The Argument for (and Against) Ben Affleck as Batman

Movies Features Ben Affleck
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The news that Batman will appear in the new Man of Steel had fans buzzing with speculation from its first mention, but yesterday we got confirmation of who will fill the leathery boots of one of our most iconic superheroes. Ben Affleck’s casting drew plenty of attention, setting Internet conversation into a frenzy with (mostly negative) questions like didn’t you learn anything from Daredevil? or have we forgotten Gigli?.

Here at the Paste office, we’re divided on the pick. But contrary to the Internet’s opinion, not all of us hate this news. Below, 10 Paste writers and editors weigh in on the unexpected casting news.

Josh Jackson, Editor-in-Chief
Ben Affleck has two Oscars under his belt. He’s an accomplished screenwriter and director. He’s philanthropy work is admirable, and his crazy tabloid existence has settled down since he gave up drinking, married Jennifer Garner and had three kids. His recent roles in Argo, The Town and To the Wonder have all but made us forget a string of roles that included Gigli, Jersey Girl and the could-not-be-more-appropriately-named Paycheck. But I still felt what many superhero fans have expressed when I found out he’d been cast as Batman: “Bummer.”

The partnership of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale was already going to be a hard act to follow. But with Zach Snyder at the helm; the kind-of-goofy, swell-guy persona that Affleck mostly adopts on screen taking over Bruce Wayne; and the already gimmicky, Avengers-coattails-riding Superman/Batman combo flick,  I fear that the comic series is reverting to its cartoonish origins.
Who I would have cast: Idris Elba 

Tim Grierson, Chief Film Critic
In the Christopher Nolan era, the Batman casting has sometimes produced what initially seemed like head-scratching choices. People couldn’t imagine Christian Bale as Batman—although American Psycho at least gave us a hint of what his Bruce Wayne could be like—or the often over-the-top Gary Oldman as the straight-laced Jim Gordon. I still remember all the folks who thought that there was no way Heath Ledger could be a good Joker. (“He’s nothing like Jack Nicholson!” they informed me.) Those choices all paid off handsomely—partly because they were good actors and partly because Nolan’s vision was so strong that he knew exactly how to fit them into it.

Ben Affleck has been doing some of his best acting in the last 10 years. He was marvelous in everything from Hollywoodland to The Company Men to To the Wonder—he’s shown a knack for portraying soulful, slightly broken men, which doesn’t seem that far removed from the “older and wiser” Bruce Wayne he’s going to be playing in this movie. If Nolan were directing this sequel, I wouldn’t have a single concern. But that’s the problem: This Superman-Batman movie will be directed by Zack Snyder, whose Man of Steel was a stiff attempt to recapture Nolan’s somber Dark Knight aesthetic. People shouldn’t be concerned about the Affleck casting—they should be sad that Snyder’s still at the helm of this franchise.

Follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

Sean Edgar, Comics Editor
Let’s take a moment and focus on the other comic book movie Ben Affleck has under his belt besides the one where he fought a bald Colin Farrell in a red leather unitard. Hollywoodland might not have been a CGI tights parade, but it did show the actor can channel some icy pathos when he wants to. Affleck’s turn as ‘50s Superman George Reeves is, ironically, the closest the actor has come to playing a character with the disconnect and trauma of everyone’s favorite vigilante billionaire.

A similar uproar greeted Michael Keaton when Tim Burton cast the Mr. Mom star in 1989’s Batman, but playing against type unleashed a brutal upset performance and, IMHO, the best movie featuring the Dark Knight. Does Zack Snyder have the chops to usher another 180? Probably not, but Affleck’s at least as capable as Christian Bale at throwing a wicked left hook and pah-king the Batmobile at Wayne Manor.
Who I would have cast: Joaquin Phoenix

Michael Burgin, Assistant Film Editor
Frankly, with the mask on, it doesn’t matter that much who plays the Bat—it’s more about how well an actor plays Bruce Wayne, and his jaw-line with the mask on. Affleck’s debonair billionaire playboy voice is the trait I suspect will be most lacking. His jaw will be up to the task.

The dog-piling on Affleck based on Daredevil is tiresome, the Internet’s version of high school taunting. Daredevil’s actually a tough property to capture on screen, tonally, and Affleck’s version wasn’t nearly as bad as people who haven’t even seen it like to claim. (Seriously, how many people bemoaning the casting on boards across the Internets today know anything about the comic book character? It’s just bandwagon badgering.)

The fact Snyder and his Man of Steel-mangling cohorts look like they will be in charge of this is far more depressing than any casting news.

Nick Purdy, Publisher
The Internet smuggery on the choice of a two-time Oscar winner playing Batman in a movie that should already be viewed with skepticism is insufferable. First, Man of Steel was at best decent (Metacritic: 55) – making it clear that Christopher Nolan as a producer didn’t make up for the fact that Zack Snyder operates on a level above the old Batman movies but not up to the level of the Dark Knight films (Metacritic average for the three: 76.7).

