If there's one thing most moviegoers can agree on about Zack Snyder's Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, is that its introduction of a new take on Batman was pretty spectacular. There was of course some debate about just how lethal this older, grizzled, battle-weary Batman was after 20 years of sacrifice to protect Gotham, but Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne was something special - a new take on a fan-fave character that immediately demanded a solo movie.
And that's what's on the way. The DCEU Batmobile, Batsuit, Batcave, and all the associated other gear, vehicles, and bases of operations alongside Jeremy Irons' Alfred all return for Justice League before they return again later for Ben Affleck's own Batman movie that he'll co-write and direct. When we visited the Justice League set at London's Warner Bros. Leavesden studios a week ago we had the opportunity to observe Affleck at work, in the Batman costume, before chatting with him.
After shooting several takes of a Gotham rooftop scene where Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons) summons Batman with the Bat-signal, Affleck had his cape and cowl removed and walked over to us. He had black eyeliner around his eyes, his hair messy and the muscles of the Batsuit - almost the same design as the main BvS costume - were exaggerated thanks to soft materials that were partially visible since the back of his costume was open. He was physically more pillow than bat, but it didn't demean his presence at the caped crusader one bit when up close.
Immediately, we prodded about the face makeup that Bruce Wayne must seemingly apply to himself every time he puts on his crime-fighting field gear. Ben's in a good mood, very diplomatic about the current state of the franchise and what's next, and our conversation begins with jokes and laughs.
Ben Affleck: What’s his name, like the Lou Reed of –
Ben Affleck: He’s going to keep a thick load of eyeliner on.
Ben Affleck: There you go.
School’s Out, you know? Livin’ in Phoenix.
Ben Affleck: So that’s what I got going. Alice Cooper during my off days. My alter ego.
This sounds like a different Batman. "Bad guys, flying monkeys." He’s got a little bit of an attitude.
Ben Affleck: Yeah, he’s a little bit more sardonic, humor, a little more irony. He’s on a little more man on a mission this time. As opposed to like he was so full of anger because of what happened at the Black Zero Event. That kind of character, that sort of rage that possessed him. And now he’s on a mission to get this group together. To constitute this League. But, more of his, that sort of Bruce Wayne, wry, ironic gallows humor comes out. He’s not like a “haha” jokey, but that sort of stuff comes out a little bit. A bit of, his sort of darker humor stuff is present.
Does he have a hard time playing with others?
Ben Affleck: Yeah, that’s sort of the interesting thing about this Batman is that on the one hand, he’s sort of the ultimate loner, but on the other hand, he’s sort of tasked with putting together a group. So is the guy who basically broods in a cave all day really the best person to put together a team of superheroes? And he doesn’t have huge success initially. He rubs some people the wrong way or they rub him the wrong way, he’s got to figure out how to play well with others. He barely knows how to play well with Alfred.
Does he see the Flash as sort of a Robin-esque character?
Ben Affleck: That’s interesting, there’s an element of that to it. There’s a quality to really what Ezra [Miller] does that is young and fun and full of life, and excited about what they’re doing that’s so in contrast to who Batman is, there’s a little bit of that natural yin and yang to playing scenes with him. There’s not the ward aspect to it, but there’s a little bit of the mentor. Which you’d probably ask Ezra and he’d be like, “fuck that! He’s not my mentor!” But I think there is a little bit. And it’s fun to play, definitely. And what does Batman do around a guy who’s really excited and positive all the time? [laughs] You know what I mean? That’s not his natural state of being, so that’s really fun. And it’s been really, really cool. Everybody has brought a certain kind of energy to their character that’s really distinct in this thing. All of a sudden, it’s a totally different kind of movie, in ways from the last one because all of a sudden it’s really an ensemble movie. This is a movie about a bunch of different people and qualities and characters all sort of how they work together, what that melting pot is like.
One of the things that is really well done about BvS is your fight scenes. That scene where you take the bullet in the back of the head and continue going is fuckin’ great. How are you ramping up from that to this? In terms of what Batman can do?
