From Blind Devil to Dark Knight: Why There’s Possibility for More Than Failure For Affleck
By Jerry W. Vandal
“Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds!” –Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight
On August 22nd the Internet became as antagonized as Arkham Asylum inmates when the Batman arrives for a talk with one of the inmates. The news – Ben Affleck will be donning the cape and cowl of the caped crusader. There was a list of actors being rumored for the role – Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Orlando Bloom (imagine the Internet on that), Joe Manganiello (Tru Blood) and John Hamm (Mad Men). Warner Brothers and director Zack Snyder decided to go with a choice people weren’t exactly prepared for when they cast Ben Affleck. I’ll go ahead and stop there for a moment to either allow your need to punch someone for such an ignorant decision or your indifference which has by now become, “Jesus, somebody tell these guys to bleeping relax.”
Now here are some reasons why at the very least as comic book fans we shouldn’t immediately condemn Warner Brothers for this casting.
Before the release of The Dark Knight the decision to cast the guy who stared in “10 Things I Hate About You,” “A Knights Quest,” and “Brokeback Mountain” was in the eyes of many going to be another stain in the Batman movie franchise. The Internet was filled with pages of nerd rage. Post release, and by post I mean the 24 hours following its release, Heath Ledger was being hailed as brilliant in his performance. A lot of actors seem to get by by playing a variation of themselves. Heath Ledger became the Joker. He made the role his own while keeping it recognizable. No one saw that coming – except perhaps Christopher Nolan. This is the single best argument for the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman because Ledger’s named elicited the exact same response. And Affleck is not a poor actor. Check him out in “The Town.” Check out his scene in “Boiler Room.”
And this is where we’re reminded that he played Matt Murdock, Daredevil and it was bad. But let’s stop putting all the awfulness “Daredevil” was on Affleck. He carries some of the blame. There was something missing in his performance. He played Daredevil but he didn’t become Daredevil. By this I mean you can tell Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Hugh Jackman, Chris Evans, Henry Cavill were so committed to the role – they look the part – they became the part. “Daredevil’s” script was lackluster and contained gems like, “Hey, that light? At the end of the tunnel? Guess what? That’s not heaven… that’s the C train.” Jennifer Garner didn’t really strike me as a great Elektra and the movie seemed to be an hour long music video with some breaks in between to walk through a park. Bullseye isn’t awful, though the fight with Elektra barely constitutes a fight and the late Michael Clark Duncan as Kingpin didn’t get the chance to be ruthless. Now the director’s cut is better but I still consider the movie a failure. But it’s not a failure that Ben should have to carry all the burden for what was ultimately a bad movie and not just a bad performance.
Henry Cavill wasn’t a top pick for Superman. Most people didn’t know who he was. But I read an article in Muscle and Fitness and he talked about knowing the weight of role and how he couldn’t fake it. So in set out to physically become Superman. He even continued to work out throughout the filming which is rare for most actors. They tend to get toned up, hit their mark, film those scenes where it may be an issue and then work around it. He accepted that challenge and I think at this point in his career ( and judging from the PR already being jetted around) that Ben can do the same. And if you liked Superman, or 300, or Watchmen you have to have some faith in Snyder. Maybe you didn’t like those, well, then you’re not a fan of his work so judging Affleck for that is fair. What people are forgetting is that while Ben has reportedly signed on to a multi-movie deal, this is Superman/Batman directed by Zack Snyder. A good director can get an actor to truly shine. Now if you don’t like Snyder’s work then there’s little convincing to be done. But personally, I think he’s a very good and ambitious director capable of getting the most out of his actors.
Affleck isn’t known for his physical work. A friend of mine, following a text reminding me that Affleck killed my favorite hero when he put on the red horned-head suit. And then he made his argument that Affleck isn’t physical. He is a perfectly good actor. He played an excellent douchebag in “Chasing Amy”. He was a great hard-nosed suit in “Boiler Room”. He was the 9-5 dead end worker that felt real in “Goodwill Hunting”. He was a great counter as the vindictive Bartelby to Damon’s somber Loki in Dogma and a relatable bank robber in “The Town”. But he’s not much for fist-a-cuffs. Neither were Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer or George Clooney. Now say what you will about any of them, I don’t recall hearing many arguments that mentioned their fighting prowess or lack there of. They’re actors – they’re paid to pretend they’re things they’re not. And with the right team anyone can look like a fighter – Keanu Reeves in the Matrix?
Ben can act. When Affleck is on, he’s on. A lot of the hate thrown his way has as more to do with his role selection than his actually acting chops. He’s not a bad looking guy and he threw his hat into movies that were paychecks but really amounted to granting him no credibility. In contrast Matt Damon developed a career as a serious actor and an action star. More importantly he didn’t pick bad roles. Playing a superhero isn’t easy. There are lots of expectations wrapped inside 10-60 years of continuity that has to be respected. And while viewers and readers still remember the hapless Affleck of “Surviving Christmas”, they forget that he has a decent resume with roles in, “Goodwill Hunting,” “Dogma,” “The Town,” and “Argo.” He’s also spent some time directing which I have to believe has helped him see acting from another angle. So again, maybe it’s not so much that Affleck is a bad actor, because he’s not, but he has done an awful job of role selection.
Comic Book Fans
At the end of the day we’re comic book fans. We’re the guys and girls who go into a rage when Spiderman’s is killed off even though we keep asking for new stories and knowing that it’s not permanent. With the exception of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man I don’t recall too much love for the initial casting of our beloved heroes. It’s only after the fact that Chris Evans proved he could bare the burden of carrying the shield that the hate of the idea stops. And sure Ryan Reynolds didn’t shine as Hal Jordan but relative unknown Chris Hemsworth certainly had the spark to play a viking god. In part DC and Warner have some of the blame here – they’ve churned out to many meh films compared to Marvel to be trusted with casting. But Marvel Studios still catches flack for their decisions until it hits the silver screen (or the screens at San Diego Comic Con). They did see something in Henry Cavill though and personally – regardless the movie I think he nailed that innocent alien trying to fit in and do what is right persona Superman embodies. Why can’t Affleck? Because he was “Gigli”?
Ben Affleck would not have been my first pick. Actually he wasn’t even on my list of possible Batmans. I questions Warner Brothers decision mostly because of who was available – sort of like a sports draft. Affleck isn’t the worst pick possible ( come on Orlando Bloom?) but there are quit a few names left on the table. Affleck is not a bad actor though. He’s picked some awful movies to be a part in ( he should have taken his Jay and Silent Bob advice and done some more art movies and safe movies instead of Reindeer Games and Jersey Girl). And hey, he could absolutely suck as Batman. The vocal majority could be right. But there’s a track record of proving fans wrong.
There’s irony in this as I glance back at my arguments. The strongest of those is simply that Heath Ledger, the guy who stared in those teen-romance flicks owned the role of Joker. And that’s proof enough for me that Affleck, despite Daredevil can be acceptable Batman. Now the question is – is acceptable enough?
Easy answer – no. And that just makes me look forward to Superman/Batman – this movie isn’t allowed to be acceptable. It has to be great. And just as the heroes in those books we love rise to the occasion when the threats become bigger and greater – so do some actors. Rest assured though, whether his performance bombs or he explodes – this isn’t the last we’ll see of Batman.
I mean come on – he survived George Clooney smiling for 125 minutes under the cowl. He’ll survive this.