Vacating The Cowl: In Defense of Ben Affleck

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In light of the recent rash of rumors and behind-the-scenes whispers spilling out onto the web regarding Ben Affleck vacating the role of Batman in the cinematic leg of the DC Universe, I think it’s important for everyone to understand a few key things. Prior to reading this, I strongly urge you to check out this comprehensive report I put together earlier this year which chronicles many of the UPs and DOWNs of Affleck’s relationship with the role (and, more importantly, the people responsible for making these movies):

CLICK HERE For A Brief Batfleck History Lesson

This piece you’re about to read is going to expand on the What Happened? section of the above piece, as it seems more and more that a final decision has been made.

“Vacating The Cowl: In Defense of Ben Affleck”

By Mario-Francisco Robles (@I_AM_MFR)

Following my sharing of some behind-the-scenes gossip (aka “bochinche” for those of you who speak spanglish) I’ve been hearing that Ben Affleck’s run as Batman is over, I’ve seen some disconcerting remarks made about the actor. Some question his dedication to the role; Some wonder why he’d bail on it before even making a proper solo film; Others deride him for damaging the Batman brand by abandoning ship during this crucial pivot point for the DCU. But I think it’s important to understand that there’s a ton of blame to go around here, and very little of it belongs to Ben Affleck.

In fact, most of this is the result of a rash, reactionary studio that made several shortsighted decisions that almost permanently crippled a franchise that should- by every reasonable expectation- be at the top of the pop culture food chain.

The first thing that anyone mad at Ben Affleck needs to understand is that he didn’t need to be Batman.

As much as we all love the character, and are obsessive about comic book movies, we also have to understand that Affleck was at the pinnacle of his career when he signed on to be the new Bruce Wayne. He was an Academy Award darling who’d just fought and battled back to the top of the mountain after several years of being a punchline. We must not forget that in the early 00s, the Affleck ship had come ashore. Following a succession of poorly-received movies (in 2003 he released Paycheck, Daredevil, and Gigli. Talk about a rough year!), and some decisions made in his personal life that made him tabloid fodder, he was forced to lie low for a while.

From 03-07, Affleck appeared as more of an ensemble player in smaller films as he worked to rehabilitate a career that had started off so promisingly when Good Will Hunting made him a critical darling in 1997. Then in 2007, he found his first success behind the camera with Gone Baby Gone.

Let’s please note that the Ben Affleck brand was so weak at this point that his name only appears at the bottom in the same tiny letters as the rest of the crew.

That was the first step towards climbing back up to the top.

Then in 2010, he released The Town, a film that he directed, starred in, and co-wrote. This suddenly put him back on everyone’s radar in a positive way, following six years of lying low.

His comeback reached its zenith in 2012 with Argo, another film he directed and starred in.

Argo would go on to win three Academy Awards, and Affleck won a pair of Best Director awards from the Golden Globes and BAFTA for his work on the film. So in the spring of 2013, Affleck was on top of the world!

With this kind of acclaim surrounding him, and having won back the respect of audiences and the film industry, the world was his oyster. He could’ve continued cementing himself as one of the great filmmakers of this generation, along with one of its finest actors, becoming David Fincher and Brad Pitt all rolled into one.

But then he threw everyone a curveball.

Mere months after reaching the pinnacle of a hard-fought comeback, it was announced that he’d signed on to be the new Batman. While the role is incredible, and it’s one that Affleck himself has compared to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it’s not exactly the first thing you think of for a then-40 year old actor who’s just worked so hard to become respected again. Why? Because you know it’s going to involve a huge time commitment, running around dressed like a giant bat, fighting dudes dressed like clowns. It’s a risky proposition that could either do wonders for you, or- in the wrong hands- lead you to a Daredevil-like backlash.

It’s the kind of job you only take if you have the utmost trust in the creative team you’re working with, and faith in the studio that’s making the film(s). And sure, he’s a Batman fan and he dug the novelty of his son seeing him as The Dark Knight, but believing in the quality of the work has to be the top priority when taking on a commitment like this.

And he had great reason to have that trust and respect at the outset!

Warner Bros. had recently wrapped its Dark Knight Trilogy that had gone wonderfully for both the studio and for director Christopher Nolan. They brought an air of prestige to the genre, and they showed that the studio was willing to support serious filmmakers wanting to do mature, thought-provoking things with comic book characters. So Affleck, at the jump, thought he was signing on for something that would do for him what it did for Nolan and Christian Bale. They were able to make these movies while actually adding to the luster and air of respectability surrounding their careers. It didn’t cheapen them, it made them even more loved.

