaton's Batman voice doesn't sound like a fucking Static-X song). Think of how improbable that is -- Michael Keaton is a physically unimposing comedic actor, and Christian Bale is enormous and terrifying. There should be no question as to which one of those guys would be better suited to play Batman, and yet there is. That's called "acting," cousin.
Similarly, the Internet exploded when Heath Ledger got cast as the Joker -- like Affleck, the majority of his starring roles were box office bombs, and the best success he'd had was playing in a '90s teen comedy, a 1970s rock opera about roller derby knights, and a dialogue-heavy drama about gay cowboys.
The Clown Prince of making teenage girls in the '90s swoon.
Those three things do not fare well on message boards, and neither did the idea of Heath Ledger playing the Joker. People thought he was too pretty, too wooden, and utterly incapable of being menacing. And those same people now so completely embrace Heath Ledger and The Dark Knight that they sent death threats to a film critic over a negative review of The Dark Knight Rises despite the fact that none of them had actually seen the movie yet. And that film turned out to be just as crowd-pleasing as a buttery dump in a public urinal.
Resist the urge to immediately dismiss those points by saying, "Well, sure, but Keaton and Ledger were working with Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan. We're talking about Zack Snyder here." Zack Snyder is not incapable of making good decisions (300, Dawn of the Dead, most of Watchmen), just like Tim Burton (Planet of the Apes, Dark Shadows, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises) are not incapable of making poor ones. Movies have always been (and always will be) a case-by-case thing -- just because one movie shares one or more parts with another is in no way a guarantee of success or failure. Just ask George Lucas.
If this guy got to make Batman movies, Zack Snyder can have a damn shot.
Batman Is Not the Main Character of Batman vs. Superman
Let's not kid ourselves -- Batman vs. Superman is a sequel to Man of Steel. This seems to indicate that the movie is going to be primarily about Superman. Batman is just a character that happens to be in it. Ben Affleck isn't being cast as the new lead in a new trilogy of Batman movies (although that may eventually happen) -- he's playing a supporting, largely adversarial role in a Superman movie. The absolute worst case scenario is that Ben Affleck is so terrible, they have to find a new actor to play Batman in the Justice League or Batman Beyond or whatever the hell movie they plan on putting the character in next, and our DVD shelves have an open spot where a Superman sequel could have been sitting. And that's it.
Hollywood has plenty of young dudes with well-defined abs to throw at this role. It'll work again eventually.
We aren't any more beholden to this movie's portrayal of Batman than we are to Batman and Robin, so let's quit behaving like Ben Affleck just got cast to play our great-grandfather in a period drama and pump the brakes a bit on our self-righteous outrage. Save the petitions for after the movie comes out. If he's butt-garglingly awful, he most likely will not be invited back, and then we can all join hands across the interwebs and proudly say, "We told you so, Paycheck. We told you so."
The Batman Series Is Already on a Low Note
Regardless of how highly we regard The Dark Knight (despite the stupidly implausible "I planted sonar devices in every cellphone in Gotham in like two weeks" finale), I think we can all agree that The Dark Knight Rises substantially lowered the bar as far as what we can reasonably expect from a Batman movie. Sure, The Dark Knight was great, and Heath Ledger's Joker is forever untouchable, but it's not like Batman vs. Superman is going to be the first film to try to follow it up. Let's all temper our expectations a little by rereading that last paragraph aloud in the Bane voice and watching this clip of Catwoman asking a man if a cat has his tongue.
Next, imagine Tom Hardy's head on Anne Hathaway's body. Become deeply confused.
Ben Affleck Is Probably Not Going to Be the Most Unbelievably Ridiculous Thing About a Film Called Batman vs. Superman
That section title pretty much sums it up, but to elaborate, Batman vs. Superman already has much more potentially catastrophic things working against it than Ben "Surviving Christmas" Affleck. First of all, Man of Steel was decent, but by no means a game-changing hit. It made a fair amount of money, but barely broke even on everything they spent on production and advertising. Also, nobody really loved it -- the reception of both critics and fans pretty much maxed out at "Well, it was better than Superman Returns." That's generally not the type of praise you spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to achieve.
For example, we achieved Superman Returns levels of praiseworthiness just by showing this.
