Comics on Film: Saying Goodbye to Ben Affleck as Batman

Comics on Film: Saying Goodbye to Ben Affleck as Batman

Feb 04, 2019

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

In 2013, his casting as the most popular icon in the entire stable of DC Comics characters sent shockwaves through the devoted community of enthusiasts dedicated to the Dark Knight Detective, Batman. Some saw his casting as incongruous with the character they knew, while others were excited by the possibilities that his wearing the cape and cowl would represent.

In the end, we got three very different kinds of appearances seeing this actor as the steward of the Batman character, championed by different directors and screenwriters in each successive turn to land on a portrayal that was a bit inconsistent, save for the man at the center. Now that it's been officially confirmed by industry trades and the man himself that he will not be reprising the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in 2021's upcoming film to be directed by Matt Reeves, we're now forced to say goodbye to him.

Mr. Ben Affleck, you were one hell of a Batman.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

The Dark Knight at a Disadvantage

When Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released in March 2016, the film itself received a somewhat mixed and polarizing reception over what it did with the characters in the larger story the film aimed to tell. Fully in control of director Zack Snyder, Dawn of Justice aimed to tell an overridingly somber tale of a Batman, perhaps beyond his prime and broken over a damaging 20-year career, who was ready to destroy a new icon of heroism in the world because of a threat that he believed the alien from Krypton represented.

Dawn of Justice no doubt has a collection of extremely passionate, ardent defenders, but for many the Batman on display in the movie was unrecognizable. Yes, the character was likely contorted to fit into the mold that Snyder and screenwriters David Goyer and Chris Terrio envisioned for the story the movie aimed to tell. Still, that didn't make it any easier for many fans to adjust to the vision of a Batman who branded criminals to be killed in prison, or one who wantonly used the front-mounted machine guns on the hood of the Batmobile to tear apart and completely destroy a vehicle that had multiple human beings in it.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Some people can't separate the story told from the man at the center of the performance, but for most of the film's critics, they recognized that Ben Affleck brought a unique and truthful dedication to bringing Batman to life. In addition to the physical transformation Affleck underwent to do justice to Batman's long-standing image from the majority of the source material, he also created easily discernible public and private personas for Bruce Wayne, while also adding a previously unseen physical quickness and formidability to the way his Batman moved, spoke and fought.

This Batman was a recognizably vicious Batman, but the story cooked up by Terrio, Goyer and Snyder simply didn’t do enough justice to the core humanity of Bruce Wayne. Was he a flawed hero in BvS? Absolutely, but the story seemed primarily concerned with tearing Batman down from a previous — and extremely nebulous — point in his life of assumed greater heroism in the past.

The bottom line is that virtually all the character problems Batman suffers in Dawn of Justice have no bearing on the greatness to be found through Affleck's dedication and sheer belief granted by his first turn as Batman. It's the film that, regardless of what many may think of it, establishes Affleck as a really solid and capable Batman in his own right, without ever even thinking of who may have worn the mask before.

Justice League

Cut Off Before His Prime?

After a limited appearance in Suicide Squad – which still managed to be a highlight of that film – and a visibly different tact taken with the Batman character in 2017’s Justice League, owing to that film's production issues, reshoots and change of directors, that's pretty much it for Mr. Affleck's time as the Dark Knight. It can easily lead one to recognize that the actor simply fell victim to a change in priorities at Warner Bros., and wasn't given enough material to work with in order to adequately make the role his own.

This is probably the biggest tragedy of the end of Affleck's time as the incumbent live-action Batman: all the opportunities we'll miss out on in the future to see his brand of dedication and intensity – as exhibited by him in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – brought back in a follow-up project, particularly in a solo Batman film that would've allowed his vision of the character to shine in a perhaps more truthful direction to the source material and prior films.

Ben Affleck more than flirted with greatness as the primary Batman at the movies; he grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and forced it to the ground. Unfortunately for him, his director told him to keep on punching it until it was little more than a bloody smear at his feet and that's where the missed opportunity truly lies. If Affleck had been paired with a creative team that sought to do a more familiar sense of justice to who Batman is and what he's supposed to represent as the apex of human achievement – instead of the lows we can sink to when we stop holding ourselves in check – then Affleck's performance could very well have been cinema's greatest depiction of the Batman character.

We can't blame him for moving on, considering everything that happened over the course of the past three years at Warner Bros., and of course, the tumult he's had to deal with in his personal life. After saying all that, though, we have only one message to send to Mr. Affleck in summing up his portrayal as one of pop culture’s greatest icons:

Thank you, sir. It was a pleasure to watch you work.

Categories: Features, Geek
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