Holy mixed reactions, Batman.
A flurry of activity on social media and in pop-culture circles ignited Thursday night when Warner Bros. announced Oscar-winning actor Ben Affleck as the newest guy to take the cape, cowl and mantle of the Dark Knight and his billionaire secret identity as Bruce Wayne.
Affleck will make his first appearance in the Man of Steel sequel opposite Henry Cavill as Superman, slated to open July 17, 2015.
Fans in favor of the move used hashtags such as “#Batfleck” to voice their approval of Affleck joining the list of Batman actors, which includes (most recently) Christian Bale, George Clooney, Val Kilmer, Michael Keaton and, on TV, Adam West. Others were more snarky about the casting, opining with “#BetterBatmanThanBenAffleck.”
According to social-media research film Fizziology, 71% of the 96,088 tweets in the first hour after the news broke were negative. Of those, 12% wanted Bale to return as the Dark Knight and 10% referenced Affleck’s previous superhero role in 2003’sDaredevil.
But Affleck played the blind Marvel Comics superhero in “a superhero-moviemaking mind-set we’ve moved light years beyond,” says Scott Beggs, managing editor of the film website FilmSchoolRejects.com. “Ultimately, it was a bad movie for a lot of reasons. Fans should not resort to decade-old Hollywood math to assume that Affleck can’t pull off wearing a cape.”
Earlier this summer, eagle-eyed moviegoers had a clue where Man of Steel director Zack Snyder was taking things with the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it inclusion of a Wayne Industries satellite in a scene above the Earth. And at Comic-Con in July, Snyder announced that the Caped Crusader would be in the Man of Steel follow-up, adding that the antagonistic Batman/Superman relationship from Frank Miller’s seminal comic The Dark Knight Returns would inform the new film.
“Ben provides an interesting counterbalance to Henry’s Superman,” Snyder says. “He has the acting chops to create a layered portrayal of a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crimefighter, but retain the charm that the world sees in billionaire Bruce Wayne.”
Peter Sciretta, editor-in-chief of the movie site slashfilm.com, thinks it’s telling that Snyder chose a 41-year-old for his Batman. Chances are the character will be much different from the one in the Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton movies, Sciretta says, and Affleck could thrive in the role of an older, more conflicted vigilante millionaire.
“In Man of Steel, Superman was so careless in that final battle, letting much of Metropolis end in ruin, allowing so many civilian casualties,” Sciretta says. “The fate of Metropolis was a big problem a lot of fans had with the film, and I expect that that destruction will be a huge part of why Batman will be hunting down Superman in this next film.”
From a business perspective for Warner Bros., “it makes a lot of sense to have Affleck in that fold not only as an actor but possibly as a director in future installments,” says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. “When you look at the big picture, it’s exactly the right choice.”
Affleck was an “unsurprising shock” to Beggs. He thought Warner Bros. would go younger for a new take on the 74-year-old DC Comics icon. But it made sense, Beggs says, and Affleck’s performances in Argo,The Town,Company Men and Boiler Room show that he at least has the acting chops for the role.
“They’re enough to make us believe he’ll do a strong job in the role, which is one that requires he play both a square-jawed billionaire playboy — which I think no one is going to argue that he doesn’t have down, since he is a square-jawed millionaire playboy at least — and also a brooding crime-fighter with a rodent-shaped chip on his shoulder,” Beggs says.
He feels Affleck will fall somewhere between Keaton and Bale in the legacy of Batman thespians.
“He can pull off the emotion of the father issues and the loss issues and the isolation without coming off like a jerk the way that Bale’s Bruce Wayne tended to come off,” Beggs says. “That was a huge dichotomy and a big gulf between the Batman and the Bruce Wayne characters there, and I see Affleck able to pull off a tighter balance between debonair and then also formidable as a fighter.”
There is also a lot of goodwill in Hollywood and positive vibes off of Affleck’s recent career resurgence, Bock says. That night earlier this year when the Argo director ended the Academy Awards ceremony with a best-picture Oscar in his hands, “he was the most popular man in town and in some respects still is the hottest director in town. If you put him in your film, it’s going to make it that much better.”
His ascendence mirrors in a way what Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr. has done in the movies of Marvel Studios. While DC and Warner Bros.’ superhero rivals still have the upper hand in terms of box office and influence — Man of Steel did well this summer, but Iron Man 3 did better — adding Affleck as a building block to the foundation of a DC cinematic universe and not rushing to a multi-superhero Justice League movie is the right decision, Beggs says.
What could be interesting, though, is that the sequel will be a Superman-centric movie. Yet Batman is arguably a more popular character and the guy under the cowl is a lot more recognizable worldwide than the guy with the “S” on his chest.
“It’ll be undeniably a challenge for Cavill onscreen to do the scene work with Affleck,” Beggs says. “But Affleck’s also proven that he’s an actor’s actor and an actor’s director. He can bring a lot of knowledge and storytelling wisdom.”
Affleck’s notoriety, however, is a drawback for Jill Pantozzi, an associate editor for geek-culture site TheMarySue.com.
“He’s too big a name and too recognizable as ‘Ben Affleck.’ How many iconic roles has he actually brought to life?” she asks. “All I see is him onscreen instead of the character he’s playing. That’s not always a bad thing, but in this case I’m worried it will hurt the film. He’ll probably pull off Bruce Wayne’s public persona well, but I’m not so sure about his private one, or Batman.”
Affleck’s fellow celebs shared their reactions on social media, including Affleck’s’ longtime pal — and Batman fanatic himself — Kevin Smith. “Do you what this means? It means that I’ve seen Batman naked!!!” tweeted the filmmaker and Affleck’s director on Chasing Amy,Mallrats and Jersey Girl.
Richard Dreyfuss joked, “You read for a part, you feel good about it, you feel confident, then they cast Ben Affleck.” Comedian Patton Oswalt said he hopes Affleck “fights the Joke-ah! #wickedpissah,” referring to the actor’s penchant for on-screen Boston accents. And 30 Rock star Judah Friedlander remarked that “I cannot play Batman. I beat up Batman so badly, he applied for a transfer to Marvel Comics.”
Even “The Batman” on Twitter chimed in. And he was not kind: “Ben Affleck officially cast as Batman in the Man of Steel sequel. For the first time in history, I kind of want Superman to win.”
Heidi MacDonald of the comics-culture site The Beat says that, “like many internet casting outcries, this one will die down in the intervening two years. He certainly has the good looks, height and strong chin required for wearing the cowl.
“I mean, it could have been Nicolas Cage.”
By Brian Truitt