Say what you want about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Yes, I too thought it was a bloated, conflicted, and comprehensibly stupid mess. But one thing that everyone, including myself, uniformly agreed on was Ben Affleck’s performance as Batman. He was menacingly awesome under the Caped Crusader’s suit. He was intriguingly convincing as Bruce Wayne. And given that the DCEU is in a state of confused uncertainty in regards to its sustainability, one thing that has given fans a lot of hope is Ben Affleck’s involvement with moving this cinematic universe forward. He is executive producing Justice League, and has been in talks with Warner Bros to write, direct, and star in The Batman (its working title). Unfortunately, this week Ben Affleck dropped out of the director’s chair. Yes, the news of Ben Affleck not directing Batman has been a pretty disheartening blow to fans. But while so many internet comments and articles are crying out in dismay that now The Batman is going to be a cluster fuck, I’m here to offer a more calm objective opinion now that the dust is starting to clear. I truly believe that Ben Affleck is doing what he feels is best for the project.
Ben Affleck is a great actor and an even greater filmmaker. From winning an Oscar for his writing in Good Will Hunting to directing three back to back to back instant classics in Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo, there is no doubt that Ben Affleck is a force to be reckoned with. And of course, his performance as Batman proved all the naysayers wrong. So I am also a little disappointed that Ben Affleck will not be bringing his unique style and vision to The Batman, which is something I think would have been truly special, if not one of the greatest films ever made about this character. However, it is important to note that by writing, directing, and starring in a film, Affleck is diverting his attention three ways.
With BvS, Affleck could focus solely on his performance. With The Batman, Affleck has to focus first and foremost on the script. Unfortunately, as Mark Hughes reported in Forbes Magazine, the script is nowhere near close to completion and Affleck could be feeling the pressure to get it right, especially since Warner Bros has slated a potential 2018 release date for the film. Then Affleck has to get into physical shape to prepare for the role, not to mention emotional shape to understand the character arcs and convey the subtleties required for a first rate Batman performance. And then as a director, Affleck has to oversee all the aspects of production, control the production set while acting, and oversee post production. It’s a lot of work. And as great as his filmography is, none of his previous films have come with the budget, scope, and hype that is attached to The Batman.
Affleck has frequently said that he will not do this film unless all facets of the film come together in a way that he believes to be great. Even in his statement from Variety, he mentions that Batman holds a special place in his heart and that this role demands passion, focus, and everything he has as an actor. It is clear that by stepping down as director, Affleck believes he is doing the film a service, and I agree with him. It would be a smart decision to hand the directing reigns to someone else, not another Zack Snyder or David Ayer of course, but a Matt Reeves, George Miller or David Fincher. That way, Affleck can focus on the one thing we all know he can do – give us an interpretation of Batman that we will all love. He is already writing and producing the film, so it’s likely we will still see his touches on the finished product. But we have to remember that in the end, we want this film to be great, and if greatness means that Affleck can’t or shouldn’t direct the film, then so be it.
This opinion certainly holds more weight in light of his most recent film, Live By Night. A gangster crime drama period piece that Affleck wrote, directed, and starred in, has suffered one of the worst receptions he’s received in almost a decade. The film was savaged by critics as boring, pretentious, and unfocused. Audiences stayed so far away that Warner Bros took a $75 million projected loss on the project. And while I would say the film is certainly not as bad as this, it is by far the weakest film of Affleck’s directing career. It is the work of someone who has been pulled in too many directions, having to act in one of the biggest films of his career while simultaneously trying to bring his passion project to the screen. It would be silly to say from one underwhelming film that Affleck has lost his edge. But it definitely sheds some light into Affleck’s decisions regarding The Batman, and I believe Affleck has thought long and hard about this.
There is a lot of speculation being reported by other magazines and You Tube channels that the DCEU is putting too much pressure on Affleck, and that the entire Geoff Johns era is no better than what came before. But until I see The Batman, all of that is merely unconfirmed heresy. There are many reasons why Ben Affleck could have decided to drop out of directing the film; most of them are probably personal. But if the decision is to allow someone else to better serve the story, then Affleck is doing the right thing.