In Defense of Affleck

Oh how quickly fandom can turn. August 2013, Ben Affleck was cast as Batman in Zack Snyder’s then-still-Man of Steel sequel and was greeted with worse fan reaction than Michael Keaton in the same role or Heath Ledger as the Joker. The mood quickly changed as cooler heads prevailed and people remembered that, oh yeah, Affleck’s actually one hell of a director. Anyone else still on the fence about his casting was converted after Zack Snyder posted the first picture of Ben in the Batsuit. It was everything we’d ever dreamed about: Batman in his grey, Dark Knight Returns-inspired outfit complete with the short ears and chunky bat logo.

And then the movie came out.

Still, other than a meme set to Sound of Silence, Affleck remained largely unscathed by the critical pummeling BvS took and was often cited as one of the best things about the movie. Fanboys placed their faith in Affleck the director. Even if Justice League didn’t quite hit the mark, at least we’d have Ben Affleck’s The Batman.

In the year following the release of BvS, Affleck has been made into this sort of Messiah-figure for fanboys. Just like Chris Nolan, we put our trust in him, and when others had doubts we encouraged them to do the same. Of course Ben Affleck was going to deliver us the greatest, most iconic Batman film of all time – one that he would write, produce, direct, and star in.  We expected a lot from this man who just a year earlier we bemoaned at his casting. Never did we take into consideration that starring in BvS, starring in The Accountant, writing, directing, and starring in Live By Night, cameo-ing in Suicide Squad, and executive producing and starring in Justice League – all within a two-year period AND while going through a divorce, mind you –  might be just a little too much for one guy. After all, he’s Batman.

Even when reports started coming out that cast doubt on the next cinematic interpretation of Batman, we clung on. Affleck can do it. He’s talented. He’s won Oscars. He’s a fan of the character. More importantly, we clung to this idea that Affleck could save the mess that is the DCEU – and that he could do it alone. Dammit, he had to do it. For us.

And then news dropped that Affleck would in fact not be directing the next solo Batman feature. Whether it’s because the poor guy is just overworked or WB got cold feet after Live By Night suffered a $75 million loss is anyone’s guess. While the news disappointed, it didn’t necessarily surprise. And almost immediately I saw it happen – the fanboys turned their ire on Affleck once more. “How can’t he come up with a decent Batman script? It’s his job.” “He’s letting all of us down.” “He’s too fragile.” “He’s to blame” for the DCEU – which was a new one.

So let’s tackle these subjects one at a time, shall we?

Writing The Batman – how could he have possibly turned in a sub-par script? The man has an Oscar for screenwriting. Truth. You know who else does? Akiva Goldsman. You know what he wrote? Batman & Robin. Screenwriting is tough when it’s the only thing you’re doing. I can’t imagine the difficulty of trying to pen an original screenplay while also starring in, directing, and executive-producing five other projects simultaneously. Factor in the microscope of incessant fanboy nagging of “when’s it gonna be done?” and the pressure to not only follow up Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy but to exceed those expectations? No thanks. (And yes, I know Terrio did a draft as well – this doesn’t inspire any more confidence).

Affleck has let all of us down. Sure. Actually, no. We let him down, didn’t we? It was our constant yammering to hurry up and get to it that probably turned him off. And does he owe us anything? Not really, no. We’ve been against him, then for him, then held him up as our only hope, and then tore him right back down again when he seceded directing duties. He doesn’t owe us a damn thing.

Another one I saw is that he’s “too fragile,” that he can’t take the criticisms, even though it’s his job. Well, Affleck still tells people in interviews that he thinks BvS is a good film and that he stands by it. So there’s that. But really think back a decade ago – to Daredevil, Gigli, and Bennifer. The dude was a pop culture punchline. “But he’s a celebrity, he asked for it, it comes with the territory.” To a point, sure. And Affleck turned around his image. He started choosing his projects with more care and tried his hand at directing and suddenly he wasn’t the butt of every joke anymore. He clawed his way to the top and won the Oscar for BEST PICTURE. And then history started to repeat itself. That’s gotta be rough on anyone. I don’t think Affleck is too fragile, but I do think he wants to make quality pictures and only quality pictures. And I can’t blame him for that.

Finally, I’ve been seeing people say that Affleck is to blame for the state of the DCEU, at least partially, since he brought Terrio onto BvS and Justice League, and he himself executive produced the latter. But here’s the thing, both of those projects were already in active development before he got involved, and both had Zack Snyder’s fingerprints all over them. “But he was basically co-directing JL! He’s an EP on it! He has a lot of control!” True, but how much control does one really have on a production that was in motion long before he was bumped up to EP? A big, special-effects picture like Justice League is going to have the major pieces (action set pieces, costumes, sets, anything to do with design) cemented and in place long before principal photography begins. And since Affleck was only made an EP months after BvS and JL started filming just a month after BvS… You can do the math.

Look, this is disappointing news. It sucks. I really wanted to see a Ben Affleck-directed Batflick, too, but not if his heart wasn’t in it. And how could it be? Look at the mess over at Warner Bros. Launching into anti-Affleck tirades won’t solve anything, because that dude is not to blame.

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