Ben Affleck: We have the same guys who choreographed and came up with those. I like to say it was my idea, but I just do what they tell me. And the same, lot of the same from visual effects, from practical effects. A lot of these guys doing really creative cool stuff and they just come up with really great ideas. It’s the same way I would appreciate it were I directing which is to say, find a great stunt coordinator and great effects guys, and stunt guys. You can sort of execute this stuff and put yourself in their hands and let them do it. It’s kind of like getting a great composer. It’s almost a separate thing that layers into the movie. And if it works, it feels like it’s flawlessly integrated. How could Star Wars exist without that music?
This time around, you’re an executive producer on this. How does that change you and your role, like ownership on Batman?
Ben Affleck: Why I’m an executive producer is that I’m directing one of the movies. So there’s sort of this cross pollination of story and characters and I don’t want to give any of that stuff away, but it basically means that there are some things that might happen in my Batman that are affected by I mean, here we are in the police station in Gotham City. There’s a potential that something like this might exist in that story. So it’s a creative way that DC came up with of kind of being a filmmaker-driven company and entity and also making sure that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing and so that there’s collaboration and supervision. So that somebody doesn’t go sailing off, causing problems for your movie with their movie. You know, in a way, it’s also a kind of a courtesy. You know what they’re doing, one hand knows what the other is doing, and I get to weigh in on stuff that impacts the Batman stuff.
How big is the role of Geoff Johns in this?
Ben Affleck: Uh, big! Geoff is a big part of things. He’s not here right now, he’s having a baby, but Geoff’s a great guy and there’s nobody that knows more that I know about comic books. He’s got great taste and he’s really super smart and super nice, and Jon Berg as well has a big role. Really this is Zack [Snyder]’s role and we’re here executing Zack’s vision.
Is Batman doing the detective work as kind of his part in this movie, or is he working with a team of detectives?
Ben Affleck: It’s definitely, the world’s greatest detective aspect of Batman is more present in this story than it was in the last one, and will probably be expanded upon further in a Batman movie that I would do. I think all the great Batman stories are, at their heart, detective stories. That’s why they feel like noir movies in a way. Somehow feels like it could be The Maltese Falcon. But at their heart good Batman stories are, like I said, detective stories. And with detective stories, there’s a “what’s happening” element, but there’s also a, “how do I find these people and bring them together? How are we going to work together successfully?” Sort of a multilateralist –
Talk about, part of the Batman stories, The Dark Knight Returns was a big influence on BvS, but that’s sort of an end of the Batman story, Batman quits at the end. How do you bring Batman back from the edge where he was sort of maybe more violent, more harsh than ever before and bring him back?
Ben Affleck: This is not exactly, and you bring up a very good point, Batman v. Superman was very heavily influenced by The Dark Knight Returns, and this has other influences that I don’t want to name because then it will give away story elements and stuff like that, because then you’ll go, “well, in that story, this happens.” But working with Chris Terrio and Geoff Johns and obviously Zack, we’ve culled, what any smart person would do, steal the best stuff you can from all the great material that’s out there.
But one of the things obviously, is you can’t go past the end. This is now not a guy at the end of his rope but kind of a guy at the beginning. Starting over, reborn and believing. Finding hope. The thing that he’s hopeful for he’s holding onto desperately. And he really believes in this idea of forming this group. I can definitely say that. That starts him off and that’s his core mission here. Obviously that’s something different because that’s a guy who’s not nihilistic, he hasn’t given up. He deeply believes that this is something that needs to happen and he’s in the awkward position of being kind of out there with a cup in his hand like, you know, “believe in this, this is a good idea.”
BvS is very dark and gritty and we’re seeing this scene it looks like we’re already bringing some humor to it. What would you say are the biggest changes by comparison to those two movies?
Ben Affleck: There’s definitely room for more humor. It’s not going to be – DC movies I think, by their nature are a little more – gothic, or mythic rather, excuse me, than some comic book movies are. But that movie was very dark and heavy because it was really rooted in Dark Knight Returns which is a heavy, dark book. And this is not that. This is a step in evolution in that to bring together all of these characters who have had their origins. It’s about multilateralism, and it’s about hope and about working together and the kind of conflicts of trying to work together with others. It’s a world where superheroes exist, so there’s comedy in that necessarily, trying to work with other people and people trying to accomplish goals together is the root of all great comedy in my view. So there’s definitely, hopefully some fun in it. But it’s not unrecognizably these characters or these stories. It’s not turning it upside down.
