11 September 2013

Late to the Party #1 - The Goddamn Batfleck

Okay so this is a new feature that will be semi-regular. Because fuck knows I don't post enough on this blog. Basically, I'd going to stream-of-conscious type my thoughts about a recent nerdy issue that may or may not be bang up to date. For those skim-reading, I've highlighted the key points in bold. Ladies and gentlemen (and you, Din), I give you, typing errors and all...

Rostopher is usually...

#1 - The Goddamn Batfleck

So Ben Affleck is Batman. And what an absolutely massive uproar about it there was too. Which was fun! Took a while longer than I expected to die down, but thankfully it has, and whilst there are of course still the so-called 'haters' out there, there's at least now what could be described as 'lukewarm' feelings towards the prospect.

To throw down my say early, I'm actually pretty happy with this casting. Sure, Mr Affleck has been in some stinkers - but it's been shown time and time again that to dismiss someone completely based on past performances is folly. Think Heath Ledger as The Joker; Hugh Jackman as Wolverine - heck, super-hero movies in and of themselves are rife with 'huh?!' choices that went good.

Affleck is as good a choice as we were going to get, and don't read anything negative into that statement. After Bale's (and balls to the naysayers) towering performance as both halves of the character, literally no-one will feel right. 

He's got the jawline, he's the right height, build, and hair colour, so it's not like he won't look the part (pending any decision on Batsuit nipples... *shudder*). Daredevil and Paycheck (again, say what you will) showed he can competently beat the crap out of wave upon wave of Generic Non-Super Canon Fodder, and in truth, he's become a far better actor in recent years than Pearl Harbour and Gigli. Seriously, are those the only two Ben Affleck movies the naysayers have seen? And if so, are we really taking any complaint from these people seriously? These fools who haven't seen Chasing Amy, Good Will Hunting, The Company Men, Argo, The Town, Dogma, Shakespeare in Love (Britishfleck!), Hollywoodland or State of Play? He was also - I'm reliably informed - the bomb in Phantoms, yo.

Okay, so I see their argument. This is the man who got nominated for the Razzie for worst actor three times, for no less than six films. In fairness, this may have been less to do with his actual performances, and more to do with the fact that he was the exact epicentre of a massive media fuore, and it was somehow his fault that the movies surrounding him were terrible.

'He's BEN AFFLECK! How can he make a bad movie?!' was the sentiment of the time. 

It's simple.

Pearl Harbour was too long, badly written and held a tone that was at odds with Michael Bay's explosive sensibilities. Daredevil is actually okay, if you watch the director's cut - it still suffers from bland direction and Colin Farrell during his terrible phase, but the script and story are sound, and the castings are otherwise pretty good (Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin?! Genius! RIP, you massive, massive man.). Jersey Girl was Kevin Smith's attempt at doing something more serious - something to which he was and is ill suited. Paycheck was a fucking John Woo movie - what were we expecting? Whedon?! And the less said about Gigli (horrifying celebrity couple vehicle) and Surviving Christmas (throwaway holiday trash) the better.

Basically, the regrettable fact is that when Affleck was...shall we say, not at the peak of his acting prowess, he was also at his most prolific and scrutinised, for reasons technically outside of his control. These three things do not mix well, and he had a bad run. Any critic will tell you this - but since then, he's hardly put a foot wrong. Hollywoodland, and his entry into the directorial game with Gone Baby Gone were the gamechangers. His enjoyably daft cameo in the enjoyably daft Smokin' Aces aside, the work that followed was decidedly higher quality.

But when you examine Affleck's vast and varied filmography, it's clear that his performances vary with how challenging and interesting the material is. And when he has total creative control? Turns out he's a damn fine filmmaker all round - one that rises to the occasion as the material demands.

So this brings us to the talent that he will be working with come Superman vs Batman, and that's where the real rub is. I liked Man of Steel. I did. Despite the fact that I really rate Snyder, I can understand why those who don't...eh...don't. But the movie that we got was far better than one could've possibly expected, given the circumstances. To completely garble a quote from its oft-quoted nemesis, The Dark Knight Trilogy - it was way better than the Superman movie we deserved (after the kicking we gave the hideously under-rated Superman Returns ("You want more action? Here's Zack Snyder, fuckers," said the 'evil' movie executive)). But not as good as the Superman movie that we needed. Disappointment is a relative term, my friends.


But here's the thing - the main point raised against Man of Steel was that there was no way that a) Superman would allow that much damage to happen; and b) he would've killed Zod at the end. When I quizzed a since-childhood fan of Superman - whose comics you should read, or else! - on why it wasn't right, why Superman couldn't kill just once, and he said something that was equal parts profound and obvious: "He always finds a way." And that's Superman in a nutshell, isn't it? The very best of us - a man who has considerable power, but never uses it to harm or oppress the innocent. He's right too - in Man of Steel, Supes is practically reckless; as I pointed out in my review, he's a rougish brawler who steps up because he can, and kinda makes a mess of it, but wins out through plucky determination.

***** SPOILERS END *****

But this is also very much a Superman for the modern era, where collateral damage and the death of innocents constantly sprawls across our news headlines. It's also a crushingly realistic portrayal of super-strong, super-tough, gravity defying individuals going at each-other like gangbusters.

And who better to tame this rogue superpower, to teach him the value of damage prevention, subtlety and the power of a symbol, than fucking Batman, fully formed and having been fighting crime in Gotham for years. Given the speed at which the production is rolling forward, it's hard to not believe that this was the plan all along.

Another complaint re: Man of Steel is that Superman was more broody and dark than previous incarnations. Assuming that the above was indeed the plan, surely if anything, the casting of Ben Affleck promises a sly reversal of the darkness and light in this particular relationship. This has been done with comic-book characters before - and with Batman no-less - and it made for genuinely interesting stories - what's to say this flick can't pull the same coup?

The point I'm plodding towards is that there is no reason to think that the story of this next film will not work. Superman and Batman crossover plenty, and work almost exactly as often - Geoff Johns' current work in New 52's Justice League, as well as the supplement story 'Ghost Lights' at the end of Batmans # 19 and #20 are recent examples of how good this can be. But it's a challenge that needs to be risen to - and as we've established, Ben Affleck is a man who does just that.

If Superman vs Batman is going to be bad, it's not going to be because of Affleck. We should be more worried on two counts - first, Christopher Nolan is no longer presiding over matters. Second, Snyder is helping craft the story and script. Massive warning signs on both these - but in theory, given Affleck's directorial and screen-writing creds, coupled with his known love of comic books, he can help temper there more insane urges. If any single conclusion can be drawn at this stage - which, as we have not seen the film, is as close to impossible as it gets - it's that Ben Affleck's involvement is a step in the right direction. I, for one, am looking forward to it.


Lynne w said...

I would be happier with Nolan at the helm or failing him Whedon; but Snyder knows the rules and game plan and Ben IS quality.
Great take on the issue though

Trudylicious said...

I might even sit up and take notice if Benny eventually goes ahead rather than cringing into my popcorn (toffee not salted) as with some of the other Fatman movies....rubber is so unforgiving !!!

hanfibz said...

I loved Bale as Batman so, for me, Afleck has a lot to live up to.
I really hope he does a Ledger, as you suggest, and shocks everyone stupid.
Please not Justin Timberlake as The Riddler.