Friday, 23 August 2013

Devil's Advocate: Batman

The internet is once again abuzz with a controversial casting decision:  Ben Affleck will be the next Batman, making his début in the next Superman film.  The majority of responses have been 'Noooooo!' or 'I must be dreaming!  This can't be happening!', but is all this just an overreaction?  After all, this isn't the first time Batman has had controversial casting decisions, and in some cases the actors have pulled off performances that many consider couldn't have been done better by anyone else.  So let's have a brief retrospective of other casting controversies in the Batman series (only going by the films).

"Warner Bros. received thousands of letters of complaint by fans commenting that he was the wrong choice to portray Batman, given his prior work in comedies and the fact that he lacked the suave, handsome features and tall, muscular physicality often attributed to the character in the comic books."  This is not a future biography of Affleck, but it is in fact a quote from Wikipedia regarding Michael Keaton- the man who reignited the public's interest in Batman after the campy Adam West series of the 60s.  Keaton's portrayal received wide-spread praise, and Batman would become one of the highest grossing movies of 1989.  Also of note from this Batman reboot is Jack Nicholson as the Joker- a multiple Oscar-winner, his portrayal of the chaotic evil Joker is considered one of the best performances of his career.

Val Kilmer was the next Batman, and he seemed like he could portray the role better than Keaton due to his more muscular figure.  And sure enough he was a good Batman, able to keep up with all the fight scenes etc- but his Bruce Wayne performance was lacklustre, and so he received mixed reviews.  Proof, therefore, that perhaps Bruce Wayne is more important than Batman?  After all, most of Batman's screen time can be filled by a stunt double, especially with digital enhancement.

Next came Batman and Robin, featuring George Clooney as Batman- this may have been a controversial choice, but his performance is vastly overshadowed by the poor writing and direction of the film, and the performances of his co-stars.  Of course this was the film so bad that it killed the franchise for almost 10 years.

Then came Batman Begins, with Christian Bale- perfectly suited for the role, the only criticism people tend to have of him is his at-times ridiculous gravelly voice.  There was little controversy about his casting, but then came The Dark Knight, featuring the character that inspired me to be 'Devil's Advocate' for Ben Affleck:

Heath Ledger as the Joker.  This was the biggest controversial casting decision that I can remember from any movie, let alone Batman.  Ledger had previously been known for playing handsome leading men- specifically a gay cowboy- and now they wanted him to be a psychopathic villain in clown makeup, that had to top Jack Nicholson's performance.  And it worked better than anyone would have believed.  Sure, there's a lot of cynics that say he was only good because of some sense of guilt over him dying, but it's indisputable that he did a solid performance and showed he could pull off a role that no-one would expect from him.

This is where Ben Affleck comes in.  Affleck is known for being an actor that stars in films that receive bad reviews, yet inexplicably do well in the box office (shades of Val Kilmer?).  He is known for playing... well, himself.  He has said himself that people don't see him as a fictional character- they only see him as Ben Affleck, and being Batman may be a way to overcome that (reminiscent of Heath Ledger?  Before the Joker, Ledger was always instantly recognisable as 'that guy').  He also doesn't have the muscles to be Batman, but then the story is that Batman's coming out of retirement so he's bound to be a bit out of shape (and again, where were Michael Keaton's muscles?).

Ultimately, I think Affleck could portray an excellent Bruce Wayne- so long as people try and see him as the character and not the actor.  In my mind, the man is always more important than the suit as that's where the character is developed (and from a technical view, you can always hire a stunt man).

That being said- this film is guaranteed to have high box office ratings due to the subject, so does he need to redeem himself?  Why not stay typecast as the man who stars in inexplicably successful bad movies?  Then when this movie kills the franchise for another ten years, Affleck could work on becoming the next George Clooney...

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