He signed on for four films, which would’ve included Batman v SupermanJustice League 1 & 2, and The Batman, with a cameo in Suicide Squad. And- if we’re meant to believe some old rumors- the original plan was for his Bruce to “pass down the cowl” to a younger character in a sort nod to Batman Beyond. That way, he’d be in and out of this commitment within five years, and would have the flexibility to appear in cameos as Old Man Wayne in future DC movies if he wanted.

The problem is: The plan didn’t work out.

As I outlined in the aforementioned History Lesson, the time commitment began to suffocate and overshadow his non-DC career. His passion project, Live By Night, suffered tremendously because of the delays and retooling that went into BvS– a film that didn’t end up doing his career any favors. Whatever your opinion of the film is, there’s no denying that the reception of BvS was not ideal for Mr. Affleck. Critics hated the mangled theatrical cut (after Warner Bros. hastily, and bafflingly chopped a half hour off of the film that hobbled the story’s flow), and fans gave it an extremely tepid CinemaScore of B.

[Editor’s Note: Since audience metrics like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb can easily be manipulated, and can be voted on by people who haven’t even seen the movie they’re voting for, we must disregard audience scores on sites like those. The only audience metrics the industry pays any attention to are ones like CinemaScore and PostTrak, which poll actual people as they leave the theater to get their direct response to what they’ve just seen on opening night- because opening night crowds are usually the most hardcore fans. Those fans gave BvS a B, the same score they gave to Green Lantern and Catwoman.]

Beyond the reception Batman v Superman received, it’s important to note how the studio mangled all three of his Batman appearances:

  1. Batman v Superman: The aforementioned chopping of a half hour from the theatrical cut, which hurt the story. It’s fairly unanimous that the Ultimate Edition was the better version of the film, yet the studio meddled and it backfired
  2. Suicide Squad: The studio, once again, meddled. They essentially kicked director David Ayer out of the editing bay, hired outsiders to come up with six focus-grouped alternate cuts, and it resulted in a film that- while being received better by fans (B+)- was also panned
  3. Justice League: I don’t think anyone reading this needs a reminder of what the studio did with this movie

With that in mind, if you were Affleck, would you be inclined to continue trusting these people?

“But It’s The Dawning of A New Era!”

Look, no one is more of an optimist than I am. As I spoke passionately about on Friday’s episode of the El Fanboy Podcast, I truly believe that the new leadership at DC Entertainment is going to turn this corner and give us a DCU worth cheering for again. But part of “turning the page,” is creating a whole new launch pad for the series. Nobody wins if Ben Affleck appears in The Batman, only to have him bow out afterward. The studio needs an actor who’s ready to commit for many years to come, somebody who’s younger and hungrier- the way Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot are.

Had the studio stuck to the original plan, the seeds would’ve been planted by now for a Cavill/Gadot type of actor to inherit the cowl as either Terry McGinnis, Dick Grayson, or who ever else they’d want the next cinematic Batman to be (my pick would be Armie Hammer). And Affleck would be able to transition into the “occasional cameo as Old Man Wayne” stage of things. But with all of the shake-ups, changes, and course-corrections that have gone on since 2016, that’s no longer a satisfying option.

So at this point, it’s really in everyone‘s best interests for Affleck to bow out.

The only way this could’ve worked out, beyond sticking to the original plan, is if Affleck were willing to sign a new deal and agree to play the role as Batman for another five or six years (i.e. into his fifties). But when you consider everything I’ve outlined: Why would he? What’s in it for him, at this point? The career he’d worked so hard to rehabilitate is back at a low-point, and if he wants to get back to being the “beloved filmmaker behind such gems as Gone Baby Gone, The Town,  and Argo,” then the only way to do that is to get back out there and make great films like those again; Not committing even longer to a DC franchise that’s trying to rebrand itself and crossing its fingers that mainstream audiences will embrace it again after being so Meh about Justice League.

So if you’re disappointed…trust me, I get it. I loved Ben Affleck in this role. I was never part of the anti-Affleck brigade (remember the backlash when his casting was announced?). I thought his work in Batman v Superman was spellbinding. I could not wait to see more of the Batman we glimpsed in that warehouse scene. I would’ve sawed off my left pinky toe for a standalone detective noir The Batman movie that gave me more of the great chemistry between Affleck and Jeremy Irons as Bruce and Alfred, respectively.

