Will Batfleck rise from the ashes to lead the line for Matt Reeves’ detective story
Despite having a pretty turbulent lifestyle off-screen one thing is undeniable, Ben Affleck has offered DC Universe fans a pretty decent incarnation of the Dark Knight. Like most people, I was sceptical when he cast in the role. I thought his incarnation of Daredevil was pretty solid, but I just couldn’t picture him slipping into the famous cowl of the Dark Knight.
Christian Bale had only recently completed his tenure with a hugely successful trilogy with Christopher Nolan, one that is arguably one of the greatest Batman stories ever told on film and the thought of Ben Affleck taking the reins was not a welcome one. However, like most diehard Batman fans I decided to stay the course and hope for the best.
Despite being a mega Marvel fan with a penchant for the adamantium-clawed rebel, Wolverine my first love in comic books has always been Batman.
Being a child of the eighties, I grew up watching reruns of Batman: The Original Series with the great Adam West before discovering the darker side of the character in Tim Burton’s broody blockbusters. Just one year later, my concept of what Batman should be was changed forever with the release of Batman: The Animated Series. Bruce W. Timm and Paul Dini surpassed the world’s expectations and delivered what would go on to be regarded as the quintessential incarnation of the Dark Knight EVER made.
Despite Batman Forever and the abysmal Batman & Robin diluting the Dark Knight’s legacy, my love of the character has never weaned. This trend continued with Batman Begins which I regard as one of the better Batman movies to date. Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan combined to bring us a fantastic incarnation of the Dark Knight and utilised the Scarecrow, a character seriously underrated in the movie fraternity as its villain alongside Ra’s Al Ghul. It’s back to basics philosophy was the perfect tonic to cleanse our memory of George Clooney’s dopey dynamic duo from Batman & Robin and succeeded in putting Batman back on top of the box office.
It’s sequel, The Dark Knight was one of the finest follow up movies ever made. It upheld the depth and character of its predecessor, but also added one of the greatest incarnations of Batman’s ultimate nemesis, The Joker thanks to a stellar performance from the late Heath Ledger. Sadly, the final chapter in the trilogy was anticlimactic. The Dark Knight Rises, while utilising some of the most popular comic-based storylines failed to enhance Christopher Nolan’s story and altered many of the fundamental traits of its characters. Tom Hardy delivered a typically mesmerising performance as Bane, but the interpretation was a shadow of his cookbook incarnation and omitted many of his more famous traits.
And, the less said about the film’s conclusion the better…
Despite the Dark Knight Rises falling far short of the standard set by its predecessors, Christian Bale produced a fantastic performance as Batman. He encapsulated the dark and broody tone of Bruce Wayne by day and projected the essence of a vengeful Dark Knight when he slipped into the cowl at night. Like most fans, I just couldn’t see his performance being bettered. His performance was on par with that of Michael Keaton in Batman and Batman Returns, the first major motion picture outing for the caped crusader, aside from Adam West’s superb Batman: The Movie of course.
Enter Zack Snyder and his dismal vision of the DC Universe…
Being a devoted fan of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, I found Man of Steel to be a tedious character assassination. As with the majority of Zach Snyder’s works, it looked great on film but failed to deliver anything more than a frivolous rehash of the origin story whilst diluting the essence of the Superman character and transforming him into a bloody, miserable version of his predecessor. In short, what Snyder produced was not a Superman movie. The characteristics were missing. The super had been removed from the man.
Fast forward to San Diego Comic-Con 2013 and imagine my surprise when Warner Bros announced plans to bring both Superman and Batman together on the big screen for the very first time. Years earlier, Bruce W. Timm had successfully brought the pair together on the small screen in his animated feature: Batman & Superman: World’s Finest and had found the perfect balance for both characters to uphold their individual traits whilst still work together, albeit somewhat tenuously.
The announcement was greeted with delight around the world, but the topic on every fans’ lips swiftly turned to the burning question…who was going to play Batman?
