Superheroes: Who Makes the Best Batman?
Batman vs. Superman – Dawn of Justice may be getting all the attention, but Ben Affleck has already fought the first battle just by taking on the role of the truly human superhero beneath the cowl.
By Chris Lackner
Holy happenstance Batman! Who could have predicted Ben Affleck would give us the best caped crusader yet?
That’s not one of The Riddler’s tricky questions. The supporting evidence was there long before Affleck’s greying, embittered, flinty-eyed Bruce Wayne showed up in trailers for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Affleck’s initial casting sent fans and pundits into an uproar. (Apparently, two Oscar wins doesn’t give you enough cred to don a cape). Ahead of the film’s March 23 debut, we examine why the actor’s critics were blind as a bat:
Hollywood’s Dynamic Duo:
Affleck was tailor-made for this part. He’s been playing Batman to Matt Damon’s Superman ever since Good Will Hunting. Damon has always been the Clark Kent of the duo, the Boy Scout and model of stability who avoids scandal, box-office bombs and destructive relationships. Given Affleck’s reputation for gambling, boozing, rehab and womanizing, he’s the obvious Bruce Wayne figure – the rich playboy with inner demons. Sure, not “a madman shot my parents and now I’m a sadistic, masked vigilante” level demons, but Affleck has been in some dark places.
Lurking under Batman’s mask is a quiet anger against an unjust world, and what it has stolen: his family, his innocence… his ability to just stay at home on a Friday night and Netflix binge. Affleck drew comparisons to his own anger in The Sunday Times: “For me, anger is so deeply buried and contained that when it does kind of come out, it comes out in stronger bursts. I tend to be respectful, polite, get along, put up with, put up with, put up with… then, when it finally emerges, it’s not something I have a ton of control over.” Sound like anyone else you know? Maybe someone who owns a Batmobile?
What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Affleck and Batman can’t escape this trap. No matter how many brilliant films he anchors or directs (Argo, Gone Baby Gone etc.), Affleck is always one Gigli away from being a punchline again. Similarly, Batman can save Gotham 364 days straight, but what happens the second he slips up? They disconnect the Bat signal and bring out the torches and pitchforks.
Bruce and Ben are peas in a pod. They’re both wealthy, aloof figures under a persistent media glare, and often dealing with personal and professional losses under the public eye. Their romantic relationships prove either perilous (Bennifer, Selina Kyle) or tabloid fodder (Vicki Vale, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Garner). All of which makes Affleck the perfect veteran Batman – a tattered hero that is experienced, cynical and damaged. His sidekick Robin is dead; his vanquished foes constantly re-emerge like a deranged game of whack-a-mole. Meanwhile, Affleck’s family frictions and box-office performances are a never-ending source of ridicule and late-night wisecracks. A witty Affleck explained his casting at ComicCon: “(Director) Zack (Snyder) … said, ‘I have this vision. I have this idea for the guy and you’re perfect for it.’ I said ‘well, what do you mean?’ He’s like, ‘he’s at the end of his rope, he’s older, he’s like a burnout.’”
He’s like, ‘he’s at the end of his rope, he’s older, he’s like a burnout.’”
Christian Bale and Michael Keaton are the only other contenders for best Batman ever. (With apologies to Adam West, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney, who can at least lay claim to the prize for best batsuit nipples.) Bale was a capable Bruce, but a mediocre Bat thanks to his over-the-top Marlborough Man impression. Keaton made for a twinkle-eyed billionaire, but he lacked the necessary edge behind the mask. Affleck can swing both sides of the alter ego. He can channel Bruce’s off-kilter charisma and gravitas, while conveying Batman’s dark psychosis and rage. Public figure? Private brooder? Saviour? Sinner? Ben has played them all either on-camera or off.
If Looks Could Kill:
Affleck is more physically imposing than any actor before him. Tall, muscular and broad-shouldered with an angular chin – he’s much like the Batman of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. At just over six-foot-three, Affleck has three inches on Bale – and nearly half a foot on Keaton. (And he packed on weight and muscle for the role.)
It took Batman-level guts for Affleck to don another superhero’s cloak after the Daredevil debacle. Now Warner Bros. is so impressed they may hang a new trilogy on Affleck. He’ll also appear as Batman in 2016’s Suicide Squad.
Comic Book Love:
Affleck is a genre fan and collected comics as a child, so he deserves a chance at masked redemption. And you can bet he sought advice from his friend and repeat director, Kevin Smith, star of AMC’s Comic Book Men.
Affleck has felt the long claws of the tabloids and paparazzi. That should prepare him for his inevitable clash with Catwoman.
Affleck played actor George Reeves, the original 1950s TV Superman, in the film Hollywoodland.
Affleck saved the world from a giant meteor in Armageddon; Batman’s trying to save Earth from Superman, an all-powerful alien with a messiah complex. Same wheelhouse.
Bruce and Ben are both devotion to charity work and humanitarian causes – only the latter’s makes a difference in the real world.
Down But Not Out:
Batman and Affleck often take a pummeling, but they always dust themselves off to fight another day. Neither man ever stays down for the count, but they’re struggles have left them scarred. That makes the actor the ideal fit for a world-weary Batman – one that perceives Superman as dangerous, and understands the vast potential for the powerful and famous to be corrupted. Trust issues? Check. Pessimism? You bet. A volatile mixture of rage and sorrow crash like waves in Batman’s dark eyes when he tells Supe: “Tell me, do you bleed? You will.” Them’s fightin’ words….
Maybe it’s time to leave the Bennifer moniker behind for good. All hail Batfleck!
Batman vs. Superman (Dawn of Justice) is slated for release March 25, 2016. To watch the trailer click here.
Illustration by Victor Bonderoff
THE EX-PRESS, February 29, 2016