Ben Affleck As Batman: Why So Serious?

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“…by playing a superhero in Daredevil, I have inoculated myself from ever playing another superhero… Wearing a costume was a source of humiliation for me and something I wouldn’t want to do again soon”-Ben Affleck preparing the words he’s going to eat

You ever have one of those moments where you perceive something but don’t really believe it? To the point where it seemed surreal? I had one of those last week when I perused IMDB to come upon the news that Ben Affleck is playing Batman in the sequel to Man of Steel (2013). Ben “Fucking” Affleck. My response was…confused. I didn’t know how to feel, but i know i had a feel. For most, this feel was pretty straightforward: fuck that guy. The internet exploded with a surge of hate that I will dub the “Affleck-tion”. The Afflecktion has taken many forms. For example: there’s a twitter hashtag titled “betterthanbenaffleck” that contains “suggestions” for better actors.

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There’s even an honest-to-God petition by fans to somehow oust Affleck from the role. So why all the hate for the guy? He just won an Oscar, is married with kids, and has several great films under his belt recently (Argo, The TownGone Baby Gone). Isn’t that good enough to get some respect? Unfortunately, the Afflecktion runs deep in the body of American moviegoers, far before his casting as Batman.

I subscribe to three primary reasons why Ben Affleck has such a bad rap…

1. Perceived lack of contribution to Good Will Hunting 

When Good Will Hunting debuted in 1998, Hollywood was enamored with the Cinderella tale of two Bostonians who wrote and starred in an Oscar-winning film. So much so that, of course, many inquired about the impetus for such a film. Here it goes (as described by the writers themselves in Boston Magazine): Matt Damon, a Harvard student, wrote a short story about a genius Southie who’s brilliance garners the attention of the government. Later, Damon took a screenwriting class, where for a final project he turned his story into the first act of a film, telling his professor “I might have failed your class, but it is the first act of something longer“. The professor, Anthony Kubiak claimed that it even in its early stages “it was very authentic and real“. Wow, Matt sure did a good job on that screenplay. Ben Affleck’s account? He helped write it. That’s it. No specifics. No details. He. Helped. Write it. Mind you, this is his OWN WORDS.

The only thing in his interview Ben mentions that speaks on his specific contribution is that, when he thought the producers weren’t paying enough attention, he’d sneak in blowjob scenes just to see if they would notice. No, really. So as you could imagine, many began to feel that Ben Affleck basically broke into Hollywood on the coattails of Matt Damon with minimal effort on his part. People thought he didn’t “deserve” his success. It didn’t help that many filmgoers viewed Affleck as an idiot due to his brashness and boisterousness. It made it easier to visualize a drunk frat boy Ben offering meager assistance whereas bookish Harvard alum Matt Damon actually writes the film, which is realized in this Family Guy clip.

The relationship between Sean and Will in the film was oddly paralleled with the image of Matt and Ben in real life: Matt was a genius who far outstripped his lesser best friend Ben. This dynamic defined the two for awhile: Matt Damon went on to be in other well received flicks such as Rounders, Saving Private Ryan, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Ben Affleck? Well, here’s where we get to the next reason…

2. High-profile yet lowly-received films

Like Matt, Ben was in some pretty big name films after Good Will Hunting, particularly Armageddon and Shakespeare In Love (both in 1998). He wasn’t the star of either film, however, and most of his films as a leading man were mediocre in terms of audience turnout and reception. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, since it means most of the filmgoing audience didn’t have a record of bad movies to look to. Unfortunately, when Ben Affleck did start heading major flops, it was something everyone remembered. The first was Pearl Harbor (2001), which was an obvious Hollywood attempt to recreate the success of James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). It didn’t turn out that way: the film’s several inaccuracies, tedious love triangle, and association with the increasingly despised Michael Bay made it a commercial disappointment. And guess who’s name is on full display on every poster?

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Afterwards, he was in Daredevil (2003), Marvel’s attempt at another blockbuster superhero film that combined the stylishness of Spider-Man (2002) with the “dark and edginess” of X-Men (2000). While the film did a decent job of characterization, audiences didn’t know what to make of the obscure character and therefore spent more time focusing on the actor, who had already begun to lose public credibility. The film’s lukewarm reception was heaped onto Affleck and comic fans never forgot about it. While these films garnered negative feedback, none of them put as big a nail in the coffin as Gigli (2003)

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This film had bad press before it was even released due to conflicts between the screenwriter and the director, leading many to believe that the final product would be disjointed. Once it was released it set box office records for the biggest second-weekend drop in box office gross of any film in wide release since that statistic was kept; it dropped by almost 82% in its second weekend compared to its first. By its third weekend in release, only 73 U.S. theaters were showing it, down from 2,215 during its first weekend, a drop of 97%. The film has since gone onto be considered one of the worst films of all time. One of the primary reasons for the failure of the film is also my final reason for the Afflecktion…

3. Bennifer

Generally speaking, America loves “super couples”.

