In case you have somehow avoided all communication with the outside world today, last night brought some rather big news for superhero fans: Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman in director Zack Snyder's upcoming (and tentatively titled) Batman vs. Superman, opposite Man of Steel star Henry Cavill.
Predictably, the internet is less than pleased. The reactions have generally ranged from bemused skepticism to abject horror, but one thing is clear: The vast majority of fans are not optimistic about Batfleck.
But at the risk of being contrarian, I'll come clean with my honest first reaction: Ben Affleck will make a great Batman, and I'm more excited about Batman vs. Superman now than I have been since the day it was announced. Not convinced? Here's the case for Ben Affleck as Batman:
1. It's better than bringing back Christian Bale or Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Look, I love the Dark Knight trilogy. We all love the Dark Knight trilogy. But it's time to let it go. Like any decent three-act story, Christopher Nolan's trilogy offers a definitive beginning, middle, and end, and The Dark Knight Rises couldn't have been clearer: Bruce Wayne retires to Florence to spend the rest of his days sitting around at cafes with Selina Kyle. His story is over, and there's no way the character could be maneuvered back into the Batman suit that wouldn't feel tacked on and contrived.
And as for John "Robin" Blake, who inherits the batcave at the end of The Dark Knight Rises: Revealing that Gordon-Levitt's character was "Robin" was a cute nod to the character's history, and a nice way to indicate that Batman's greater legacy will live on long after Bruce Wayne's retirement. But it would be a possibly fatal stretch for Robin to don the cape and cowl, as some have suggested.
The Dark Knight trilogy is over — and if Batman is going to return to the big screen, it's time for a new direction.
2. Ben Affleck is a good actor
Seriously! I know, I know. Get all the Gigli, Jersey Girl, and Bennifer jokes out of your system now. And don't listen to the growing cult of comic book fans who swear by the Daredevil director's cut — it's not a good movie, and Affleck isn't good in it.
But all of that was a decade ago, and like any good actor, Affleck's talents have grown considerably since then. He's terrific in 2006's Hollywoodland, a noir-ish biopic about the mysterious death of Superman actor George Reeves. In the past few years, he's proven this talent both in front of and behind the camera as director/star of The Town and Argo. Let the past go — it's obvious from his performances over the past decade that Ben Affleck doesn't have anything to prove.
3. He'll make a great Bruce Wayne
To my mind, the mark of a good Batman performance is how well the actor plays Bruce Wayne. Michael Keaton's was eccentric; Val Kilmer's was stoic; George Clooney's was unflappably charming (and infinitely more convincing than his Batman). But Ben Affleck has delivered performances that prove he can capture a key aspect of Bruce Wayne's character: Cockiness. When he's not fighting crime on the streets of Gotham, Bruce Wayne is a handsome, charming, billionaire playboy who covers his tracks by acting like an obnoxious egomaniac. Is that really a part you think Ben Affleck is incapable of playing?
4. It's not all that hard to play Batman anyway
As far as donning the actual cape and cowl goes, I'm going to say something potentially blasphemous here: It's not all that hard to play Batman. The suit does most of the work for you. (Remember, this is a character whose modus operandi hinges on not being seen by the criminals he's hunting.) Much as I hate to pull back the curtain on all this Hollywood magic, the truth is that many of Batman's scenes will be performed by a stuntman. The rest of it — standing around in a black rubber suit, looking intimidating, growling a lot — is work that Affleck is eminently qualified for.
5. We'll get to skip the origin story
We're all focused on the Batman news today, but it's worth remembering that this isn't necessarily the dawn of a new Batman franchise — it's the character's introduction into the Man of Steel franchise. And the casting of the 41-year-old Affleck in the role is a sure sign that Zack Snyder won't bother to retread the same origin story that filmmakers have depicted in Batman, Batman Forever, and Batman Begins.
That's a great decision. One reason last year's The Amazing Spider-Man was so annoying was the wildly unnecessary decision to retell Spider-Man's origin story, which we all remembered from when Sam Raimi's Spider-Man tore up the box office in 2001. In a statement, Snyder described Affleck's Batman as "a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter." That's exactly the right direction for the character, and a clever way to offer a reboot without retreading old ground.
6. Batman has survived way, way worse than this
If you're not convinced by the last five points I've made, take solace in this: Batman has survived much, much worse than Affleck. With roughly 87 new superhero movies hitting movie theaters each year, it's easy to forget that Hollywood didn't take superheroes seriously until about a decade ago. Remember Jim Carrey mugging as The Riddler? Remember Arnold Schwarzenegger's endless stream of "ice" puns? Remember Chris O'Donnell's impossibly whiny Robin? Remember the Bat credit card, or the nipples on the Batsuit?
Let's put this into perspective, Bat-fans. Need proof that Hollywood takes superheroes seriously now? Flash back to last year's Academy Awards ceremony, when our new Batman accepted a trophy for Best Picture.
Relax, everybody. Batman is in good hands.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Why the Chinese military is only a paper dragon
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Christian conservatives have a terrifying new bogeyman: The Christian leftist
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- 5 innovative uses for baking soda
- 10 innovative furniture designs that brilliantly save you space
- Libertarianism's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea
- How liberals are unwittingly paving the way for the legalization of adult incest
Subscribe to the Week