Ben Affleck: The Batman we both need and deserve

File:Ben Affleck @ Toronto International Film Festival 2010.jpgWHEN I HEARD that Ben Affleck had been announced as Batman in Zack Snyder’s Superman vs. Batman movie, and saw the hostile reception the news was greeted with, I was reminded of something said by the journalist Mike Wallace, presenter of the American investigative programme 60 Minutes.

Upon being told by a colleague that the fuss caused by a particularly sensitive story would probably blow over in 15 minutes, Wallace replied: “No, that’s fame. You get 15 minutes of fame; infamy lasts a little longer.” In Affleck’s case the infamy would probably apply to the period of his life known as the “Bennifer” era.

This was a time when, whilst dating Jennifer Lopez in a much publicised relationship, he appeared in a run of films (Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck, Surviving Christmas and Jersey Girl) which were savaged by critics (he picked up seven Golden raspberry nominations for these films, winning five) and, Daredevil aside, they all bombed at the box office. In fact, Daredevil is often used to disparage Affleck’s acting credentials as a superhero, as it marks the first time he played a superhero in film. He plays Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer, who uses his extra sensory perception to mete out justice to those who deserve it. Whilst I am not denying that his performances in this and the movies listed were truly awful, I think it’s small minded to judge him solely on what was a troubled time for the star. He has always tried to move public perception away from these films and onto his other work.

His 2006 comeback movie Hollywoodland is perhaps a better movie than Daredevil to watch and realise what Affleck could bring to the table as Batman. In it he plays the original Superman actor George Reeves, whose apparent suicide became a media frenzy. Whilst the movie isn’t great, it’s worth seeing alone for Affleck’s haunting and touching performance as a man who is driven to the very edge of his sanity by the looming cape and costume he’s associated with. It’s one of Affleck’s best performances and one that certainly assures me he could make a convincing Bruce Wayne. The Batman side of Wayne’s persona is apparently much easier to play, a very one-dimensional figure of strength, whilst Wayne is supposed to showcase the character’s duality: his cocky billionaire exterior juxtaposed with his loss, pain and uncertainty displayed in moments alone. Affleck’s predecessor Christian Bale played Wayne as an extension of his earlier American Psycho role, nailing both the confidence and fear that Wayne shows. His Batman however shouldn’t be too challenging for Affleck to follow; it was often little more than the Cookie Monster voice writ large in a cape.

In the last 5 or so years Affleck has undergone a career re-invention. He is now a highly regarded director, showing a care for even the smallest detail in each scene whilst exuding a relaxed, easy charm. Many people see Affleck as one of the jock type characters he’s portrayed in movies such as Good Will Hunting or Armageddon but, in reality, he seems to be someone who has a real passion and talent for cinema. It’s easy to forget he shared an Oscar with Matt Damon for writing Good Will Hunting and this year his movie Argo, in which he starred and directed, won three Oscars including a win for Affleck in the Best Picture category. This clearly is the work of a talented individual.

It is an interesting decision by Affleck to take up the role of Batman: although he is a big comic book fan, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale all used the role of Batman as a stepping stone to bigger things with varying degrees of success. Affleck has already been at Hollywood’s top table for over 15 years so it suggests he’s doing this movie partly out of love for the role. As long as his Batman doesn’t have rubber nipples or bat skates like previous versions, I’m sure he’ll do fine.