There's no disagreement: Ben Affleck being cast as Batman was not what anyone, devoted comic book fan or casual moviegoer was expecting. Although the announcement was met with... mixed reactions - some claiming all hope for Man of Steel 2 and Justice League is lost, others waiting to pass judgement - we feel a little context and analysis is called for in this instance.
Director Zack Snyder may have decided to cast a relative unknown for the role of Superman in Henry Cavill, but interestingly, has decided that someone with far more star-power is required to put Kal-El to the test in his big screen sequel. Put him to the test in terms of character development as well as physically, that is - if writer David S. Goyer's referencing the film as Batman Vs. Superman is any indication.
Assuming that Zack Snyder and executive producer Christopher Nolan actually know something about making movies, we decided to outline some reasons why Affleck's casting makes sense for the 2015 super-sequel:
He Fits The Description
Given the previous castings of Christian Bale and Henry Cavill, Warner Bros. and DC Comics seemed to be following a similar route to Marvel: casting actors largely unknown to mass audiences. The thinking behind the decision being not only a commercial one (signing stars long term gets expensive fast), but that the casting of an unknown helps audiences suspend their disbelief, and not call to mind the actor's previous roles or celebrity persona - just the character they are inhabiting.
With that in mind, we thought of other younger unknowns who could follow Cavill's path, and inhabit the role for a brand new audience, becoming a name, not a face, in the process. But then came word that Snyder and co. weren't looking to re-tread old ground by telling another Batman origin story: they were after an older, more experienced Batman to give Superman a run for his money.
As surprising as Affleck might be for other reasons, his age, size and experience in the industry checks all said boxes. At the seasoned age of 41 - but not what anyone would consider 'old' - Affleck still has the looks that a 'Bruce Wayne-type' requires. And anyone who saw Affleck in The Town knows the actor is still capable of filling out his 6' 3-1/2" frame (replacing Adam West as the most sizable actor to ever slip on the cowl).
Wherever comic or movie fans appear to offer their dream casting for Batman/Bruce Wayne, their suggestion is immediately slammed with criticism that the actor is 'not big enough,' or that they would 'pack on muscle to be believable.' While fair, those are attacks that simply can't be leveled at Affleck.
Fans can take issue with his previous roles and thespian skills, but there's no denying that Affleck has the age, the build, and the star-powered presence to play a veteran Batman believably.
And despite his fame, Affleck isn't famous for a single role among mass audiences - something we held as a prime component in all of our potential older Batmen.
He Can Pull Off Batman
The first criticism many will lob at Affleck is that he is 'too soft,' 'too pretty' or 'not intimidating' to even approach the terror that Batman is known for. While we would warn that that's kind of what the cape and cowl are for in the first place, it's true that "grit" and "grizzled" aren't words usually used to describe the actor/writer/director. But true Batman fans know that there is more to the world's greatest detective than just beating up criminals and growling.
We explained a year ago exactly why DC would need a different take on a different take on Batman in a Justice League universe, and have driven a single point home in the time since: if you're putting Batman next to Superman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash, his intellect and tactical thinking must be emphasized to keep him relevant - not his voice or ability to intimidate.
If playing a smart, discerning, troubled man is the most important aspect of doing a new Batman justice, Affleck's recent work should be given far more attention than his earlier roles. Let's take a look at how our own Kofi Outlaw described Affleck's performance as Tony Mendez, the CIA extractor - and leading man - in his third directorial outing, Argo:
"Affleck manages to lead without hogging the stage, playing Tony as a sharp but reserved hero type who has just enough subtly-layered complexities to keep us interested in him, without those points of interest becoming distractions or loose threads."
An isolated incident, perhaps? Affleck playing a calm, calculating covert operative who never stops being an actual human being is due to the role, not the actor's matured approach to acting? Just to be sure, let's again see what our own Kofi Outlaw thought of Affleck's role as an intelligent criminal in the actor's second directorial outing, The Town:
"Affleck makes Doug MacRay a worthy central character, at once admirable, dangerous, vulnerable, strong, smart, foolish, brave and loyal to a fault."
We shouldn't have to point it out, but playing a character with those kind of dimensions is not easy; and also happens to describe Batman to the letter. The fact that Affleck made the task seem relatively unremarkable while also directing the film says quite a bit about how far his craft has come (seriously, we need to let Daredevil go: the same writer and director went on to make Ghost Rider, so Affleck wasn't the problem).
