After some highly public ambiguity, Ben Affleck at least seems to have confirmed that he will both direct and star in his own Batman movie. Following the poor critical reception of “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” it’s understandable that the Academy Award-winning star would be hesitant to keep the portrayal of Batman he debuted in the film alive and well. We don’t think he needs to be.
Since his directorial debut in 2007, Affleck has shown some serious filmmaking chops, culminating in a Best Picture Oscar for “Argo” in 2013. Whatever is going on in the DCEU, it has in Affleck the potential for the next great Batman movie. Here’s what we think he could bring to make that dream a reality.
15. GROUNDED CRIME
More than most superheroes, Batman is enmeshed in the world of street crime, and so is Ben Affleck (as a filmmaker at least). Of the four movies he’s directed, both his first and most recent movies — “Gone Baby Gone” and “Live By Night”— are adapted from books by famed crime novelist and “The Wire” screenwriter, Dennis Lehane. His second, “The Town,” centered on a battle between a Bostonian gang and the FBI.
It isn’t just flashy gunfights he focuses on, but the complex systems in which criminals operate, and the inner lives that drive them. It’s always good to watch Batman uncover another vast, criminal network, but maybe it’s time to see the underworld of Gotham as more than just nameless thugs led by more charismatic weirdos. With superhero movies increasingly using CG villain hordes as nothing but cannon fodder for heroes to epically slaughter without moral or practical consequence, Affleck may be the perfect filmmaker to remind the genre that low-ranking criminals are people too.
14. MAKE GOTHAM FEEL REAL
Cliche as it sounds, Gotham City is as important a Batman character as any human. Whether it’s the 1989 film’s Tim Burton-y weirdness, or the red-skied Art Deco of “Batman: The Animated Series,” each unique take on the crime-ridden city sets the tone as to what kind of Batman story will follow. The “Se7en”-inspired Gotham created by Nolan and continued by Zack Snyder successfully shot on location in cities like Chicago and New York, but the result can seem more like an amalgamation of every American city than a specific location you can only find in the DC Universe.
If Affleck wants to continue this, he certainly could, but he’d be better off going in the other direction. His depictions of Boston in “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” show a deep level of observation that showcase its unique history and culture at a deeper level than most movies bother with. In creating the latest Gotham City, he could concentrate not on showing how it’s like every city, but as he’s done with both Boston and the more stylized Ybor City of “Live By Night,” showing what makes it distinct.
13. DON’T GO CHANGING
No, the reviews were not universally glowing for Affleck’s Dark Knight debut in “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but one thing even the more aggressive critics had in common was praise for his work in the role. Bulky and lumbering in costume, his frame and movements made for the most visually comics-accurate Batman yet, looking like he swung right out of “The Dark Knight Returns.” As Bruce Wayne, he showed just how a billionaire who spends every moment suppressing righteous anger would act.
Mainly, it’s the way his intensity is just slightly off that makes it feel right. With all the criticism of the movie, it could be easy to overcorrect, change things up completely and lose all it does right. We encourage Affleck not to alter his characterization too much, as we’d love to see it in the kind of movie that could make the best use of such a Batman.
12. BE THE CELEBRITY
Even since “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012, the evolution of social media has perpetually redefined fame. Sure, we’ve seen Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark drunkenly goof around in front of news cameras, but we’ve yet to see a superhero movie that really reckons with celebrity in today’s constantly plugged-in society. Affleck has spent decades as an A-List movie star, giving him a level of personal experience with fame that few directors can match. He could draw on that to give us a different perspective on what Bruce Wayne’s relationship with the public is like.
It doesn’t have to be all good, either. From his character’s reluctant elevation to media sensation in “Gone Girl,” to his real life tabloid divorce drama, he’s struggled to shape narratives both on and offscreen. Batman is all about manipulating the world’s view of him by changing the story of Gotham City, and Affleck could make his Bruce Wayne a key part of that story.
11. BE FUNNY
Since Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, and through his appearance in “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the Batman franchise has become notorious for its gritty darkness. There’s nothing wrong with making Batman so serious, but it’s not the only option. From his wild Silver Age adventures to the ’60s Adam West TV show, to “Batman: The Brave and The Bold,” to the gold standard set by “Batman: The Animated Series,” the Dark Knight has always had more cartoonish fun than we’ve been shown in theaters as of late.
Affleck’s Batman movie can certainly still be serious and grounded like we’ve said above, but it’d be better if he used his ability to balance it with humor. After all, he co-wrote “Good Will Hunting,” a classic tearjerker that became a cable staple by being funny enough to draw viewers into the drama. Or better yet, imagine a Batman movie closer to the tone of “Argo.” A tense, true story-based tale about rescuing hostages during the Iranian Revolution that will also make you laugh seems like the perfect model for Affleck’s Bat.