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Drake and Josh were meant for each other

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Unfortunately, one they didn’t care for much was Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Sure, at first they grabbed the public eye like any other celebrity couple, but that attention quickly turned to scorn. I postulate that it was due to the fact thatbecause they had the unfortunate distinction of being both absurdly famous and absurdly unrelatable. Ben was viewed as a jockish douchenozzle and J.Lo was viewed as an egotistical diva. A blog post on whatever-dude.com called them Hollywood’s Hitler and Eva Braun“. Ben himself recognized the hate they received, outright saying in an interview with Suzy Byrne that he felt as if he was “the press’ whipping boy” during those two years. What’s worse is that much of the hate was due to Jennifer Lopez being considered “better” than him. She had a more successful film career, and a music career, AND a fashion line. Doesn’t help that SHE broke off the engagement. As one blogger put it, he came across as being “desperate and needy and lacking in self confidence, as if he were under some kind of love spell“. Arguably, the ultimate Hollywood insult directed at him during this period was during VH1’s “200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons” television special. Oh sure, he was included as #119, but look closely at his portrait by Robert Risko…

7373 (1)Yes, they literally have J.Lo on his jacket for NO discernable reason other than to remind the viewer that a large amount of his fame is due to being engaged to someone more famous (she was on the same list as #15, btw) . Even worse, every celeb in the special had an indicative tagline that was a famous quote or phrase (i.e. Arnold Schwarzenegger-“I’ll be back“, Hugh Hefner-“Big Pimpin‘”) . Guess what his was? Mr. Jennifer Lopez. Damn.

So should Ben Affleck play Batman?

Given all the vitriol i’ve just shown, obviously not, right? Honestly, I know i’m blasphemous for saying this but I really DON’T CARE who plays Batman. Batman isn’t this deep, nuanced character, he’s a franchise. The reason why DC has gotten so much use out of the property was because they can do whatever the fuck they want with the character without violating his identity. He hasn’t “grown” in the near century since his inception, just reinvented. Why do you think that the 60’s Batman series, the Burton films, the Schumacher films, the Nolan Trilogy, and the Animated series are all so different yet successful? It’s because the character is malleable. He’s a concept that can fit any story imaginable. Compare Batman to Spider-Man, who, while having different series, is always the same character that Stan Lee envisioned him to be. You’ll never see a “dark and gritty” Spider-Man or a “realist” Spider-Man. That’s because Peter Parker is intended a REAL person who has a specific personality. If he were to be in a world similar to the 60’s Batman series, he’d have to lose most of his flippancy just to sell us on the campiness. If he were in a comic similar to The Dark Knight Returns (1986), he’d have to lose much of the whimsy associated with the character. He has his limits as a property, you can’t just make him, say, a pirate.

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Unlike some people

Fact is, Batman is such a loosely conceived character that anyone with a decent chin could put on his costume. This isn’t to say he’s a flat character, he’s just a ‘high concept’ character, like Superman, who focuses more on connotations and iconography than character traits. By virtue of this, any actor can bring something to the character: Michael Keaton brought an eccentricity to Wayne that made him more affable, Val Kilmer brought a coldness that made Batman seem more like a shell-shocked soldier. I’m not the best person to comment on Ben Affleck as an actor (i’ve only seen a few of his films), but I think he could have a very interesting take on the character. Maybe he’ll have a lighter approach than Bale; maybe he’ll be a bit more vulnerable. It’s hard to tell. A lot of people said Michael Keaton was a bad fit for Batman, but afterwards many said he put in a decent performance. Same was said for Heath Ledger as Joker, and look at how THAT turned out. Personally, I think that no matter how he plays it, Affleck will add to the wonderful tapestry of Batmen to date. Or at least fuel some great memes.

