Off-Brand Batman


Warner Bros. unmasked the next caped crusader last night, apparently finding a way to write casting poetry. The first live-action iteration of Batman kicked off as a fifteen-part serial in 1943. Lewis G. Wilson played the Bat, and, in addition to the barbs about the innovative places he hid fudge (see: his utility belt), critics grumbled about the unhidden Boston accent. Lo and behold, a Southie will suit up for the 2015 release. Ben Affleck will be Bruce Wayne.

For those of you who like to tie history into a nice bowtie with the present, roots are about the only thing the Bostonians have in common. Wilson was a young unknown when he took on the role at 23, his face proving far more believable as the billionaire superhero than his physique. Affleck’s been around a time or two, a proven commodity, and he’ll rock the suit. Now, if you wanted to focus on a different bit of history—circa 2003—the conversation shifts.
That was ten years ago, though. Affleck’s since reinvented himself as a serious filmmaker. Aided by the forgotten-boy narrative of last year’s Oscars, Affleck’s reemerged as a Hollywood darling—a guy not so outside or begrudged against the system to brush off an Oscar snub. These are his people who rejected then vindicated him. He overcame, almost as if it were scripted. That’s what he’ll bring to Zach Snyder’s Batman in two years. We’ll supply the shouldered chip, Affleck can brood to Snyder’s content (see: Argo, To the Wonder), and it wouldn’t be outside the thesp’s comfort zone for the new Dahk Knight to splice in a touch of charm here and there.

Perhaps this makes him the perfect fit, then. Of all the names tossed around since Comic Con—a collection that included Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin—Affleck seems like the established actor least likely to steal Henry Cavill’s thunder. Affleck simply isn’t that sort of actor, this role not being that sort of role. Snyder fashioned an operatic, on-the-nose universe in Man of Steel. The cast, if asked to do much, seemed most utilized as instruments in the accompaniment. Affleck’s always been an actor who can hit the note needed of him and then move on. He’s a Sheryl Crow to our desired Melissa Etheridge.

Despite the resurgence, Affleck seems a choice that should most appropriately inspire pause. The immediate reaction has been less than positive, but it must be remembered that “immediate reaction” in a case such as this translates to fanboy/-gal approval/disapproval. I’ve always found Affleck a strangely bland leading man—gradually acting in his films as a director not named Quentin Tarantino might. He understands the craft, what needs to be done and when, but he lacks the electricity of an onscreen star. His greatest asset for the role, as we speculate, seems to be that made-for jaw.

But the real trouble—and this casting reaffirms it—is that this Batman was never going to match par. Batman brings along loads of baggage, both narratively and as a piece of pop culture. So, what must be done? Snyder has to reduce him down to his basic parts. After audiences so thoroughly grappled with the character’s intricacies in The Dark Knight trilogy, a supporting Batman is doomed to dissatisfy.

Affleck’s a bit cut-and-paste, but the current affection for him counterbalances the predisposed shortcomings of the role. He won’t do with this Batman what Heath Ledger did as Batman’s nemesis. He’ll step in, hopefully we’ll like him, but regardless we’ll leave the multiplex thinking the movie was still a Superman movie. This is what Snyder wants. He’s making a sequel to Man of Steel, not a superhero mashup. Someone like Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels) could’ve shaken the franchise’s core. Affleck, on the other hand, is a safe choice, even if it feels a bit like your favorite band announced a three song LP instead of a full album.

Related Posts

  • Review: Argo (2012)Review: Argo (2012)
    Argo is simultaneously Ben Affleck’s most accomplished directorial feature and his least passionate. The film is incredibly well mounted on every level, from the juggling of an expansive ensemble c...
  • Trailer: To the WonderTrailer: To the Wonder
    After visiting Mont Saint-Michel, Marina and Neil come to Oklahoma, where problems arise. Marina meets a priest and fellow exile, who is struggling with his vocation, while Neil renews his ties wit...
  • Trailer: Runner, RunnerTrailer: Runner, Runner
    A businessman who owns an offshore gambling operation finds his relationship with his protégé reaching a boiling point. Stars Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton and A...
  • Review: Batman Mask of the PhantasmReview: Batman Mask of the Phantasm
    Very rarely can a movie adapted from television capture or maintain the momentum of the original show which it was based on. This is not to say it cannot be done, but merely that it is difficult t...
  • Review: Batman Year One (2011)Review: Batman Year One (2011)
    After years of waiting, and being teased with moments from Batman Begins, comic book fans finally have one of the classic storylines brought to film. Batman: Year One is an incredibly faithful and ...

Kyle Burton

Director of Television
I recently graduated with honors from the University of Missouri with a BA in Film Studies and English. I wrote and edited video for Syndicate Mizzou, I've blogged for The Missouri Review (one of the most reputable literary journals here in the states) and currently work there, and I presented a paper on zombie folklore and 28 Days Later and the 2012 Missouri Folklore Society conference.

Latest posts by Kyle Burton (see all)

  • Tom

    “Affleck, on the other hand, is a safe choice, even if it feels a bit like your favorite band announced a three song LP instead of a full album.” Such a great line. This article raises some great points and questions about this. I’m really, really on the fence about it. Like the guy as an actor, but to be as frustratingly vague with my complaint as possible here, I think I just . . . . “don’t see him” donning the cape and cowl. But as you mentioned, if he is relegated to more of a side role here, perhaps that will paper over the fact that another huge A-lister just became a part of the Batman revolving door of actors. If he doesn’t have too much to do, Affleck could easily contribute to a grander scheme in Man of Steel 2 which would be nice. I def don’t think that we want nor can Snyder afford to utilize Batman AS MUCH AS he does Cavill in the movie; if we thought the first film was bloated, a bit cumbersome and ultimately bombastic, imagine what a 2-hour, 45-minute Batman vs Superman film would be like! Good post.