A Tribute to Batfleck, A Good Batman in Bad Movies
Poor Ben Affleck. This week, after just two starring roles in other heroes’ films, he was unceremoniously retired from the biggest acting gig of his career, as the Batman of the DC Extended Universe.
This was not supposed to happen. Affleck has the movie star looks to play Bruce Wayne, and the action-hero cred to play the Dark Knight. But his career as Batman went bad before it even officially started. The first picture of him in the role, a moody black-and-white photo of the Caped Crusader standing in front of the new Batmobile, became an instant internet meme; “Sad Batman.” People plucked Affleck out of the photo and put him in front of Snoopy’s dog house, they had him talk with Sad Keanu, they Photoshopped him so it looked like he was awkwardly dancing with a middle-schooler. It became a whole thing.
But you know what? Playing a morose Batman is a totally viable choice. Batman is a guy who should be sad. His parents are dead, he’s totally alone in the world, he gets zero credit for all the times he’s saved Gotham City, he’s in constant agony from all the physical abuse he puts his body through, and he never gets to sleep more than two or three hours at a time. Basically, being Batman sucks. Don’t think so? Just ask Ben Affleck.
If you’re going to make a movie about how being Batman sucks, Ben Affleck is a perfect choice to play a weary, aging Bruce Wayne. You only need to see one picture of Ben Affleck eating ice cream in Beverly Hills, his face filled with sorrow and Butter Brickle, to know he gets where that dude is coming from. Even with all the money in the world, he desperately needs something to fill this bottomless void in his soul. In lieu of two scoops of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, he chooses to dress like a bat and punch criminals in the neck.
But Affleck never got to play that guy. Zack Snyder, who directed both of the Batfleck films — Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League — doesn’t make movies about sad superheroes. He makes movies about angry ones. His Justice Leaguers are, for whatever reason — the death of their parents, their feeling that the world does not respect them, the fact that the ridiculous diet needed to maintain their absurd physique means they haven’t eaten anything but boiled chicken, broccoli, and shadows for the last six years — furious about everything. And rage has never been Affleck’s strong suit. He was the right guy in the wrong movies; ideally cast and utterly miscast all at once.
It’s a shame Affleck never got to make a film where Batman was the solo star and lead. Both of the Bat-movies he did appear in were ensemble pictures with other heroes, which meant he was almost exclusively Batman and rarely Bruce Wayne, the sad, lonely weirdo that Affleck could have brought some interesting stuff to. He also rarely got to play Bruce as a romantic figure, even though he had a nice rapport with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in the few scenes they got to play together that didn’t involve Mother Boxes and Doomsday monsters. The sparks between them in this sequence always made me wish Warner Bros. had made Batman & Wonder Woman, instead of Batman v Superman:
Affleck is not the first actor to be in the right Bat-place at the wrong Bat-time. George Clooney also brought some interesting things to the table as the Dark Knight; a detached air of authority, a notion of Bruce Wayne as a flesh and blood human being, a wry sense of humor about the whole notion of fighting crime in a big rubber bat-suit. But the movie he made, Batman & Robin, was a ridiculous live-action cartoon. It gave him almost nothing to play. Even if you enjoy the movie’s campy vibe, you have to concede that it’s not the right vibe for George Clooney’s Batman.
The disaster of Batman & Robin didn’t kill Clooney’s career, and these couple of DCEU movies won’t kill Affleck’s either. He’s a skilled director and writer, as well as an actor, so perhaps he’ll find a place to explore some of the things he saw in Batman elsewhere. I, for one, will go to my grave insisting Affleck was a good Batman, even if his Batman movies suggest otherwise. And I can pretty much guarantee you that we will never hear Affleck utter the word “Martha” in a motion picture ever again.
Gallery — The History of Batman in Movies: