While I don’t love giving my former employer the clicks, this video I wrote and narrated over there almost exactly a year ago serves as a great appetizer for today’s Revenge Report. So check it out if you’d like to understand some of the greater context for what we’ll be discussing today regarding Ben Affleck’s tenure as Batman. Timeline-wise, this was made after Ben Affleck departed the director’s chair for The Batman but before Matt Reeves took over:
As should be evident by the above, I’ve been covering this Affleck/Batman situation for a looooong time. It’s honestly an exhausting situation, since it’s so volatile and different than almost any comparable story you can find. It’s challenging, both as a reporter and as a fan, to try and understand what’s going on over there.
Today, what I’m looking to do is answer one key question I get asked a lot:
It’s all very confusing, trying to understand why a legendary studio and an A-List talent like Affleck can’t seem to get on the same page over a property as beloved as Batman. But it seems to all come down to expectations. In short, this whole Batman/DCU thing isn’t what Affleck bargained for when he signed on in 2013. As an insider confided in me, “This is not what he thought it would be.”
See, when Affleck signed up to play Batman he thought it was going to be something akin to what happened with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Those films were adored by fans and critics alike, and the studio gave Nolan all kinds of leeway to pursue the things he loves while making Batman movies.
There’s an old adage in Hollywood, where filmmakers/actors look at projects in a “One for them, one for me” way. What this means is, they’ll do some big studio blockbuster so that they can get the clout and the funding to make a movie that matters to them afterward. It’s a compromise that usually benefits everyone involved. In the case of Nolan, it went perfectly.
Throughout his time as the Dark Knight helmer, he was able to pursue and develop his original ideas at the same time:
2005: Batman Begins
2006: The Prestige
2008: The Dark Knight
2012: The Dark Knight Rises
See? It was a perfect tit-for-tat exchange. Nolan got to have his cake and eat it too, all while maintaining the air of “a prestigious filmmaker making revered, high-minded pop art.” Affleck thought he’d be getting that same treatment.
The problem is, things didn’t work out that way.
At the time of his signing for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2013, Affleck was already actively developing a film that was a passion project for him, Live By Night. He and Warner Bros. had been developing the film since 2012, and it was believed that he’d get to make it in time for a Christmas 2015 release. Had everything gone according to plan, he would’ve filmed BvS in mid-2014, then he’d move on to Live By Night.
Then Warner Bros. decided to substantially delay Batman v Superman to give “the filmmakers time to realize fully their vision, given the complex visual nature of the story.” This not only meant that the release of the DC tentpole would get shifted from July 2015 to May 2016 (and then March), but it also meant Affleck had to delay his Live By Night plans. His passion project suddenly got bumped from Christmas 2015 to October 2016 (then, ultimately, December).
As you can see, an awful lot of shuffling happened when the studio decided BvS needed to be retooled. As others have reported, part of that retooling was to accelerate the expansion of the DC Universe. They really wanted to get to a Justice League movie, and to have a fully-functioning shared universe created in a very expedited way.
The problem is, Affleck wasn’t counting on everything becoming so rushed and haphazard.
He thought he’d make BvS, then have all the time in the world to make Live By Night, then have time to adequately develop The Batman while filming Justice League 1 & 2 (which was going to be shot as one long two-part movie), then- perhaps- pursue another passion project, then make his The Batman. There’s a strong belief that he would’ve used his solo Bat flick to transition himself out of the role in a very Batman Beyond-esque storyline. And that would’ve been it for his DCU commitments, save for the occasional cameo as Old Man Wayne.
Instead, there was the aforementioned BvS delay, a highly-stressful and truncated production for Live by Night which was seen as a colossal failure and left him feeling like they’d screwed him over, right into a hasty Justice League production, all while Warner Bros. was trying desperately to rush him into The Batman.
How rushed, you ask? I’m told that in the weeks leading up to his exit from the director’s chair in January 2017, Warner Bros. was pushing him hard to have The Batman in production by April 2017. They were even setting aside the sound stages for it on their California lot- instead of in London like most of the DC projects- in order to make it more appealing for him to film closer to home. This was despite him voicing that there was no real script in place. He wasn’t satisfied with what he, Geoff Johns, and Chris Terrio had come up with- and yet WB had their foot on the gas pedal and actors like Jeremy Irons and Joe Manganiello were publicly discussing how filming would begin in the spring!
