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Why Ben Affleck’s Batman Was Good, Actually

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When Ben Affleck was first cast as Batman in a new movie from director Zack Snyder, the response from the public was, uh, intense to say the least. I wrote at the time about why the outcry was dumb—after all, there was fan outcry over Heath Ledger’s casting as Joker and he turned in an iconic performance. Better to wait and see what Affleck would do with the role rather than jump to snap judgments.

Judgment Day came in 2016, when Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hit theaters. This Man of Steel follow-up was an even grittier, more grizzled superhero film than Snyder’s previous DC movie, as it pitted Henry Cavill’s Superman against Affleck’s Batman in a battle of brawn and brooding set against the rainy backdrop of Metropolis and Gotham City. Response to the film was divisive. Critics weren’t kind, singling out the joyless quality of the nearly three-hour superhero drama and puzzling decisions with regards to the character of Superman. But some fans fell head-over-heels for Snyder’s raw and visually epic twist on iconic superhero characters. And as for Ben Affleck’s Batman? Oddly enough, his take on the Caped Crusader was one thing about Batman v Superman most agreed on: not bad!

We’re now nearly five years removed from Batman v Superman. Snyder’s planned follow-up Justice League fell prey to studio meddling after the response to BvS scared Warner Bros., and he eventually exited his role as DCEU overseer altogether (although The Snyder Cut is on the way). Also gone is Affleck, who only played Batman twice (plus a Suicide Squad cameo) before hanging up the cape and cowl. In their stead, WB is moving slowly and cautiously with more standalone entries in the DC library, including a rebooted spin on Batman with Robert Pattinson in the role.

RELATED: Here’s a Full List of Upcoming DC Movies: From ‘The Batman’ to ‘Aquaman 2’

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image via Warner Bros.

But with Affleck heading back to dramatic territory with films like the sports drama The Way Back and the upcoming The Tender Bar and Warner Bros. moving away from Snyder’s gritty mythological take on the DC universe, it feels appropriate to note that Ben Affleck’s Batman was good, actually.

Affleck’s performance in Batman v Superman is dynamic and hardened and sorrowful. It’s a version of Batman we’ve rarely seen onscreen, and one that stands in stark contrast to Christian Bale’s more heroic take, the broad comedy of George Clooney, Val Kilmer, and Adam West’s performances, or Michael Keaton’s offbeat loner spin on the character. That unique quality made the BvS Batman at least somewhat compelling on the page, but Affleck brought a gravitas to the role that said a lot with a little. His voice, his posture, and his eyes all telegraphed a deep-rooted pain and exhaustion that gave us a different kind of Batman. One weary of the years spent trying to do good for Gotham City only to face continued unrest and further descent into chaos and violence.

Indeed, one of the more controversial aspects of Affleck’s Batman in BvS is that he kills people, and is even considered sadistic for his penchant for physically branding criminals. And while those are definitely disturbing acts from a so-called superhero, Affleck’s take on the character leads you to believe that yeah, this particular Batman probably would resort to extreme violence at this point. He’s tired. Tired of fighting, tired of taking two steps forward and one step back. The exhaustion even manifests in Affleck’s performance as Bruce Wayne, in which he’s barely even trying to put on a façade of “frivolous playboy billionaire.” That’s not to say he’s justified in his actions, but they certainly make sense within the story confines that Snyder sets up in Batman v Superman.

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Image via Warner Bros.

That also gives Affleck a great starting point for the character. We meet him at a pretty low point in his life and career — possibly the lowest. He has absolutely no patience for this alien Superman’s antics, especially in the wake of the tremendous loss suffered as a result of Superman’s fight with Zod in Metropolis. The character has room to grow, and while that growth does indeed involve a climactic moment in which the two characters bond over the shared name of their mothers, it’s growth nonetheless.

Of course, Batman v Superman was supposed to be a starting point for Affleck’s Batman. The idea was to continue to explore this character through at least three additional films — two Justice League movies and a standalone Batman movie. But the troubled shoot of Justice League coupled with his own personal struggles led Affleck to walk away from the character altogether. Which is understandable — health and family should always come first. But it’s also a shame, because it feels like Affleck never really got the Batman movie he deserved.

Batman v Superman is in some ways a promising start, but that movie itself has serious, deep-rooted problems that stand in Affleck’s way. Justice League is an ensemble film in which Affleck shares the screen with a number of other heroes, and even setting aside the severe storytelling issues resulting from studio-driven reshoots, you can tell Affleck is sleepwalking his way through that particular performance.

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Image via Warner Bros.

I don’t begrudge Affleck for walking away from playing Batman. He took on the role at one of the highest points in his career. He had won the Best Picture Oscar for directing Argo and had just worked with David Fincher in Gone Girl, and now he had a chance to put his stamp on an iconic superhero. And while Batman v Superman and Justice League aren’t necessarily considered successes, I’d argue Affleck’s take on the character was very much worthwhile. We saw a Batman onscreen we’d never seen before, and Affleck brought that role to life in a tremendously compelling way.

So yes, Justice League is a mess and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is an overly dour dirge. But Ben Affleck’s Batman? In the immortal words of Larry David, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

KEEP READING: Ben Affleck Opens Up About Why He Left ‘The Batman’

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‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ Review: A Longer Cut Causes New Problems

Given its lengthy runtime, the heralded ‘Snyder Cut’ never makes the case for its epic scope.


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