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Ben Affleck as Batman: Audiences Need Imaginations Just As Much As Film-Makers
Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman! Sound the alarms! Bring the siege cannons! Line up the archers! Organise food supply lines, we’re going to be here a while.
What is it Lieutenant? Other pressing matters, you say? Get out of here with that nonsense! Ignore the fact that the world’s governments are eroding any semblance of privacy for its citizens! Forget about people being gassed to death in Middle Eastern countries! We don’t need to kickstart a documentary on Alice Guy-Blaché, the world’s first female film-maker; someone we’ve never heard of!
Yes, I’m mocking the disproportionate outrage of the internet at a movie casting decision. Can you blame me when the vitriol spilled in Affleck’s direction is so narrow-minded? You’d think Mr Affleck had attempted to stage a coup in Egypt, or cut NASA’s budget to shreds. But nope, he just wants to put on a bat costume. So what’s going on here? I think the crux of the problem is this: imagination. There is a lack of it.
Audiences need imagination, just like film-makers. The people behind the new Batman have a vision, one we’re not privy to just yet, but suffice to say they don’t make decisions lightly. And an actor in Affleck’s position coming off a recent Academy Award win and seven years of clawing back audiences attention and respect, does not decide to become Batman without thought and genuine passion for the project.
Rather than concentrate on the casting choice, it probably would have been more constructive for everyone to question Warner Brothers’ plan for their superhero catalogue by forgoing a sequel to Man of Steel and just jumping into a versus story. But that’s another discussion for another time. Let’s look at how the internet reacted towards Affleck.
A lack of enthusiasm for Affleck as Batman is an opinion. I respect that opinion. I respect people who hold that opinion and can civilly convey it to me with a sound argument behind it. I respect them even more if they remain open minded enough to wait and see if Affleck can rise to the challenge and prove them wrong. Sometimes we get burned. Sometimes we get George Clooney with bat nipples. But what could Clooney do? He didn’t write or direct his instalment. Maybe there was a decent Batman performance buried in him, or maybe there wasn’t. His star was rising back then and he followed Batman & Robin with a selection of damn good movies in the likes of Out of Sight, The Thin Red Line, and Three Kings. Personally, I’d love to see Jon Hamm as Superman and Karl Urban as Batman, but I’m not going to use these non-existent versions as a standard to judge other actors by.
A mass outpouring of disbelief, rage and scorn is also an opinion, as it is a flagrant lack of imagination. I understand that people critical of this casting decision are going by precedent, they’re going by Affleck’s past performances, but we’re not talking about an amateur here, I think Affleck should be given the benefit of the doubt, but more about that later.
The same complaints about casting Affleck, were hurled at Michael Keaton and Heath Ledger. I distinctly remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth when Ledger was cast, with people utterly stunned by the announcement, they simply couldn’t fathom a good performance of a beloved character by the actor. These days there’s a general consensus that Ledger has given the defining performance of the Joker outside of the animated movies. By the time Batman Begins was in production the franchise was dead so there was less online commotion, but even Christian Bale’s casting was met with caution by die-hard fans, who were vying for the likes of Johnny Depp and Jude Law.
The popular refrain to this line of reasoning, when comparing Ledger and Affleck, is that Ledger was an Oscar-winning actor and that objectively speaking there was proof he would inevitably act his socks off. And that Ben Affleck by contrast is not a good actor, and incapable of giving a good performance of Batman. To that I say: find Shane Carruth, borrow his time machine, go back in time and try telling this to the whining histrionic internet of 2006-2008, please. You’ll do us all a favour and prevent a lot of headaches.
All of this hoopla highlights a lack of imagination in people. In a bizarro world which I call Lack of Imagination Land, cinema is a sad sad place. Without imagination we wouldn’t have got Keanu Reeves as Neo, John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight. And yes, beloved Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man. Risks weren’t taken in this dark alternate universe. Is that the kind of universe you want to live in?
Yeah, Affleck was in Daredevil. Robert de Niro was in Meet The Fockers 2. Ben Kingsley was in Bloodrayne. Acting gigs are inconsistent! Good actors give bad performances. Bad actors give good performance. Get over it. Daredevil was ten years ago. This guy could have given up, but instead he bounced back with a vengeance, proving himself an adept director and matured actor. Yes, Affleck might end up being terrible in the role, but save your energy and judge his performance once he’s put on the cowl. You can be disappointed in a casting decision, I get the sentiment, but WB isn’t going to reverse their decision just because you signed a petition.
The collective reaction last week was so over the top, it was both hilarious and depressing. Hilarious for the awesome gifs that resulted. Depressing for the simple fact that if studios weaken their resolve in the face of such behaviour, the big screen will become populated by the same faces playing the same kind of roles. Trust me, we don’t want that.
We should want risks. Unconventional casting choices. Second chances for actors who’ve hit rock-bottom. Faith in actors with a string of flops behind them. Opportunities for newcomers to tackle big roles.
Be glad we’re getting an older Batman and are hopefully bypassing yet another origin story, with an actor we’ve yet to see wielding batarangs. Nolan’s trilogy isn’t going anywhere, they can’t take that away from you. The beauty of superhero comics is that there really isn’t a cannon. Multiple artists and writers have had their own take on Batman, and likewise cinema will continue to experiment with the dark knight. Sometimes it will pay off, sometimes not.
The tidal wave of disbelief in Affleck’s ability to pull off Batman was too cynical. As cynical as people not giving Chris Evans a chance as Captain America. But amidst the din there have been heartening comments from people like Joss Whedon and Patton Oswalt, rallying not just behind Affleck, but behind the idea that people can overcome expectations. Imagine that.