Wow. Been asked three times today what I think about Ben Affleck cast as Batman, once by a person I don’t know and who isn’t a reader. Hate to pass the buck, but with the exception of his dislike of Man of Steel that seems to increase over time (I still like it on the whole), I’d have to say that MovieBob pretty much nails it.
Yes, he’s been in some goofy movies, and yes he’s not as talented as Matt Damon (who probably wouldn’t be right for the role), but he’s a solid actor with a love of comics, two Academy Awards, who has played a range of different parts with depth and aplomb. Sure, his last attempt at a comic movie, Daredevil, sucked, but it wasn’t because of something he did. It was a poorly written movie where the hero was heroic because stories have protagonists and the villains were villainous because stories have antagonists, and in neither case was any motivation assigned to anybody. However, that didn’t keep Michael Clark Duncan from doing a great Kingpin and it didn’t keep Affleck from making a believable Daredevil and, more to the point, Matt Murdock.
I will add that I think Affleck is suffering from a largely male-dominated nerd culture that won’t let go of the brief moment when Affleck was considered a pretty boy instead of a legit actor. This was roughly when he was dating J-Lo, which was bad enough (he’s dating a POP STAR! Nerds stand against pop and everything pop represents!), but then he went and married Jennifer Garner, who was in enough leather-clad spy and super hero roles to have, again for a moment, set herself up as a male nerd fantasy. This combined perception of betrayal and appropriation seems to have set Affleck up as being entirely untenable as a potential Batman, the Mary Sueiest of Mary Sue characters.
And the thing is, I remember the hate directed at Affleck at the time and, to a lesser extent, Garner. Regular readers can probably predict what was said about Garner, but there was this overwhelming sense in geek circles that this guy sullied himself with pop star germs, then swooped in to ruin Daredevil and take Sydney Bristow from us, forever ruining what would have undoubtedly been many more Elektra movies. He had the gall to impregnate her, depriving us of another season of her kicking ass in skimpy outfits in Alias. He…he…something! It was all very confusing back then.
And, to be honest, it’s not just Affleck who gets this. Anyone remember the reaction to Heath Ledger as the Joker? Fortunately, the internet is forever. Did you know there was a time when that guy who did Inception was just some empty-headed pretty boy who only ever did one part and looked like a girl (TW: early internet webpage design)?
Now, I will admit that he has done a number of bad films. I won’t go into them, it was covered pretty well in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but the guy has also done a lot of really fantastic ones. However, lots of people have. For example, did you know that before playing Batman, Michael Keaton was Mr. Mom? He was in Touch and Go. How about The Squeeze? Pre-Batman, this guy had basically one great film, Beetlejuice, and two good ones, Johnny Dangerously and The Dream Team.
But this has nothing to do with good and bad films. It has a lot to do with the perception of Affleck as a pretty boy, and most especially as Not One of Us. Oddly, Affleck himself seems to express the sentiment quite nicely in this interview:
People decided that I was the frat guy, even though I’ve never been inside a fraternity, or the guy who beat them up at school, even though that wasn’t me at all.
The pretty boy actor has a lot to overcome in nerd circles. They need to somehow prove their bona fides as real representatives of geek culture, because wide appeal to others marks them as…well, Other, and we can’t have that. And it seems that building his own goddamn Batcave in his house doesn’t count.
What I’m saying is, time to stop jumping on the “he’s going to ruin the role” bandwagon and think of this rationally. This is an accomplished actor and director. This is the guy who killed it in Argo, Shakespeare in Love, Chasing Amy, The Town, State of Play, and Hollywoodland, among others. He has the chops, he has the passion, and if they can get him to direct one of these films (he was offered the director’s chair for Justice League if he agreed to play Batman years ago), he certainly has more talent in that department than Zack Snyder. He is not just a pretty face, and it’s time that we stop knee-jerk reacting to actors who made their bones being marketed in parts for their looks.