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They must have sent out the press release tonight about Ben Affleck being cast as Batman for Warner's upcoming "Superman Vs. Batman" about three minutes after I walked out the door of the HitFix office this evening.
As a result, I didn't know about it at all during my screening tonight. I slipped in just as the lights went down, and as soon as it was over, I was up and on my way to the car. It wasn't until I walked into the house and booted up the computer that I saw the chatter on Twitter, on Facebook, in my e-mail box. I saw Affleck's name first, over and over, and I had that horrible "Oh, god, I hope he's not dead" moment that comes anytime I see a celebrity's name explode over social media.
As we do with many big stories, we gathered three HitFix contributors to spitball some quick responses to questions that the casting of Affleck raised for us.
1. Simply, is Ben Affleck a good choice to play Batman?
Dan Fienberg: Remember that guy from "Hollywoodland" and the lead from "Argo" and perhaps the brash dude from "Boiler Room"? To me, that guy is at least interesting casting in almost any role. We spent the better part of six or seven years learning not only not to hate Ben Affleck, but remembering to genuinely respect him again. I'm not prepared to forget all of that accumulated good faith just because some people on the Interwebs are skeptical that a two-time Oscar winner has the substance to star in a Zack Snyder superhero movie. Since "Superman vs. Batman" doesn't actually have a script yet, it's impossible to know how well Affleck fits with Snyder and David Goyer's conception of Bruce Wayne/Batman, but in and of itself? Sure. Perfectly interesting casting.
Gregory Ellwood: It's a tough call. Statistically he appears to give the role what we've heard the storyline calls for (late 30's, early 40's Bruce Wayne) and financially what the studio wanted (a well known name to make the clash an intriguing marketing mix). Beyond that, Affleck is a fine actor, but hardly one with significant range. He's never convincingly played a truly "dark" character. That's what fans expect now after three Nolan films. A whole generation of Batman fans have grown up with that take on the Dark Knight. Affleck? Well, he seems like he would have made a great Batman and Bruce Wayne in Richard Donner's Superman universe...over three decades ago. Needless to say, it could have been worse.
Drew McWeeny: Sure. One way it's very savvy casting is that it further strengthens the relationship between Affleck and Warner Bros. More than any of the big Hollywood studios, the legacy of Warner Bros. is based on them developing long-term relationships with talent both in front of the camera and behind it and then trusting those people. Considering the reaction to "Argo" last year, it seems perfectly logical to me that Warner would ask Affleck to join them in rebooting what they have to consider one of their most important overall properties. He's also a very sharp mind to add to the team as they work to pin down a script before shooting begins. Having him in the mix can only be a good thing for them.
2. Should we assume this means Affleck is signed on for a "Justice League" movie?
Fienberg: Sure, you don't sign a new Batman for this movie without guaranteeing that he'll be the Batman you carry over to "Justice League," because although we'll tolerate three different Hulks in a decade, we require at least some continuity. But there are two big things here for me. One: What does Affleck's starpower do to the calibration of the rest of the cast? He's Ben "Multiple Oscar Winner" Affleck. He already enters this movie towering over Henry Cavill in clout. But how can WB assemble an ensemble around Affleck for "Justice League" that'll match him? Or perhaps the better question is... Is Ben Affleck playing Batman here so that Ben Affleck can direct a "Justice League" in which Batman is only a small part? So even those doubting Affleck as Batman should be interested in the hypothetical enthusiasm he'd bring behind the camera after getting a feeling for this world in front of it.
Ellwood: Unless his portrayal of the character is universally reviled you can guaranteed it. This is likely one of Affleck's last major paydays as a leading man and from a business perspective he probably couldn't turn it down. WB isn't treating these movies like Marvel does. Affleck will get highly compensated for helping them expand the DC movie universe.
McWeeny: I would say they must want him to do it, but if "Superman Vs Batman" turns out to be some horrible miscalculation, there's no way they'll push forward with it. Right now, this is all about making the right moves from here to "Justice League" for Warner Bros. I can guarantee they'll recast Green Lantern, if they even use the Hal Jordan version, and that's because they know that no one (not even the mom of Ryan Reynolds) wants to see anything from "Green Lantern" carried over. But Cavill? Even with audiences divided over "Man Of Steel," it's safe to say that Cavill worked, and so of course he'll be the guy for "Justice League." Same thing applies here. If Affleck nails it, he'll wear the cowl as long as he wants to.
3. Fans seem underwhelmed by the news so far. Should Warner Bros. be concerned?
Fienberg: The least hated Batman of my lifetime, at the time of his casting, was Val Kilmer, who was mostly somewhat hated because he replaced Michael Keaton, who everybody loved once they got over hating him. So no. I don't think Warner Brothers should be the slightest bit concerned about any underwhelming response, sight unseen, to Ben Affleck as Batman. The studio should maybe be a bit more concerned that although some people loved the heck out of "Man of Steel," roughly as many people hated it. And they hated it based on what was there, rather than pure speculation. And the people who made that movie are making this movie. With a convincing teaser trailer, Affleck will win the fanboys over. It's going to take more than just a trailer to sway the Goyer/Snyder skeptics.
Ellwood: The reaction of many is more of blase indifference than excitement or disgust. That might concern Snyder and Warner Bros. more than anything. You at least want a reaction. And, granted, Affleck himself knows there will be naysayers among the fans and media who won't believe he can pull this off. Therefore, expect him to be incredibly self-deprecating for the next two years or so when asked about the project. Still, the studio is going to have to be careful about this one. One crappy paparazzi image of Affleck looking odd in a badly designed batsuit or a strangely cut teaser trailer could dampen enthusiasm. In many ways, the studio and Snyder have more pressure on them than with "Man of Steel." That movie just got things rolling again. The sequel needs to be the kick-off for a much larger endeavor.
McWeeny: I'd like to look in the talkbacks and the message boards and see how many of the people who are already bellyaching about Affleck's casting were equally pissy when Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker. That was one of the nastiest reactions I've ever seen, overall, and we all know how that ended up. Fan reaction at this stage is nothing. It's hot air. It's energy spent for the sake of itself. No one's read the script. No one knows what they have in mind. No one has an informed opinion, so none of the reactions really matter. Either he'll do a great job, or he won't. Either the script will give him something interesting to do, or it won't. But tonight, less than six hours after the announcement was made? None of this matters in the slightest.
Sure, people are having fun with the hashtag #Batfleck tonight, and a lot of it is genuinely very funny. But this, like most things, is going to be a case of wait and see. Now… cast Michael Keaton as Lex Luthor, and we've got ourselves a movie.
I'm sure we'll run at least one more story on this film before its release in 2015.
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