By RA Bartlett
This Thursday, perhaps one of the most explosive reactions to a pre-production film element in the age of new media took place. Warner Bros. pictures announced that their Batman in the upcoming team-up film that follows up the events of Man of Steel would be played by none other than Ben Affleck.
Everyone ran to the social media to make their own joke about it. The usual subject matter including 2003's Daredevil, the possibility of wife Jennifer Garner playing Wonder Woman, Matt Damon playing Robin and Batman having a Boston accent, among much, much more. There were even backhanded compliments, talking about how Affleck's skill as a director meant his involvement in the production was, at best, backwards. A petition to the president would be made. It's been largely described as "nerdrage", but to be honest, this perhaps hit the net in a very mainstream way. I mean, it's truly hard to tell what counts as true geekery these days. I've been part of most geeky online communities. I remember the days when people would blow their tops over things like, Arwen having an expanded role in Lord of the Rings or the rumor of N*Sync in a Star Wars movie. Largely, when geeks get mad over things it tends to be when girls or things girls like are involved (Thus popular target ranges in quality from Titanic to Twilight).
It's this sense of invasion, that all our favorite superheroes and space operas are an escape from the outside world. But now, these things are undeniably the outside world. Where Loki, of all characters has a devoted female fan base. Those lines are now pretty blurred. And so is the kneejerk reaction to Affleck.
On a whim, I created a fake [Facebook] event, calling for a protest and eventual ritual suicide in an appeal to Warner Brothers over their decision. I'm largely unsure what most people are taking it as. One comic book-centered facebook group seemed offended (But I'm not sure if it was because they were taking it at face value, or that I was making light of internet protests. It was a lot of vague, monosyllabic "fuck this shit's"). And I've gotten several dozen people signing up without me really inviting anybody. And let me say, the roster is...pretty diverse. I've gotten people who seem to genuine Batfans. I've gotten people who looks kind of like the cocky fratboys I accuse Affleck of, (I mean, when your profile picture is the usual horse-grinned, backwards-cap selfie, I'm not sure what your problem with Ben Affleck could possibly be) and I've gotten people who speak in languages I don't even recognize. It's a very diverse outfit. And while I think there are those who see it for the joke it is, I think it's a large amount of diverse folks who are united in this belief Ben Affleck should not play Batman. Why this intense disgust with the idea?
Batman is a very versatile character, perhaps the most versatile in all of heroic fiction in his characterizations and tone, His adventures run the gamut from swashbuckling to noir. From science fiction to gritty realism. From stories about the maddening nature of isolation. To parables about creating a family when one has none. And with this range of interpretations comes a character who has been the best of times, and the worst of times. Batman can be an all-time classic to a severe embarrassment, sometimes simultaneously. With this comes the hope that a Batman story can be simply awesome, laced with a dread that things can go very, very wrong. So why is Affleck associated with this wrong?
Well, a lot of comic aficionados don't take well to teen idols,but I'm not sure Ben Affleck was ever that. There was nothing akin to Leomania, or whatever Channing Tatum has now. There was no Titanic or The Notebook or something that led girls to put pictures of him in their lockers. I mean, there were probably some. But I think for Ben Affleck , being a movie star kind of just happened. What might have been a career as the guy who serves as the hypotenuse to our hero, (That is, the jerk who the main character's love interest is supposed to realize is "not the one") Affleck had doublefold change of fortunes in 1997. One was, after working with Kevin Smith as one of those selfsame "bad boyfriend" parts, Smith drafted him to play the main character in Chasing Amy, a lean, raw, and hip independent film.
He also co-wrote Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon, whereupon they won an Academy Award for their writing efforts. Suddenly, Affleck was thrust into the upper echelon of Hollywood, with leading roles and famous girlfriends, and production posses which meant he never really hurt for attention. However, it seemed he almost exemplified the concept of "The Peter Principle". he was decent enough as a secondary man, the kind that your James Marsdens and your Dermot Mulroney's specialize in. But how dare he make it to the top of the pack, get named "People's Sexiest Man Alive and generally be famous in a way even most movie stars aren't? That is to say, Affleck became a household name on secondary roles and increasingly bad movies. Even right off the heels of Good Will Hunting he was the butt of punchlines. In a lot of ways, he seemed emblematic of what was wrong with Hollywood. And then there was his relationship with Jennifer Lopez, who, for all faults and virtues, seemed to embody the mag grasp for fame. He was saturating everyone, causing people to wonder why he was a big deal in the first place, when there was no actual breakout per se. When Gigli was released, there was practically a catharsis in what a mess it was. He was driven off into the wilderness, a cautionary tale about the machine of Hollywood.
But then, Ben turned one of the most surprising corners in history. It started off with a couple of quiet supporting roles. Then came directing. He started off with Gone Baby Gone, the gritty, uncommercial, "didn't star in it, so you know it was for the art," effort. Then came The Town, which was a crime thriller, and crime thrillers are a great way to show you're about the prestige and still be bad-ass. And of course, there was Argo, a risky period film that was socially conscious and managed to be that movie both you and your parents liked. It was actually a pretty big hit, and these day, movies that are big hits that appeal to older crowds are just, you know, innately better for society. Affleck had three widely-considered excellent movies under his belt. (More than other famous leading men-turned directors, like Mel Gibson an Kevin Costner had going for them) When Argo won Best Picture, it was a the cap on a redemption story, a coronation. (Albeit without an actual Best Director nomination) It was proof anyone can go from a joke to respectable if they work at it. It was strangely ironic, that Affleck, the man who was so loathed for being kind of famous by default, lent his fame to the movie's narrative. Affleck, the second-rate movie star who directed first-rate films is now part of Hollywood legend. The kind of thing that will be probably be referenced when someone makes a movie about time travel or a character waking up from a coma. Perhaps that's as much a part of the anger. Affleck stepping into the blockbuster zone feels like, to many people, a relapse. Like an alcoholic taking a drink or your cheating boyfriend flirting with a girl at a bar. To many film fans, it probably reads like Robert Downey Jr having a coke binge.
Now of course, in my opinion, there are worse problems with the production than Affleck being in it. Number one is that its made by the same people who made Man of Steel, a movie that has its defenders, but in the long run, a polarizing comic book movie just ends up being seen as bad. (Just as Ang Lee's, The Hulk.) Secondly, that it's a movie that's kind of being made against the director and screenwriter's wishes. (Apparently WB kind of sprung a Superman/Batman movie on the production team days before announcing it at Comic-Con.) And most importantly, the movie is being rushed out. It has no script. It's being made as some kind of desperate action to compete with Marvel and spite Legendary Pictures, the production company that recently split with Warner Bros. There's so much "being made for the wrong reasons" decision-making going on, I'm surprised they could even manage to land Affleck. Plus, to be honest, I'm kind of Batman'ed out. Even if Affleck s the worst thing to happen to the character in a long while, maybe it would be for the best. Even the Caped Crusader needs a rest. I'm not going to ask anyone to relax though. The reactions are more entertaining than the movie will likely be.