I went to bed early last Thursday, and woke up to the news that sent everyone I know screaming into the streets (or the Internet equivalent, in this case).
Ben Affleck is the new Batman.
This was a strange thing to discover at 7 a.m. in the morning, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't take a look at my phone, read the headlines, and then lie there for a few minutes, uncertain if I was still in the midst of an exceptionally weird dream.
By the time I came to terms with the idea that no, this was not a dream, and yes, the actor who played the Man Without Fear is now the Dark Knight, I had a few dozen e-mails, text messages and tweets asking me whether this piece of casting is bad news or THE WORST NEWS EVER.
But here's the thing: I just can't bring myself to condemn "Baffleck" (as the casting is now being unfortunately called).
Not yet, at least.
If you had asked me the same questions 10 years ago, I would've been happy to opine on the reasons why Affleck as Batman is absolutely, positively the death knell of DC's Dark Knight. I would tell you why this particular piece of casting is the nail in the coffin of Warner Bros' cinematic universe, and probably make a joke about Matt Damon playing Robin.
Things were simpler back then. It was an age of innocence, when no one expected comic book movies to be taken seriously, and a bet on bad decision making by the studios had the Vegas odds on your side.
I can still remember the moment when everything changed. It's a memory that continues to subconsciously slap me across the face every time I consider passing far too early judgment on a casting decision.
"The guy from A Knight's Tale is playing Joker,” I remember telling everyone who asked me about Heath Ledger playing Batman's notorious nemesis on the day the casting became official back in 2006. “It didn't take long for this Batman franchise to throw up its hands and just give up, eh?”
One Oscar and one of the genre's most memorable performances of all time later, those words stuck with me. And even though I wasn't alone in condemning Ledger's portrayal before I'd seen the first hint of his greasy, scarred smile, the ease with which I put it down – and was subsequently proven utterly and completely wrong – has stuck with me over the years. While so many others conveniently forgot about their early criticism or chalked it up as a rare oversight in an otherwise spotless record of clairvoyant criticism, my bad call on Ledger's Joker has bugged me in the years since The Dark Knight broke just about every box office record that existed at the time.
And that's why I just couldn't bring myself to jump on the hate wagon when Ryan Reynolds was cast as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (and later, as the lead in Green Lantern), or when the cast of the Star Trek reboot was announced, or pretty much when any movie based on one of my favorite books, television series or other projects revealed its stars. That misstep with Ledger is always there, in the back of my mind, stopping me before I unleash snarky slings and arrows upon the latest outrageous casting announcement.
And that's why I just can't join the anti-Baffleck chorus.
In a world where “Michael Keaton as Batman” is something that not only happened but set the bar for subsequent portrayals of the character and an Australian musical-theater star is the best there is at playing Wolverine (and what he does is very nice), anything is possible. It's a world full of surprises, wherein seemingly easy casting decisions like Josh Brolin as Jonah Hex fail miserably, but Mark Ruffalo as Hulk helps make The Avengers one of the most successful films of all time.
We live in a world that leaves nothing certain when it comes to the faces of our favorite characters brought to life, whether they originate in comic books, novels, television series or even earlier films. Patrick Bateman from American Psycho can become Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. Harold can ditch Kumar and become a kick-ass Sulu. Heck, even Johnny Storm can emancipate himself from Fantastic Four and deliver audiences a thoroughly believable Captain America.
Because that's really the most important lesson here: that the secret to enjoying this world is to admit that we don't know the first thing about what is going to work until it happens. All we can do is decide whether to buy a ticket for a midnight showing, hoping to be among the first who do know.
For me, the spectre of my Ledger miscue looms large over the entire conversation. Getting something that wrong isn't a mistake I'd like to repeat, so I hope you'll pardon my Switzerland-like stance on the Affleck-as-Batman debate. It's just a little too early for me to condemn – or praise, for that matter – the choice of the Daredevil star as the new Batman.
Until the first trailer arrives, of course...
Rick Marshall is an award-winning writer and editor whose work can be found at Movies.com, as well as MTV News, Fandango, Digital Trends, IFC.com, and various other online, print, and on-air news outlets. He's been called a “Professional Geek” by ABC News and Spike TV, and is still not quite sure how he ended up writing (and talking) about comics, video games, and movies for a living. His personal blog can be found at <a href=”http://www.mindpollution.org/” target=”_blank”>MindPollution.org</a>, and you can find him on Twitter as <a href=”https://twitter.com/rickmarshall” target=”_blank”>@RickMarshall</a>.
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