Becoming the Bat

So. That happened.

In these days of massively interconnected social media, it’s always enjoyable to watch the entire Internet completely melt down over something, and I can’t remember one that burned as quickly and as hot as last week when the news broke that Ben Affleck would be taking over the role of Batman in Zack Snyder’s upcoming Super-sequel SUPERMAN VS. BATMAN.

People, it turns out, are not keen on the idea.

I must admit to finding Warner Brothers’ decision to cast Affleck kind of baffling myself, if only because Affleck’s history with both superhero movies (I’m looking at you, DAREDEVIL) and action movies (coughcougharmageddoncoughcough) is less than stellar, and considering the renewed credibility he’s found in recent years as a director, I’m kind of at a loss as to why he’d even want to risk this newfound goodwill by jumping back into a rubber suit.

As for whether or not he’d make a good Batman, only time will really tell, but personally, I think he carries too much baggage into the role to truly disappear into the character. All the best Batman performances have been from people who either were unknown before taking on the role, like Adam West, were doing something completely opposite of everything they’d done in the past, like Michael Keaton, or were already practiced in becoming the kind of cinematic chameleon who blends into every role, like Christian Bale. My fear is I’m never going to be able to just see Batman on the screen, the way I did with West, Keaton or Bale; I’m always just going to see Ben Affleck in a Batman suit. If the idea was to cast an older Batman to play against a younger Superman, I’d much rather have seen a Gerard Butler or Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the role, instead of such a polarizing choice.

But in a larger sense, even the casting of Affleck isn’t my concern about SUPERMAN VS. BATMAN. I had doubts about the project from its announcement at Comic-Con, in part because it feels too soon to already load up the newly returned Superman franchise with crossover guest-stars, and in part because, in retrospect, I don’t think MAN OF STEEL was a very good movie.

Actually, let me be more precise: MAN OF STEEL was a pretty good summer action movie. It just wasn’t a very good Superman movie. The cast was great across the board (especially Russell Crowe’s Jor-El and Michael Shannon’s Zod), Henry Cavill makes a fine Superman, and the action sequences and effects were groundbreaking.

But there was just no heart to it.

They do a great job of trying to distract you from realizing that. “Hey, look at Jor-El flying around on a dragon!” It’s all very flashy and intense, but it’s all so joyless. Utilizing almost the exact same flashbacks-to-origin device as BATMAN BEGINS, director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan seemed determined in MAN OF STEEL to take this Superman relaunch so seriously that it was like a black hole from which no fun could escape.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with treating a comic-book movie seriously, but there needs to be moments of fun, of lightness, just to give the audience a breather here and there: something Marvel did right from the start with IRON MAN and has continued to do most successfully in all of its successive films.

The other problem was one that was discussed a lot in most MAN OF STEEL reviews: the way over-the-top destruction of Metropolis and Superman’s rather lackadaisical reaction to it. There’s a certain suspension of disbelief required in movies like this, and I’m willing to go a long way in assuming that just because we see that level of destruction, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are millions dead. But you have to meet me halfway — show Superman trying to save some innocent bystanders here and there, even if it’s just vaporizing rubble with his heat vision. Let us hear him ordering the army to evacuate the city. Just throw me a bone and I’m with you.

For contrast, look at last year’s AVENGERS film. The alien army there does almost as much of a number on Manhattan as General Zod and company do on Metropolis, but director Joss Whedon makes sure to show us Captain America ordering an evacuation of the city through the subways, and just that little scene gives me the out I need to enjoy the mayhem and not think about thousands upon thousands of civilian casualties. Even Bruce Banner when he wakes up from Hulking out on the Helicarrier — the first thing he asks Harry Dean Stanton is “did I hurt anyone?” If we had seen even that much concern from Superman for regular people in MAN OF STEEL, it would have made a huge difference.


Plus maybe let him smile once in a while.

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