All of the outrage over Miley Cyrus last week overshadowed the previous outrage over Ben Affleck being cast as Batman in the upcoming Batman/Superman film.
I'm no fan of Miley's new direction, but personally, I don't have a problem with the Affleck selection. Sure, he's too old for the role, but they wanted a forty-something Bruce Wayne this time around. And if you're looking for a middle-aged leading man with the chops to pull off a more seasoned Caped Crusader, Affleck is as good a choice as many and better than most.
The kerfuffle over his casting is reminiscent of the outrage surrounding Beetlejuice Michael Keaton donning the cowl way back in 1989, and that turned out pretty well. More recently, people were up in arms when Heath Ledger, identified previously with pretty-boy roles, was cast as the Joker in "The Dark Knight." He was posthumously honored with a Supporting Actor Oscar for the role.
The fact is that a superhero movie’s quality depends more on the writing and the direction than the actor's performance. George Clooney somehow managed to survive the train wreck that was "Batman and Robin," and he might have been the perfect Batman if he hadn't been trapped in such a wretched film. Even Christopher Reeve, Superman himself, couldn't save the Butterball turkey that was "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace."
That's why people citing Affleck's work in the disappointing adaptation of "Daredevil" as prima facie evidence that he can't pull off a superhero movie are missing the point. The problem with "Daredevil" wasn't Ben Affleck. It was a stupid script filled with shallow characters and dippy storylines. Affleck is the best thing about that movie. It leaves me wondering how much better it would've been if Affleck had been the director as well as the star. "Argo" stands as witness as to how well Affleck succeeds when he takes charge of a cinematic enterprise.
Unfortunately, Zack Snyder, not Ben Affleck, is going to be the one in the director's chair when Affleck is behind the mask. The competent-but-overwrought "Man of Steel" does not inspire confidence that Mr. Snyder will perform as ably as his leading man would if given the chance to take his place.
Consider the ground this next movie has to cover: It has to continue the story begun in "Man of Steel" while at the same time credibly rebooting the entire Batman big screen mythos, all the while adding Lex Luthor into the mix. That's a lot of balls to keep in the air, and many a directorial juggler has failed in the face of lesser challenges. The number of superhero movies with too many characters in them are too numerous to list, so I mention just a few: "Spider-Man 3," several Batman flicks and about half of the movies with X-Men in them.
Comic book movies with huge ensemble casts that actually work are the exception rather than the rule, but, without exception, they're helmed by exceptional captains. "The Avengers" is a swell movie, sure, but even Robert Downey Jr. wouldn't have been able to pull it out of the fire if Joss Whedon had been replaced in the middle of the shoot by Joel Schumacher, who would probably put nipples on the Iron Man armor.
The bottom line is that the "Man of Steel" sequel is going to have plenty of opportunities to disappoint with or without Ben Affleck. That's faint praise, I know, but given the amount if vitriol aimed in Affleck's direction now, I think he'll be grateful for any kind words he can get.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.
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