2016 has turned out to be a trying year for Ben Affleck. While he no doubt stands to collect a hefty paycheck from Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and a near-guarantee of more to come from its various spin-offs (including his own solo Batman project), he's also had to watch the film be savaged by critics, ridiculed by pop-culture and branded a box-office disappointment by analysts - with he himself becoming an icon of the film's negative reception in the form of the now-ubiquitous "Sad Affleck" meme.
Now, amid news that he's taking on an even greater role in the effort to bolster Warner Bros.' embattled DC Extended Universe slate, new reports are shedding light on the Oscar-winning writer/director/actor's state of mind during the process.
Stepping in to add behind-the-scenes context to an earlier story on the news of Affleck taking on an Executive Producer role on the now-shooting Justice Leage, Birth.Movies.Death Editor-in-Chief Devin Faraci (himself a longtime fixture of the "geek movie" insider reporting scene) expounded on the industry scuttle as to what's led to the project's ongoing shakeups - describing Affleck as having been "humiliated" by the experience of Batman V Superman's negative reception. Offered Faraci:
"My sources have told me that Affleck was incredibly unhappy about the reception of BvS. He felt humiliated after spending so much of the press tour saying how much better this film would be than Daredevil. On top of that his agent was furious when Kevin Tsujihara jumped the gun and announced him as the director of The Batman - there were still negotiations happening. This move seems to help placate Affleck while also edging Zack Snyder out of a controlling central position in the DC Movieverse."
If accurate, the report would reflect an increasingly clear picture of a studio and filmmaking team that was caught largely off guard by the way their film's release had played out - not only among film critics but among audiences and within the general pop-culture discussion space. Having drawn the plot of their film from best-selling comics like The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman, and seemingly adhered close to fan feedback wishing for a more action-focused Superman and continued adherence to the gritty darkness of Christopher Nolan's Batman features, Warner Bros. was almost certainly expecting the exact opposite reaction to what Batman V Superman got.
It's also largely unsurprising that the public backlash against the film, particularly the internet and late night comedy's fixation on the Sad Affleck meme, would carry a particularly personal sting for Affleck. The star has always been especially uncomfortable with the fixations the entertainment press tends to have on his personal life, but he's also worked hard over the last decade to re-establish himself as both an actor and director of note after seeing his "leading man" career go spectacularly off the rails in the early-2000s after a string of high-profile box-office disasters like Gigli and Jersey Girl. As such, it makes sense that he would opt to take a more active role in ensuring that his committment to further DC Extended Universe movies begins to result in better films.
What remains to be seen is what this means for the future of the DCEU's other prime creative voice, Zack Snyder, who is still committed to directing duties on Justice League despite increasingly vocal fandom demands for a new helmer and ongoing reports of the studio taking a much harder line on certain creative decisions. While "losing" Snyder remains unlikely (especially in mid-production), the installation of a filmmaker expected to be associated with the franchise much further into the future in a supervisory role can't help but be read as a continued loss of creative freedom for the current director - and it's unclear what that would mean for Snyder's ability to deliver on the finished film.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is now playing in U.S. theaters. Suicide Squad will arrive on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 2, 2017; Justice League Part One 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 Part Two on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on June 19, 2020.
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