Okay, so everyone’s loosing their minds over the announcement that Ben Affleck is going to play Batman in the upcoming DC cross-over film. Affleck does seem an unlikely selection to become the capped crusader, and his previous attempt at the superheroic was disappointing to many. For years, I like many of you imagined Ben Affleck either as his notorious bully from Dazed and Confused or as that guy who got credit along with Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting. Especially for those of us who went through the Bat-mania of the Tim Burton films only to see them dashed in a gay disco nightmare from Joel Shumacher, it’s easy to imagine how star power can lead one of our favorite heroes to a depressing place. We’ve been treated to the Dark Knight Trilogy, and for a lot of people that’s the best Batman’s ever going to be. But I think there are a lot of things people are forgetting in here.
1. THIS IS A SUPERMAN MOVIE
I’m already weary of this movie because it’s the first time anyone’s tried to do a live-action Batman/Superman crossover. There have been a lot of really good feature length cartoons which have done Batman and Superman (Public Enemies and Apocalypse come to mind instantly). There’s a deep comic tradition bridging DC’s two signature heroes. And I think it’s pretty obvious that the appeal of seeing the Man of Steel working with the Dark Knight gave rise to the Justice League concept (feel free to correct me if you know otherwise.) But because this is live-action, I think the biggest challenge in creating a good film is going to be how you actually showcase both characters. Think about all the bullet-time, impossible angles, and waves of destruction we saw in Man of Steel. While there may have been a few problems with the action sequences, (like Superman’s apparent disregard for collateral damage) in terms of scale it was the best representation of what a Superman battle should look like. The challenge is balancing that with Batman’s much more human abilities. The all-cartoon reality helps the viewer suspend disbelief and provides a visual consistency that conveys a reality obeying some laws. In a live-action Batman/Superman film, the biggest challenge to creating a believable Batman isn’t going to be in the acting, but in the relationships of scale. That’s something Zack Snyder and his production team will have to tackle, and it will make or break the character, possibly the film.
2. THIS IS THE SEQUEL TO THE MAN OF STEEL
Let me quickly get this thought out of the way. Superman did not exist in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. If he had, even as the reluctant-but-compelled alien of Man of Steel, he obviously would have shown up in Gotham during Bane’s reign of terror. It’s a good thing there was no Superman for Nolan’s series, because it meant that ONLY Batman could save the day. My point is that this movie will not and could not be a continuation of the same universe as the Dark Knight trilogy. New Batman means new rules.
The thing I most enjoyed about Man of Steel was that it was a science fiction story about an alien on Earth. That alien happened to be Superman. Just about everyone I’ve spoken to about this movie agrees that it really felt more like a sci-fi movie than a comic book movie. Most people even agreed that was a good thing. While Zack Snyder’s take might not be what everyone wanted to see, it was an unconventional look at a well established character, which I think makes it worth doing. It puts us in some familiar but oddly new territory for our favorite DC heroes, but I think Snyder should go ahead and invert the paradigm again. Ben Affleck’s character should be more Bruce Wayne than Batman.
Most people seem to agree that Affleck would make a believable and engaging Bruce Wayne, and maybe this casting is playing to that strength. We’re so accustomed now to seeing Bruce as the mask that Batman wears to function in society, that it’s easy to forget that Bruce Wayne is WAY MORE POWERFUL THAN BATMAN EVER COULD BE! According to Wikipedia, Wayne Enterprises has an average annual income of $98.5 billion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayne_Enterprises). Both Wayne Enterprises and LexCorp are teased out to us in Man of Steel, and since we already know that Lex Luthor will be the villain of this film, it makes perfect sense that Bruce Wayne, not Batman, is more engaged in the plot. I’ve always thought that the corporate espionage and intrigue behind two massive-multinational corporations, one run by a superhero and the other by a super-villain, must be amazing! With the arrival of extra-terrestrials, advanced technology, and global scale crisis, it only makes sense that these two supra-national corporate giants would be slugging it out for the profits.
Of course we’ll need to see Batman in the movie, and it’ll need to be awesome. But imagine how intense the scene between Bruce and Lex in the boardroom could be. That’s the novel experience of the characters I’d like to see.
3. IT’S ALL ABOUT LEX
Justin Kroll at Penny Arcade hit the nail on the head when he asked us to remember the lamentation once hefted at Heath Ledger’s casting for the Joker (http://www.penny-arcade.com/report/article/ben-affleck-is-the-new-batman-okay-lets-deal-with-this-like-adults). Ledger’s performance was absolutely spectacular, and no one can argue that he didn’t bring new life to the character that was creepier, darker, and more menacing that any other performance. And he made the movie. Absolutely and without a doubt, superheroes are defined by their villains. The story challenge this film faces isn’t with Batman; it’s with Lex Luthor. And Lex can be great.
The best versions of Lex are the ones where he’s kind of right. Where he argues that Superman is a crutch to humanity, and that even IF we can depend on him, we shouldn’t. A rich, complicated, genius Lex Luthor is what this film needs. If Lex is shown as an amoral anti-hero, whose ideas are right but whose methods are reprehensible, there’s deep and interesting stuff to play with. The actions of villains drive the plot of these movies, and Lex can not only bring destruction through his engineering and corporate genius, but drive suspicion and doubt into our heroes friends and allies. That’s how you hurt Superman. And that sort of story has more room for the sort of Bruce Wayne-first Batman experience I described above.
I honestly believe that this film will hinge on who plays Lex. And I hope that if it’s not going to be Brian Cranston (a nice full circle on Seinfeld, I think.) then there’s a really good reason why it’s not. (like this: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0586568/?ref_=tt_cl_t2)