Halftime Leisure

The Reel Pulpit: Why Ben Affleck is the Best Batman

September 21, 2016

Batman v. Superman

If you had told me right after the Dark Knight Rises that I would be writing an article about Ben Affleck being the best Batman, I would have laughed you out of the room. When the casting of Affleck was announced, the reaction from the internet was less than ideal for Warner Bros. Despite Affleck’s recent directing success with The Town and Argo, comic book fans pointed to Affleck’s horrid performance in 2003’s dreadful Daredevil as evidence that the actor could not cut it as the Caped Crusader on the big screen. Things were off to a poor start for Batfleck.

It was not just Affleck’s past that was working against him. His casting came a little more than a year after the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, which starred Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne. While Bale’s performance was far from perfect, he certainly had done enough to cement himself in the upper echelon of Batmen (although, as we will soon see, that is not saying much). That, combined with Man of Steel’s lukewarm reception, meant that Affleck faced an uphill climb for the clunkily titled Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

When BvS was released, it received a critical savaging. However, a consistent source of praise was, shockingly enough, Affleck’s performance. He was one of the film’s strengths, and he elevated the proceedings every time he was on the screen. Going a step further, I argue that he is the best thing in the movie, hands down. Despite the fact that Affleck had to share screen time, and that he is not given the best script to work with, he effortlessly balances the Bruce Wayne side of Batman with the Batman side of Batman.

Before analyzing Affleck’s performance, I first want to briefly touch upon preceding Batmen and their strengths and weaknesses. Leading off was Adam West in the campy 1960’s television show and movie. It is tough to take a critical lens to West’s performance because of how campy it is, and therefore I will not bother criticizing it. Next up, after a long break, was Michael Keaton’s performance in 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns. Whenever a list is made of the best Batmen, Keaton is usually right at the top. His casting was controversial at the time, going as far as to spark a massive letter-writing campaign to try to get him removed from the role, but Keaton does a surprisingly great job. His Bruce Wayne is the right balance of brooding and suave. Helped out by terrific production design and some great villains, Keaton’s two offerings are well worth revisiting. His only weakness is when he dons the cowl: Keaton was not a muscular actor, as we are accustomed to seeing in our superheroes today, so it takes a bit of suspension of disbelief to buy him beating up thugs and jumping off of buildings.

Much like the Joker plummeting from the church tower in Batman, the quality of Batman nosedives in the subsequent two films. Val Kilmer took over in 1995’s Batman Forever. He was bad. George Clooney starred in 1997’s Batman and Robin. He was also bad. I like to think that these two films were hallucinated by Bruce Wayne while he is stuck in the pit with a broken back in Rises, and that these hallucinations were part of Bane’s putting him in a place of complete despair. But at least Batman and Robin’s tremendous failure brought us Batman Begins.

Christian Bale starred in all three of Christopher Nolan’s films. His Wayne was excellent. It was clear by the third film that Nolan intended on making his Batman movies more about the man behind the mask than the mask itself. Bruce Wayne is layered, conflicted, and vulnerable, and Bale consistently gives Wayne a level of humanity that was not present in the cinematic rendition of the character before him. Unfortunately, his Batman tried a little too hard. Bale’s physique fit the character perfectly. Although I personally enjoy the gravelly voice, it is hard to deny that it sounds like Bale is trying way too hard to be menacing. It would also be remiss not to mention Kevin Conroy’s voice work in “Batman: The Animated Series,” but because that did not involve any live-action work, he will not count for now.

And then, along came an Affleck. Affleck’s Wayne is a surprisingly complicated character. He is 20 years into his career, and is faced with an existential crisis. He has spent his life fighting crime, only to see criminals continually return, and has lost his faith in humanity after watching good men turn bad in Gotham. He feels useless, as if he has accomplished nothing. His Wayne is a hard drinking, suave recluse who obsesses over Superman and who does not balk at murdering criminals as Batman. This is undoubtedly the least flattering characterization of Wayne. But it is also the most interesting. Wayne’s motivations are easily understandable, and after Superman’s sacrifice at the end of the film, it is apparent that he has regained his faith in humanity and now feels driven to assemble the Justice League to defend mankind. In the teaser trailer for Justice League and the post-credits scene in Suicide Squad, Affleck continues to look effortless in bringing across the confidence of a rejuvenated Bruce Wayne.

Affleck’s Batman is easily the closest thing we have seen to the Animated Series’ Batman. His Batmobile and Batwing are both incredibly well-designed and fit the character perfectly. His voice is synthetic and feels totally natural for the character, and his Batman is incredibly physical and unforgiving. This scene is without a doubt the best scene involving Batman fighting in cinematic history. The Batman in BvS genuinely feels like the comic book character come to life on the silver screen. The only flaw in the performance is the questionable writing, but Affleck is able to overcome that.

Any doubts about Affleck left after BvS were completely erased by his cameo in Suicide Squad. Although he is barely in the film for two minutes, the cameo hints at a larger universe where Batman captures his adversaries on a consistent basis and locks them away. In other words, exactly like the comics and the animated series. Seeing Batman on the roof of the Joker’s car and interacting with Deadshot was a comic book fan’s dream come true. I, for one, am unbelievably excited to see where the Batman standalone movie goes. This is not to take away from any of the other Batmen in the past. Actually, who am I kidding? No amount of George Clooney will ever make this introduction better.



Graham Piro
Graham Piro is a former editor-in-chief of the Voice. He isn't sure why the rest of the staff let him stick around. Follow him on Twitter @graham_piro.

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