It was the moment that skeptics, the fearful, and those convinced of the DC Movie Universe’s impending doom were waiting for ever since it was announced that Ben Affleck would write, direct, produce, and star in a standalone movie following The Batman. Well, since it was stated by Warner Bros. executives then clarified by Affleck as a tentative plan, assuming things went as hoped for and the script came together, and just as likely to not make the release date the studio had set for it on their own. But the moment has come all the same, as Affleck has personally confirmed he’ll be looking to bring in a director for the project, since the many workloads are too much to carry himself.
There will be those who are unsurprised given just how early word of the film was revealed at all, with Affleck being hounded for details before a script had even been completed. Others will see it as a sign of trouble, or studio pressure seen with other projects, or even Ben Affleck’s fading interest in his role as Bruce Wayne as a whole (perhaps the least likely option). Whether Affleck’s comments should be taken as they seem – that he feels more comfortable handing the director’s chair to someone up to the task – or it’s a sign that the Internet frenzy surrounding the film has already soured his interest, it’s not necessarily a bad move for the DC Extended Universe as a whole.
At this point, delivering a film that pleases every moviegoer and critic may simply not be DC’s priority. But if The Batman stands a chance at succeeding without burning its star out in the process, a new director may be just what’s needed.
The Odds Would Have Been Stacked Against Him
As every fan of films and filmmaking knows, projects conceived of, then written by, produced by, directed by and starring the same person are a true rarity. In the event that such a story or production reached up to the ‘blockbuster’ or ‘epic’ scale, it may be one of a handful in its generation. There are success stories like Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves, and Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, but such films are typically original ideas, or adapted from existing works that have struck a chord with their stars, thereby justifying the absurd time and energy required at each step, in each role, and from the start of production to the end.
That’s not an unfamiliar situation for Affleck, who in the process of becoming as esteemed a director as actor, has built a reputation of guiding his roles on a directorial level. But that’s not the exact record, despite how easy it is to assume Affleck’s plan for The Batman was familiar territory. Argo won Affleck an Oscar for Best Picture, but was written by Chris Terrio based on accounts of the real Tony Mendez’s Iran op. The Town was based on a novel, as was Gone Baby Gone, and his most recent Live By Night.
That isn’t to minimize Affleck’s writing talents, but it drives home the point he made concerning The Batman during press for Live By Night: these films had time to gestate in pre-production, had existing stories that captured his interest, and could release without any pressure other than what his starring role brought to it. So as too-good-to-be-true as it may have sounded to hear that Ben Affleck planned to create a Batman film from scratch, which he would oversee throughout development and star in… it’s a challenge unlike any director would have faced before.
Not only due to the value of the movie brand, the iconic place in history and pop culture the hero occupies, or even the added challenge of entering a legitimately new genre all at the same time – but not in a shared superhero movie universe.
Shared Universe Blockbusters Have Become a Different Game
Taking a step back from Affleck’s dilemma, it should be evident to absolutely every movie fan just what a superhero blockbuster has become in the eyes of any potential director. So far, only Joss Whedon has taken it upon himself to write and direct not just one, but two of Marvel’s biggest films – a process that he openly described as mentally and physically exhausting, and an experience he seems pleased to avoid for the time being. Because it isn’t just the pressure to perform, or the challenge of crafting a story expected to be one of its summer release season’s very best, or the restrictions imposed by the studio to make it fit other projects and developing plotlines, it’s the months-long cycles of interviews, editing, press tours, post-production, and having little time to do anything else until it’s done.
By now, directors discussing their superhero job offers have begun to repeat the same sentiment: while appealing, or an interesting adventure, committing the next two to three years of your life isn’t an easy thing to do. Sure, Marvel Studios may be bringing in new directors left and right, but that’s thanks to a corporate structure and plan that is successful thanks to years of practice and hard lessons. It may remove the pressure on any one director or writer, but it also comes with restrictions (all part of the winning formula that Iron Man 3 director Shane Black has half-jokingly referred to as “The Machine”).
