It now seems quaint to remember the days when Marvel’s decision to cast a film with established leads seemed groundbreaking, even risky, but fans now assert with absolute certainty that such a strategy is the best, right, and only way to achieve success – despite only five years having passed since The Avengers hit theaters. Viewed with a positive outlook, the passionate discussion of comic book movies and shared universes all stems from enthusiasm, fan investment, and the desire to see their beloved heroes adapted successfully, thereby ensuring continued adventures.
But it’s hard to believe Marvel ever wished their success and risk-taking would result in skepticism, suspicion, and even expressed hope for the failure of the competition. The development of Ben Affleck’s The Batman has demonstrated the wild ups and downs of a comic book blockbuster better than any other, with the confirmed writer and presumed director’s confirmations, equivocations, and eventual departure treated as massive shifts inside the Warner Bros. studio system – and a sign of trouble for other writers and directors unrelated in any way. That’s before the script is even finished.
At some point, those contributing to and guiding the online conversation are going to have to recognize how loud that conversation has become to those who may be better off not hearing it. Not to mention how the need to generate new talking points can make mountains out of molehills in the best cases, and be downright misleading in the worst. Even as the storm of doubt, paranoia and negativity rages in the wake of Affleck seeking a director to collaborate with, taking a look back at his actual comments – conditional phrases, candid doubts, and apprehension previously overlooked in favor of excitement – paints a different picture.
If we’re assuming that Ben Affleck the actor, director, producer, and writer is also a person with directorial preferences, his own artistic pursuits, and his own limitations, then there may be only one reason he stepped away from The Batman‘s director chair… and it’s the most obvious one, at that.
Let’s Be Clear: Ben Affleck Never Wanted a Superhero Blockbuster
It may be difficult, given the widespread claims that “superhero movies are the future,” to comprehend that not every director or actor wishes to join in on the fun. It’s hard to define where that line is actually drawn, considering how much press coverage can be attracted by a well-known actor or director claiming they have little interest in comics book movies. But even if Ben Affleck’s aversion to heavily controlled, massively-budgeted, and creatively limiting projects wasn’t evident in his filmography, his confirmation that he had turned aside the mere idea of directing one stated it plainly.
It’s even more difficult to rewind the clock to a time before Affleck was, as stated by many outlets, “locked in” to direct a Batman movie of his own – back less than one year, to a time when Zack Snyder admitted he was trying to talk Affleck into considering it:
“I keep working on him… He’s finishing editing his film, Live By Night and then he comes to Justice League. And then after that, I think he’s going to start to try to develop the story. And so then we’ll see if he likes it.”
That uncertainty was stated after Batman V Superman had been completed – after Affleck had brought writer Chris Terrio into the production, and joined the creative voices shaping the DCEU to the extent that he ultimately earned an Executive Producer credit on Justice League for tying its world to that of the Batman film he intended to write. The conclusion was that Affleck’s creative investment and role within the expanding DCEU wasn’t due to his script, or any deal to direct a film within it. Having been cast, and having worked alongside Snyder, Terrio, and others, he was simply another voice in the conversation.
For his own part, Affleck took plenty away from seeing Zack Snyder tackle a scale and genre he had never attempted, learning more surprising tools to add to his own directorial bag of tricks (something he spoke of often, when asked about working with a director so different from his own style and genre).
Once again, fan sentiment and enthusiasm steered the next phase of the conversation: with everyone aware that Ben Affleck had the skills to direct a Batman blockbuster, and having learned that it’s not so scary by Snyder, there was nothing standing in the way! And, of course, no reason for comic fans to think anyone would ever pass on the chance to direct one such film (despite Affleck having done it already).
Yet when Affleck was pointedly asked about that decision to potentially direct, as well as write a Batman movie, his response should have revealed more about his own priorities and reservations than what was taken away:
“I’ll just say going through the process, I would never have imagined that I could or would direct a movie like this. And in working with Zack and seeing what he did and watching him every day, I got really inspired by that and by seeing the scope on which he was telling the story, by seeing what he was able to do with this kind of mythic story on a grand scale.”
At the time, most fans eager to imagine what a Batman movie on the level of Argo, Gone Baby Gone or The Town could resemble skipped over the part where Affleck said that a desire to direct such a film had never even crossed his mind. To be fair, he had previously stated that doing so was not an impossibility, but emphasized that “it’s just about finding a good script, honestly,” and that the genre wouldn’t make him more or less likely to direct it than any other. But in hindsight, some healthy skepticism would have encouraged fans to understand that it Affleck did direct a Batman movie, not just write it, it would be an uphill battle and not a foregone conclusion.
