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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why you should give #Batfleck a chance...

As we're a week separated from the news that shut down the internet and the initial furor and arguments, we thought it might be a good time to look at this with a clear head and a bit of perspective. Post the big announcement from Zack Snyder at San Diego Comic Con about the upcoming Man of Steel sequel featuring Batman, the fervor over who would be the new Batman was pretty pronounced amongst fandom. While everyone was making their dream lists (my own was consistently topped by Jon Hamm), according to the Hollywood Reporter, Warner Brothers had one man in mind for months. Apparently Ben Affleck had been their number one choice when Man of Steel entered post-production. Sure there had been the rumored contenders, and some of them were true (Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin). Were these back-up plans if Affleck said no or was trying to make a decision? We'll never know, because as of last week, Ben Affleck is the seventh live-action incarnation of the Caped Crusader. And the truth is? I'm pretty excited for it....here's why....

1. He's a good actor
Yes, I've seen Jersey Girl and Paycheck and yes, even the overly cited Daredevil. But what everyone forgets is that all of those roles were almost all a decade ago when Hollywood was attempting to turn Affleck into a star in vehicles that were ill-suited for his talents. Affleck is a subtle performer, of quiet intensity, and has since Hollywoodland (where he arguably still has given the best performance of his career) been delivering capable, workmanlike efforts. Never flashy, but also never to the detriment of the respective films in which he had begun to settle into either co-lead roles or supporting. This untitled Superman/Batman film will be his first major tentpole film in over a decade. It will be interesting to see how the Affleck of today, the more reserved and assured Affleck of Argo and The Town, acquits himself into what will probably be the only film that stands a chance at challenging The Avengers: The Age of Ultron in 2015. Quiet and intense, sounds like a good start for Batman to me.

2. He's an even better Director
While he's a good physical match for Batman, and has the chops to pull it off, WB definitely has a long game planned here, despite some segments of the fan crowd protesting otherwise. Even before Man of Steel had been released, there were rumors that Affleck had been approached to helm a future Justice League film. Rumors that he even confirmed in interviews, but only to a small extent, along the lines of "there were some discussions" but he promptly denied any future involvement. Affleck has remained quiet since the casting announcement, but the clear indication from many in the blogosphere is that with his taking over a franchise producing role like Batman there must come some level of creative control. This is a good thing. His three directorial efforts: Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo are no-frills, Lumet-esque filmmaking at its most apparent. Argo particularly struck me as a step-forward for Affleck's craft behind the camera, and was one of my Top 10 films of 2012. Imagine then, if as a part of this deal, Affleck is tasked with helming the eventual Batman films he will inevitably be starring in. Not only have we never seen that kind of Actor-Director role in this genre before, but he would bring just the right amount of vision and craft that would fill the giant hole Christopher Nolan left when his Dark Knight trilogy wrapped up. I can think of worse things than Snyder and Affleck trading off films for the foreseeable future.

3. He has a passion for the genre
An interesting point that his long time friend Kevin Smith brought up on a recent podcast was that the only reason that Affleck took the Daredevil role in the early 2000's was because it looked like the Batman franchise was dead in the water after the disastrous Batman and Robin put the whole thing on ice, no pun intended. Affleck, being a massive Frank Miller fan, took the next closest thing he could. The fact that the film was utter dreck shouldn't dissuade fans from his devotion to bringing a character like Bruce Wayne to life. It's interesting to note just how often comic book related material has touched his career, from Chasing Amy where he played a lovestruck comic artist, to Hollywoodland where he played the ill-fated George Reeves. Many people have asked why he would take a role this broad after entering a more focused point in his career, I argue that it might just be something he's always wanted to do.

