Film

#Batfleck

31 October 2013

Last month Warner Bros announced that Ben Affleck had been cast as Batman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel and the internet immediately shat itself.

Within an hour of the announcement over 100,000 tweets were posted on the subject and 12 hours later there were over 500,000. #Batfleck was born. And it wasn’t just Facebook and Twitter. Sites like Reddit, 4chan and Tumblr were all overtaken by hastily photoshopped Batben memes. Youtube was full of reaction videos. The blogosphere erupted to the extent that CollegeHumor had already posted a ‘Where Were you When Batfleck Happened’ video within days. After all that it wasn’t just the volume of backlash that made it so extraordinary, but the sheer severity of what was said. People really hate Ben Affleck.

Not only did Affleck himself receive death threats, but so did the administrators of the Man of Steel Facebook page. More than that, a petition was posted to the White House’s website demanding President Obama’s administration intervene in the matter. Had it not been taken down almost immediately it surely would have surpassed its 51,000 signatories with the added names of most of my Twitter feed and Facebook friends. It’s been such an unprecedentedly large and consistent response from such a wide demographic it proves, as the popular #BetterBatmanThanBenAffleck hashtag suggests, the people simply want someone else.

This has been reported on everywhere from the New York Times and the Age to the Onion and Pedestrian. It’s had serious mainstream exposure and even if you weren’t internet-savvy most people will have read about it. Problem is, they will have generally read the same schtick—‘Well people didn’t like when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker’—and when Michael Keaton scored the role of Batman, ‘comic book fans burnt their comic collections’. Cool, but that doesn’t really say much does it. Now, a lot of people are critical due to their dislike of Man of Steel and their outrage at the Batman franchise being rebooted so soon after Nolan’s trilogy ended. All worthy of discussion, but let’s just focus on Affleck.

On paper, he makes sense. Aged 41 he’s in the perfect range to show us the older grisly Batman Warner Bros wants to interact with Henry Cavill’s young Superman. Not just that though. Affleck can act, has a cleft chin worthy of being an American icon, and at 6’4 tall will be the most physically intimidating Batman the silver screen has ever seen. So what made everyone turn batshit crazy?

To understand we have to look at Affleck’s history. He started his film career relatively young and had his first substantial roles in cult films such as Dazed & Confused, Mall Rats and Chasing Amy. These were pretty solid debuts and interestingly had strong comic connections. The majority of Mall Rats takes place in a comic book store and even has a Stan Lee cameo, and in Chasing Amy Affleck actually plays a comic book artist. Both were directed by Kevin Smith, most famous for Clerks—a friend of Affleck’s who also happens to write Batman comics for DC, as well as hosts and produces Fatman on Batman, a podcast solely dedicated to the caped crusader. So it’s safe to say that when Affleck says he’s read comics since he was a teenager we can believe him. But nobody seems to care about any of this.

In December 1997, Good Will Hunting comes out—you know the film that gets reruns all the time—cast with Matt Damon, Affleck, Robin Williams and Stellan Skarsgård. Good Will Hunting is nominated for nine Academy Awards and wins two. Robin Williams walks home with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Damon and Affleck win Best Screenplay for the script the two of them wrote alone. This would be impressive by itself, but his onscreen performance is also brilliant. Alas the success went on to almost ruin him.

At the age of 25, Ben Affleck is now known worldwide as Hollywood’s latest wonder boy. What follows is five years of him taking major roles in big budget movies that are either critically panned or complete box office flops. In 1998 he stars in Michael Bay’s reviled Armageddon; 2000 he has the lead in Fruckheimer’s Reindeer Games; 2001 again he teams up with Bay for Pearl Harbour; then in 2003 Affleck plays his first superhero, Daredevil, to lacklustre results. Now a lot of people are citing the failure of Daredevil as a reason for Affleck’s inadequacy but the film’s real problems have nothing to do with Affleck’s performance. They’re mainly to do with director and screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson, the man responsible for—shudder—Nicholas Cage’s Ghost Rider. 2003 really wasn’t a good Affleck year with the release of Daredevil quickly followed by perhaps his most damning film of all, Gigli, in which he co-starred with his then-partner J Lo. The movie is popularly referred to as being one of the worst films in existence.

It’s at this stage of Affleck’s career that his failures collectively enter the world of pop culture in a big way—Ben Affleck appears in South Park. I remember the episode, ‘Fat Butt and Pancake Head’ premiering April 16th 2003, more clearly than I can remember any single Affleck film. Eric Cartman’s left hand becomes Jennifer Lopez—read it in the voice, you know the one—sings ‘taco-flavoured kisses’ and then performs nauseating fellatio on a cartooned Ben. The episode even has us see a douchey-looking Affleck splayed naked in Cartman’s bed. He isn’t the first actor to be parodied onSouth Park but the idea of Ben Affleck as a fuckwit spread, living on for years afterward. In 2004’s Team America: World Police not only was one of the main puppets modelled on Affleck’s face but a song in the film also uses the line ‘I need you like Ben Affleck needs acting lessons’. Ben Affleck gags have then gone on to appear in multiple Family Guy episodes most notably with a gag in 2007 showing Affleck spending less than 30 seconds to prepare for a role. Even The Simpsons have done it, as late as 2010, with an episode starting with Homer and Marge running out of a cinema in horror as soon as the screen reads ‘STARRING BEN AFFLECK’. These examples aren’t fully comprehensive; there’s more out there, but if you look at the dates, that’s over seven years of energetic hatred. The tragedy is that this Affleck in no way acknowledges the massive shift in his career.

After being burnt out by Hollywood Affleck miraculously came back and came back on his own terms. He picked smarter roles and returned to smaller projects that allowed him to have a much greater share in each film’s creative control. It paid off. Since 2007 he’s directed three films: Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo, with each opening to widespread critical acclaim. The crowning jewel is Argo, a film deservedly winning this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture. But it’s not just his directing that’s getting attention. He’s had praise-worthy performances in 2011’s Company Men, as a main character in both The Town and Argo, as well as the leading man in Terence Malick’s latest film To The Wonder. The man who played Mr Gigli now has full lines queuing at the Nova.

So while the real Ben Affleck was working his arse off to become a critically-acclaimed actor and director, his pop cultural doppelganger has been running around perpetuating the idea that Affleck can’t act. Many can watch Argo or The Town and block, if not completely forget, the early 2000s and his not particularly memorable films, but a certain age bracket just can’t. We’ve been conditioned to think that Ben Affleck is a joke and this is what I believe lies at the core of the Batfleck backlash. People genuinely believe the parody of Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman and they’ll have to wait till 2015 to see otherwise.

Backlash or not, hiring Affleck right on the heels of his Best Picture win is exciting. Not just to see a new Batman but for everything else that the casting news implies. As he was previously approached by Christopher Nolan to direct Man of Steel it’s highly likely that Affleck will have a high creative input into the sequel and possibly even go on to direct his own standalone Batman flick. He’s shown people he can act, he’s shown everyone he can direct, he’s proven he can successfully direct himself, and on top of all of that he can write. South Park fellatio or not, I say bring on Batfleck!


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