Being asked to give the same non-comment to a dozen different journalists in a single day is bound to produce the variations that soon become “inconsistencies” or “flip-flopping” on his Batman role. While those quotes above may have been from months ago, the following admission that Affleck may simply not be a blockbuster guy came just weeks before he stated he was looking for a director to collaborate with:
“Superhero movies get a level of attention that is nothing like any film I’ve done… I understand and embrace that. That’s part of the pressure that comes with doing it. That’s why I am not going to do it, unless I really feel confident about it. But when that day comes, should that day come, I’m sure that’s going to be the most pressure, the most stress I have ever experienced in my professional life.”
Since rumors of trouble in the DC Films offices were already flying, the most compelling reading was that Affleck not “really feeling confident about it” was a comment on the film, the script, or the studio atmosphere – when the conclusion of his thought is focused entirely on his own tolerance to the stress and pressure of that “level of attention.” And if not tolerance, then simple preference.
Lest we forget, Ben Affleck doesn’t need to direct anything to win reputation or curry favor with Hollywood studios. And if his long-held disinterest in directing a blockbuster proved long-held for a reason, well…
The Simple, Boring Answer: He Now (or Still) Doesn’t Want To
There may be some blame to accept on the part of those covering the production, and the comments of its key players (ourselves included). But that’s all part of the level of attention that Affleck claimed he understood, accepted, and would have to embrace if he took on the role of ‘the face of the Batman movie’ in all possible ways. But as fun as it may be on Zack Snyder’s Justice League set, capturing video of the first Deathstroke screen test and sharing it with the world, stepping into the media circus already operating at full speed – despite the script not even being completed – is another game entirely.
Fans don’t need to see each and every interview conducted by Affleck for Live By Night to know that the vast majority also inquired as to Affleck’s Batman movie – an unfinished script he could not, and would not comment on (for reasons we’ll get to momentarily). Affleck eventually pointed an irritated (but nevertheless honest) finger at the elephant in the room, stating that the Batman script was taking the same amount of time as any film, including his latest, the only difference being that “no one was asking me questions, because nobody gave a s***” since it wasn’t the kind of news that breeds online traffic.
It’s as possible, if not more likely that Affleck caught a glimpse of the “level of attention” he would be facing for the next two years of his life and realized that his misgivings or disinterest in enduring it were justified. Of course, there’s also that fact that while the script was being constructed with the hopes of being completed faster than his other films, Warner Bros. needed more than hope.
The reality is that where superhero movies may be dreams come true for fans, and new creative opportunities for writers and directors, they are products for the studios that make them. No one working in Hollywood is oblivious to that fact, and the struggle of art vs. business has, and will continue to be waged for all time. When the property in question is Batman, DC’s most iconic and bankable brand, the process gets more complicated. Especially when the studio wants an Affleck-caliber script, but still has a production date and release window to meet.
Despite what fans might think, it’s hard to paint one side as the villain. More than anything, this situation shows why well regarded, in-demand writers don’t typically foster a big budget blockbuster from infancy through to release (and why Affleck prefers projects he can develop over time). Sooner or later, that pull between Affleck and the studio was going to force a change in plans.
Case in point: two weeks after Warner Bros. CEO Jeff Bewkes stated the Batman film was a maximum of two years away, Affleck stated outright that “there is no Batman movie happening yet, we’re still trying to figure it out, the script and budget and all that stuff.”
Since this is the point where Affleck and the studio seemed to differ the most, the understandably pressing desire to put Batman in movie theaters was a major factor in convincing Affleck that he wasn’t the right directorial fit. That he would remain to shape the creative vision of the film, but that he wasn’t the one to lead the charge (something he admitted he wasn’t confident about, for reasons that are not hard to grasp).
“Maybe he’s the kind of guy who’s just like: ‘Why bother? Why am I going to step up to the plate? No matter what I do people are going to b*tch. If it ain’t f***ing The Dark Knight, I’m f***ed.”
There’s no question that Ben Affleck fleeing for fear of absolute anarchy and panic at Warner Bros., despite Geoff Johns being given a formal position as the head of DC Films, makes for a more eye-catching headline (and trolls do feed early and often). And arguing that it was the relentless media coverage and attacks that turned Affleck away from directing– no, even starring as Batman is guaranteed to stir up strong opinions. But as we’ve outlined using Affleck’s own words, this was never a job he wanted to one day claim.
Sure, “Ben Affleck Still Not Interested in Directing Blockbuster Movies, Prefers Writing, Starring in Them” is a less scintillating headline and discussion. But in this case, the evidence points to it being the more accurate one.