Last Thursday Warner Brothers announced that Ben Affleck would play Bruce Wayne/Batman in Zach Snyder’s upcoming Man of Steel sequel (which is definitely not called “World’s Finest”). Predictably, this news was met with a chorus of fanboy naysaying and some outright vitriol aimed at Affleck, Warner Brothers, Snyder, and anyone remotely connected to the world of movies or comics. Some clever folks even crafted a petition to get the White House to get Affleck off the film.
While the backlash wasn’t surprising, it has been disappointing. It is as if fans learned nothing from past controversial casting choices (Michael Keaton, Brandon Routh, Daniel Craig, Heath Ledger, Chris Evans, etc) and have decided that again, bedroom wishes and on-line fan polls are the only real judge of who will be acceptable in what rolls.
As Patton Oswalt noted in a recent facebook post, Affleck has had a long and varied career, one that has featured some early triumphs, some mid-career flops, and some late-game successes. Acting wise, Affleck seems incredibly capable of carrying the part, especially given his recent work in The Town. Professionally, he’s proven to be a hard worker and a loyal team player—two traits that, more than anything, make him an appealing choice should WB/DC ever get to make a Justice League film. Appearance wise, he looks as much like Batman/Bruce Wayne as Christian Bale does, and a damn sight more like him than Michael Keaton (who will always be my favorite movie Batman).
Of course, people are still upset about Affleck’s abysmal Daredevil film and many fear that he’s too tainted to work will in any other cape and cowl film. This is silly. If Chris Evan’s turn as Captain America has proven anything it is that actors can come back and do good superhero films after making one (or two) bad ones.
Which get’s us to the real problem.
The real problem has nothing to do with Affleck, or any of the casting choices, at all. No. The real problem is that Zach Snyder is going to be at the helm of this movie. I am already on record as having several HUGE problems with Man of Steel (tone was unsuited, the film was humorless and turgid, the special effects were badly used, blah blah blah) but that’s not really my beef. My beef is that all of Zach Snyder’s movies suck.
I know that tons of folks love 300, but I thought 300 was little more than an over-made and under-thought pile of bullshit (which also happened to be ridiculously racist and jingoistic), but since I hated the comic as well, I’ll leave it alone (for now). But Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and the absolutely unnecessary Dawn of the Dead remake were all so terrible that, frankly, I’m still astounded that he’s been put in charge of what will probably be DC’s attempt at a MCU-style interconnected franchise.
Like a lot of people now, Batman is my bag. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films (even though they were, in the end, fascist power fantasies) and I have even more enjoyed the places the character has gone in the last several years of comics stories. What upsets me is that, rather than being used as a vehicle for ideas, Batman is going to become another flashy thing to be added to the mix of Snyder’s FX stew.
Batman should be as much a cautionary tale as he is an inspirational one. He’s a complex character who deserves more than to be a moving prop in “bad ass fight scenes”. What Batman needs, what he demands, is a director who is invested in well-crafted character and ideas—neither of these things are Snyder’s strong points.
I think that, like Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck has it in him to do great work with this part. But, like Cavill, Affleck can’t do it if he’s not working with a script and a director that will match his strengths to the needs of the character and the story. Snyder missed the point of Superman and ended up making a loud, stupid, bore of a film. With a character like Batman—one whose superficial awesomeness hides a conflicted and nuanced character—I fear that Snyder will do an even worse joe.
Maybe, as Borys Kit at Hollywood reporter pointed out, Affleck might be able to temper Snyder’s excesses and get him to focus on story and characterization (two things that Affleck has focused on as a director and writer). Maybe he will even make this film a good one. But I’m not exactly holding my breath here. As much as he might be able to tinker and re-direct Snyder, he can’t make Snyder into a better director and, without a re-write clause in his contract, he can’t totally overhaul the script.
So look, Batman vs Superman might suck. It might be a shitstorm of historic proportions. But it won’t be because of Ben Affleck. At worst, Affleck will be decent but unmemorable. I predict that he will do well, actually. There’s no reason to think otherwise. But there is also no reason to expect a great Batman/Superman film from Zach Snyder.
Besides, it could be worse…