When Man of Steel's thoroughly respectable $668M international box office didn't quite meet Warner Bros.' expectations, the studio wasted no time in enacting what they assumed would be a bulletproof plan to net a billion dollars on the film's sequel. They would pit a fledgling Superman at odds with an older, more cynical Batman in a riff on Frank Miller's much celebrated The Dark Knight Returns mini-series. Never ones for half measures, they'd aim another of their biggest guns at the film, Ben Affleck, who had recently brought acclaim and awards to the studio with his superlative Argo.
On paper, it seemed like a slam dunk. The result was the highly divisive Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice... and the studio has been wondering what went wrong ever since. Not only was the film panned by critics, it failed to meet WB's 10-figure expectations. Would that the studio's woes had ended there! Battling difficult personal circumstances, Affleck stepped away from directing the Caped Crusader's solo film (tentatively titled The Batman). While recent speculation as to whether the actor would walk away from the role altogether has been put to rest, the debate rages as to whether Ben will, or should continue. He's got some things working for and against him:
15 FOR: HE'S SUPER TALENTED
Watching his films Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo, it's clear that Affleck has directorial talent. Hell, even the ill-fated Live By Night had its moments, but while today he is mostly lauded as a director, let's not forget that the man can act. For every Gigli there's a Gone Girl, for every Daredevil, a Good Will Hunting. Say what you will about Kevin Smith, but the performance he got out of Ben in Chasing Amy ranks as one of the most earnest and winsome of either men's career.
He's a terrific actor with the presence and gravitas that the role demands. Moreover, Warner Bros. have made no secret of the fact that he has been an active influence behind the camera for Zack Snyder's Justice League. He has the intelligence, talent and industry experience to leave an impression on the Batman mythology that will last for generations.
14 AGAINST: HE MAY BE TOO IN-DEMAND
Of course, Affleck's greatest attribute may also be his greatest shortcoming. While Live By Night wasn't the runaway smash hit that he and the studio were expecting, he remains one of Hollywood's most sought after commodities. He's an accredited actor, writer, director and producer. Bluntly speaking, he's one of the busiest and most in-demand guys in town and, as much as he may love playing Batman, he's going to want to pursue other projects outside of the DCEU, as well he should.
Warner Bros. are clearly trying to hedge their bets with films like Batgirl, Nightwing and Gotham City Sirens by fleshing out the world immediately around Batman to reduce Affleck's commitments to the DCEU outside of the odd cameo here and there. Batman is DC's most popular and profitable character. Maybe we deserve an actor who can commit more time to the role.
13 FOR: HE LOVES COMICS
Actors are cognizant of how much playing a comic book character can raise their public profile, and they very often want to get off on the right foot when it comes to addressing the fans. As such, they're usually very vocal about the adoration they discover for their respective characters upon doing their research, citing beloved issues and storyarcs like they've been trawling through long boxes all their lives.
While it's fantastic that such talented and high profile people are joining the ranks of comic book fandom, it's important to remember that Ben is (and always has been) one of us. Just listen to the passion with which he talks about Batman. Just read the heartfelt and articulate foreword he wrote for the trade paperback of his friend Kevin Smith's Daredevil story "Guardian Devil". He gets comics. He loves comics.
12 AGAINST: WE STILL HAVEN'T FORGIVEN HIM FOR DAREDEVIL
Mark Steven Johnson's heart really was in the right place when he made 2003's ill-fated cinematic debut of the Man Without Fear. For all the film's love and ambition, its reach exceeded its grasp. It's perhaps a testament to the depth and complexity of the character and his world that the material is far better suited to a 13-episode Netflix show than a 2-hour movie that the studio were clearly trying to force into the Spider-Man mold.
Affleck's performance certainly wasn't the worst thing in the film, but looking at what the actor would reveal himself to be capable of later in his career, perhaps he just wasn't ready for a role like this. Sure some awkward dialogue and wrong headed scenes didn't help, but there's a maturity and gravitas to Affleck's later work that's sadly absent here.
