The announcement that Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman in “Batman vs. Superman” set the Internet ablaze, with countless fans decrying the decision.
This reaction appears to reflect the judgment that Affleck is a bad actor who consistently makes lousy movies, and that his turn in 2003’s “Daredevil” in particular proves he can’t play a superhero.
Yes, Affleck made “Paycheck,” “Pearl Harbor” and “Armageddon,” and sure, those films are awful. But it’s not his acting that makes them terrible. It’s the writing.
Give him a good script, and his performance does it justice. If you doubt that, check out “Hollywoodland,” “The Town” and “Argo.” Especially “Argo,” in which he plays a resourceful, indomitable CIA agent Batman would recognize as a kindred spirit.
What’s more, “Daredevil” gets a bad rap. It’s no “Marvel’s The Avengers,” but it’s no “Batman & Robin,” either. (To enjoy it fully, watch the extended cut, which provides all the exposition necessary for the plot to make sense.)
And again, where the movie disappoints, Affleck’s performance is not the problem. He shows us an idealist committed to helping people both as an attorney and as a vigilante, a guy whose personality flips from charming with a puckish sense of humor to grim and fierce when he suits up as a crime fighter, and a man who’s still carrying a lot of rage and grief over the murder of his father.
That’s a Matt Murdock I recognize from the comics, and it’s also a character with marked similarities to Bruce Wayne.
But even though Affleck has the acting chops to play Batman, is there another consideration that makes him a poor choice? It can’t be his looks. He looks very much like Bruce Wayne as drawn by great Bat artists like Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and Neal Adams — clean-cut, handsome face, square jaw and all.
Nor should Affleck’s age bar him from the role, even though he’s 41. We generally imagine Batman as being in his 20s or early 30s. Affleck still looks youthful, and anyway, let’s face it, you’re never going to stem the tide of Hollywood actors playing characters younger than they are, even when those characters possess great physical prowess. Liam Neeson is 61, and he’s still duking it out with wolves and kidnappers.
Now, you could conceivably argue that to play a martial arts master like Batman, you should get someone who’s a martial arts wiz in real life. To the best of my knowledge, that’s not Affleck.
But even in a superhero movie full of over-the-top action sequences, you’re better off casting a skilled actor who looks like the character and then trusting the trainers, fight choreographer, and stunt and special effects people to make it look like he can beat up a dozen ninjas than you are hiring a bruiser who might really stand a chance against said ninjas.
Sabretooth provides a case in point.
In “The X-Men,” wrestler Tyler Mane plays Sabretooth, and I have no doubt he truly could pound the crap out of most people. But even so, he never manages to project any real sense of the character. In “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” Liev Schreiber plays Sabretooth, and although I have no reason to think Schreiber is a ferocious hand-to-hand combatant in real life, he makes us believe in the terrifying figure that is Victor Creed. (I realize “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” has its problems, but as with Affleck’s lousy movies, Schreiber’s performance isn’t one of them. He’s good in it.)
So, bottom line, I expect Ben Affleck will make a fine Batman, and I look forward to seeing his portrayal.
Next time, I’ll explain why Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs shows she’s the perfect choice to play Wonder Woman.