UPDATE: Speaking to fans and press at the official Warner Bros SDCC presentation for the DCEU movies, Affleck affirmed that he is still playing Batman. Alluding only in general to the rumors in question, he described himself as “the luckiest guy in the world” to have the role, that he looked forward to working with Matt Reeves on The Batman and that he had the support of two high-ranking Warner Bros officials in remaining attached to the role. Notable, however, was that none of his statements actually contradict the actual narrative of the rumors – which held that his participation in future films was uncertain and that the studio was already planning what to do if/when he departed.
(Original story below)
“Flux” is probably best describes the state of the DC Extended Universe on film at this point. Launched as an ambitious challenger to the (by then) solidly-established Marvel Cinematic Universe, the brand can today count Patty Jenkins’ smash-hit Wonder Woman and it’s slate of CW TV series as outright success stories; while lower-than-expected box-office takes and brutally-negative reviews have been a big part of the narrative for Man of Steel, Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad.
Justice League – the film all of this has been building to – had to be retooled amid the fallout from studio execs being utterly blindsided by the audience rejection of Batman V Superman and (we’ve since learned) was rocked by the a tragic death in the family of director/producer team Zack and Deborah Snyder’s family. The film is now undergoing reshoots under new director Joss Whedon, with many questioning how long this has actually been the case since Whedon has been involved behind the scenes for some time now.
Now, after successive announcements that he would no longer direct the solo film The Batman and that new director Matt Reeves (late of this Summer’s Spider-Man-toppling hit War For the Planet of the Apes) would be abandoning the original script and starting from scratch comes word of another potentially major shakeup: THR reports that Ben Affleck is rumored to be on his way out of his contract as Bruce Wayne/Batman; with the actor angling to stage an amicable exit and the studio said to be exploring their options for a possible recasting.
If this is indeed the case (all eyes will now certainly be on Warner Bros SDCC panel a few hours from now for clarification), it would be a gigantic story in the film industry – but not necessarily a surprising one. As the dramatic realignment of Warners’ plans has come more clearly into focus, a pattern has begun to emerge that looks less like the chaos of the early days following Batman V Superman’s divisive reception and more like damage-control via a controlled drip of information; with big decisions being made largely behind the scenes and announced much later with leaks (mostly) at a minimum.
Despite pop-culture legends of erratic studio heads and quick-cut decisions, big moves associated with billion-dollar multimedia franchises don’t come together overnight. To use the most relevant example: Whedon coming onboard to “finish” Justice League was a deal all but certainly months in the making (possibly going all the way back to his “surprise” attachment to a previously unscheduled Batgirl project) by the time it was announced. In other words, if (and to be certain, that’s a big, big “if”) Affleck is indeed out of his Batman gig, he’ll have been out of it (on paper) for awhile by the time fans hear about it.
And while it would be an extreme move in any context, the signs that this could indeed be the case are fairly plentiful (if also mightily subjective): While Affleck’s Batman has plenty of cameo time in Suicide Squad (shot prior to the negative BvS reception) he doesn’t show up in the framing scenes of Wonder Woman even though “Wayne Enterprises” very much does – despite BvS suggesting the characters as a potential couple and widespread (though, it must be noted, ultimately erroneous) early questions as to whether or not a female-fronted superhero film starring the mostly-unknown Gal Gadot could open on its own. As noted previously, Affleck had already given up the directors chair on The Batman solo feature to Matt Reeves, now word has come down that the new director has thrown out the original script that Affleck and his writing partner Chris Terrio had largely worked up. Even Justice League 2 – at one point intended to be a concurrent shoot with the first film – doesn’t have much set in stone about it anymore (not even a director), so Affleck isn’t known to have shot any scenes for it (although he is still contracted to appear).
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