He could’ve gone along with that, appeased the studio, and produced The Batman with a script he wasn’t in love with. If he had, we’d have an Affleck-directed The Batman arriving this year. But he couldn’t stomach the thought of doing this in another rushed and half-baked away. So, instead, he vacated the director’s chair and stepped away from writing it altogether.
He was still sore about what happened with Live By Night, he resented that his DCU commitments had basically swallowed up all of the momentum he’d built up after The Town and Argo had brought him to the top of the mountain, and he was also facing personal issues; He was going through a messy divorce and struggling with addiction, a problem for which he attended rehab in late ’16/early ’17.
He was done. He was spent. He was over it.
An extra layer in all of this that added to the bitter taste in everyone’s mouth is that, unlike Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, the DC films Affleck was involved in weren’t being received well. Batman v Superman was ravaged by critics, given a tepid Cinema Score by fans, and failed to live up to its box office potential; Suicide Squad was another critical disaster that became a blemish on the DC brand. So Affleck wasn’t even getting to enjoy the outcome of his work, and the studio was scrambling to course-correct instead of running a victory lap.
And then, making matters even more tense, Warner Bros said they needed him for extensive Justice League reshoots. Reshoots with a different writer and director, which were part of a desperate measure to “fix” a movie that had already been very taxing on him.
Not a good situation. Not at all.
And this brings us to the crux of the issue. Affleck hadn’t bargained for any of this. And the very public on-again/off-again relationship between him and WB/DC has even led to fans turning on him, which both parties are keenly aware of.
My source has pointed out that the studio is also disappointed, since “he didn’t RDJ this thing” like they’d hoped. That RDJ verb, of course, is referring to the impact Robert Downey Jr. had on grounding the Marvel Cinematic Universe as its A-list centerpiece star. When they snagged Affleck, hot off the Academy love shown to Argo, they thought they were getting their “face of the franchise.”
Instead, this entire entanglement didn’t work out for either side.
Where Does This Leave Us?
I keep pestering my sources for updates, and here’s the most I can offer you at the moment, directly from one of them:
“The present Batman is still Affleck. A change in cowl will not happen publicly until Ben is officially gone, and he is currently The Batman. But like we have said, it’s a negotiation thing right now. Not money, but appearances and creative. Ben isn’t wanting to vacate, but not wanting to commit fully.”
So we’re still in this strange limbo, where it sounds like he’s got one foot out the door while still being open to sticking around if the creative end of things comes together. Matt Reeves, as we know, has set up his contingency plan. Last year, he met with several actors for the role, and he walked away from those talks wanting Jake Gyllenhaal to be his Bruce Wayne/Batman if Affleck officially drops out.
Muddying the waters is that Warner Bros still wants to “maintain a professional relationship” with Affleck, according to the insider, which is why they won’t just show him the door while his contract is still active.
I swear, this is like watching a romantic relationship where you know both sides need to move on, yet they keep kissing and making up and then fighting and breaking up on an endless loop until you just don’t care anymore.
Like I said at the outset, it’s exhausting.
For now, it comes down to the creative decisions that are made. It sounds like Affleck is open to sticking around, but it’d have to be for a set amount of appearances and with scripts he really believes in. With Reeves seemingly wanting to make a trilogy of Batman films, that would require a commitment of at least six years, with Flashpoint mixed in. So we’re talking four Batman appearances in films that haven’t even been written yet, with a gun-shy Affleck who’s closer to 50 than 40 and already smarting from signing on for DC films that don’t have completed scripts.
Now do you see why this situation is so volatile?
That’s all I’ve got for you, kids.
At this point, I’m throwing up my hands and I’m tempted to just not report on any Batman murmurs I hear until an official decision is made and announced (which I’m hoping will come when DC launches its own news service). Cause this is like trying to do play-by-play on a game of tug-of-war!
I’ll vent a little bit more on this matter on today’s El Fanboy Podcast, but- for now- I’m ready to step away from the batcave until the landlord actually tells who’s living in there for the next few years.
Wish I had something more concrete to share with you, but I’m happy to help you at least understand what all the drama stems from.
For now, I’ve got a podcast to record! See you Monday.