After two years of persistent rumors and speculation, it was finally confirmed last week that Ben Affleck will not star in director Matt Reeves' The Batman. Many fans still hold hope he might reprise his role as Bruce Wayne in a future installment of the so-called DC Extended Universe, but it's likely 2017's Justice League marked his final appearance in the cape and cowl.
News of Affleck's departure trended worldwide on Twitter, which should probably he expected for someone whose casting in 2013 met with overwhelming disapproval on social media. However, during his tenure as the Caped Crusader, the actor managed to win over many of his detractors.
Director Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice might have divided opinions upon its arrival in 2016, but many critics and fans praised Affleck's performance, as well as the infamous warehouse scene that could've been pulled from a Batman: Arkham video game. For the first time ever, we had a Dark Knight on screen who looked and fought like his comic book counterpart.
We didn't have to wait too long to see Affleck's Batman again, as he made an appearance in David Ayer's Suicide Squad, where he interacted with the Joker, Harley Quinn, Deadshot and Amanda Waller in cameos. Once more, he was warmly received by fans and praised for bringing the comic book hero to life.
Unfortunately, while Batfleck soared into our hearts, the period between the releases of Suicide Squad and Justice League is where all the drama started. Affleck was set to direct, co-write and star in The Batman, and then he wasn't. In addition, his demeanor and his conversations about his future as the Caped Crusader changed.
Then, Justice League arrived, featuring arguably Affleck's worst turn as the Dark Knight. This isn't some hindsight reflection, as Neil Daly, who worked on the test screenings of Justice League, said about the audience rankings of the heroes, "Batman and Superman fell way at the bottom of the list."
Daly's comment aside, it's obvious to any discerning eye that those two characters suffered in the director switchover between Snyder and Joss Whedon. In Superman's case, it's obvious which scenes are Whedon's, as the Man of Steel looks like Shrek, due to the infamous Mustache-gate in which the facial hair Henry Cavill grew for Mission: Impossible -- Fallout had to be digitally removed from Justice League reshoots. With regard to Batman, the reshot scenes are also noticeable, as Affleck was out of shape while he battled personal demons.
The writing for the additional scenes was largely terrible. How did the bruising Batman from BvS turn into Phil Dunphy from Modern Family? It's understandable that Superman's death affected him and taught him a hard lesson about tolerance and heroism, but the Dark Knight has never been known to crack jokes like a comedian. Judging by his persona in the movie, it isn't difficult to imagine the studio notes to Whedon saying, "Make Bruce more like Tony Stark. More funny and less brooding."
Moreover, Batfleck's terrific action sequences from BvS were non-existent here. Gone were the heavy-duty takedowns, melee combat, and masterful displays of martial arts. If you think about it, the only memorable Batman-related scene was the Knightcrawler escapade in the facility beneath Gotham Harbor. This is where it would be interesting to see how Snyder's vision differs from Whedon's cut, as it was reported there was a major Batman-centric fight scene in the original vision.
Still, the most heinous crime committed by Justice League was that goofy, love-smitten smile that crossed Batman's face when Superman swooped in for the big fight with Steppenwolf. This was a Batman & Robin-level of bad. While Bruce Wayne considers Clark Kent a valued friend, he doesn't swoon over him. One of the best bits of humor in the comic books is how the Dark Knight sort of shrugs off Clark's abilities, and there's banter from the Man of Steel because of it. That's the true nature of their relationship, not a complete farce where you imagine them singing Will Smith's "Just the Two of Us" on a Gotham rooftop.
While Warner Bros. threw in the classic Batman theme by Danny Elfman to appeal to nostalgia, the portrayal of the Caped Crusader was more akin to George Clooney's performance in the ill-fated Batman & Robin. There were genuine cringe-worthy moments, and you struggled to be fearful of the menacing Bat first introduced in the DC Extended Universe; it felt too cartoonish. It's remarkable how all of Snyder's hard work to make a comics-accurate Batman was undone in 120 minutes of Josstice League.
In sports, there's a saying that you're only as good as your last performance. While Affleck's tenure as Batman will be fondly remembered for its moments of greatness, Justice League will undoubtedly be the blemish that prevents us from unequivocally declaring him as the best actor to have ever donned the cape and cowl.