The announcement this week that Ben Affleck has been cast to play Batman in Batman vs. Superman (see my full report on the story here), the upcoming Warner Bros. sequel to Man of Steel, prompted surprise from those who didn’t see it coming, and a significant amount of outrageous reactions online, mostly from loud fanboys and fangirls angry about the casting. The outcry has focused on claims that Affleck is not a good enough actor for the role, to assertions the film will flop at the box office due to his presence as Batman. And of course, as Hollywood and calmer, more thoughtful readers already know, the claims are without merit.
The degree of hyperbole involved in those overreactions is a bit embarrassing to regular fans, who have grown tired of mainstream perceptions about comic book readers being based mostly on the behavior of a small but shrill segment of fandom. It got so absurd that some of those engaged in the worst overreactions put up a petition on the official White House petition page asking the president to intervene and help reverse the casting (the petition has since been removed, presumably based on a careful government investigation determining it was crazy).
The negative fan reactions went on for hours, and led to a wave of online jokes about the casting from more mainstream folks and media, with Twitter leading the way. By morning, the entertainment press were focused as much on the negative online reaction and portrayed it as if it was some kind of widespread mainstream public opposition to the casting rather than a typical online situation where the loudest voices just get more attention. But that’s the new narrative, and so it’s time we address it head on I guess.
The voices of the Internet — or rather the tens of thousands of people (out of hundreds of millions who watch movies around the world) who went nuts and are convinced that this casting is the worst thing that ever happened in their lives — are wrong. They are wrong about the casting being bad, they are wrong about Affleck being bad, and they are wrong about how the casting will affect the movie. And I’m here to tell you the six biggest reasons they are so wrong.
1. Ben Affleck is a box office draw, and there’s no realistic way Batman vs. Superman will fail to do good box office business with Affleck on board. Affleck’s last two wide-release films took in nearly $400 million combined worldwide. He regularly starred in movies that made hundreds of millions of dollars. He was and remains a movie star with a worldwide fanbase, and his casting as Batman is going to be another instance of his star power helping an already high-profile project pull in even larger box office, as it has done for other projects in the past and present. A look at Affleck’s box office tallies makes all of this abundantly clear — films with him in a lead role have combined for $2.7 BILLION worldwide in 16 years. That means Ben Affleck’s lead-actor career has basically brought in an average of about $168 million every single year to Hollywood for 16 straight years, even years he wasn’t in a movie.
Batman vs. Superman is already going to be successful if it is remotely similar in writing and directing quality to Man of Steel (and chances are, it’ll be superior to the previous film, due to reasons I’ll get to momentarily), so adding Affleck’s name brings instant additional hype and financial benefits. And for Warner Bros., they’ll not only get those benefits for the film’s bottom line — this deal is pretty obviously part of a larger agreement that will put Affleck into the bat-suit in additional films for added financial gain for the studio, while also securing him as a filmmaker who can deliver more of his other critically acclaimed box office hits down the road. It’s almost irrelevant whether or not Affleck performs well as Batman, since the film has built-in box office potential based on the concept and rest of the film around Affleck, and due to the other incentives the deal seals for Warner with Affleck in the future.
2. Becoming a director gave Ben Affleck additional insights and perspectives about acting, and his direction of actors clearly demonstrates extreme awareness and understanding of acting and filmmaking. I don’t care what else you think about Affleck, if you claim that Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo don’t demonstrate terrific directing talent and fantastic ability to pull top-notch performances out of actors, then you are either lying or blind.
As Affleck’s insights and perspectives about acting grew and matured, his own performances — especially in movies where he had a hand in the writing and/or directing — are even better. It’s likely he will bring all of that experience to bear on his performance as Batman, especially since he is well aware that he’s going to be judged against Bale’s beloved performance and since his own career really depends on him not having another negative experience in a costume that undoes all the good will he’s built up over the last several years.
3. Watch The Town and Argo, and you should be able to grasp that Affleck is not a terrible actor. I don’t care if you don’t think he’s a great actor, and I don’t care whether you like him personally or not. Just at the very least, if you are being remotely reasonable and honest, you can’t watch him in those two films and deny he’s capable of delivering at minimum an acceptable performance. I think he was great in those movies, but that’s not the issue — great or not, he was not bad, and his performances were perfectly acceptable and did not ruin either film in the least.
So right off the bat (heh), even if you don’t love the guy or think he’s a great actor, it’s time to stop pretending that you can’t even see him as being at least a capable actor who doesn’t ruin any film in which he’s a lead performer. But if the minimum margin for rational assessment is that Affleck doesn’t ruin films and can give acceptable performances, then the more accurate and informed assessment is that he is at least able to give actually good performances, since there’s strong evidence proving that to be the case.
Ben Affleck’s acting has been nominated for awards from many of the biggest and most prestigious, informed, serious organizations in the world, including but not limited to: BAFTA, Broadcast Film Critics Association, Chicago Film Critics Association, Golden Globes, National Board of Review, Screen Actor’s Guild, and the Venice Film Festival. So if you still claim that Ben Affleck can’t act and isn’t even an okay actor, there are thousands of highly educated and informed professionals who likely know a lot more about acting than you do who would tell you that you’re wrong. And that kind of critical acclaim creates buzz that translates into dollars for movies, and provides lots of good marketing messaging to promote Batman vs. Superman, too.
Affleck has turned in plenty of good performances, several very good performances, and several great performances. Again, you don’t have to agree he’s done anything “great” or even “very good;” but if you insist he cannot even deliver at least a “good” acting performance sometimes, then your claim just isn’t very credible and contradicts the demonstrable opinion of some of the most reliable, trustworthy experts on the matter.
4. Fanboys and fangirls have an uncanny knack for being the most angry over casting where the anger turns out to be least justified. And when it comes to crazy over-the-top fan reactions that turn out to be glaringly wrong in hindsight, the stand-out examples are in fact from the history of the Batman franchise. Remember back in the late-1980′s when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman? I remember it vividly. Fans went absolutely nuts, threatening mass boycotts and starting petitions to reverse the casting, and the mainstream public laughed and assumed it was going to be a satire or a complete disaster. It was called the worst casting of all time. The Mr. Mom jokes went on and on right up until opening day, and then everyone shut up really fast.
Likewise, when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker, remember all of the gay jokes and slurs about him? Do you recall all the people pointing to A Knight’s Tale and 10 Things I Hate About You as proof this was the worst casting decision in film history? Yeah, that didn’t turn out as bad as everyone said it would, either. Then just a two years ago, fans went into a rage over the casting of Anne Hathaway and insisted she wasn’t really Catwoman, couldn’t pull of the role, and said her casting was going to ruin the film. Instead, she was one of the most popular things about the film and everyone doubting her had to eat a lot of crow.
Talented actors getting cast in Batman movies and causing a negative uproar, only to eventually prove the angry fans ridiculously wrong, is almost an established tradition for the franchise at this point. I feel pretty confident that come 2015 when we finally see Ben Affleck as Batman, we’ll discover the tradition remains alive and well.