11 FOR: HE'S GOT THE LOOK DOWN
Not to denigrate the work of the many wonderful actors who've come before, but at 6'4" and 228 lbs, Affleck lifted his way to comic book proportions to match the appearance of the character on the page. In fact, he even surpassed his comic book counterpart who (as any comic book nerd knows) stands at 6'2" and weighs a hefty 210 lbs.
This was because the actor and Zack Snyder wanted this version of Batman to appear to be a credible threat for Henry Cavill's super powered and super-swole Last Son of Krypton. Physical prowess aside, his chiseled good looks and easy charm make him visually the most comic book accurate Batman we've seen so far on film. Despite having a head of hair that most men in their 40s would kill for, Affleck even suggested wearing a wig to make his hairline match Bruce Wayne's.
10 AGAINST: HE'S NOT GETTING ANY YOUNGER
In today's Hollywood, nobody makes films anymore. Hollywood is in the business of making franchises! Why make millions when you can make billions in sequels, prequels and team-ups? Not to mention all of that lucrative merchandising revenue. In this light, studios tend to loom for longevity in their principal cast. They just don't want the right guy for today, they want the right guy for 10 years from now.
How many years should we expect Affleck (now 44) to keep subjecting himself to the punishing workout regimen and demanding schedule of playing Batman? He looks fantastic for any age, let alone his age and since he's kicked some bad habits, he's likely in fantastic health... But how long can he keep playing the game? How long before he just stops looking plausible in the cowl?
9 FOR: HE'S A COUP FOR ANTI-AGEIST CASTING
Conventional logic dictates that youth sells. All the big brands want healthy, sculpted, youthful faces and bodies associated with their products and this is about as relevant in superhero cinema as anywhere else. For generations when the big 4-0 came calling it meant you were relegated to playing someone's dad. But, the times they are a-changing.
Hollywood is slowly waking up to the fact that men and women over 40 might just have something to say that the all-important, cash-filled 16-24 year-old demographic will pay to hear. The MCU set something of a precedent for this when they cast a 42 year-old Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and fans have cheered him on as he's continued to play the role going into his 50s. We've seen many 30-something Batmen but the casting of a middle-aged actor allows for an interesting new take.
8 AGAINST: HE REALLY DOESN'T NEED THE PRESSURE
Batman is supposed to be a psychological car crash riddled with neuroses, but we all want to see the actor playing him happy, well-adjusted and ready to turn up for work. Ben's been going through a lot of stuff recently. Battling alcohol dependency must be tough as hell, but combined with a heart-wrenching divorce (however amicable) must be an absolute nightmare.
Couple that with the actor having to wipe egg off his face from the critical panning of (the frankly underrated) Live By Night and it's no wonder the guy stepped down from directing The Batman. Given the unparalleled degree of scrutiny that Batman films tend to receive from the character's fans, it all adds up to an unfair amount of pressure that would make any actor want to crack. And a miserable Ben Affleck benefits absolutely no-one.
7 FOR: HE GENUINELY CARES
It came as a shock to everyone when Batman V Superman was laughed out of Hollywood. Fans who loved it were astonished that the film had earned such vitriol among the majority of critics and the fans who hated it were astounded that something that seemed like such a surefire hit had gone so terribly wrong. Nobody, however, was more shocked and devastated than the people who made the film.
Zack Snyder admitted that he was 'caught off guard' and Ben Affleck appeared genuinely devastated in the interview now immortalized as the "sad Affleck" meme. While Henry Cavill stepped up to the plate like an absolute champ to politely rebuff the criticism, Ben remained mute, looking inconsolable. That's the face of a man who cares. It's the face of a perfectionist who's put years of effort into something and is dismayed that it didn't resonate with audiences.
6 AGAINST: HIS SCRIPT FOR THE BATMAN WAS ABANDONED
If there's a phrase synonymous with the DCEU right now, it's 'page one re-write'. It's been the bane of The Flash's development for some time now. The news of a Flashpoint movie is encouraging, but there's no denying that script problems have haunted the film. Nobody could have suspected that these same issues would plague The Batman.
The pairing of Oscar winning screenwriter Ben Affleck with DC Encyclopedia Geoff Johns seemed like a match made in heaven and after months of tinkering, it seemed like everything was just right. Then Affleck left the director's chair and Matt Reeves climbed aboard with the caveat that the script had to go. While Reeves is absolutely within his right to pursue his own goal for the film, one has to wonder... if Affleck's script is out, are the two going to be on the same page when it comes to The Batman?
