When news broke that Ben Affleck had been chosen to play Batman in the forthcoming Man of Steel sequel, the shockwaves around the mediasphere – both in comic book circles and mainstream circles – were palpable. For some comic book fans it feels like an awkward homecoming after the disappointing Daredevil film in 2003, and for the mainstream media it was a somewhat surprising turn to see the actor make a return to Hollywood tent-poles after a very public burnout as a leading man and rebirth as a writer/director in the past six years. But if you read interviews and connect the dots at Affleck’s dalliances with comic book movies as Daredevil, as George Reeves in Hollywoodland, the comic artist Holden McNeil in Chasing Amy, and the glancing blow of Jack Kirby in last year’s Argo, you can begin to see a picture of Affleck looking for something to prove – not to fans, but to himself.
But the apprehension this casting has caused to fans isn’t unfounded. After being in a series of critically acclaimed and/or blockbuster movies like Chasing Amy, Good Will Hunting, and Armageddon, around the turn of the century Affleck was a full-on A-list star cherry-picked for coveted roles such as the lead in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, taking over a rebooted Jack Ryan role from Harrison Ford in The Sum Of All Fears, and being chosen to play Daredevil over names like Vin Diesel, Matt Damon, Guy Pearce and Colin Farrell.
But those coveted movie roles came back to haunt him, as each failed to match their expectations resulting in a series of bombs for the Berkeley-born actor. A very public romance with Jennifer Lopez that hit supermarket tabloid covers ad nauseum from 2002 to 2004 didn’t help matters much (anyone remember ‘Bennifer’?). Affleck became further removed from his acting/writing roots and was thrust into ‘celebri-dom’ culminating with the doomed Gigli movie in 2003.
After hitting bottom, Affleck starred in a trickle of movies set-up before this downslide like Paycheck and Jersey Girl, but his performance in 2006’s Hollywoodland as Superman actor George Reeves was his last starring role for three years. Apt, considering the arc of Reeves’ similar decent in fame. At the time, Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers called the role ironic, preparing Affleck to perform the role from personal experience.
“[Affleck] knows this character [of George Reeves] from the inside,” Travers wrote. “The surface charm, the hidden vulnerability, the ache of watching a career become a joke and being helpless to stop it.”
After this role, Affleck took a hiatus from acting, peppered with a small role in 2007’s Smokin’ Aces and hosting Saturday Night Live in 2008. It was during this time that Affleck sought to re-center himself, digging back into the creative roots of co-writing Good Will Hunting and using it to get behind the camera once again, but in a directing capacity. In 2007, Affleck’s directorial debut Gone Baby Gone was a shot across the bow at Affleck coming to terms with Hollywood and learning how to use it instead of being used by it.
"Directing a movie was really instructive for me. I think I learned a lot about writing, and a lot about acting, and I learned how all the pieces fit together from the inside,” Affleck said in an interview with SuicideGirls.com. “That was really valuable. It was a good thing."
With that modest critical success under his belt, Affleck began a slow climb to redemption appearing as an actor in a series of ensemble movies like State of Play and Extract, although avoiding the harsh lights of the blockbuster movies that made him famous in the early 2000s. His second directorial effort, The Town, cemented his return to Hollywood and his return to being a leading man – although under his own control as director and co-writer.
His third film, 2012’s Argo, reached even higher levels, earning him both the Golden Globe and Director’s Guild of America awards for best directing. With that under his belt, Affleck was once again in the pole position for casting directors and also for producers looking for a “name” to bring their scripts to life. In 2011 Affleck was announced as the director for the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand (although it was announced Friday he has exited that project), and in 2012 was reputedly offered the chance to direct DC’s Justice League although he apparently ultimately passed. And while that didn’t pan out the way DC or Warner Bros.’ wanted, it perhaps opened the door for the eventual induction of Affleck into DC’s movie-verse – not as a director (yet anyway), but as an actor in the role of Batman.
The day after this casting-announcement-heard-round-the-world, the up and downsides of such a high-profile selection are on full display in the social media world. Warner Bros. has certainly got the media’s attention while it continues to struggle to play catch-up with the well-oiled Marvel Studios machine.
The studio can only hope Affleck’s success in the DC Cinematic Universe mirrors – ironically – one of his Daredevil co-stars, Jon Favreau, who in many ways helped established the house style of Marvel’s successful formula.
What will be fascinating to watch in the coming weeks, months and years, however, is whether Affleck’s comic book redemption will take place in front of the camera, or like Favreau’s, behind it as well.
Warner Bros. is still presumably looking for someone to direct Justice League director, and/or someone to guide the inevitable future of solo Batman films.
The question is, did they already just find that someone?