Ben Affleck’s relationship with the DC Extended Universe has been anything but smooth sailing. The initial announcement that he would don the cape and cowl as Batman for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was initially met with hostility from a large segment of fans, although many came around once marketing began, and by the time the film was released, most audiences agreed that Batfleck was one of the highlights of the film.
The negative reception to Batman v Superman almost immediately spawned rumors that Affleck was "humiliated" by the critical response, with some suggesting he wanted to distance himself from the franchise. Although, by this point, the rumored promise of an Affleck written, directed, and produced Batman movie starring Ben Affleck as Batman was catching on, and many fans began to believe that a Ben Affleck-directed Batman movie was the best shot at a return to the quality seen in Chrostopher Nolan's Dark Knight franchise.
Nevertheless, the rumor mill continued to churn, and Affleck slowly began to seemingly voice a reluctance to hastily embrace a new Batman movie without a proper script. On multiple occasions he downplayed fan enthusiasm to emphasize that he’d rather not do it at all than go off half-cocked, understandably fanning the flames of his rumored departure.
The press tour for his newest film, Live By Night, is when word of his departure truly began to catch on, although Affleck was sure to emphasize that he was indeed still working on the script and he wanted to be sure to get the movie right, but the true pressure of wearing all the hats (and masks and capes) necessary to do all the jobs he’d signed up for might be too much for such a massive property. Eventually, Affleck finally announced that he’s in search of someone he can bring in as a collaborator on the project so he can step aside as director and focus on writing and acting.
Needless to say, this news, and the reveal that the script saw a Chris Terrio rewrite, only served to further feed the growing rumors that Affleck wants out of the project altogether. While the actor stepping down as director could set him up for a best-case scenario for The Batman’s production, it’s hard to discount his previous reassurances that he intended to direct, leaving many fans to wonder: will DC need a new Batman actor soon?
In his Forbes article covering Affleck’s decision to step aside as director, Mark Hughes posits this very situation, adding a little discussed twist:
“One minor point of speculation I want to mention — much has been made about Armie Hammer’s possible involvement in the DCU, with fans speculating he could portray Hal Jordan in Green Lantern Corps. That’s certainly possible, but I feel he might be more likely to show up in The Batman, and if so then it’s worth noting he could reasonably portray a younger version of Ben Affleck’s Batman since he has the height and size potential to pull that off.”
Mark’s question proposes an interesting scenario. What if all the rumors surrounding Affleck abandoning the cape and cowl and Armie Hammer entering the DCEU are all half true? Or, more specifically, if that’s not the situation, should it be?
With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice introducing a more seasoned Bruce Wayne/Batman in Ben Affleck, fans were left to infer a backstory for the World’s Greatest Detective through hints like the burned Robin costume or seemingly throwaway lines like “we just have a bad history with freaks dressed like clowns” or "twenty years in Gotham, how many good guy are left, how many stayed that way?" If any of that alluded history is ever depicted on screen, it should be with a younger actor, and Armie Hammer is one of few candidates with the height, build, and chin to match that of Affleck. In fact, Hammer was already set to play Batman just a few years ago for George Miller’s famously cancelled Justice League: Mortal project. Even if it isn't Hammer specifically, there are numerous benefits to bringing in an actor to play a younger Dark Knight.
Avoiding Batfleck Burnout
Judging by each of his comments, Ben Affleck’s concern with The Batman has clearly been centered around the workload and time commitment involved. He’s a longtime DC comic fan, especially of Batman. He even has a batsuit and batarang from Batman v Superman in his office. He wants to be involved in this universe and he wants this universe to be good, but he doesn’t want it to swallow his career.
Live By Night’s production and reception likely played a big role in opening Affleck’s eyes to just how big an impact his involvement in the DCEU would have on his other pursuits. Affleck wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Live by Night, which was shot shortly after Batman v Superman reshoots and edited during the Batman v Superman press tour, right before Justice League starting filming, with Affleck likely pulling double duty for some pre- and post-production work during each respective DCEU film.
Live by Night’s reception was not positive. Yet, all anyone wanted to ask Affleck about during press for his new movie was what was happening with The Batman. When most criticism for Live by Night focused on the overly complicated and disorganized adaptation from the source material, it only makes sense that all Affleck could say about The Batman was that he didn’t want to do it without a good script. Live by Night went on to be a $75 million loss for Warner Bros., and Ben Affleck shortly after decided to lighten his load for The Batman by bringing in a new director.
If the DCEU wants to keep Affleck on board for the the long haul, he’ll need assurance that he’ll still be able to work on non-DC films with a reasonable enough timeline to not repeat the mistakes he made with Live by Night. If it’s possible to relieve some of Affleck’s screen time with flashbacks, or even take an entire Batman film out of his hands, giving him a couple of years to work on his own project by centering a film around a younger Batman, his concerns over the DCEU taking over his career can be assuaged.
Besides, it’s now clear that if fans ever want to see a Ben Affleck directed Batman movie - which is something we know he wants to do, or he wouldn’t have held onto the director’s seat for so long in the first place - his time in front of the camera wearing the batsuit will need to be limited.
Outside of giving Affleck some breathing room, there are other benefits to giving the Batman actor a break. Fans would go crazy for an opportunity to see this version of Batman in his prime. He has years of history with Robin (and maybe more) at his side facing Joker and other famous criminals. Some of those stories could be told as flashbacks, but with “20 years in Gotham,” there’s plenty of room for entire prequel films as well.
The most enticing part about this proposition is that the DCEU has already established constraints over the scope of a Batman prequel. This is not a Batman movie that could escalate to Bane taking over all of Gotham, or involve any sort of large scale collateral damage. Any Batman prequels would need to focus on Batman working in the shadows against shadowy villains, with the citizens of Gotham City (and the rest of the world) as oblivious to his existence as possible.
When large scale destruction and giant beams of light shooting into the sky seem like permanent fixtures in every comic book movie, the idea of a Batman movie that truly makes him a ninja detective is enough to excite any fan - especially when that type of Batman prequel would ensure Ben Affleck has the time and energy to do his thing behind the camera instead of in front of it.
It would be shocking if this idea hasn’t been discussed behind closed doors DC/WB, but unfortunately for now it’s all merely speculation. At the end of the day, Batman and Ben Affleck’s talent are two of the biggest bright spots in the future of the DCEU, and it would be smart for all involved if they weren’t burned out too soon. In this dream, Affleck can take the DCEU to the light. Hopefully it's not a beautiful lie.
- Justice League (2017) release date: Nov 17, 2017
- The Batman release date: Dec 15, 2018