San Diego Comic Con
Well, that all changed in a hurry, didn’t it?
In the midst of a mostly humdrum news weekend that was focused primarily on Comic-Con, the Hollywood Reporter posted a story suggesting that Ben Affleck’s days as Batman are numbered in the DCEU. Everyone involved denied it when the question came up at the Justice League panel and presentation in Hall H on Saturday, but the writing has been on the wall for a while now. If the official word comes down soon that Affleck is out, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Someone I know commented that if Affleck falls out as the world’s most popular superhero, it would be a PR nightmare for Warner Bros., especially considering the fact that the Justice League movie is hitting theaters in November. I replied that this was hogwash — that in fact, rather than an uproar, such a thing would be met with something of a communal shrug.
The moment that Affleck dropped out of the director’s chair last year, we should have seen it as the first sign that he had one foot out the door. When Matt Reeves recently took over as director, one of the first things he did was to say he’s scrapping the script that Affleck had co-written, and was starting fresh. That was another sign that things were changing, and most didn’t really pick up on it.
“New director, new vision, no worries!” people said. “Affleck is Batman now, so I’m sure it’ll all work out, and of course, they probably asked Affleck what he thought of this Reeves thing, so… good, right?”
Maybe, maybe not, but now — even after Affleck’s insistence on Saturday that he’d play “an ape on the ground” for Reeves — scuttlebutt is that Warner is going to move Affleck out “gracefully,” whatever that means. I mean, how, exactly, does something like that happen? This isn’t an accounting firm, where they can gradually move Affleck’s clients to another partner and slowly phase him into retirement. He’s either going to play the part, or he isn’t.
Once Reeves came on board — fresh off the monumental success of 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and this month’s masterful trilogy capper War for the Planet of the Apes — he was essentially handed the keys to the Batmobile, so to speak. A guy with that kind of street cred isn’t coming in to work at the behest of a star, no matter who that star is. He’s coming in because he’s been promised that he can have control of the most important character that Warner Bros. owns.
He also, clearly, has a broad vision of where to take Batman, and rumor mill suggests he actually has a trilogy in mind (because of course, he does). If you do the math on that one, the Batfleck’s pending exit makes even more sense.
It’s easier than algebra: Affleck is going to be 45 next month. The script for The Batman hasn’t even been written yet, and Warners has already announced that Shazam! is the next film on the slate, which means that the earliest it could possibly shoot would be a year from now. That would make Affleck 46 years old, and even if you’re making another movie every other year — which is a stretch — that puts him at 50 by the third film. More likely is every third year, which takes him closer to 52 or 53, and that just isn’t going to work, especially since Affleck doesn’t exactly take care of himself in the same way that, say, a Daniel Craig or an Idris Elba does.
Which, actually, might also be a part of this. Not to get too tabloid-y here, but the man has had problems with substance abuse in the past, and it’s certainly possible that they have resurfaced. I have no inside knowledge of this, but if that’s the case, then it’s a lot more important for him to combat his own demons before he starts fighting fictional ones on the big screen.
So, let’s assume that all this jibber jabber is accurate and that there will be a vacancy that needs to be filled in the coming months. If that’s the case, and the Justice League flick is the last time we see Affleck in the cape and cowl, it’s not like there’s going to be some kind of huge emergency or crisis from which Warner Bros. won’t be able to recover. On the contrary, this is an automatic PR bonanza. The questions about who will take over the role, the speculation, the eventual announcement, it’ll be like Christmas.
Let’s back up and return to that “graceful transition” thing. Are they going to try to make us believe that they’re going to have anyone else but Bruce Wayne be Batman? Yes, there have been others to don the cowl in the comics, but most people don’t know that, nor do they care. To them, Batman is Bruce Wayne, which means a recasting is in the cards, rather than an introduction of, say, a Dick Grayson (the original Robin and, for a time, himself Batman) to take over. This isn’t Ant-Man, in which the preponderance of the viewing audience doesn’t know the difference between Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man in the comics) and Scott Lang (a later version, embodied in the MCU by Paul Rudd), it’s freaking Batman, and, to most people, that’s pretty sacrosanct.
That means it’s time to call shenanigans on all this talk about a “transition,” or “addressing the change in some shape or form.” What’s going to happen is that Affleck will complete the Joss Whedon-helmed Justice League reshoots currently underway, he’ll publicize the movie before it comes out, and then, sometime in the new year, there will be an official announcement of his departure, which Warner will combine with a bit of Shazam! news. That’s when the public quest to find a new Batman will commence, at which point another actor will be “found” in conjunction with a fresh announcement that Reeves has the script he wants and a start date for production. Once a release date is on the books, celebrations will be held across the land.
This might be sacrilegious to some of you, but, in the grand scheme of things, I honestly don’t think it matters much who plays Batman. Remember, please, that Affleck is actually the fifth actor to play the Caped Crusader on the big screen in just the last 28 years, so it shouldn’t be that big of a deal if it’s announced next year that, say, Jake Gyllenhaal has been cast in the role.
Now that I mention it, that would be fantastic, just because it would break the internet, and in the PR game, that’s as big a win as there is. So please spare me the angst and agitation. Ben Affleck’s days as Batman are coming to a close, and it’s not like a nation is going to mourn.
On the contrary, people are just going to want to be told when and where they’ll get a chance to see a Batman — any Batman, really — on screen again, and as soon as possible.