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Friday, August 23, 2013

Lack of Afflecktion

No sooner is Ben Affleck announced as the next Batman than the internet goes berserk.  From the amount of vitriol, one would think a moratorium on panda videos had been announced.  All I can think is, Am I missing something?  Wherefore all this misplaced rage?  What, exactly, did Ben Affleck ever do to the interwebs?

The last time we saw Ben Affleck, he was accepting an Academy Award for Best Picture on behalf of the production crew of "Argo."  But for a blatant snub, he most likely would have accepted the award for Best Director about ten minutes before that.

I will grant you that Affleck is probably a better director than actor, but still, he acquitted himself perfectly well in "Argo"--and in several other movies besides.  I had no problem with his performances in "Chasing Amy" or "Good Will Hunting" or "The Town"--even if he was not the main "draw" of any of those films--and see no reason why he won't be a perfectly acceptable Batman.

As far as these things go, Affleck is hardly the most surprising casting choice ever made to play the Caped Crusader.  That honor goes to Michael Keaton--and that worked out pretty well.

Think about it: To play this part, Affleck will basically have to pull off "charming" as Bruce Wayne and "intense" as Batman.  He can do that.

Will he be as good as Christian Bale?  Maybe, maybe not, but that's really the wrong question: I have little doubt that the movie--which seems at this point primarily to be a Superman movie anyway--will be inferior to Christopher Nolan's recently completed trilogy--if only because director Zack Snyder has shown no signs of being able to make movies of the same quality as Nolan's.

Because here's the real point: In the history of superhero movies, some have been great, some have been good, and many have been bad, but the quality has almost nothing to do with the acting abilities of whoever is cast as the hero.  Christopher Reeve was a terrific Superman, but the four Superman movies he starred in were of vastly differing quality: The first two were highly entertaining, the third and fourth are basically unwatchable.  George Clooney is a universally acclaimed actor--an Academy Award winner, for Pete's sake!--but his turn as Batman is best remembered for nipples-on-the-breastplate.

I would go so far as to say that the number of actors who have played superheroes--and who have made a significant contribution to the quality of the films because of their portrayal--is exactly one: Robert Downey, Jr., as Tony Stark/Iron Man.  The movies might have been OK without Robert Downey, and another actor could have done an acceptable job as Marvel Comic's own answer to Bruce Wayne, but Robert Downey's effortless incarnation of Tony Stark--with all of his arrogance, wit, charm, and, ultimately, darkness--elevated a series of popcorn movies into the realm of art.

For the most part, superhero movies are action-packed spectacles, dependent upon the vision of the director and the talents of the technical crew for whatever quality they possess.  If Zack Snyder succeeds in making a crowd-pleasing extravaganza--as I suspect he will--Ben Affleck will be noted, appropriately, as just one more well-utilized prop.

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