Second, the movie is a massive gimmick. Yes, there’s source material, but in an era dominated by comic book movies, Superman should be able to carry more than a single film. It does make sense for Batman to do something different, and I hope not to see any more pure Batman films for at least five years. Affleck is roughly equivalent to Michael Keaton’s casting, which I recall raising an eyebrow to back in 1988 or so, but that worked out. Affleck is in fact an actor, and while he’s never going to be confused with Daniel Day-Lewis (now that’d be a wild choice!), he’s earned enough respect to at least get a “we’ll wait and see.”
Who I would have cast: Jon Hamm

Garrett Martin, Videogames Editor
I’d probably see this movie if Jon Glaser played Batman.
Who I would have cast: Jon Glaser

Bonnie Stiernberg, Assistant Editor
Look, guys. It’s time we stop pretending we don’t love Ben Affleck. He’s proven that the Gigli, Bennifer years are ancient history time and time again—and while his triumphant, emotional Academy Awards speech after his Argo victory fell short of “HEY OSCAHS, HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES?” it was a lovely redemption story that cemented his status as America’s Friend-We-All-Give-A-Hard-Time-But-Still-Keep-Around-Because-He’s-Actually-Kind-of-Great.

He’s an unconventional casting choice, sure, but he’s earned the benefit of the doubt at this point. And let’s take a moment to remember how we felt when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman, or—more recently—when Heath Ledger, star of 10 Things I Hate About You, was announced as The Joker. Affleck may not be as much of a brooder as Christian Bale, and Zack Snyder’s Batman will be different than Nolan’s Batman, but it almost has to be that way after Nolan’s films became so beloved and successful. Affleck can be popcorn, and that’s the tone Snyder should be aiming for if he wants to dodge the inevitable Nolan/Bale comparisons. So slow your roll, stop with the Daredevil jokes and give the guy a chance.

Tyler Kane, Assistant Editor
I have respect for Ben Affleck. I loved Argo, watched Chasing Amy plenty and forgave Ben for Daredevil and Gigli. Any Oscar attention he’s received has been deserved in my book. But the fact remains that filmgoers have just seen the definitive, perfect “dark” Batman in Christian Bale (sorry Keaton fans, it’s true). And with so many deserving up-and-comers, handing the torch off to Affleck, a guy who I’ve branded into my mind as a generally likable dude from his on-screen past (and his history with Kevin Smith, director and host of the “Fat Man on Batman” podcast who is probably in a giddy coma right now), feels like a weird move. Many are arguing Hollywoodland and Argo here, but let’s face it: the blockbuster audience that Man of Steel reels in—the same crowd that’s fuming about this casting choice—isn’t making those associations.

As someone with a predetermined vision of Affleck, casting him in a Batman/Superman film immediately creates a hurdle I don’t want to jump in the first place. In looking back at the source material here, which was hinted to draw from Frank Miller’s excellent The Dark Knight Returns, Batman is an older, cranky, idealistic guy—one who has an impossibly complicated relationship with Clark Kent/Superman about how justice should be brought about in modern times. And while we’re sure this storyline isn’t the entire basis for the film, Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman seems more in line with a (more) light-hearted, everyman billionaire character we saw in Keaton—not a worn-down justice defender who spent a lifetime fighting crime out of the public eye. But then again, he’s surprised the hell out of me before.

Although he’s not ideal in my mind, I don’t doubt Affleck will do his best with what he’s given, as Henry Cavill still played a great Superman in a pretty rough Man of Steel. But the fact remains, like many have referenced here, that it depends on what Snyder does with it—and his track record with Watchmen and Man of Steel hasn’t been great. We’ll see what happens in 2015. Or, we could refer to my initial reaction from last night: This is HORSE. CRAP!!!
Who I would have cast: Josh Brolin

Amy Amatangelo, TV Critic
Up until yesterday, I thought the days of ganging up on Ben Affleck were over. It’s been 10 years since Gigli and Daredevil, people! Ten years! Maybe it’s because I’m from Boston, but I’m embracing this casting choice.

Affleck is the hometown boy who continues to do good—whether it’s aiding Republic of Congo or directing, producing and starring in the Oscar-winning Argo. Did you see Argo? Anyone who did can’t argue that Affleck has talent. The good thing is Affleck has a sense of humor about himself and his checkered career. Let the Internet snicker, I know he’s got the gravitas to play the Caped Crusader. Bring it on, Superman.

Sean Doyle, Marketing Manager
Okay, first I don’t care that Daredevil sucked. I think Affleck did a decent job with a movie and script that was doomed to live in a Sunday afternoon TV movie slot from the start. I also think Argo was incredibly entertaining and showed that Affleck was much more than the sum of the parts of the notable characters he’s played. Let’s not forget that Benny has starred in Gigli, Pearl Harbor, Jersey Girl, Forces of Nature, Bounce, He’s Not That Into You and countless more movies made exclusively for viewing over pints of ice cream. This is in no way a bad thing; in fact it’s worked very well for him.

That’s the issue here. No matter how “tough” Affleck’s characters are in the grittier flicks, I always imagine him calling his mom at the end of the day to “talk things out and have a good cry.” Batman doesn’t do this. Know why? Because he can’t—his parents were gunned down in cold blood in front of him. 

Affleck seems to lack the dark core that is Batman. Batman’s heroism isn’t something Wayne would have likely done if his billionaire family lifestyle wasn’t brought to a complete and abrupt halt by the selfish acts of a scared, petty criminal. At the core of Batman is untamable anger and an unquenchable thirst for revenge—these are only bridled by Wayne’s solid morals and sense of right and wrong. It’s a constant battle that is present each and every time Batman goes up against a foe. 

The only choice that would have been natural for this role, succeeding Bale, would have been Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The movie’s opening credits could even start showing a montage of JGL’s development of Nightwing on his journey to become the new Batman. It’s seriously that simple. C’mon WB!
Who I would have cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt