Last night, when Zack Snyder announced Ben Affleck as Batman in the still untitled incarnation of Superman and Batman that will basically be "Man of Steel II." Almost immediately, "Ben Affleck as Batman" began trending and Twitter erupted into what might have easily been a test of it's Emergency Broadcasting System.
Many focused on the inconsistency of a Boston accent in New York's superhero, most expressed concern Affleck would "Daredevil" the role, and some even claimed the casting was "the worst thing to happen to the film franchise since George Clooney's nipples." It was, as response to the miscasting of such a macro culture superhero, actually somewhat disappointing -- as if the more clever comebacks and instant memes that often follow (although, this one was pretty good) were bungled by the severity of frustration associated with this particular Twitter emergency.
I'm Batman! pic.twitter.com/ToqCTAMHCb
— Matthew H. (@Matthops82) August 23, 2013
Yeah, Ben Affleck has an accent but ... so does Christian Bale. The problem is not so much his pronunciation as his lack of intensity. Sure, Affleck meets the standard requirements of the role in the sense that he is male, famous, and alive, but what he decidedly doesn't have is the painful aura of loss and obligation in which Batman is perpetually cloaked, and Zack Snyder's intensely measured announcement seemed painfully aware of this:
"Ben provides an interesting counter-balance to Henry's Superman. He has the acting chops to create a layered portrayal of a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter, but retain the charm that the world sees in billionaire Bruce Wayne."
Batman is important because, as Grant Morrison puts it, he is the "Ultimate Man." He has been the enduring recipient of decades of nerd worship as one of the few superheroes with no literal superhuman talent. Our dark knight is distinguished by his darkness and inability to achieve the happy ending, even after he has saved the day. Unlike the other figures of the comic book empire, Batman fights crime not because he can, but because he is accountable to both his past and the evil that consumes his city.
Batman possesses a tangible toughness, and yet he remains fallible. By being human at his very core, Batman can die. When Bane breaks his back or when he flies off over the Hudson with a nuclear bomb, there is a possibility he won't ever return to his initial ass-kicking status, and even the most cartoonish renditions of the legend are aware of that fact.
Affleck is an intensely frustrating choice, then, because he projects that fallibility as a parody of itself. Ben Affleck comes to the big screen with self-seriousness that is somehow inevitably too ... Ben Affleck. Even in "Argo," where his acting is brilliant, he is very visibly Ben Affleck, with the public persona seeping through the role to an almost distracting extent. Ultimately, the idea of Batman portrayed with such a visibly idiosyncratic personality is what is so problematic. Not his Boston accent.
Of course, there are campy versions of the legend, but the world Snyder will create (with Christopher Nolan at his side!) deserves Batman's signature brooding seriousness, and Affleck simply can't convincingly convey that kind of intense pathos. After everything that Nolan did with our hero in the trilogy, for him to sit by Snyder's side while Matt Damon's BFF pulls on the cape feels like a blow to every aspect of the dark knight.
Although, maybe we're overreacting, maybe Affleck won't completely ruin and destroy everything we hold dear. Zack Snyder's absurdly handsome Superman only had about seven lines of dialogue in "Man of Steel." Cavill and his bat-eared counterpart will likely spend most of their screen time destroying a city skyline and, hey, maybe it will be Boston's this time.