10. MILK THAT BUDGET
At $65 million, the budget of “Live By Night” was the highest ever for a Ben Affleck-directed movie. Whatever its problems as a film, though, looking cheap is not one of them. While that, or the 44 million that went into “Argo,” are certainly not chump change, they’re not even close to the nine digit sums studios regularly pour into their superhero tentpoles.
“Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” may have cost, oh, $250 million, but could you really argue that “Argo” doesn’t look better? While his star power can at least get the kinds of dramas Hollywood doesn’t make much anymore greenlit, Affleck still had to learn to stretch a budget, collaborating with great cinematographers, art directors and more to make unique films that look as good, or better, than blockbusters that cost two or three times as much.
Now, he’s in a good position to follow the example of “Guardians of The Galaxy” director James Gunn, an indie director who, with the next level of funding finally at his disposal, knew not to blow it all on generic CG explosions, but use the larger scale to get even more creative.
9. ADAPT DIFFERENT COMICS
Great as they are, it’s hard to to disagree that whatever freshness Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Batman: Year One” may have once had as film inspiration have been sucked completely dry by the forces of Nolan and Snyder. What’s the point of making another Batman movie if it’s just presenting the same set of stories written in the 1980s again? We know Affleck had a massive comics collection as a child, and was a big fan of “The Dark Knight Returns,” but to make the best movie, he should dive into the library and draw on some different sources than the usual.
His filmmaking history makes it seem likely that he will go this route. Using both novels by Dennis Lehane and Chuck Hogan (“The Strain”), and less obvious sources, like a first-person account and long-form “Wired” article on the CIA operation dramatized in “Argo” as the basis for all his directorial efforts, shows that Affleck has no problem searching around for unique literary inspiration. Why not try out some of Grant Morrison’s kaleidoscopic epics, or some classic Dennis O’Neil/Neal Adams R’as al Ghul stories, and make something new?
8. BRING IN THE BAT FAMILY
While Batman has a reputation as a loner, his isolation can be overstated, especially in his recent cinematic iterations. Yes, as Lego Batman eloquently put it: “Darkness! No parents!” — but don’t forget that the bat is one of the few superheroes to assemble a veritable family around him. How is it that, aside from a ridiculous tag at the end of “The Dark Knight Rises,” Robin hasn’t been in a single live-action Batman movie since “Batman & Robin” in 1997?
It’s been 20 years since that disaster, which is more than enough time to make audiences ready for another try. As writers like Grant Morrison have shown, Batman’s strength isn’t born from solitude, but the network of people — from Batgirl to his actual son Damian — that provide mutual inspiration and support. Affleck knows all about depicting strange, makeshift families, whether it’s the heartwarming bonds of “Good Will Hunting” or the tragic criminal ties of “The Town” and “Live By Night.” Here, he could finally combine the two.
7. STAND ALONE
Because they either set up sequels, or have to fit into the middle of never-ending franchise sagas, one of the most common failings of today’s superhero movies are the endings, which can make them feel more like cliffhanger TV episodes than satisfying films. When a movie like “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” undoes its most status quo-altering event before the credits have even ended, it can make you wonder what the point of the story you just saw even was.
Inspired heavily by the drama side of ’70s Hollywood, Affleck has yet to direct a movie that wasn’t a self-contained story, and he shouldn’t change that just for Batman. He doesn’t have to ignore the DCEU continuity or anything, but rather than get caught up in it, or setting up some future movie or tie-in that may or may not be made years later, he should not worry about laying groundwork for any movie other than the one you’re currently watching. Perhaps more importantly than whether he wants to do this, though, is, thanks to his clout and star power, whether DC may actually let him.
6. REMEMBER THE PEOPLE
We already mentioned how Affleck can dig into Gotham’s culture and crime, but to really pull it off, his Batman movie can’t just be about the people who wear costumes or carry guns — it must focus on civilians, too. It’s easy to neglect the people of Gotham by only depicting them as helpless people to be rescued, rather than the massive and diverse population of a city, with some extremely unique experiences and perspectives on Batman, superheroes and supercriminals that we, the viewers, can learn from.
As “Gotham” shows, you can make a whole successful TV series just from the parts of the Batman mythos that aren’t Batman. That’s definitely too extreme for a movie about Batman, but it would serve to look at that, or a comic like “Marvels,” for some inspiration on how to write street level comics characters. The best approach might be to treat them like he treated the less prominent characters in “Argo” — with fidelity to making the hostages look and act like the real people they were based on, while still contextualizing the Iranian revolution, so viewers better understand everyone’s actions.
