It’s the end of an era for the most divisive live action Batman to ever grace the silver screen. Yes that’s right two years to the day that Ben Affleck was let go as director of The Batman he has now been let go as the Caped Crusader altogether. For some this is a sign of hope for the upcoming Matt Reeves helmed Batman film and for others it’s an insult, as they loved Affleck and everything he brought to the role. Of course these two reactions are nothing new when it comes to an actor leave the cowl behind. We saw it most recently in August 2013 when it was first announced that Affleck would take on the iconic role. The announcement came with a ton of backlash and didn’t settle until we got our first look of Affleck in costume in May 2014. On the other side there was albeit a smaller group of people (myself included) who were over the moon at the thought of Affleck in the role.
Audiences started to get on board more and more with each trailer actually getting a glimpse to what he would bring to the role. Where the real division came into play was after Batman V Superman Dawn of Justice was released. Many saw it as a great exploration of the character of Bruce Wayne and seeing him rise up from his lowest point as a hero. Many others saw it as a bastardization of what they had always known Batman to be. I fall in the middle of these two extreme reactions to what is ultimately a brief moment of time in Batman’s long history.
A good place to start with my opinion on the infamous Batfleck is the visuals. Speaking from an entirely visual perspective Affleck’s Batman is the most comic book accurate we have ever seen, from the batsuit, to Bruce Wayne’s stature, to the production design of Gotham City. While yes as obvious as the green screen was in the opening scene of Justice League it still visually gave me a Gotham I had always wanted to see in a modern live action adaptation, it was dark, grimy and felt like it was overridden by crime. This again is true in the introduction to Batman in Batman V Superman where the cops show up amidst our hero interrogating a human trafficker. Those two moments strongly convey what kind of Gotham this is. Of course Gotham is only one component to nailing the visual style of Batman and more important is the costume. When I first saw the Batfleck costume I was bouncing with excitement, the black on grey costume had finally been brought to life (though I was hoping for a blue and grey combo). It instantly brought me back to watching the 1997 animated Batman/Superman Movie. Then in Justice League I thought they continued to give us great batsuits (minus some goggles). Then Affleck’s Bruce Wayne had a stature to him that was imposing but clearly still fit his playboy public persona. It is something I felt had always been missing in live action interpretations, again speaking strictly visually.
Now the bigger point of contention for myself is the characterization of this Bruce Wayne/Batman. While I can appreciate what Zack Snyder was going for in Batman V Superman I do think at the end of the day it wasn’t handled as well as it could have been. Having Batman crossing his line of no killing isn’t an impossible direction to take it is a very difficult one. There are a number of issues with Snyder’s approach that standout to me, the first being is that this Batman doesn’t give a single moment of pause, doubt or remorse for any of the brutal murders he carries out. It feels as if this Batman had been killing his entire career, which doesn’t make any sense given the reason he became Batman in the first place. Second is that Alfred never detests Bruce’s actions nor does he ever tries to reason with Bruce that despite all that he’s been through he should have never resulted to killing. A dead Robin is certainly a good motivation to give for why Batman may kill but that is never suggested. A simple few lines of dialogue about the loss of his crime-fighting partner would be more than enough to justify his murderous actions for me in this film. Third and maybe one of the most frustrating is that the comic book Snyder is clearly drew a lot of inspiration from is The Dark Knight Returns. The Frank Miller classic is considered by many to be the best Batman story ever told and it’s one that shows Bruce struggle to decide to not kill the Joker despite that being the something he had wanted to do for so long. Furthermore this book reinforces Bruce stance on guns, by having Batman inspire a group of lost people to not use guns as a means of justice saying: “This is the weapon of the enemy. We do not need it. We will not use it.” That is coming from a Batman who has seen and been through countless horrific events and yet he doesn’t kill or use guns. So the way Snyder chose to approach things when loosely adapting the classic Batman tale ultimately spat in the face of what that book stood for and what it’s message was.
Now despite all of those issues I mentioned I still find myself really liking Batfleck overall. I thought the Bruce Wayne was great and that while yes the murders are bad the action and brutality of this Batman is incredible. The warehouse fight is by far the best Batman action sequence we’ve ever had. It is a perfect blend of Snyder’s visual flare and what we had seen in the Arkham games. Also I respect the hell out of Affleck for the amount work and effort he put into the role in his first outing of the character. The amount of muscle he put on was absolutely insane but was well worth it for the final result.
Overall I don’t feel Ben Affleck got a fair shot at what was a dream role for him. I think he put all he could into it but ultimately due to many factors it ended up becoming the most divisive Batman. I hope he knows how many people loved what he brought to it and doesn’t only remember the negative reactions. I’m glad to have gotten his take on the character even with the issues that I had. Now I’m excited to learn who will take on the mantle of the Batman next so we can do this again within the next ten years. Matt Reeves The Batman hits theatres June 25th 2021.