Well… he’s got the chin for it.
The news came in last night: Ben Affleck is the new Batman. Following weeks of active speculation (and over a year of vague speculation after the uncertain ending of The Dark Knight Rises), Warner Bros. finally made it clear that the new Dark Knight is the 41-year-old director, producer and star of last year’s critically acclaimed Best Picture Oscar-winner, Argo, a movie almost everybody loves.
Naturally, people couldn’t be more pissed.
Thanks, internet. You’ve proven once again that we can’t have nice things.
Ben Affleck is a better director than he is an actor, I think many of us can agree on that. Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo were all impressive character dramas with a genre edge, and two of them starred Affleck himself in some of the best performances of his three decade-long career. Are there better actors in the world? Sure. Could the same be said for Christian Bale? Absolutely, although his list would be quite a bit shorter than Affleck’s.
Ben Affleck’s many respectable performances in films like Boiler Room, Good Will Hunting, Changing Lanes, Hollywoodland and To the Wonder don’t seem to mean squat to most people – on Twitter at any rate – because he was in bad movies too. Here are some of them: Gigli. Surviving Christmas. Paycheck. Pearl Harbor. Phantoms. What the heck, let's mention Gigli one more time, just for shits and giggles.
But in case you've forgotten, Christian Bale was in crap too… like Reign of Fire, Harsh Times and that one particularly awful version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Not everyone likes Swing Kids or Newsies either. Michael Keaton was both Mr. Mom and Johnny Dangerously, two perfectly decent comedies that nevertheless convinced everyone everywhere that he was uniquely ill-suited to play Batman before the first Tim Burton movie came out in 1989 and proved them all wrong.
So let's focus instead on the simple matter that while Ben Affleck is not God’s gift to acting, he’s not bad at all when the material suits him, and he’s been getting much better at it lately. Could he still suck? Sure, it's possible, but we won't find out for sure for a couple years, when Superman vs. Batman (or whatever the hell they call the Man of Steel sequel when all is said and done) finally comes out in theaters. For now at least, let's take solace in the fact that we could do worse than Ben Affleck.
And while, yes, that is damning with faint praise – “We could do worse” isn’t worth yelling from any rooftops, now is it – it is also not cause for alarm. When the call rang out from smart phones all around the restaurant in which I was sitting tonight, like some weird-ass version of the ending of the The Lawnmower Man, everyone looked around flabbergasted. "Ben Affleck?!" they said. “It could be worse,” I said. To which someone actually incredulously replied, “How…?!”
They could have cast Ashton Kutcher, people. They could have cast Gerard Butler. They could have cast Dane Cook. I know we were all getting used to the idea of Josh Brolin playing Batman, and that would have been cool, but if Ben Affleck is our silver medal, then we should thank our lucky stars that the head honchos at Warner Bros. haven’t completely lost their minds. They cast a good actor with impressive credits to his name, a name which is by now one of the most respected in any entertainment industry, after building his reputation up again after years of disreputable crap like…
Oh right. Daredevil.
Look, Ben Affleck has played a superhero before. His name was Daredevil. Like Batman, he was a dark, urban hero with a tragic past whose best stories were often written by Frank Miller. And his movie wasn’t very good. Some would even say it’s absolutely awful. Some say that this sullies Ben Affleck’s good name, at least as far as superheroes are concerned.
That’s okay. Those people are probably wrong about all sorts of things.
Oh, don’t get me wrong… Daredevil sucks, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame Ben Affleck for it, and I never did. I’m not backtracking here just because the argument suits me: Ben Affleck may not have been particularly good in Daredevil, but he wasn’t the movie's problem. The problem was a filmmaker, Mark Steven Johnson, who had a halfway decent screenplay (his own, no less) and no particular clue about how to bring it to life. The action sequences were atrocious, the score was nothing but contempo-pop songs that everyone hates now (Evanescence, I need say little more), and even better actors than Affleck who were left drifting in the wind: Michael Clarke Duncan, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Joe Pantoliano… hardly a slew of Daniel Day-Lewises, but not one slouch among them, at least when their director knows what they’re doing.
And if nothing else, by now Ben Affleck has turned into a pretty good director in his own right, so hopefully if Zack Snyder tells him to do something he doesn’t agree with, Affleck will just start scratching himself with his Oscar and ask Snyder if he's really serious. And if Snyder says he is serious, Affleck will just start picking his nose with his other Oscar. And then he'll walk away. Laughing. Laughing out loud.
But if you seriously can’t get past the whole Daredevil thing, if you seriously think he can't play Batman because he already played Daredevil in a film made back when the modern superhero movie was still in its infancy and everyone thought that the first X-Men was as good as the genre could possibly get, here are some other actors who made the transition from one comic book superhero to another. Some, admittedly, more successfully than others. I hope you find it encouraging, or at least not an incitement to riot.
Keep an open mind, people. You don’t want to seem less progressive than Warner Bros., do you? They won’t even green light a Wonder Woman movie, for God's sake.