If you don’t like Ben Affleck as Batman, I challenge you to read this article. It may change your perspective and give you a new appreciation for Affleck’s take on the Dark Knight. By now, I feel like most DC movie fans have seen Zack Snyder’s Justice League. It premiered over a week ago, and it’s still dominating conversations across fandom. Snyder’s director’s cut of the 2017 movie has given us another installment in the Dark Knight’s cinematic saga, which has given me plenty to reflect on.
Many actors have played Batman across radio, television, stage, animation and more, but Ben Affleck is one of only six men to portray the Dark Knight in a live action movie (That number increases to eight if you count the Golden Age serials). It’s a very exclusive club and each actor has brought something special to the role. Adam West was iconic and fun, Michael Keaton was grim yet vulnerable, Val Kilmer dove deep into Bruce’s psyche, George Clooney was compassionate and nurturing and Christian Bale redefined heroism for 21st century cinema.
Next year, Robert Pattinson will give us one more, building on everything his predecessors have done, while offering his own unique spin on the Caped Crusader. This leaves me to wonder, though, how will we remember Ben Affleck? Decades from now, how will fans reflect on Affleck’s stint behind the cowl? Affleck embodied the Dark Knight in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, came back for a cameo in Suicide Squad, returned for 2017’s Justice League and filmed a new sequence for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which also included hours of previously unseen footage from the original production. That’s four movies depending on how you count them, which is actually a record for a live action Batman, and 2022’s The Flash will only bolster it even further. So, he definitely had the opportunity to make his mark, but what kind of Batman was he?
If you were to base it off of a cursory look at his debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the easy answer would seem to be DARK. But pay attention to the opening scene where Bruce Wayne is running through Metropolis during Superman’s battle with Zod. Everyone is fleeing from the carnage, but Bruce is running towards it. There’s nothing he can do to stop the buildings from falling and he doesn’t have a chance of getting anywhere near Zod, but Bruce doesn’t care. He’s running towards trouble because he wants to help people. Even if he can’t save everyone, he’s never going to stop trying. It’s built into his DNA. That opening immediately nailed a fundamental fact about Batman and Ben wasn’t even wearing the costume.
For the next few acts of the movie Batman is broken, but not physically. It’s clear that decades of crimefighting have taken their toll on him and the damaged Robin costume in the cave reveals that he’s suffered some unspeakable tragedies along the way. He’s even let Wayne Manor, the last piece of his parents’ legacy, fall into disrepair. Batman has lost his way and even Alfred is having trouble getting through to him. If you get a chance to rewatch Batman v Superman, pay close attention to the conversation Bruce has with Alfred. Batman’s oldest friend tries to reason with him, but he walks off determined to kill Superman. “So falls the House of Wayne,” Alfred says.
If Batman seems out of character to you in that movie, it’s because he’s supposed to. This isn’t the story of the Dark Knight in his prime, this is a movie about a grizzled veteran who has become disillusioned with his mission. It’s not easy to watch our heroes fall, and Ben Affleck’s performance sells that heartbreak for us. It takes Superman getting through to him to change things. There’s a lot to say about the controversial Martha moment (I plan to do a deep dive on that in a future article), but the important thing is, Superman reminded Batman of his original purpose. When the Man of Steel died fighting Doomsday, the sacrifice deeply affected Batman and he was determined to make sure that everything that Superman stood for would live on.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was always meant to be only part of the story and now that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has been released, we can see how the rest of Bat-fleck’s arc played out. His first movie was about a broken man who finds a renewed sense of hope and the follow-up is about him using that renewed sense of hope to save the world. When you lay the arc out like that, it seems pretty amazing doesn’t it? When ZSJL begins, Batman has learned from his failures and is determined to set things right. He does this by recruiting a team of heroes, reviving Superman, and ultimately saving the world from Steppenwolf.
But Batman did more than unite a team—he gave his new teammates the same renewed sense of hope that Superman gave him. He gave Cyborg a sense of purpose after his life had fallen apart, he gave the Flash direction and he helped Aquaman embrace his destiny as a hero. As a cherry on top, he even saves Martha Kent from foreclosure, because that’s what you do for your friend’s mom. Speaking of homes, Bruce returns to Wayne Manor and discusses plans to fix it up for his new team. Pay attention to Ben Affleck during that scene. His performance says so much. His voice has hope for the future, excitement about what’s to come and even a little bit of (dare I say) happiness. When Batman v Superman begins, we get a flashback to Bruce failing to save his parents as a child and failing to save his Metropolis colleagues as an adult. By the end of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, he has saved his new friends and the entire world, bringing things full circle.
Years from now, as Gotham scholars discuss the history of Batman actors, what will they say about Affleck? They’ll remember how he portrayed a Bruce Wayne who had hit rock bottom and eventually found his way back into the light. They’ll remember how he moved us during his redemption story and the inspiring way he brought the Justice League together. Although George Clooney’s Caped Crusader fought alongside Robin and Batgirl, Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight is the first cinematic Batman to lead a full-blown team and that’s not something to take lightly. It was an incredible emotional journey and Affleck knocked it out of the park with every scene.
History will judge Affleck among live action Batman…and I have a feeling he’ll be getting high marks.
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Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, “Gotham Gazette.” Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.