Batfleck

Try to picture this: it’s ten years from now, and Ben Affleck has shaken off the hatred he earned for signing up to play a superhero by carefully choosing his acting and directing projects. In a rebound of public opinion, he’s delivered several trenchant performances — fulfilling the potential he showed back in the 90s — and crafted several prestigious films that prove his salt as a storyteller.

With that, welcome to 2013, Daredevil haters. It’s good to have you here.

Hopefully everyone’s taken a breath since Affleck was announced as Bruce Wayne for Batman vs Superman because the kind of exasperation it caused was troubling. It was also hilarious. Exhibit A is the petition to Warners to pull the actor from the role:

 “His acting skill is not even close to being believable as Bruce Wayne and he won’t do the role justice. He’s not intimidating enough for the role of Batman. Batman is someone that strikes fear in the hearts of men. His portrayal of Daredevil was atrocious and he’s not remotely close to an action star or a superhero. Please find someone else and deliver to the fans what they want.”

Forgetting that this is posted alongside appeals to combat corrective rape and review Stand Your Ground laws, the 68,000 signatures on it (and the dozens of other pointless petitions) prove that it’s hilariously serious.

Now, I get it. Daredevil was a terrible movie, but if that’s your only ammo for not wanting Affleck in the cape and cowl, then your argument isn’t worth listening to. Particularly because:

  1. There’s a reason you can’t name the director of Daredevil without looking it up; and
  2. It was made in a very different era of comic book adaptations…
  3. By Fox.

Pointing solely to it is the worst kind of Hollywood Math, and it’s scary to see fans doing it. Limited in its scope, it represents skin-deep thinking that stifles creative choices. The situational irony abounds here, but noting that two things have similarities is the first step in consideration, not the last. Simply put, “Affleck was bad as Daredevil so Affleck will be bad as Batman” doesn’t come close to computing because it leaves out another hundred variables.

And in a bit of double irony, large numbers of people tearing their hair out over how safe a choice he is have proven that Affleck actually is a gamble. Not that his track record for pulling in large box office numbers is all that steady in the first place. He’s a bona fide movie star, but what that means has changed drastically in the last decade as franchises have taken their place on posters instead of names in large fonts.

Thankfully, several publications have posted up reminders of misguided fan reactions to casting choices like Michael Keaton as Bats and Heath Ledger as The Joker (and appeals to what critics said about Affleck as Superman). They’ve all been good rabies shots, but pointing out outrage that’s been proven wrong doesn’t calm the specific nerve that Affleck has touched. Luckily there are at least four things that do.

One, his performance in Boiler Room.

Is Jim Young like Bruce Wayne? Not at all (the image of Batman leading a Hitler youth rally is a fun one), but the actor who nailed down this monologue is at least worthy of the benefit of the doubt when it comes to intensity and screen presence even without considering ten years of maturation.

On that note, I love that we’ve all elevated Batman to Hamlet (because what is Bruce Wayne if not a man who has chosen a truly unstable version of “To Be”?), but it’s disconcerting when hating on an actor leads us to question whether a two-time Oscar winner can hang artistically with Zack Snyder. It’s also a little funny that we’ve shifted from great concern over the “spirit of the material” to decrying a comic book fan for playing Batman. Almost as funny as how the career Affleck built to escape playing a superhero has led him right back to playing a superhero.

Numbers two, three and four on the list of arguments are The Company Men, The Town and Argo. All three are examples of Affleck playing intelligent men in difficult positions. All three are solidly engaging performances that speak to a dark, contemplative streak of drama. He’s not the brooding method actor that Bale was, which means that we won’t get the growling swear-to-me! kind of Dark Knight, but my guess is that he’ll end up somewhere between Bale and Keaton on the spectrum. Nowhere near Clooney as Clooney as Batman or Kilmer as The Saint as wine salesman as Batman.

For some, all of this boils down to helicopter parenting a fictional character. If you’ve seen Affleck’s recent work and have doubts about his capability in this particular role (or broadly), then nothing is likely to change your mind. If you’re like me and think Affleck can bring something interesting to a character who’s been portrayed seven times already, then all you have to do is wait with crossed fingers.

But if all you can think about is Daredevil, you owe it to yourself to watch some movies and catch up to how a lot of people already feel about Affleck’s level of talent. You’ve got two years, so start queuing. And on the million-to-one shot that the petitions work, Idris Elba for Batman.


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