But when you really think about, if it’s true that he’s gone, could you really blame him? And, conversely, with all that’s gone on with the DCU, wouldn’t you rather an actor who’s ready to go the distance as Bruce as the character gets a soft reboot in the form of Matt Reeves’ The Batman? Imagine only having Affleck for one more movie, then recasting the role, while Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Cavill’s Superman remain firmly in place. How unsatisfying would that be? With all of the uncertainty about the DCU’s future, you need to have the actors portraying the Trinity firmly established for the foreseeable future, since they’re the backbone of the entire Universe.

So please keep all this in mind when you react to these rumors and lament Ben Affleck’s exit from the DCU. It stinks, but it’s kind of the only reasonable outcome we could ask for from all involved at this point.

Ok, now it’s time for me to go sit in a corner and lament what might have been…cause it could have been special. Sigh.

Thanks for reading!


About Post Author

Mario-Francisco Robles

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Superman-On-Film. Can be found on Twitter as @iDJWeddings.
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28 thoughts on “Vacating The Cowl: In Defense of Ben Affleck

  1. Back in 2013 when it was announced that Ben was selected for the role of Batman I was a little surprised but also excited considering he was coming off of some career highs (the town, Argo) now fast forward to 2018 and I can’t help but agree with you Mario. As much as it saddens me to see my beloved Batman being dragged around in limbo, Ben Affleck has to go. If as an actor you want to play a part only to not want to play the part for too long then where is the commitment? Where is the love of that character? To me that sounds like a pay day. Which is fine go and get you money by all means, still I believe the character of Batman is special and he means something to a lot of people. Just look at the Russos when they kinda bashed the DC characters about not being “relatable” yet they couldn’t help but wax poetic about Batman. Ben Affleck is a talented figure in the industry; better filmmaker than actor but he is also human and he was going through a lot of personal issues during this whole DCU era which might have affected him and his decisions during the time. I think it’s best for all parties involved that the “Batfleck” era comes to a close. Ben deserves to walk away and work on whatever projects he has going (The accountant franchise could be his saving grace) and WB/DC should focus on moving forward with the character of Batman. I do agree with BOF’s Bill Ramey that maybe we need to let Batman rest for a bit and much like you said Mario let’s have Superman and Wonder Woman carry the load for the DCU going forward. In the meantime we let Matt Reeves create a Batman story Arc that can be something truly special and more importantly come out of nowhere. I want to feel about the first Matt Reeves Batman movie much like I did when I heard about Nolan’s Batman Begins. When I first heard about Batman Begins wasn’t expecting much, I didn’t know much about Nolan as a director, nor did I know much about Bale (other than American psycho), then the trailer dropped and I was immediately on board. The look, the feel, everything about the trailer screamed “you have never seen a Batman like this or a Batman story told this way”. You see that is what we need from a Matt Reeves Batman movie, that shock of seeing a beloved character brought to you in a fashion that you don’t expect with a story just as compelling as the character himself. Which is why I think for the Batman maybe they shouldn’t go with a big name actor. I am not saying cast a new comer but I also feel like big name actor takes something away from the character he is playing unless he is a chameleon (Jake Gyllenhaal). For instance when Bale was cast for the part a lot of people didn’t know Who Bale was, which I think sold his performance as Bruce/Batman that much more. Now I know Reeves (if you believe the rumors) wants Gyllenhaal for the part which means that he has the character written for him in mind. In that case you have to believe in the director and go forward with that casting if it comes to fruition. If it doesn’t I really do feel that they should go with a big name but not a massive star like Ben Affleck. I think Armie Hammer is a great choice (he’s got the acting chops and the physical build for the part) and he isn’t a household name yet. Another name could be Luke Evans (has the acting chops and has been in a big blockbuster action movie Fast Six) he is a bit more well known than Armie Hammer but still not a massive star like Affleck. Now I could keep going with more names but I won’t. Point is I think The Batman must have his time in the shadows before rising to the light once more. One parting gift Ben Affleck did leave us as Batman fans is the Warehouse scene. To this day I still watch it in awe and get sad immediately it’s over because we didn’t get any of that in Justice League and we won’t be getting that in a Ben Affleck Batman movie but damn that warehouse scene is a thing of beauty, a dance of brutal ass whooping that will always get 10s across the board when scored by a panel of judges. Thank you for reading I will definitely be doing this more often.

