Op-Ed: A Response To Ben Affleck Batman Nerd Rage & Why Heath Ledger Argument Doesn't Work
This One is for Brandon
Responding to Affleck Love and Nerd Rage
By: Lawrence Napoli
Oh internet; you truly are the last bastion of pure democracy. I suppose it makes sense to turn debating things as frivolous as casting calls into an absolute war of the words where no cheap shot will be left untaken and numerous lines will be crossed. The blanket of anonymity emboldens us all, and though it may give the individual courage to speak up where personal insecurities would otherwise keep the one mute, it has a tendency to inspire reckless behavior riddled with negative energy. Perhaps trashing other people’s opinions and perspectives acts as some twisted catharsis, but I’ve never felt pure glee by engaging in it.
Recently some readers took issue with my op-ed concerning my displeasure over Ben Affleck being cast as Batman for the Man of Steel sequel and presumably, all Justice League tie-ins for the foreseeable future.
First of all, that was (as this is) an op-ed which according to the Online Etymology Dictionary is defined as a page of a newspaper opposite the editorial page, usually devoted to personal opinion columns.
It was not an essay making an argument against sending financial aid to countries that appear to be acting against the interests of the US. It was a raw, emotional, soap box moment where I expressed a personal opinion that Affleck is not the right choice for Batman. A choice like that leaves too many questions for me regarding the future of these DC adaptations because the shear inclusion of that character in Superman’s sequel undercuts Kal-El’s own importance. That combined with the debacle that was Green Lantern plus the lack of some teaser, tie-in or reference to this new DC universe independent of Nolan’s trilogy at the end of Man of Steel makes me think there still is no master plan for the movement. Until that changes, “it’s the end” of those films for me.
Second, pinpointing The Town and Argo as proof positive that Affleck will clearly be an excellent Batman is as opinionated as my use of those examples to suggest the opposite.
In both of those productions, Affleck was placed in multiple seats of power and influence as a co-writer, director and lead actor. Is he somehow not going to use those opportunities to showcase himself in the best possible light? I liked both of those films, and I reviewed them here on Cosmic Book News, but until he has been confirmed as the director of Justice League and every other ancillary title where Batman will appear, he’ll have to start taking direction. Affleck and Snyder will certainly have moments of disagreement in their future endeavor as they are both bringing different experiences and ideas to the table. The danger lies in Affleck potentially responding in the way of the prima donna, and then press releases citing “creative differences” occur, people walk off sets and in the meantime, the production gets sandbagged. The Town and Argo are not proof that he can listen to someone else in authority over him to adjust a performance for the better of the film, not just the actor. He was the authority in those films.
Third, let’s examine the comparisons with Michael Keaton’s Batman and Heath Ledger’s Joker as further proof positive that Affleck’s Batman will be just as unexpectedly successful.
Tim Burton’s Batman may have followed Richard Donner’s Superman, but it is the Dark Knight’s adaptation in 1989 that created the contemporary model of using big Hollywood names in the active, title roles for superhero films in the future as opposed to only support roles like Marlon Brando’s Jor-El. “Big” defined every level of this production and for Tim Burton, a man whose previous production credits only included Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) and Beetlejuice (1988), it could be understood that the pressure was on. We could have wound up with Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Selleck or Bill Murray, but producer Jon Peters liked Keaton’s edginess, and Burton’s familiarity with the actor certainly didn’t hurt. Yes, the fans blew up back then as they are now, but the main difference in the situations (besides the history between the director and lead actor) is that the production hired Batman co-creator Bob Kane as a creative consultant. If you can’t trust the character’s creator, who can you trust? Batman/Superman should have similar DC heavy weights like Geoff Johns or Scott Snyder as regulars on set, in the writer’s room and right now researching plot development, but as of now, anyone else’s involvement in these DC films are rumored at best. Sure, Johns failed Green Lantern as a co-producer, but I believe Affleck would respect actual DC writers if not his own film’s staff if push came to shove. This production requires supervision and/or support.
As for Heath Ledger, the parallels are once again uncanny. Clearly he was cast against type where films like 10 Things I Hate About You, The Patriot and A Knight’s Tale had him on the path of the classic, Hollywood leading man. But then he starred in films like Monster’s Ball and Brokeback Mountain, and those were considerably riskier roles for a young actor who would eventually perish before his prime. Ben Affleck’s filmography is layered with classic, Hollywood leading male roles depicting him as the love interest, the tough guy or the arrogant power monger; i.e. fairly unchallenging work for a good looking dude to pull off. Nothing about the Joker as a role suggests the use of some formula for casting or performance in order for it to be successful, but then news reports concerning Ledger’s preparation process hit the press prior to his death which was equal parts disturbing and impressive. In an interview with Empire Magazine he stated, “I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices . . . I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath – someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts.” That diary has since been revealed to the public demonstrating the obsessive immersion he subjected himself to so as to deliver the Joker unlike anyone before. Yes, working out two hours a day is impressive for Affleck to shape up for Batman, but his character will never be a physical match for Superman. I don’t expect his preparation to involve hanging out in caves or interviewing orphans who were victims of violent crimes, but something a little more mundane like researching with LA’s CSI would sway me more as to his seriousness for the role because it would at least get him in the right detective mindset (assuming that’s the kind of Batman we’ll even see).
Fourth, I’d like to address my opinion of Ben Affleck in general based on his career’s mixed bag of roles, his overbearing personality that comes out in shows like Real Time with Bill Maher and his less than gracious Oscar acceptance speech with Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting.
I also don’t like the fact that his ability to direct has been identified as some transcendent skill set unique from any other director and has nothing to do with the all-star actors that fill his casts like Jeremy Renner, Chris Cooper, Jon Hamm, John Goodman and Alan Arkin. Before we’re all ready to crown Affleck as the next American Auteur, let’s recognize that his opportunity to direct is specifically due to his being cast as the star, and his star equates to very specific dollars and cents for studios. He’s the money choice. He’s the corporate choice, and that above every other reason is why he is the next Batman. You may not agree with any of these statements, but they are reasonable enough to not like anyone or anything in particular.
Not once did I say that I hate him. Not once did I make some bigoted comment regarding him personally. Not once did I incite anyone else to join in on dedicated bashing like signing that petition to President Obama to remove Affleck from Batman. Heck, I never even said he was a bad actor. He’s simply not my cup of tea and I feel he doesn’t have the intimidation factor and mature mind set needed for Batman. That’s not a fact, it’s an opinion. Facts are as follows: He is an actor, he gets paid lots of money and he will make so much more being Batman.
Now I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our live caller, Brandon for his comments and discussion during CosmicBookNews’ first live podcast. He represents the best of what debates over pop culture can be. His comments were intelligent, entertaining, and although we didn’t agree on everything, nothing got personal and nothing got nasty. I’m not even going to reference the negative comments to my own article in order to address real concerns over the death threats being issued on Facebook pages for Man of Steel concerning this casting situation. I honestly do not know what people are thinking by sinking to that level and it clearly represents the worst of what actual nerd rages are capable of. It’s just a comic book adaptation for crying out loud. Even if people are joking, and even if they don’t really mean it, that is totally out of bounds. Commentary like that is an embarrassment to civilized society. Change that. It’s not commentary; it’s verbal vomit. So once again, I say to Brandon good looks, we appreciate your opinions and invite you to join us again for another live podcast.