The Pros and Cons of Casting Ben Affleck as Batman


Warner Bros. dropped a bit of a bomb on superhero junkies last night: actor (and recently acclaimed director) Ben Affleck will be starring as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the sequel to Man of Steel. The as-yet-untitled film, rumoured to be called Superman vs. Batman, is inspired by Frank Miller’s standout Batman story The Dark Knight Returns. That comic, in turn, is perhaps best known for the massive battle between an older Batman and a government-controlled Superman in its closing pages.

The casting of Affleck as Batman has already set off a major debate. Despite Affleck’s recent success behind the camera as the director of The Town and the Oscar winner Argo, savvy film fans are still wary about Affleck’s work in front of the camera – in the early 2000s, his roles in films like Gigli and Jersey Girl severely damaged his star power, and with Affleck jumping back into a superhero costume for this new role, comparisons to the mediocre Daredevil in 2003 are inevitable.

That aside, I’m not personally opposed to the idea of Affleck as the Dark Knight. But I can’t avoid the feeling that there are a collection of positives and negatives about the announcement.

To start off, we have to consider the film Warner Bros. is making. This is not a Christopher Nolan film – movie audiences just finished with that solo story arc, complete with origin, climaxes and resolution. The Batman that Zack Snyder will feature in the Man of Steel sequel will have to come fully-formed: there won’t be enough time in the film to first explain how this Batman came to be and then tell the actual story of his encounters with Superman.

From that perspective, Affleck is a good choice. As an established star, the audience won’t need as much time to “get to know” him in the role, in the way they did with Christian Bale in Batman Begins. For better or worse, Affleck is instantly recognizable, and viewers have a good idea of what to expect from him.

Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck in 'Armageddon'

But for that very same reason, the casting seems wonky as well. Bale was a rising star when he was cast as Batman – audiences knew him, but he was definitely not on the level that Affleck is now. That means Affleck might bring baggage with him to the role – audiences instinctively think of him as “the guy from Armageddon” or “the guy from Pearl Harbor”. There’s a risk that’s all viewers will see when Affleck pulls on the cape and cowl, and they won’t believe in his portrayal.

For moviegoers who are worried about Affleck’s misses as an actor, it’s worth noting that he has matured considerably since shifting into directing. Affleck’s performances in the films he has helmed are among the best of his career, so it’s possible that he’ll come to the Batman role with a different approach than he did to his much-maligned roles from a decade ago. But it also raises the question of how well he will perform under a director like Snyder - especially since Affleck’s arguably better behind the camera than Snyder is.

Affleck’s casting does answer, in a roundabout way, the questions fans have had over the age of the character. At 41, Affleck is two years older than Bale, meaning Snyder has already decided to depart from the Batman seen in The Dark Knight Returns. The hero of that comic appears to be in his late fifties, and Batman’s age becomes a recurring theme in the story. That doesn’t rule out the filmmakers deciding to age Affleck for the role, but I’m willing to bet that we’ll see a Batman who is older than the version in the Nolan-verse, and younger than the one in the Miller story.

A panel from Frank Miller's 1986 comic book arc "The Dark Knight Returns"

Like Affleck’s star power, the age element has positive and negative sides, which depend on the kind of Batman you want to see. Snyder’s Batman probably won’t be hampered by the physical challenges of Miller’s character - so we’ll have more energetic action scenes, but less of the “underdog effect” of cheering for a character with limitations.

Snyder’s Batman, however, could still be shown to have the other aspects of the older hero: less regard for politics, more strategies and experience, and a willingness to take on apprentices like Robin. All of these elements are arguably what makes the Batman of The Dark Knight Returns such an enduring depiction, and therefore a benefit to Snyder’s film.

But depending on your point of view, you may have your heart set on seeing live-action appearance of Miller’s world-weary Batman, coming out of retirement for one last fight; Affleck’s casting nixes that.

Those are just the questions posed by the source material -  they only affect the moviegoers who are actually familiar with the comics. For the millions of people whose only experience with Batman is with the film series, Batman’s age won’t be a factor. In fact, they’ll expect to see a Batman in his prime, someone who can be a believable colleague/opponent to Superman.

Unfortunately, we still don’t have much information about the direction of the character. Director Zack Snyder’s stated interest in the narrative of The Dark Knight Returns only gives us a rough idea of what to expect from the film, and until we hear more about a completed script or other casting decisions, it’s hard to make any definitive judgments about the film or its players.

While I hate to end an article on the age-old “wait and see” message, there’s little else we can do, other than jump right into the discussion over the Affleck announcement. What do you think about the casting choice? Is Affleck a good fit, or has Snyder made a mistake? What else can we deduce about the film based on what we know so far? Sound off in the comments section, and if you liked this article, share it with your friends and followers! You can also check out some of my other “pros and cons”-style pieces here:

The Pros and Cons of Making The Hobbit into a Trilogy

The Pros and Cons of Crowdfunding Movies