      1. So I finally had a chance to read your post, and I agree with everything you’ve said. Evans is an interesting choice. I like the idea of avoiding A-listers, because it DOES become a distraction and it limits how long you’ll have them. That’s what made Cavill and Gadot perfect castings for their roles.

        Thanks for sharing your two cents, brother.

      2. Thanks for reading my “Novel” lol, I do really appreciate the class you show in running your site and replying to all of us. Your a good dude Mario, We are very similar you and I, I am married and I have a little girl, but I am also passionate about all things movies, video games, music, comic books. So I definitely respect your approach to the articles you write and the podcasts you produce. No on to the on going Ben Affleck drama… WTF dude!!! WB and Walter Hamada needs to put their put foot down cut him loose. As a Yankees fan and Major League Baseball fan WB needs to DFA (designate for assignment) Ben Affleck from this contract. The drama he keeps bringing is not worth it. They need to move on! Peace out Mario!

  2. Yeah, I think you’re right. Affleck is gone and WB/DC is looking for a long term Bruce Wayne. No Batman Beyond happening at all, they want the true Batman long term. Makes sense.

  3. Just too much negativity and bad PR since Affleck has been attached and not all do to him of course. Emmerich and Hamada do not want anymore bad PR. Affleck should just focus on directing and writing from awhile and also get himself into too shape again. It will do him good.

  4. Sadly, thinking about what could have been is the worst because I can’t understand how they managed to cripple this franchise so badly but we have to move on! I don’t blame Affleck at all for everything that happened but I am tired of all the back and forth. God, what I would give for Armie Hammer as the new Batman!!!

    1. Right? I think he’d be ideal. He’s my top pick (Hammer).

      And yeah. That whole “What might have been” thing here is a total killer.

      1. Not a fan of Hammer. He was terribly bland in both Lone Ranger and Man From Uncle. Nowhere near good enough for Batman.

  5. “Following a succession of poorly-received movies (in 2003 he released Paycheck, Daredevil, and Gigli. Talk about a rough year!”

    Daredevil was VERY well received in 2003. It was only some time later when Affleck bashing came into vogue that revisionist history took hold and it was retconned as a failure. Let’s not forget that Roger Ebert called 2003’s Daredevil ‘the best superhero ever made’ in his review on TV’s Ebert & Roeper and that the film was well received by most critics. It was also a solid box office hit. Remember the Elektra spin off with Jennifer Garner? They don’t make spin offs to box office failures. Daredevil 2 was supposed to shoot after Elektra. The only reason Daredevil 2 didn’t happen was because Affleck didn’t want to make it. (He was also supposed to have a cameo in Elektra and decided against that, too).

    I clear as day remember being in my local comic shop — Showcase Comics in the Granite Run Mall in Media, PA — the day after Daredevil opened. People (customers and staff) were having a debate in the store as to which movie was better: Daredevil or Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man (Spider-Man 2 wouldn’t open for another year)….and Daredevil was winning!

    Daredevil was a well received box office hit that fans and critics liked upon it’s release in 2003. It was only after Gili hit theaters and the Affleck/Jennifer Lopez backlash started that general audiences started to turn on Affleck and the film was retconned as a ‘failure’. In fact it was not.

    1. That’s a fair point, Joe. I guess I was just going by the general consensus these days, which is that it wasn’t any good. Personally, I’ve never seen it and when it was in theaters I paid no mind to it, so I’m only going off of the film’s lingering reputation.

      I DO remember hearing that the home released “Director’s Cut” was much better, so I’d like to check that out one day.

      Thanks for sharing 🙂

    2. The consensus in 2003 is irrelevant today. Yes, it was well received but that view has widely changed. It’s the widespread viewpoint today that counts, and today Daredevil is viewed as an overall poor and failed film.

  6. Affleck’s Batman in BvS is my favorite rendition of the role ever, but conversely his version of Bats in JL was pretty terrible and I chalk that up to Whedon’s writing and direction.

    Affleck needs to move on for his own sake and the Batman character and the DC Films initiative needs him to move on for everyone’s sake. It doesn’t benefit anyone at this point for him to stay.