5 FOR: HIS CHEMISTRY WITH JEREMY IRONS
There have been some fantastic Bruce/Alfred interactions committed to film. Keaton and Gough were a delight together as were Bale and Caine, but doggone it if Affleck and Irons didn't have the most lovingly antagonistic relationship in Batman V Superman. Their relationship felt lived-in and a little worn at the edges, and that's no mean feat for two actors who share reasonably little screen time.
The relationship transcends the traditionally quasi-paternal dynamic of the Dark Knight trilogy, or the part-familial/part-subservient vibe of the Burton and Schumacher films. This is more of a relationship between equals. Just look at the scene where Bruce fetches Alfred a cup of coffee. It's a tiny but beautifully acted moment which speaks volumes about the balance of power. This looks set to carry into Justice League (ah, that line about exploding penguins) and long may it continue in the DCEU.
4 AGAINST: IS HIS HEART STILL REALLY IN IT?
After Batman V Superman, Ben Affleck started working on his script for The Batman, even as he was instrumental in behind the scenes tinkering with Justice League. All of these could surely have given rise to Ben forming a very specific vision of who and what his interpretation of Batman is. Now that vision has been jettisoned and replaced with something else.
While Affleck has been very vocal in his respect and admiration for Matt Reeves, not only must it sting to have your take on the character superseded, it must be very difficult to set all your thoughts and ideas aside to get on board with another artist's vision, however much respect you may have for them. If Warner Bros. continue to afford Affleck autonomy over the Batman mythos one minute, then expect him to be more malleable the next, can he really keep his heart in the game?
3 FOR: THE BEST IS YET TO COME
Some fans weren't overly enticed by the prospect of yet another brooding, angry, fractured interpretation of Batman. 1986 was a long time ago and after 30 years' worth of Batman content seasoned with 'essence of The Dark Knight Returns', it's understandable that some may want a break from that all-pervading characterization. Fortunately, Justice League appears to offer exactly that.
Sure, this Batman is still an elusive, shadowy figure but he seems much more comfortable in his role as a hero and a positive force for change. In this film it seems like Affleck's characterization has reached the perfect meeting point between darkness and light. He's not likely to throw any more people into a room with an active grenade, but he's not likely to pull out a Bat Credit Card either. The character seems set on an interesting arc that wouldn't pay off as satisfyingly with a different actor.
2 AGAINST: THE DCEU NEEDS TO LAST FOR HIM TO REALLY COMMIT
Thus far, the DCEU is a mixed bag, but most of us would rather see it continue than throw a whole lot of promising babies out with the bathwater. Matt Reeves has previously said that he has ideas for a Batman trilogy. While this is nowhere close to being set in stone at this point, a trilogy of films is a commitment from an actor that eclipses a lot of Hollywood marriages.
Realistically, a Batman trilogy would take up 10 years of Ben Affleck's life. And that's before he thinks about his commitments to Justice League films and the inevitable cameos in Batgirl, Nightwing, Gotham City Sirens and the like. Ben would be playing Batman up until his mid 50s. Could he do it? Absolutely. But would he want to if it meant passing up a lot of directorial opportunities, not to mention quality time watching his kids grow up?
1 FOR: WE NEED TO SEE THE WORLD'S FINEST UNITED
When we prepared ourselves for the DCEU's superhero smackdown last year, many fans were looking forward to seeing The Dark Knight go blow-for-blow with The Man Of Steel, but far more were looking forward to seeing them shaking hands on a rooftop afterwards, their differences reconciled and the World's Finest partnership cemented.
While we kind of got some reconciliation between Bruce and Clark, it didn't deliver the catharsis that fans had hoped for. It's great to see Bruce lament the error of his ways and re-invent himself as someone worthy of Superman's sacrifice, but we've still yet to see one of the most compelling friendships in comics writ large on the big screen. Could the DCEU achieve this without Affleck in the role? Possibly. Would it carry the same weight? Let's face it, probably not.
Are you with Affleck as Batman or against him? Sound off in the comments section right now!