For more commentary on the Batman franchise:

Batman As A Heroic Psychopath

Superstitious and Cowardly Cops: Police Corruption in Gotham City

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Superstitious and Cowardly Cops: Police Corruption in the Batman Mythos

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“This isn’t Metropolis…this isn’t the city of tomorrow…it’s Gotham,and if you want to see what that means, just check out your squad room”-Gotham Central #7

Superheroes tend to be subversive of law enforcement. Aside from the illegality of vigilantism, it’s difficult to have much respect for a a moderately trained guy with pistol when compared to a billionaire genius ninja detective. Despite this, most superheroes since the induction of the comic code have had genial relations with law enforcement. It helps that superheroes rarely target “mundane” crime. Superman’s enemies tend to be as strong as he is; the X-men stick to “mutant crime” and so on. Despite this, Batman works with the police. Or really, I should say a single policeman: Commissioner Gordon. Mostly because Gotham cops are fucking dicks. Most “gritty” iterations of the franchise portray the police as at best impotent and at worst, as bad as Gotham’s criminals. This element is prevalent enough to even be present in video games such as MMORPG DC Universe Online, where Gotham cops are enemies to hero players.

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Just so you know: he’s a dirty cop

The GCPD’s corruption makes sense for a few reasons. For one, the Batman franchise derives heavily from film noir, a genre with cynical attitudes towards humanity and fate. Even the police can’t be relied upon in the genre; in Frank Miller’s Sin City, every character, no matter their alignment, is wary of the police.

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In addition, Batman fights predominantly “normal” people (at least by comic book standards), who the cops should be able to handle. Law enforcement has to be ineffectual in order to justify the need for a Batman. Sometimes they’re just incompetent; Tim Burton’s Batman had a Commissioner Gordon who was nothing more than a face for the police (the guy wears fucking tuxedos to busts).

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Dumbass

Incompetent cops just aren’t enough to get across the dramatic weight of Batman’s quest. Giving the city a culture that enforces crime allows for an even bleaker Gotham to save. This is most prevalent in Batman: Year One (1987), Frank Miller’s origin story that details the beginning of Bruce Wayne and James Gordon’s careers. We see through Gordon’s introduction that calling the GCPD corrupt would be an understatement…

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The Commissioner even implies that he wants officers who are dirty.

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As you could see, Frank Miller tends to veer towards the “extreme” side of police corruption where everyone is as evil as possible. This isn’t totally ridiculous; LA’s infamous “Rampart scandal” in the 90’s involved a branch of the police called C.R.A.S.H. who literally REWARDED murder and evidence tampering with commendations. In Dekalb County Georgia, corrupt sheriff Sidney Dorsey assembled a group of cops to pose as gang-bangers in order to assassinate his political rival Derwin Brown, showing that even those at the top can be as corrupt as Gotham’s ex-commissioner.

Despite Frank Miller’s extreme depictions, Batman:Year One was considered canonical by DC Comics, meaning that all of the events “really” occurred in continuity. So Gotham’s previous police department ordered a hit on a newborn, blew up a tenement with civilians in the vicinity, and casually beat up teenagers on the street. Holy shit. Miller definitely went with the amoral cops route for police corruption, which works well for his “dark and edgy” stories, but has several unfortunate implications. In Metropolis, we can at least assume that the police department works in the favor of the people’s interest (as one would like to assume of most law enforcement), meaning that we can trust the local government by extension, and thus we can trust the city itself. If Gotham’s cops are corrupt, and its government is corrupt, then the CITY itself is, by default, corrupt. And if that’s true,why should anyone care if it gets saved? As with most superhero works, there are no “normal” people to care about, just heroes and villains. If the police are bad guys too it almost makes Batman’s quest silly (well, silli-er). It’s no wonder why so many antagonists seem to suggest just destroying Gotham; what Ra’s Al Ghul, Joker, and Bane all seem to agree on in the Nolan trilogy is that crime is inherently systemic. It begins from the top and ends at the bottom in the slums of Gotham. Until the police are reformed, the city can’t improve.

250px-GothamCentralCv22 One way to alleviate the unfortunate implications of Gotham’s corruption is by showing that the police force, even when misconducting themselves, have the best intentions. The biggest canonical kinda dirty/kinda good cop in the franchise is Detective Harvey Bullock (to the left). In case you’re wondering, he’s that fat cop in the animated series who’s kind of a douche. In comics, he’s probably the closest thing you get to a sympathetic corrupt cop. He takes bribes, but other cops trust him. He allows a attempted murder suspect’s identity to leak to the mafia, but that’s to avenge Commissioner Gordon. He has ties to the organized crime but uses it to gain info on crimes. He’s complicated.

