Monday, September 2, 2013

Everybody calm the fuck down.

Like most of my generation, I don't think I'll ever forget where I was when I heard that Ben Affleck had been cast as Batman. I called my brother to tell him the news; he was in an airport in Vancouver, awaiting a flight that had no doubt been delayed as part of the general chaos that followed the announcement. The airport's inhabitants, by and large, did not seem to have heard the news. I urged my brother not to share this dark knowledge with anyone else waiting at the terminal. After all, we were in all likelihood talking about a huge bomb.

I was impressed with the speed at which the internet agreed upon the most important jokes to be told about this. It must be said, Affleck really was the bomb in Phantoms. It's fun to make fun of Affleck, though; he was cool in the late 90s, then became a pariah, and spent about a decade digging his way back to cool. Which is fine, but maybe, when it comes to cool, Batman isn't an entry level job?

What I find irritating--what interrupts the joy of an old-fashioned internet hate-on for one of the oughts' most irritating celebrities--is this weird belief that Affleck is going to hurt the Batman brand. Presumably that brand, now around seventy-five years old, is vulnerable in the immediate aftermath of a trilogy of critically acclaimed international blockbusters, along with two hugely profitable videogame adaptations and a third on the way. Also, DC still prints comic books, apparently? Nonetheless, a susbtantial portion of the internet seems to believe that, if Warner Bros. doesn't play this just right, then...well, something will happen, presumably. The flipside of this are the people who wearily express their disapproval and disbelief that there'll be more Batman films at all, because the film industry is about making the films we need, not the ones we'll pay to see.

Regardless, Affleck is a solid actor and he'll probably be a perfectly serviceable Batman. It's more likely the film will drag him down than vice versa, because, honestly, before you heard the announcement, how likely did it seem that Batman vs. Superman would be good? It's already something of a miracle that Man of Steel was as good as it was, and it's far from a unanimous opinion that it was. At the Comic-Con announcement, great care was taken to link the new film in fans' minds with act IV of Dark Knight Returns, to the point of having Harry Lennix (for some reason) read aloud Batman's victory monologue. If they're serious about that, I suspect the project is doomed from the start, because I doubt there's any way to get to where act IV of DKR begins in the first hour and a half of a movie with only Man of Steel to rely on for continuity. If it's a feint--or rather, if it's a way to dissuade people from skepticism by appealing to the most respected superhero comic of the past generation--then there's a chance it could work. I certainly wouldn't have believed it was possible to make a great Avengers movie until I saw Joss Whedon make it happen. But then, most writers aren't Joss Whedon, are they?

We nitpick actors' performances as superheroes for the same reason people argue about the best James Bond: not because these roles are particularly challenging, in and of themselves, but because they're understood to be iconic roles that are bigger than any particular actor. What makes Batman a challenging role, when it is, is a competent screenwriter. People seem to forget this very easily. Keaton's Batman was endearing for his wit, his eccentricity, and his less-than-superheroic appearance, but the first two wouldn't have worked if Sam Hamm had written him as the smarmy, catch-phrase-spouting Bruce Wayne we saw three screenwriters (one of them an Oscar winner) bring to life in Batman Forever, or the winking, self-conscious, seemingly embarrassed Bruce Wayne given us by the malevolent djinn who wrote Batman & Robin, presumably as a punishment for the sins of mankind. Similarly, Christian Bale's cynical, obsessive, self-destructive Batman wasn't something Bale improvised on set; David Goyer and the Nolans knew Bale was well-suited to that kind of character, and wrote his Batman accordingly.

So, to reiterate: Batman vs. Superman is probably going to suck, and it's probably not going to be Ben Affleck's fault, any more than Green Lantern was Ryan Reynolds' fault. It's just that the procedural biases of the human brain make that sort of thing difficult to believe while you're actually watching the movie. But seriously, you don't get to be 2013 Ben Affleck without growing a pretty thick skin about being mocked and despised on the internet. Blame him if it makes you happy. He can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a fucking actor, and Batman will do just fine with or without him.

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