Whether Ben Affleck would return as Warner Bros.' Batman remained in question for two years, until it was finally, definitively, answered on Wednesday night with a tweet in which the actor confirmed he won't be part of Matt Reeves' upcoming feature. Although the film's rumored focus on a younger Bruce Wayne is the reported reason behind Affleck's departure, the actor appears to have been on his way out of the DC Extended Universe for a while, dating back at least to the announcement on Jan. 30, 2017, that he would no longer direct The Batman.
Taking on the Dark Knight proved to be challenging to Affleck from the very beginning. When the actor was announced in August 2013 to star as Bruce Wayne in what became Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the internet reacted as it frequently does, with an avalanche of negative tweets, and a wave of petitions. Affleck himself conceded that, initially, "I was reluctant as I felt I didn't fit the traditional mold." Nevertheless, he approached the film with some confidence after seeing what Snyder envisioned.
While the film ultimately proved divisive among critics and audiences alike, Gal Gadot's performance as Wonder Woman and, yes, Affleck's turn as Batman were frequently cited as bright spots. Still, the negativity directed at Batman v Superman clearly left a mark on the actor. That much was painfully clear in an interview with Affleck and co-star Henry Cavill that launched the "Sad Affleck" meme.
Still, Affleck defended the film, and reprised his role as the Dark Knight in 2016's Suicide Squad and, more extensively, in 2017's Justice League. By that point, however, he had already begun to express frustration when peppered with questions about the planned Batman solo film, announced -- perhaps prematurely -- by Warner Bros. in April 2016.
While promoting his action thriller The Accountant, Affleck repeatedly bristled at the attention already given to the Batman movie, which he insisted wasn't even written and, despite his earlier comments, didn't have a title yet. And when Warner Bros. announced a planned 2018 release date, he pushed back. In early January 2017, mere weeks before his departure as director and co-writer, Affleck voiced his frustration with the spotlight on Jimmy Kimmel Live! "It’s one of those things that’s really frustrating," he confessed. "With Live by Night, it took me a year and a half to write and get ready, and I worked really hard and — it’s just, nobody gave a shit! But with Batman, I keep on getting, ‘Where’s the fucking Batman script?!’ I’m like, ‘Whoa — I’m working! Give me a second!'"
Soon after Affleck stepped down, Reeves was hired by Warner Bros. to succeed him. In the months that followed, speculation over the actor's departure from the project, and from the DCEU, only intensified, leading Affleck to proclaim at Comic-Con International 2017, “Let me be very clear, I am the luckiest guy in the world, Batman is the coolest fucking part in any universe.”
But by now it should be clear that Affleck was not enjoying his time in costume the way that, say, his Justice League co-stars Ezra Miller and Gal Gadot do. The troubled production of the film, with Snyder stepping aside following a family tragedy, leaving Joss Whedon to oversee extensive reshoots, certainly did little to restore Affleck's confidence or drive.
Affleck had worked extensively with Geoff Johns, then president and chief creative officer of DC Entertainment, on a Batman screenplay that he thought was worthy of the character. But once Reeves was brought on board, that script, which included a role for Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke, was scrapped in favor of the one that's been teased in dribs and drabs: a noir-inspired story focused on a young Caped Crusader that plays up his reputation as "the world's greatest detective."
Reeves and Affleck clearly have very different ideas of how The Batman (if it's actually called that) should be approached, and creative differences are often a cause for concern in filmmaking. Although it had been rumored Affleck might remain involved, in some sort of framing sequence, in his most recent tweet, he seemed ready to leave the role behind, and happy to participate simply as a member of the audience.
From what we've seen, Affleck simply grew weary of the pressure and the scrutiny that accompanies a big-budget superhero film. His exit seemed all but inevitable, and none of the comments made by Affleck, Reeves or Warner Bros. over the past two years could change that perception. We've witnessed the actor's slow retreat from the DCEU, and from Batman, although he clearly tried his best to remain professional and positive. If this does mean Affleck will never don the cape and cowl again, we'll be sad to see him go.
Directed by Matt Reeves, the Batman movie is scheduled for release on June 25, 2021.