Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why does anyone care who’s playing Batman?

by Todd Eckert

August 25, 2013

Late last week Ben Affleck was revealed as the next film actor playing the role of Batman.  Within minutes of the announcement waves of indignation crashed through the ether and, predictably enough, indignation about the indignation soon followed.  It was the earthquake and the tsunami after the earthquake with lots and lots of grumbling triggered by what on the surface seems to be a super-trite issue.  As of this moment something over 30,000 people have signed a petition trying to get the guy removed and memes are being generated as fast as people can lift Gene Wilder’s face.

I know a little bit about this phenomenon.  A few years ago I produced a film called Control about Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the band Joy Division who killed himself in 1980 when he was 23.  Casting Ian was a difficult process and the public watched us really closely, particularly in the UK where he’s considered a pretty massive deal.  We were flying around, taking meetings, trying to find that person who would get the role just right.  We knew we were making the artifact by which the future would understand Ian and the responsibility felt huge.  But the public didn't know that, and every time some rumor would surface we’d get slapped around.

“Jude’s not (expletive)ing playing Ian!” screamed Stuart Braithwaite at me in a club in Pittsburgh just after his band Mogwai had left the stage.  I had known Stuart for some time and wasn't all that surprised he was upset – the rumor that Jude Law would be taking the role had surfaced that afternoon and made its way all over the world within hours.  Nothing against Jude at all, but he wouldn't have been right and we never considered him.  Still, someone thought we had and I was experiencing a particularly intense version of Scottish wrath over the idea.  The scenario would be repeated with different actors in different scenarios until we premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and the public accepted Sam Riley as having not destroyed Ian’s memory or legacy.

Perhaps it made sense – Ian was a real guy who touched millions of people very deeply and our film would materially affect the perception of the man.  Fine.  

So why Batman?  Isn't the outrage really . . . dumb?  I honestly don’t think so.  If anything I think the selection of Batman is probably more personal to more people, and therefore more meaningful than who we picked for Ian.

Batman, by virtue of not being real, is psychologically simpler to admire.  He doesn't run the risk of unforgivable behavior in public, growing corpulent or senile, selling out to a dodgy corporation – he’s interesting, he’s dark, he’s just damaged enough and he always wins.  Batman is a really tough, really cool version of Gary Cooper – a bench-pressing, world-saving everyman.  People see the best of themselves in him (he doesn't have super powers, after all) and they aspire to his greatest strengths.  In as much, the selection of the person who will play him, and therefore them, is crucially important to their sense of self.

It’s a self-perpetuated ruse – the ultimate inside joke because no one has to know if it’s not really supposed to be funny.  It informs a positive result and that’s enough.

So the indignation is ok.  They’re invested – the best audience Warner Bros could possibly want.  As for casting Ben Affleck, he probably seems like a bit of an intellectual schlub and therefore incapable of the depth these people need for the character to be satisfying.  But I’m sure that’s exactly why he wanted the role in the first place – to prove he can be great as the world-saving everyman.

I hope he’s great at it.


  1. Todd, I enjoyed your article..

    It reminds me of when Coke changed their formula decades ago, and cities were set on fire (my memory might be exaggerating the actual response, but everyone was surprised in regards to the passion the populace had for the old formula.)

    I think I read at the time sociologists explaining that since American culture wasn't as deep as European culture, with cultural identities going back at least a thousand years, Americans had deeper attachments to commercial brands (Ford vs. Chevy) or pop cultural bits than might otherwise be expected.

    It looks like Batman fits in there with some people, and those people have a voice thanks to the Internet.

    I'm totally fine with Ben Affleck as Batman. I'm just pleased we're getting a Superman/Batman movie to begin with.

  2. Throw in Damon as Robin and you get slaying villains by night and getting hammered on a rack of bee-yah by day. I can relate to THAT Batman more in many ways. But, we the public are a messed up lot and part of the identity and mystery of Batman is that he's dark and evil somewhere in there - places we only go in the recesses of our mind. Not a wholesome guy in any normal or even quasi normal way. He's our childhood version of Dexter. He's Darth Vader on the side of the righteous. He's the ultimate evener - good's own bit of evil in the ongoing battle. He's edgy on a whole different level. Maybe it just seems that Affleck's bad side is getting laid lots and drinking with buddies. Not exactly a Dark Knight scenario. In a way, it's not fair to the actor. He was born with that cheeky face and winning wholesome smile. If Affleck pulls this off somehow, it would be a huge transition for him and an eye opening surprise for me.

  3. Haha Kelly, I've tried writing my two cents for this post. But I had to break the piggy bank.

  4. Let's start with the director. Unlike most, Kelly and I enjoyed the Man of Steel. And LOVED it's ending. Synder takes chances. You might not like them, but atleast he takes them. Snyder, Nolan, Vaughn, Black, and Burton, tackled their respective superhero project like only they could. Which brings me to The Avengers. Whedon is wonderful writer. But as far a as a director is concerned, GENERIC as hell. I'm not talking about directing actors, but rather his visual choices. OK, OK. I pick on Whedon because I can't even remember the names of other plug in factory made director/puppets thrown in the directors chair. So 1 POINT, SYDER.

  5. Now, Ben Affleck. Friends have been contacting me once the news came in. You see, I'm notorious for hating Ben Affleck. Some people can't stand Nic Cage, or Kevin Costner. Ok I can see how Cage would rub people the wrong way, but Costner!? It's true, people. I know several people who hate Kevin Costner. Usually there explanation is cheap. And that's when I hit them like a jack hammer with all the important films he has been in. Clint Eastwood's 'A Perfect World'. SEE IT. Now as Nic Cage is concerned, most just hate his face. I can't dog these peoples views too much, because I have, Ben. Actually that's not true, I will dog them. Because I'm a cinephile, and that's what we do. And that's the audience this Ben/Batman decision is dealing with. This shit is important to us! I think of some movies as a part of my family. I had a friend that dogged Cool Hand Luke, one of my favorite films. Long story short, I haven't spoke to him in months and now consider him an acquaintance. Because to me, it felt like he was kicking my brother, if I had one. I know my known dislike for Affleck is silly. I really don't have much reasoning for it. But honestly, I have been easing up on the guy.