4. He's the perfect age
Some of the best news I've heard related to this upcoming film is that it would feature a more veteran, prime of his career Batman rather than the usual "young hero learning the ropes" well that we saw Sony immediately go back to with their ill-advised Spider-man reboot. With a Batman who is in his "late 30's-early 40's" we dispense with all of the formalities and get right to it. I rather like the dynamic of young Superman and older Batman, and in a pseudo meta-kind of way it works, as we as an audience have been exposed to the same Batman series since 2005. Yes, this new Dark Knight will not be connected to the previous Nolan trilogy in any way, but that doesn't mean that WB isn't going to be banking on some of that good will. An older Batman furthers that idea, particularly for the less savvy film-goer who might just think they're seeing a continuation of the Batman they've enjoyed for a number of years now and don't get hung up on the minutia of continuity. Believe me, John Blake isn't even a thing anyone outside of the hub nerd culture gives a second thought to. Ben Affleck, for his part is 41 currently (and looks a few years younger) this allows him a solid decade at least of being able to carry the franchise, given success. For what it's worth, he's also the first actor that's ever held the part that actually looks physically like the Bruce Wayne of the comics. With black hair, strong chin, and a quite large frame (the man is 6'3" and has shoulders like a barn door) I have a difficult time thinking of another actor (with the right chops) that is better suited for the role. Maybe Jon Hamm, but he hasn't accomplished the next criteria, and an important one at that for the studio.

5. He's arguably a Box Office draw
We're now entering a much more conservative era of the Blockbuster. After the box office disappointments of movies like John Carter, RIPD, Pacific Rim and others with young leads that are unable to secure "butts in the seats" and the strength of World War Z's grosses on Brad Pitt's name alone, Hollywood wants to provide insurance for their investors. Affleck does just that, as his last two films Argo and The Town combined to rake in over 400 million worldwide. While that's not an earth shattering cume, you have to consider that's 400 million for two adult oriented dramas with no other big draw stars in the marquee. It wasn't Jeremy Renner that pulled people into seeing The Town (The Bourne Legacy all but shored that evidence up), and can you name anyone other than Affleck, John Goodman and Alan Arkin that were in Argo? Yes, the strength of Oscar buzz certainly surrounded Argo, but that's never enough for those kinds of takings, otherwise movies like The Hurt Locker and The Artist would have done much bigger business on their respective word of mouth. Regardless what the naysayers say, Affleck is a major player in Hollywood and has the Best Picture Oscar on his mantle to prove it. When he's been in the lead of late, audiences have been finding him.

6. It's Batman, not f*cking Hamlet
This week, Matt Damon expressed to the Times of India that his long time best friend would make a great Batman, citing that: 

“You know, he's not playing King Lear. It's Batman! Certainly within his skill set...If anybody saw Argo or The Town, and all the work he's been doing lately, it's way more nuanced and interesting and way more difficult than Batman! Batman just sits there with his cowl over his head and whispers in a kinda gruff voice at people. Bruce Wayne is the more challenging part of the role, and Ben will be great at that."

As much as it saddens my fellow Batman fans, Damon is right. Batman, while a complex character, is still fairly two dimensional in alot of ways, as is every comic book superhero. Yes, Christian Bale gave us a fairly adult nuanced portrayal as Bruce Wayne, both in and out of the cowl. But this is not exactly a massive challenge; with the role taken seriously, you'll get a good portrayal from any actor worth his salt. Batman, at its core, is a gothic power fantasy with some detective elements thrown in. In his history, some writers have dug deeper like Frank Miller and Grant Morrison; but as a Summer Blockbuster, this film won't have time for the deeper psychological elements of Bruce Wayne that comics can portray. We're lucky if we even get much of Batman's mythos here since he's splitting time with another hero, and that's okay. The Avengers didn't make much time for character building in lieu of "punchy-punchy, action-action" and that was considered a grand success. If Affleck's Batman has half the nuance of his portrayal of Tony Mendez or George Reeves, we're in for a great showing.

So put your ridiculous petitions away, and just remind yourself, people freaked out when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker, the popular term was "Broke-Bat Mountain", and now thats the gold standard of comic book performances to most. Just sit back and relax, your favorite character is in pretty good hands here.
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