5. HAVE A SUPER VILLAIN
Of the last decade of superhero movies, which had the most memorable villain with actual super-powers? Can’t remember either? Too often, movie super villains lose whatever distinct character traits they have the second they leap into samey CGI battles. Nolan’s Batfilms didn’t have to worry about this, because the antagonists didn’t have superhuman powers, which would have clashed with the grounded aesthetic.
What we forget, though, is that “grounded” doesn’t have to mean “perfectly realistic.” There’s no reason Batman can’t face a villain with more fantastical powers, and movies like “Chronicle” and the better sections of “Man of Steel” have shown how a combination of cutting edge special effects and more visceral directing style can bring comic superpowers to live action in ways previously unimaginable. Heavily influenced by distinctive directors like Sidney Lumet (of “Network” fame) and films like “White Heat” (which, coincidentally, starred James Cagney, a heavy influence on Heath Ledger’s Joker), Affleck knows why and how to give someone like Mr. Freeze the visual heft they deserve.
4. MAKE IT TENSE
Just because you have the money to make a sprawling epic where 400,000 different things happen, doesn’t mean you have to. The DCEU may have big, epic battles, but they’ve lost the kind of nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat tension that “The Dark Knight” used so effectively. More bluntly, we’re running out of ways to to show a city be destroyed or potentially destroyed by a giant beam of light, which has happened in every DCEU movie so far.
The next Batman should certainly have high stakes, but the best route may be to focus the tension, rather than spread it all over the place. Fortunately, its director just happens to be behind some of the more thrilling cinematic sequences of the past few years, especially in the hostage escape portions of “Argo.” Whatever his Batman movie is about, Affleck has shown a talent for streamlining multiple threads of action into excitement you get lost in, not feel lost in.
3. MAKE A MYSTERY
Even if you think Nolan’s trilogy is the definitive cinematic version of Batman, there’s a way to be even more definitive. Add the one key aspect of Batman it lacked: his status as The World’s Greatest Detective. Love it or hate it, “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” was on the right track whenever it focused on Batman’s detective work, but a well-written solo Batfilm could go a lot further in showcasing the Caped Crusader’s “Sherlock”-esque deductive skill.
Anyone who’s seen the neo-noir mystery in “Gone Baby Gone,” where two private investigators scour Boston to find an abducted girl, knows the director/star of the next Batman movie can put together a winding mystery worthy of the character’s abilities. Whether it’s The Riddler, Poison Ivy or any villain that decides to get bound within Gotham’s vast, clandestine underworld, there’s no shortage of Batman mysteries to draw from for a movie that, structurally, would stand apart from the rest of the superhero movie pack as a mystery.
2. DON’T MAKE IT ALL ABOUT BRUCE
When portraying the most popular superheroes, it’s easy to get wrapped up in… well, hero worship, focusing solely on how great and godly they are. Since Batman is one of the greatest superheroes of all time, it’s especially easy to do nothing but admire the Caped Crusader. Even Zack Snyder’s intensely superhero-critical “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” fell into that trap most of the time.
From his extremely annoying character in his own breakthrough “Good Will Hunting,” to his self-parodies in Kevin Smith movies and the “nice guy who turns out to be not so great” in “Gone Girl,” Affleck has always been one of the few movie stars willing to play unlikeable characters. More importantly, he’s willing to cede the spotlight, like when he didn’t even appear as an actor in his directorial debut. A willingness to do this opens a whole new world of possibilities for a Batman movie, like making someone other than Bruce the point-of-view character. Imagine learning about Batman through the eyes of, say, Barbara Gordon, or a recently arrived Damian Wayne. Batman feels fresher already, right?
1. SHOW A NEW SIDE OF BATMAN
Readers, thanks for making it this far, While you’re welcome to continue reading, we’re now going to address the real target audience of this article. This goes out to Mr. Affleck…
As you begin preproduction on your Batman film, we greatly appreciate you listening to our input. We know you have your own ideas, which may not be compatible with ours, and we’re okay with that — it’s your movie, after all! But even if you don’t follow any of our other recommendations, please remember the core beneath all of them. Find a new way to show us Batman!
For a character that’s been around for almost 80 years, the versions we’ve seen onscreen have all been remarkably similar, especially as of late. Please don’t lose the drive to make original movies just because this one stars Batman. Make the most unique, most you Batman possible. And please — for the love of god — please don’t give us more Wayne parents murder flashbacks. That is something no viewer needs to see again.
Do you think Affleck’s Batman will be a hit? What do you think he can or will bring to the franchise? Let us know in the comments!
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