And then Warner Bros confirmed that Ben Affleck would be slipping into the cowl for the big screen showdown and the fans responded with disbelief. The reaction was less than enthusiastic, so much so that he swiftly gained the nickname Batfleck but, no sooner was he pictured in the Bat-suit opinions began to change. As did mine. I was baffled by Affleck’s appointment. For me, he didn’t fit the mould at all, but I was more than willing to give him the chance to prove me wrong.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released on March 25, 2016, and received mixed reactions. So much so that it endured a historic second-week drop in revenue which torpedoed its eventual box office longevity. Sadly, the film was another bitterly anticlimactic test of endurance packed to the brim with over-elaborate special effects and lethargic fight sequences. However, Gal Gadot‘s performance as Wonder Woman was hailed as a triumph and in a surprising turn of events, Ben Affleck’s portrayal as Bruce Wayne / Batman was wholeheartedly embraced by the fans.
It was a shocking turnaround.
With so many fans in opposition to his casting, who would have thought Affleck’s performance would go on to be hailed as a triumph. Certainly not me, but I was proud to have been proven wrong in this case. I loved his performance in Batman v Superman, his incarnation of the Dark Knight was the Batman I was looking for; it wasn’t just dark, broody and vengeful, it maintained the integrity of a hero in the face of his greatest threat.
Affleck built upon his Batman legacy by donning the cowl for a cameo appearance in Suicide Squad, a cameo that not only teased us with a confrontation with The Joker and Harley Quinn but also saw him apprehend Deadshot in the gentlest way possible for the sake of his daughter. It was the next step in Bruce Wayne’s journey and symbolised his recovery from the depths of despair and anguish seen in his character during his previous outing.
I hate to admit it, but even though Zack Snyder has no comprehension of how to bring these characters to life on screen, the incarnation of Batman produced by his collaboration with David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan was fantastic. That was until the Justice League movie categorically ripped the character apart and dragged Batman back into chaos, kicking and screaming all the way…
It was nothing short of another character assassination.
The Dark Knight’s vengeful persona and his obligation fuelled by the murder of his parents was replaced by a happy go lucky character desperate to make amends with his one-time adversary, Superman. In fact, Batman even smiles with pure elation when Superman arrives to face Steppenwolf during the movie’s finale, a character trait Batman would never show. The Dark Knight is more likely to reprimand his super-powered comrade for his tardiness before coordinating their efforts and leading them to a decisive victory. The conflicting styles of Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder did Batman a great injustice and diluted the essence of his persona to such degree that he became Superman’s leading cheerleader.
How could they get it so wrong?
Bruce W. Timm and Paul Dini handled the meeting between Batman and Superman in stellar fashion for their animated adventures, and yet the big screen outings continually pull in different directions and fail to harness the brilliance of both. Since Justice League’s release, the DC Universe has been thrust into a state of chaos. Ben Affleck has reportedly vacated his position as Batman on more than one occasion only to contradict his statement days later by confirming he is still very much committed to the role. He was commissioned by Warner Bros to write, star in and direct his very own Batman movie but resigned from the post just months later citing the enormity of fulfilling all three roles and has since passed the torch over to War for the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves.
And more recently, Affleck has found himself in a downward spiral, one which has seen him relapse into a battle with alcoholism forcing him to submit to a forty-day residential detox programme. It is a tragic fall from grace.
Furthermore, with Affleck’s personal life being so precarious, Matt Reeves has been forced to concede that his Batman movie, simply titled The Batman may have to look for a new Dark Knight thus signifying the end of Affleck’s tenure. If that is indeed the case, I will be sorry to see him vacate the role. But if his demons are as powerful as they seem and with his dedication to the role clearly diminishing perhaps the timing couldn’t be better to spring clean the Batcave once again in favour of a fresh start.
Only time will tell. However, I would not be opposed to Ben Affleck suiting up as the Dark Knight one more time. With a great screenplay and the right director, it would be incredible to see him relinquish the role on the back of the best Batman movie ever made.
But maybe that’s hoping for too much…
In the meantime, Matt Reeves’ The Batman is charging forward with or without Ben Affleck. The director has been quoted as saying he has written a truly dark and gritty detective story, one that encapsulates the brilliance of the Dark Knight which is music to my ears. I cannot wait to take my seat in the auditorium of my nearest IMAX cinema ready to explore Reeves’ vision of Batman. His previous work on the Planet of the Apes franchise has been breath-taking at times and the thought of him applying the same enthusiasm to Batman is a tantalising prospect. Now, if we could only tempt him to incorporate the Man-Bat!!
But who will be Batman? That is the million-dollar question…
The next DC Universe character to take on the challenge of dominating the box office is Aquaman. Prepare to claim the throne of Atlantis on December 12th.
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