    The best thing for Matt Reeves to do is make his Batman movie(trilogy) a prequel set 20 years before MoS to where there are no metahumans, nothing else really in the world but Batman and his own concerns. It makes sense narratively and allows the character to really shine in his own element, build his world up and also smooth over the rough patches, hopefully reinvigorating the global audience’s love for the character so he can the be reinstalled back into the DCU proper.

    If the first Reeves movie is good, everyone will forget the shaky, divisive aspects of the Affleck era and just look forward and then we fans can just rest easy in the confidence that future appearances of Batman in the DCU will be based on a strong foundation.

  7. I don’t know what to think at this point, because after all this talk of Ben leaving the role, there was just a rumor that surfaced that said he wanted to stick around. If Ben leaves, I won’t be mad at him. However, I will be very disappointed. I would rather have just one solo film with him in the role and then have the role get recast than to have it get recast now. I don’t think that would be problematic. Michael Keaton being recast with Val Kilmer didn’t hurt Batman Forever at the box office; that film actually made significantly more money than Batman Refurns. Ben is one of the best live-action film Batman we’ve ever had, and it would be a travesty if he were the only one to never get his own solo movie in my opinion.

    1. I think it’s best to recast now so as not to have to mid-series. If this is the first solo film in a series, it makes sense to recast now and get someone younger, hungrier and committed to the long term. Whomever it ends up being.

      1. I know a lot of fans feel that way, and I understand where y’all are coming from, but I disagree. Whether you recast now or recast later, you’re still recasting mid-series, just not mid-SOLO series. Plus, recasting isn’t a huge deal to me in general. It happened TWICE during the Burton/Schumacher quadrilogy, and while Batman Forever and Batman & Robin aren’t exactly the greatest films, the fact that Batman was recast wasn’t the problem with them. To me, it’s more important to get even one solo movie with Ben than it is to have consistency with the Batman actor throughout Reeves’ potential series.

      2. One movie does the series no good, does the studio no good. If Affleck is out, make the break now and make the solo film with someone who wants to be there. Common sense.

      3. In my opinion it does everyone who’s a fan of Batfleck good. It gives us a solo movie with one of the greatest live-action Batmen we’ve ever seen. A rumor surfaced this week that Ben does want to continue on as Batman. It’s just a rumor, so it’s validity isn’t certain, but we don’t know that he doesn’t want to be there for at least one more film.

      4. I agree, we don’t know 100% if Affleck is gone, but IF he is gone, if he IS sick of the role, IF he’s disappointed with everything that’s happened (as Mario has pointed out), then there’s no point making one half-assed film with him when he doesn’t want to be there. That makes ZERO sense to anyone.

      5. OK, if all that is the case, then I agree. However, if the situation is that Ben only wants to do one more film and then wants to move on (but is totally on board to do that one), then I want him to do it even if going into that movie they already know they’re going to have to recast before the next one.

      6. The studio wants someone long term. Irrespective of personal opinions, that IS the way to go for long term cohesion and stability.

      7. That might be what the studio wants, but if so, I think that’s a mistake on their part. Recasting isn’t a huge deal. We’ve seen it before. As I pointed out, Batman was recast TWICE in the Burton/Schumacher quadrilogy. Rachel Dawes was recast midway through The Dark Knight Trilogy. Bruce Banner was recast after The Incredible Hulk. I could go on. It’s not worth missing out on a solo movie with Ben just to avoid having to recast in the middle of a series. They’re already sort of in the middle of a series anyway, since this version of Batman started in Batman v Superman.

      8. What the studio wants is the ONLY thing that counts. They control the money. If Affleck is as disenfranchised as suggested (and even I could see a change in him between BvS and JL), then going NOW is the best move for everyone, as Mario succinctly explained in the above article. End of story!

      9. I’m not saying that ISN’T what the studio will decide; I’m saying that it isn’t the RIGHT choice. Even if they recast now, it’s still technically in the middle of a series. Holding off on that so we can get a solo film with Ben is worth it.

        A rumor just surfaced last week that Ben actually wants to stay on as Batman, so we really don’t know what the truth is right now. There are conflicting reports. I know many people felt he was sleepwalking through Justice League, but I didn’t feel that way at all. I thought he gave a great performance in it, just as he did in Batman v Superman. He just wasn’t given the kind of emotional stuff to work with that he was in Batman v Superman.

      10. If Affleck wants out, then NOW is the right choice for everyone. END OF STORY!

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