Second, Zack Snyder has never made a sequel before, and his movies have a habit of dramatically underperforming. As I mentioned, even Man of Steel didn't do quite the numbers that Warner Bros. and DC were hoping for, and yet they launched right ahead into an exorbitantly budgeted sequel. That's like having two birthday parties in the same weekend and expecting all of your friends to come to both of them, but to bring more of their friends to the second one so it has a better turnout.
Third, Superman himself is tough to get audiences to connect with. He's an invincible alien who always does the right thing. You can only have him hammer punch so many purse snatchers and stop so many plane crashes with his indestructible face before we run out of reasons to care -- it's hard to be on the edge of your seat when Superman is never really in trouble. Paradoxically, the storylines necessary to put Superman in harm's way tend to be so improbably absurd that we don't buy it. For example, kryptonite, Superman's primary weakness, is an element native to a planet that exploded decades ago on the far side of the fucking universe, and yet Lex Luthor always manages to find some as easily as buying a geode from the Nature Company.
"$29.95, and it came with free ladybugs!"
Finally, as Cyriaque Lamar beautifully pointed out, most comics wherein Superman and Batman fight are bafflingly ludicrous, with very little exception. Exactly how grounded in the non-absurd are we expecting this film to be? It's about a jauntily dressed interstellar superbeing battling a karate-genius billionaire orphan dressed up like a bat. I would not be at all surprised if some portion of the movie takes place on the fucking moon, and that will have way more of an impact on the film than Ben Affleck's presence. Batman wears a hood with a pair of motherfucking rabbit ears attached to it, and we're worried that the man underneath that hood is going to be too ridiculous to believe?
People were less outraged over the anti-Semitic overtones in Mel Gibson's The Killing of the Jesus, and that movie was about a real dude at the center of one of the most powerful religions in history. Batman vs. Superman is about two fantastical imagination men punching each other across a world of make-believe. Let's try to keep our feelings of personal injury and anguish in perspective.
At the very least, you'll get to watch a god hit this man's face in slow motion.
Ben Affleck Is Probably Going to Be a Good Batman (At Least for Batman vs. Superman)
Instead of sending out knee-jerk Twitter jokes about Gigli and Daredevil that literally a hundred thousand people have already made, let's take a moment to actually consider what we know about Batman vs. Superman and how the casting of Ben Affleck affects it. If your brain is feeling a bit sticky, do some of those Bane vocal exercises we talked about earlier to help the process along.
If you have trouble doing the voice, just pretend you're a Jamaican stroke victim with half a kielbasa in your mouth.
It's kind of tough to zero in on anything specific, isn't it? That's because the truth of the matter is we don't know anything about Batman vs. Superman. Right now, I know just as much about that movie as I do about Richard Nixon's casket -- I can tell you who's in it, but that's about it.
Despite our loud insistence to the contrary, we have absolutely no idea what kind of movie Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. are trying to make. Ben Affleck might well be the perfect choice for the role, and we don't understand their decision because none of us have read the script treatment or sat in on any production meetings or had anything at all to do with the development of this movie. It's a hard thing to accept, I know, but it's entirely possible that we don't have any idea what we're talking about.
Christian Bale, months before playing a muscular ninja.
For example, maybe in this movie Batman is a famous but controversial figure who fiercely divides public opinion. Maybe he's a bit older and grayer than he was when he first got everyone's attention. Maybe he used to be well-liked, but after a series of public embarrassments and questionable actions, he's had to retreat from the spotlight for a while. Maybe he quietly let the public do what they needed to do with his image so he could continue working behind the scenes, achieving results that people appreciate but are reluctant to give him credit for. Maybe he feels like his work is more important than what people think of him.
Kind of sounds like Ben Affleck, right? Say what you will about Zack Snyder, the man rarely miscasts his movies. There has to be some reason why a room full of creative professionals and powerful executives, armed with a biblically gigantic budget and one of the most popular characters in history, decided to pick Ben Affleck over everyone else. Is it so crazy to think that that reason might, in fact, be a good one?
There's a reason they have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on Superman movies.
I'm not saying everybody is wrong for feeling hesitant about Ben Affleck as Batman, or that the movie is going to be any good. It could be a blustery, turd-speckled seafood fart. If Affleck sucks, I encourage everyone to tell me how wrong I was. I'm just saying that maybe it's time we all stopped acting like we're the only ones who know what's best for Batman, because clearly we aren't.
Tom can quote the entirety of Tim Burton's Batman from memory and owns Armageddon on VHS, although those things in no way influenced his opinion. Read his novel Stitches and follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.