Strangely enough, despite being quite a staple of the franchise, Bullock doesn’t appear in media outside of the comics and the animated series but is represented by characters who are pretty much the same person. His representatives in the Batman films are decidedly less morally ambiguous. In 1989’s Batman, his stand-in Detective Eckhardt accepts bribes from criminals and attempts to murder the same guys in order to stay out of trouble. In Batman Begins (2005), his stand-in Detective Flass (who for some reason has the name of the guy from Batman: Year One) is just as corrupt. I guess Bullock just looks so unsavory due to his fatness and manner that most adaptations just make him dirty to contrast with Gordon. In addition, comic writers can’t seem to decide if he has good intentions or is just corrupt. The is probably because, no offense to them, most comic writers aren’t capable or willing to get across the conflicts of being an ACTUAL crime fighter. The series Gotham Central goes in this direction, basically turning the Bat mythos into Dragnet with real cops interacting with the rogues gallery the way real cops would. Police misconduct is portrayed in reasonable degrees as opposed to extremes.

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Gotham Central

Gotham Central2 Gotham Central3Sometimes cops have to break the rules in order to get a job done. Sometimes cops just run out of ideas. While these methods aren’t always the best, they are human responses to often difficult scenarios. In the world of Gotham Central, normal cops have to go against men like Mr. Freeze and the Joker, people way outside of their pay-grade. It would be hard to conceive of how would one deal with such threats without being forced or compelled to go outside the line.

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Arguably, the best commentary on police misconduct in Gotham is the character Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley in The Dark Knight Rises (2012), played by Matthew Modine (who oddly enough WASN’T a character from the comics). Remember how I said a cop has to be either corrupt or stupid in order to make Batman look good? Well he manages to do both to a realistic degree.

Foley is introduced talking to Gordon at a high-class party, where Foley tries to convince him to pay attention to crime statistics, which Gordon rejects in favor of his “gut” feelings. He also suggests that he talks to the mayor, which Gordon also dismisses by saying that’s Foley’s department. We get some quick distinctions here between the two: Gordon is more concerned with crime on a personal level that goes beyond statistics, which is all Foley knows about. Gordon doesn’t care about political maneuvering whereas Foley relishes it. If Gordon is the “good cop” than Foley is by default the “bad cop”. He’s not evil at all, only his aims have been “corrupted”. Rather than focusing on public service, he’s more concerned with personal glory. For example, when Batman appears, his main interest is one-upping Gordon to make himself look good by catching him, rather than containing the more immediate threat of Bane’s gang. His lack of “good cop” goals seems to affect his competency as well; when Blake is introduced as another “good cop”, his passion for the job allows him to believe fellow good cop Gordon’s story about soldiers in the sewers, which Foley of course scoffs at. Blake also manages to connect corrupt Wayne Industries board member Roland Daggett to Bane through ambitious detective work, which Gordon implies Foley was supposed to do, but clearly failed. Foley’s lack of “good cop-ness” comes to a head after Bane’s takeover, where he flat out decides to not get involved with the plan to save his fellow officers. Up until this point, the guy seems like a lost cause…until Batman returns to Gotham.

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Eventually, we see the effect the symbol had on Foley during the siege on Bane’s troops, when Foley not only joins the cops, but leads them in full uniform.

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Foley dies doing his duty. The film never elaborates why the symbol of Batman meant so much to Foley then when it didn’t mean anything before, perhaps it was something akin to a “spiritual rebirth” that born-again Christians often allude to. While this could easily be chalked up to sentimentality (and it definitely is), that doesn’t take away from the fact Foley, a cop who seemingly had no more “good cop” left in him, was redeemed by the hope Batman brought. He became a “born-again officer”. In a “realist” scenario that Nolan claims the films take place in, Batman is just a man. He can beat up bad guys but he can’t fight crime alone. As Bruce Wayne postulates in Batman Begins: “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy”. For the police officers of Gotham, that meant inspiring them to risk their lives to save their city. This is in stark contrast to The Dark Knight (2008), where many police officers are said to have been in the pocket of organized criminals which culminated in the fall of Harvey Dent. The last film left us with a disturbing view of the GCPD, but this film manages to redeem them along with Foley. The cops retaking of Gotham and Foley’s sacrifice shows what makes Batman (and the superhero in general) such a resonant character: he makes us want to be better.

For commentary on the questionable morals of Batman himself: 

Batman as a Heroic Psychopath