News Column

Tulsa World, Okla., Michael Smith column

August 24, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 24--When I first heard on Friday about Ben Affleck being hired to play Batman, in a July 2015 film to feature a Batman vs. Superman plotline, I just kept asking the same question.

Why?

The decision didn't seem to make sense for many reasons, some of which online outrage has been quick to bring up.

Affleck "went superhero" in "Daredevil," and it went badly. He just won prestige as the producer and director of "Argo," last year's best picture, so why go high-profile popcorn? Not only is he now an acclaimed filmmaker, but his movies "The Town" and "Argo" both made money for Warner Bros. -- meaning he can do whatever he wants.

So why is playing Batman, a lightning-rod role if ever there was one, what he wants to do for Warner Bros.? And why didn't George Clooney, his "Argo" co-producer who made the worst Batman movie ever, talk him out of it?

There are at least three points to consider in his decision-making.

1. Affleck's status as a filmmaker has been cemented; his status as an actor has not.

Affleck has now directed three films, and all three have landed on my year-end top 10 lists, beginning with "Gone Baby Gone" in 2007, followed by "The Town" in 2010 and "Argo" at No. 1 in 2012. He won an Oscar as a producer for "Argo" and as a writer for "Good Will Hunting." Everyone agrees that this man's talents lie in making movies.

What people can't agree on is his career in front of the camera. He's made many bad choices in selecting films to act in, and his best performance in recent years came in "The Town," with him as director. What's the best performance that Affleck has given for another filmmaker?

It certainly wasn't in Terrence Malick's Oklahoma-shot "To the Wonder," but then that picture didn't allow for traditional acting.

I would go back 15 years to "Chasing Amy," when Affleck was in his mid-20s, in a role with enough comedy and drama that he looked natural and comfortable. He too often looks stiff in drama. When it comes to "Argo," who was talking up his lead performance for awards consideration? No one.

Making Batman a memorable character in a megahit movie, working with "Man of Steel" director Zack Snyder, could change some of these perceptions -- and realities.

2. Affleck may really like the superhero-movie genre -- and he may want to direct one, too.

We know that Affleck really likes to make crime-based films set in Boston. There's "Gone Baby Gone," "The Town" and now "Live By Night," the movie based on Dennis Lehane's novel -- a planned 2014 movie that will be delayed now that Affleck has committed to play Batman.

I'm guessing that Affleck really likes these hero-based movies, too, because consider this commitment: If Affleck is the pick for Batman in the "Man of Steel" sequel in 2015, that must mean he's been signed to play the Dark Knight in a "Justice League" movie.

Warner Bros. has been desperate to get pre-production started on this DC Comics all-star film ever since Marvel's "The Avengers" broke the box-office bank.

Also, it would seem odd for Warner Bros. to go on another search to play this character for a stand-alone Batman movie. So it begs the question: Does Affleck want to both play Batman and direct a "Batman" movie, or perhaps a "Justice League" movie?

3. Affleck may want to make a movie his kids can watch.

Affleck turned 41 last week. His children are 7, 4 and 1. When the Batman movie comes out, they will be 9, 6 and 3 and probably very excited about Daddy playing the man behind the mask.

Don't laugh; Affleck wouldn't be the first to make a movie with this consideration in mind.

Think about it: He hasn't made a movie he would show any of his children since they've been alive. He hasn't made a movie with something less than an R rating since 2009. The last movie he made that he might consider showing his children could be "Daredevil," and why show them that when he can show them "Batman vs. Superman," which would sound pretty cool to the little ones?

There are some actors who don't show their films to their kids to avoid the confusion of reality with "play-acting." But I could see Affleck and Jennifer Garner with a trio of smiling children in tow for a superhero-movie premiere.

Movie Critic Michael Smith tulsaworld.com/iseemovies

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