The casting of Ben Affleck as Batman caught EVERYONE off guard. The way I found out about it was not on twitter, but when the Variety newsletter came into my inbox with the news. I thought it was one of their Hollywood & Swine humor pieces. I couldn't believe it. Then the Deadline newsletter came in next and I knew it was no joke. Then my phone started blowing up and it set in... Warners got their man. Personally, I think it is an AWESOME choice. I dig Affleck as an actor and especially as a filmmaker. I'm excited to see what he brings to the table. The conversation with my friends and peers have been nonstop since the news broke. I had one cool conversation with my Kings Of Con partner Daniel Alter and told him he should articulate his thoughts into an article. Lo and behold here it is below so enjoy.
First thing’s first: BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT are my two favorite comic book film adaptations of all time. In fact, they are two of my all time favorite movies. In a perfect world, I would have preferred Warner Bros. announced Christian Bale is reprising his role as Batman last Thursday. Not because I think Ben Affleck will never be as good as Bale. But, because I love everything Bale’s casting would’ve entailed.
Currently, Christian Bale is The Batman for me. Michael Caine’s Alfred is pitch perfect. Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox is better than I could’ve ever imagined. Gary Oldman’s Gordon is inspired. And Hans Zimmer’s score is what I hum in my head at the very thought of the caped crusader these days.
That last fact is perhaps the most important since it’s the one thing I never thought possible in 2005. I was seven years old when Tim Burton’s BATMAN came out in ’89. It was the first film I saw three times in the theater. I didn’t know many fans had initially been outraged over the casting of Keaton. I didn’t know who Ra’s al Ghul was, or that the Joker’s origin was something that probably shouldn’t have been shown. I had no idea who Frank Miller was and what he had done with characters like Gordon or themes like escalation. All I knew was Adam West, and wondered if Robin would be in the sequel.
By the time Burton and Keaton had moved on and Schumacher had taken over, I did know who Miller was and was watching Paul Dini’s amazing animated series. BATMAN FOREVER disappointed me on opening night. I rightfully never had any real anticipation for BATMAN & ROBIN and was beyond angry opening night after seeing that film.
Tim Burton’s two installments are like two great else-world graphic novels to me. I defend them to this day. But after the 12:01 am show of BATMAN BEGINS in ’05, the ‘89 film’s special place in my childhood top 10 had been overridden by a profound love for what Chris Nolan had achieved. And while Danny Elfman’s brilliant score is equally as stirring as Zimmer’s, it’s the latter that now comes to mind when I think of Batman. That is the power of film. That is the power of Chris Nolan’s BATMAN films.
Christopher Nolan has decided to give a definitive ending to his BATMAN movie universe. I think he could’ve made one more film in between the second and third. But that’s his choice. And it’s Christian Bale’s choice not to come back and play BATMAN for another director. But we all knew Batman, like James Bond and Spider-man (and eventually Iron Man and Wolverine), would live on with another actor someday soon. The question was who, and when?
If you’re Warner Bros, you’ve got to be pretty happy with MAN OF STEEL’s ability to reboot SUPERMAN. Much like BATMAN BEGINS once did, this new Superman yarn has made The Man of Steel cool again. But unlike what the THE DARK KNIGHT did in Gotham with The Joker, there’s just not much room to up the stakes in Metropolis for a sequel; the city was destroyed! Adding Lex Luthor is not enough to compete with the epic scale of action Zack Snyder unleashed on us this summer. Audiences now expect something huge. Even the most amazing casting decision for the Lexcorp CEO probably won’t do it. And while Marvel is off to the races with THE AVENGERS and their shared filmic universe, Warners has stumbled with THE GREEN LANTERN effort and has to deal with the ending of the Nolan/Bale BATMAN series.
The studio, Snyder, and writer David Goyer need “an ace in the hole” as The Joker said in THE DARK KNIGHT. And it’s Batman. I don’t know what happened with Will Beall’s Justice League script, or whose idea it was to scrap an all out DC Universe team-up film and concentrate on bringing Batman and Superman together first. I do know whoever’s idea that was (Warners’, Snyder, Goyer, etc...) is on the right track. Batman and Superman have a special relationship that needs to be developed independently before you start bringing other meta-humans into the mix; especially if you don’t have Bale and all the goodwill he brings with him. And like I said, there weren’t many places for a MAN OF STEEL sequel to go anyway. So now we’re all geeking out about the fact that we’re finally getting the two greatest super-heroes of all time together in a big-budget live-action major studio film.
There’s just one problem. Whoever got cast as Batman was going to be compared to Bale. It’s inevitable. Now I know some fans would’ve preferred Josh Brolin or Ryan Gosling. Just like some fans would’ve preferred Clive Owen got the Bond role and not Daniel Craig a few years back. In fact, many fans were outraged at the casting of Craig. Now he’s the best Bond ever; or at, least since Connery. Go figure.
Personally, I didn’t want Gosling. He’s a great actor but would’ve felt like an emulation of Bale. Brolin may have literally been Batman from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS graphic novel. But I also fear he would’ve been the Bruce Wayne from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS; which is a very specific interpretation of that character that I don’t want to see in an eventual JLA movie or future solo bat-pics.
As for casting an unknown, as they did with Cavil for Superman... I think to not be undermined by the shadow cast over Bale having only recently hung up the Cowl, you needed someone who brought automatic gravitas. Clooney’s already done it. So you got Leo, Pitt, and...NEWSFLASH Fanboys: the star of THE TOWN and ARGO is now on that list. Now I know to some of you guys he’ll always be “the bomb in PHANTOMS, yo”...but... grow up! To general audiences, he’s the beloved star (and director) of this years 100 million dollar grossing best picture winner. That’s right boys and girls; between THE TOWN and ARGO, #batfleck has directed himself back to the top of Hollywood’s A-list.
Warners wants to keep him in the fold and they have a role they can offer that can be what IRON MAN is to Robert Downey, Jr.. I think he’s going to be a warmer and more relatable Bruce Wayne than we’ve had before, something that has been done well in the comics many times as well as Dini’s animated series. As for Batman, there are few (remember I said that) directors who can bring that character to life better than Zack Snyder. And if you hold DAREDEVIL being a bad film against Ben Affleck, it’s as silly as saying Christian Bale never should’ve been cast as Batman after being in REIGN OF FIRE. Chris Evans’ role in the FANTASTIC FOUR movies has had no bearing on his ability to be a great Captain America.
Batman is arguably the most valuable superhero intellectual property in the world. Up until THE AVENGERS with it’s higher priced 3d tickets, not to mention inflation, expanding foreign markets, etc...THE DARK KNIGHT was the highest grossing super-hero film of all time. If I’m Warners, I want to hedge my bets. Same way Disney should when Downey decides to cast off his armor. In their case, they may have got two for one. Because speaking of that short list of directors... When it comes time for some standalone Batman films, I can’t think of anyone better than Ben Affleck to be calling action.
Daniel Alter is a film producer based in Los Angeles whose credits include HITMAN, THE APPARITION, and is attached to produce JONNY QUEST in development at Warners. Follow Daniel on twitter.