A little over two weeks ago, Warner Brothers announced the actor who would be playing Batman in the sequel to last year's Man of Steel. The announcement elicited quite a response from the internet. Unfortunately, I can't speak to the full scope of the reaction; I tried to google it, and now my curser is a permanent spinning rainbow ball on my desktop.
As ridiculous as the online reaction was--especially, as so many pointed out, in the face the increasing likelihood of US military intervention in Syria following that nation's human rights violations--I actually kind of get it: as iconic and universally popular as Batman is, if you take a step back and really think about it objectively, the concept behind the character is patently ridiculous. And so you have to be very careful when you cast Batman; you need someone who can embody an asinine concept, and make it compelling. While Ben Affleck has been experiencing something of a personal renaissance lately, the reaction to his casting speaks to the public's (correct) view of him as kind of a doofy actor, and their fear that the inherent ridiculousness of Batman would overwhelm his performance. While my reaction to the casting wasn't nearly as visceral as most, I definitely think that fear is justified.
I think a big part of the reaction was due to the shock the announcement; not because Ben Affleck is so objectively horrible, but because an Academy Award-winning writer-director at the height of his powers is a bizarre and unprecedented choice to play a superhero in a summer blockbuster. And yet, you can understand why the studio would want a huge name attached to their movie. What makes less sense is why Ben Affleck would choose to hang his newly revarnished star on this particular franchise.
I feel like the younger readers of this blog might not recall just how big a joke Ben Affleck had made of himself by the mid-2000s; this is a man who started near the top and imploded his own career with a string of ever-crappier chick flicks and action movies, until finally attempting a straight-up "comedy" at the very end of this cycle with the universally reviled Surviving Christmas. Less and less people liked his movies; nobody liked his acting; and thanks to his odd, aggressively publicized relationship with Jennifer Lopez, people started to actively hate him as a person.
Plenty of celebrities have started their careers out strongly, only to fade into the fog of obscurity, but far fewer have fallen from such promise, or to such infamy, as Ben Affleck did. And I can't think of anyone who went through what he did, and was then able to reinvent himself so thoroughly, and with such success. It's hard to even think of an imaginary scenario with another star's analogous career that could really put into perspective just how miraculous his rise back to the top was... If Anna Nicole Smith had survived, gotten sober, gotten into shape, and acted her way to an Oscar, it would be close.
My point is this: Ben Affleck tried being a superhero in Daredevil, towards the end of the inadvertent kamikaze phase of his career; while it somehow garnered* a spinoff, it was critically and publicly despised. And a few years before that, he tried his hand at reviving a cinematic icon in The Sum of All Fears; while it performed modestly well, it wasn't enough to reboot the Jack Ryan franchise.** After going through all that he has, why would he choose to take a step backwards in order to fight these same battles yet again? And why this movie, the sequel to a critically panned reboot with minimal fan respect? Ben Affleck seems to be using the career of George Clooney as a guide to his own classy reinvention, right down to the obscenely manicured stubble; does he not remember Clooney's biggest late-90s blunder??
Alas, in the end, I just cannot get upset about this. Less than a year ago, the concluding chapter of an instantly classic Batman film trilogy was released, directed by one of the most exciting, visionary filmmakers working today, and starring one of the best actors of his generation: no amount of misguided future iterations can take that away. Did we really think it was going to be Christopher Nolans and Christian Bales from here on out? If anything, the announcement of Ben Affleck's casting should remind us all of the minor miracle that the Dark Knight trilogy happened in the first place, in our lifetime, and make everybody who cares even remotely about Batman fall to their knees and give thanks to the all-powerful Bat-Being in the Sky.
**They're trying again (of course), this very year, with Chris Pine in the role of Jack Ryan (of course).