Since the announcement yesterday that Warner Brothers had cast veteran actor, writer, and director Ben Affleck to play Batman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel, there have been a number of large reactions, including but certainly not limited to a couple of petitions put up on petition websites, as if a petition by a couple of crank fans has ever turned the tide in a situation like this one. Those who love Batman were quick to defend him against the accusation that he might ever have Affleck’s face, figure, or most significantly to me, his uncommonly kind eyes. I tried immediately to picture Affleck’s soft brown eyes menacing from under a cowl and fell short in my imagination. I have come to think that this knee-jerk reaction says more about the public perception of this character than it does about Affleck’s ability to tackle the role or his suitability as a choice.
As a long-time Kevin Smith fan I’ve had the opportunity to know more about Affleck than I typically would most actors or celebrities, and first of all I want to make one thing abundantly clear. He’s one of us. From the enormous backlash from fans, it’s been made clear that few people actually know this. Ben Affleck is a serious fanboy; he knows his comics and he knows Batman. He’s sought out roles like the lead role in Daredevil, and playing George Reeves in Hollywoodland for a reason, because he genuinely loves the work.
Isn’t that the greatest thing to be embraced about Henry Cavill? What’s important about Affleck being a geek is that he will protect the work, he will have the sense to protect Batman and portray him with dignity, and perhaps more significantly, he’s unlikely to be comfortable with story lines that do any disrespect to Superman. I think Cavill definitely brings similar qualities, but he lacked the star power, at least before Man of Steel premiered, to put his foot down when it matters. The bulk of detractors seem to be aware of Affleck as far as Gigli and Reindeer Games.
He’s also not replacing Christian Bale. There’s no possibility of Christian Bale playing Batman again in the Justice League franchise, and while I can understand that people are bound to get very attached to a performance, the regularity with which this is brought up is really disheartening. It shows a kind of ignorance that could be cured inside a 6-hour marathon of the 90s Batman movies, in which the cowl was passed three times. It’s been made clear by almost everyone involved in the film that the Dark Knight trilogy and the Justice League movies take place in entirely different universes. That’s not subterfuge, that’s a very deep chasm that Nolan has put down in order to isolate his “Batman vision.” Snyder will not be picking up where he left off, and while every superhero movie clearly takes notes from the movies to come before it in the genre, he will not be matching the tone or technique.
I think though, that the immediate negative reaction has more to do with how we feel about Batman. So, since we obviously have zero power to change Warner Brother’s minds about this, let’s speculate about how this casting decision might affect the movie.
There might be less Batman than we originally anticipated. There have been rumors that Affleck has signed a “13 appearance” deal with Warner Brothers, which if it were true, would significantly limit Affleck’s screen time. It’s interesting to me that for all the Batman/Superman content Synder has been tossing around, nobody has really confirmed that Batman will necessarily have second billing. The Snyder/Goyer team seems to trust its actors to have the ability to do a lot when given very little (there’s not a lot of chatting about feelings or monologing in Man of Steel) so I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if Affleck had a few choice scenes and then in typical Batman style, disappear like a shadow.
We might be dealing with a number of non-traditional masculinities in this series. We’ve already got a physically-desirable soft-spoken introvert for a Superman, and when I heard about the Batman/Superman team up movie, my first assumption was that they were intent on contrasting Batman as a more traditional masculinity up against Clark’s more sensitive portrayal for better or worse. I expected the Batman pick to be someone who’d play gritty, edgy, mean, and dark to Clark’s sunny and naïve. Affleck isn’t that choice. He plays an effective smarmy jerk (hmm, sounds like a certain playboy millionaire I know), and I think he would have been a really fabulous choice for Lex Luthor, but he brings an inescapable tenderness to any role he assumes. Even with the cowl on, I think we are going to see a very enlightened (maybe even feminist?) Batman. With Batman and Superman setting the baseline, what would that mean for everyone else in the Justice League?
Batman is going to be old. Ben Affleck just celebrated his 41st birthday, so while Cavill is definitely playing a few years older, there’s no way to pretend that these two are near the same age. Synder has already been quoted saying that his Batman will be a “seasoned crime-fighter,” and this will undoubtedly affect the nature of their relationship, my only hope being that that doesn’t mean a snarky Batman condescending to Superman for the bulk of the movie. With Affleck, Cavill, Snyder, and Goyer to protect this story though, I’m less and less concerned about that possibility as the days go by. Nobody wants to do wrong by Superman, and so far, they’ve done a pretty fantastic job. The choice of an older actor did bring me pause though, because Frank Miller’s Dark Knightmare features a older Batman, but Miller’s Batman is 55, and Affleck doesn’t yet look 40, so it’s still not a sign of a faithful adaptation. The fact that Batman is so much older might also mean that they are subverting the idea of Superman as strictly the first costumed superhero in the DC universe. I know Batman has more work to do to get to a role that Clark tripped and fell into, but I’d be very surprised if they wrote a 40 year old Batman without a bat suit. How exactly has he been fighting crime all these years without a suit? It’s not like Superman can just inspire him to put ears and wings on the outfit.
The acting is going to be really amazing. Say what you want, I have seen effortless accomplished acting out of this whole cast and adding Ben just shows a commitment to excellence. A lot of the detractors are saying the reason they are resisting the casting choice is because of his lack of skill or range, but I would challenge you to put that criticism to the test with some of Affleck’s best movies instead of automatically sighting his worst ones. When he has good material to work with, he brings a consistently excellent performance. I wouldn’t necessarily mind him getting his hands in the directing and writing of this franchise, either.
They might just be taking their female-dominated audience into account. Ben Affleck is not a man for heterosexual men to look at, and Henry Cavill is so beautiful that he likely makes heterosexual men uncomfortable as they re-assess what they thought they knew about their sexuality. In contrast, Faora’s armor is practical and she is more of a female-power-fantasy than sex object, Lois, despite being played by the absolutely stunning Amy Adams, is never objectified, and Diane Lane is shot in a way that makes it seem as though having a 33 year old son might be plausible thing for Martha Kent.
All in all, I think the backlash to this decision has more to do with the idea that the Batman in this franchise might be a complexly flawed human being with a masculinity that isn’t necessarily so fractured that it can’t be called into question. I personally think that Batman has started to become the Chuck Norris of comic book fans, and that’s not a compliment. In the whole Batman/Superman controversy, it seems as though a disproportionate number of Batman fans as really really insistent about Batman winning in a fight while Superman fans are sometimes more inclined to ask why in the world that fight might be happening in the first place. I’m tired of the Batman who has something to prove. He’s got the dizzying intellect, the sex appeal, the cool exits and entrances, the title of “world’s greatest detective,” really, what is there to prove?