A cowl, body armor and cape can make just about anyone seem imposing - this is a role that Michael Keaton played, after all - and there's no question that a man Affleck's size can stand up to Cavill's Superman. That alone should prove that audiences could buy him in the costume, if nothing else.
It might seem obvious to claim that a Hollywood star could convincingly play a millionaire playboy, but a look at the other actors rumored for the role proves that it's easier said than done. Karl Urban, for instance, could play Batman with his eyes covered (and essentially already has) - but his ability to play the charismatic and somewhat unlikable Wayne at cocktail parties is far less of a certainty. Since Affleck appears in front of the camera so infrequently, he's most often spotted at the Academy Awards; in other words, it may be hard for audiences to not picture him walking a red carpet.
Depending on your initial reaction to hearing that Affleck had been cast, you likely proved that either:
- Affleck is the definition of a movie star and you can't ignore his charisma and charm. [Supporters]
- His money and movie star attitude make him someone you despise, and you could never view him in a positive light. [Detractors]
Since both of those perspectives could be applied to Bruce Wayne by the people of Gotham City, Snyder might be off to a good start in making the character resonate with audiences in a very meta-minded kind of way. That is to say: people's reactions to Affleck, the actor, fit in perfect synch with people's reactions to Bruce Wayne, the character.
All kidding aside, knowing how well Affleck can fit into the skin and smile of Bruce Wayne depends on the direction Snyder, Goyer and Nolan will take him. After going darker than midnight with their Dark Knight Trilogy, we'd assume that more laughs will be in store for Wayne this time around, even if he's going to be giving Kal-El a rude awakening.
But if Wayne will be introduced outside of his cowl as well - perhaps as a foil to Lex Luthor, or a rival for Lois Lane's affections - then the millionaire playboy will need the smile and looks to pull it off. Since Affleck made an early career based on his sex appeal, he's also got that covered.
Fame Might Be A Good Thing
Lest we forget, there's no real rule that casting unknowns is a recipe for success with Warner Bros. and DC - far from it. In casting the characters who could possibly steal attention away from Superman - or at the very least, not be completely outclassed by him - Snyder turned to Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe. Just to cover his bases, he then went ahead and cast Laurence Fishburne as the Man of Steel's future boss, Amy Adams to play his love interest, and Diane Lane as his mother. The end result: Kal-El was surrounded with so much talent, he didn't need to carry the film alone.
There's also something to be said for bringing famous faces into a project to - for lack of a better word - put heroes in their place. When Christopher Nolan wanted to introduce a grounded, realistic Batman, he played it smart and cast himself a relative unknown; he then went ahead and surrounded him with Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Liam Neeson - three of the most recognizable actors on the face of the Earth. There had to be a reason, right?
Whether it was Nolan's intention or not, hindsight reveals that by placing him next to such giants, Batman - one of the world's most legendary heroes - ended up with a butler who knew better, a brilliant ally who was smarter, and a nemesis who showed him to be outmatched (at least at first).
Would those relationships have been accepted as readily with unknowns in those roles, refusing to give Batman the proper respect without decades-long careers granting them that ability? We'll never know. But if Snyder and Goyer intend to make Superman answer for the events of Man of Steel, those criticisms might carry more weight coming from a man the audience - especially and American one - already recognizes as 'one of their own,' compared to the relatively new, English-born Cavill.
Now, if Clark Kent's identity is going to be developed at The Daily Planet - which also seems to be the plan - it's likely that Bruce Wayne will be making Kal-El's life harder at work. How do you push a hero like Superman (even in disguise) out of the way? Simple: by being more famous. If the goal is to show Superman he's not the only game in town, just watch the online and fan reactions to Affleck's casting; see how quickly Cavill has become old news.
We won't say that Ben Affleck landing the role is a case of stunt casting, since there's no way to know at this point. But if the sequel calls for a talented, larger-than-life celebrity to give Superman a wake-up call, and show him what real clout is, it does make sense to cast an incredibly famous star in the role. Affleck may not be the right choice for everyone, but the thinking behind it is intriguing to consider.
It's still too early to tell whether Affleck's surprise casting will turn out to work perfectly with the story and themes Snyder and Goyer are after, or if his fame and history will be too much of a distraction. But as our argument shows, anyone claiming that the film's director has lost his mind is clearly ignoring some key points.
Be sure to leave your thoughts on our case in the comments. We'll keep you up to date when the studio begins releasing more information.
Man of Steel 2/Batman vs. Supermanhits theaters July 17, 2015.
Follow me on Twitter @andrewbdyce.