For a writer, producer and director as busy as Affleck, simply starring in Batman V Superman and Justice League led to a more condensed schedule than usual in 2016. Given that, it was easy (for some) to understand why progress on The Batman script he was writing with DC’s Geoff Johns was progressing slowly – though, according to him, not much slower than any of his scripts.
We have little doubt that Affleck’s approach to a Batman film will be faithful to the character’s roots – he’s emphasized how devoted to that goal he is already – but the fact remains: it’s a new kind of story for him to tell. One that will then become a new kind of story to envision. And a new kind of production to lead. And a new (though somewhat more familiar) role for him to occupy. To believe he could rise to the challenge is confidence, and maybe, just maybe, he could get the production to the finish line, regardless of the toll it took on him personally.
But to expect that the best possible outcome, the best way to do service to the character, the story, the product, and the larger universe means leaving the creative vision entirely to him is foolhardy. It’s likely that reality was dawning on Affleck for some time, leading him to make his recent statement essentially to that effect:
“I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film. I am still in this, and we are making it, but we are currently looking for a director. I remain extremely committed to this project, and look forward to bringing this to life for fans around the world.”
Affleck said in the past that if he did wind up directing Batman, it would be the greatest level of professional pressure he had ever faced: “That’s why I am not going to do it, unless I really feel confident about it.” And now, with Live By Night releases coming to a close, Affleck decides to seek out a “partner” to “collaborate with” on the project that he still remains “extremely committed to.” So as many questions as online bloggers and superfans may have, the situation may be straightforward.
If you believe the DCEU is creatively bankrupt, and Affleck is too talented not to see it, then you’ll view his words as damage control, ‘PR speak.’ But if you’ve been taking him at his word on the challenge of writing, directing, and starring in a billion dollar blockbuster (and its production costing half as much), then bringing in a director who can help steer the ship makes perfect sense. And as disappointing as it may be to fans, if Affleck decides he may not be the best person to bring the right vision to the script – or simply unable to do it and star – then this is most definitely the right decision.
Affleck Can Welcome a New Creative Vision
If you’re of the mind that Ben Affleck helming The Batman would have resulted in a quality detective story, true to the mood and message of the Dark Knight’s mythology, then his hopes for the project should come as good news. As far as we know, Affleck remains the leading creative force of development. And if he believes he has a handle on what a Batman movie needs to be, and is seeking a collaborator to help meet that bar, there is plenty of promise and potential for those wishing to see it. At least one intriguing directorial choice has already been entered into the conversation, and however many more follow suit, they’ll be interviewing for the position in a situation comic book fans could one day have only dreamed of.
Having proven himself a fitting Batman and Bruce Wayne, Affleck is now putting his Oscar winning writing skills to work with Geoff Johns on making a solo Batman film, a detective story for a modern audience. And having won a Best Picture Oscar for the tense, harrowing, but inherently hopeful Argo, he now seeks a partner able to direct the film to, ideally, the standards he had set for himself – a partner able to bring a new voice, vision, and style into a DCEU that has turned off as many people as it has thrilled. Depending on the one given the job, the excitement or interest surrounding the world’s next Batman movie series could go in virtually any direction.
It’s unlikely that the director will have a significantly different read on the character than Affleck, and his circle of past collaborators contains some gifted artists already. The final verdict will have to wait, but for now, the truth of the situation is that a directorial role Affleck claimed he would take if able now sits vacant, with the performance deemed the more valuable and important of the two. Until we know more, reading more meaning, excitement, or skepticism into the situation is an exercise in imagination (not that it will stop the rumors and speculation).
Ben Affleck seeking a director/partner/collaborator to make the Batman he wants to make can be taken as a bad omen, a cause for concern, or some kind of ‘proof’ of internal struggle at DC Films. But to do that, you would have to claim that Affleck’s has been dishonest since beginning work on the script, or he’s being dishonest now. Fans are free to spin the theories they like, but taking Affleck at his word – his fairly candid word – implies that his commitment to lead The Batman in every single sense was always conditional.
And by citing his dedication to the role as his top priority – in the larger context of a DCEU that would like to avoid a hurried, or uneven film – it’s hard to argue he and DC should just take their chances.