We know there’s Steppenwolf, we’ve heard Mother Boxes, we’ve seen concept art for Parademons, is there an element for Batman now, like “I’m getting too old for this shit," like this universe is just, it’s not just one Kryptonian or one monster.
Ben Affleck: It’s not so “I’m getting too old for this shit,” it’s more like, “I need help with this shit.”
Ben Affleck: It’s like, guys, we’re getting way out of his league. It’s definitely stepping up to the level you know, in the comic books when you have a lot of things from other planets, other super-villains that are way more powerful than your average human being who’s got a batarang and a grappling hook is equipped to deal with. So we’re able to explore the powers of these other heroes and what they can do. Which is pretty exceptional too. If you want to be able to use the powers of Flash and Wonder Woman and Cyborg, you have to have bad guys who are up to snuff and give them what they can really kind of get their cars out on the track and open up the accelerator a little bit.
Well, Batman is sort of the leader of the group, is there any kind of challenge from the other members to his leadership? I mean, Aquaman’s a king, I can’t imagine him taking orders from another character would go over very well,
Ben Affleck: You know, Aquaman’s a very strong character, played by a very strong actor with a very strong personality, so I don’t think he’s the sort of guy who at any point in his life takes orders from people. Jason Momoa, he’s got a very strong, stubborn, independent, powerful energy. So it’s not like any of these characters show up and immediately go like, “yes sir, what should I do, Mr. Wayne?” It’s about like trying to get a lot of disparate people who are used to being very powerful and independent to try to work together. And it’s about how hard it is for them to all get along. And there are some characters who really hit it off with each other, some that don’t hit it off with each other, almost come to blows, and it’s about trying to contain that. So it’s not an easy ride trying to get this group to come together.
Is there any conflict in this one regarding Batman’s tactics? Because one of the conflicts of the last movie was that Batman was, I wouldn’t want to say sadistic, but he was very violent and he killed if he had to.
Ben Affleck: Yeah, in the last movie, Batman definitely went to a very dark place that was rooted in trauma that occurred to people that he loved and worked with and what he saw. This movie is not about that issue for him so much anymore, he’s no longer sort of extreme in that way. From the experiences of the last movie, he’s sort of learned and now he’s sort of – I’m trying to say it without giving away any spoilers – but he’s wanting to redeem himself and wanting mankind to be redeemed and he’s wanting to make the world better. Having learned lessons that were important in the last movie.
A lot of people are looking forward to your perspective in a solo Batman movie, do you have a timeframe as to when you might want to see it in theaters?
Ben Affleck: I think they have a date for it. Although, I don’t know if I would necessarily be able to make that date because I don’t have a script that’s ready yet. So that’s my, my timetable is I’m not going to make a movie until there’s a script that I think is good because I’ve been on the end of the things when you make movies when you have a script that’s not good yet and it doesn’t pan out. [laughs]
Can I ask where you are in the scripting process? Do you have a draft that you’re really happy with or a story that you’re really happy with but you just need to flesh it out further?
Ben Affleck: I have a script, we’re still working on it, and I’m not happy enough with it yet to actually go out there and make a Batman movie, for which I have the highest of standards, I would say. That’s something that would have to pass a very high bar for me. It’s not just like, “yeah, that might be fun, let’s go try this out.”
For more depth and context on Affleck talking about the Batman solo movie he's working on, a story that will be original but will pull elements from the comics, click here. Affleck came off as someone thinking long-term as a dedicated member and leader of not only the onscreen characters, but the creative side of the entire franchise. He spoke confidently and passionately about the material and working with others and he clearly wants to ensure his own directorial efforts with DC Entertainment are perfect.
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Suicide Squad will arrive on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 2, 2017; Justice League on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020.