Ben Affleck can be an adequately chisel-jawed buffoon in spandex. He can grit his teeth and chew through awkward voiceovers like, “I prowl the rooftops and alleyways at night, watching from the darkness. Forever in the darkness. A guardian devil.” As Matt Damon, Affleck’s real life Robin, says, “He’s not playing King Lear. It’s Batman.”
In Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel sequel, Affleck will be an older Bruce Wayne. This Batman has the emotional and physical scars of a seasoned crime fighter, or in this case, any generic Hollywood superhero. Snyder, who’s co-writing the script, says it’s inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, a graphic novel in which a 55-year-old Batman scuffles with Superman and then has what appears to be heart attack.
For the 41-year-old Affleck, this is doable. He just needs a little stubble. Yet, the bane of Affleck’s existence as a superhero—the reason why he’s been lampooned so mercilessly—is 2003’s Daredevil. Plunked between Marvel’s Spider-Man and X2: X-Men United, Daredevil arguably paved the way for darker superhero movies like Batman Begins and later The Dark Knight. Daredevil isn’t exactly an abomination. It’s just not very good.
Aside from the sometimes incoherent plot, there’s the campy use of CGI and the soundtrack’s painful reliance on music from Evanescence. Then there’s Jennifer Garner. In the film’s most infamous scene Affleck fights Garner in a playground. Maybe, just maybe, if this is the moment that Affleck—then betrothed to J-Lo—fell in love with his wife Garner, then all is forgiven. As it stands, it’s one of the worst moments in superhero movie history.
Can the sins of Daredevil be forgiven? Is Affleck condemned to a life without donning stretchy pants? He wasn’t really annoying in Daredevil. It’s important to note that Christian Bale was only a decent Batman in an above average trilogy. His bland take on the icon is nothing like his maniacal turns in American Psycho or The Fighter. Instead, he snarled his way through lines like “Where is the trigger?!” And the Batmans before Bale? George Clooney (rubber nipples aside), Val Kilmer, and Michael Keaton were all rather passable. (Snyder probably doesn’t have Adam West’s Batman in mind.)
The man without fear of signing any role might struggle with the cowl-induced gravitas of Batman. In Argo, there’s a montage of Affleck’s character the night before the big airport escape, where he smokes and drinks and battles some sort of demon. As Dana Stevens wrote in her Slate review, “With the right actor, this wordless interlude could have made for a powerful existential mini-drama: the dark night of the CIA-agent soul. Instead, it just sort of felt like watching Ben Affleck get hammered.”
Casting aside, the real question is whether Snyder, the same guy who gave us an uninspired Watchmen and a clunky Man of Steel, will butcher Batman. That’s something that even Affleck, no matter how mediocre his turn as the caped crusader is, can’t save us from.