What you might not also know is that I also love Ben Affleck. There are many Ben Afflecks in Hollywood. There’s the Ben Affleck that everyone thinks is awesome who makes amazing films like Good Will Hunting, Argo, and The Town. There’s the Ben Affleck that makes movies with Kevin Smith that most people don’t care as much about but that are amongst my personal favorites, most notably Chasing Amy and Jersey Girl. There’s the Ben Affleck that makes what should be career ending mistakes (*cough* Gigli *cough*). Hell, at the risk of ruining any credibility I have as a pop-cultural critic, I kind of even liked Pearl Harbor! (Pearl Harbor is nowhere near as awful as people pretend it is. It’s not amazing, it’s a formulaic Hollywood romance in front of an action flick. It is what it is, and he was fine in it).
So when Affleck was announced to be the new Batman last year and a bunch of people jumped on him, saying stuff like “he doesn’t have the range to play Bruce Wayne and Batman” (the same criticism Michael Keaton got before his movies came out, and he was great) or “He was awful as Daredevil, so he’ll be awful as Batman” or whatever, I totally defended him. Here’s the thing. First, he’s an amazing actor. He really is. Obviously, everyone loved him in the big three films I mentioned and he’s phenomenal in Jersey Girl. Absolutely amazing. Just no one knows because no one bothered to watch it but me (seriously, go watch it. It’s a heartwarming father and daughter movie. His range is great, his performance is touching).
Did Daredevil suck? Yeah, it kinda did. But that really wasn’t Affleck’s fault. Daredevil sucked because it was ab absolutely crappy script from top to bottom. At least by modern standards. Honestly, it wasn’t even that bad. It was frighteningly mediocre. If Daredevil had come out in 1989, during the Tim Burton Batman era, people would have loved it. It’s loads better than Joel Schumacher Batman. Instead it came out in 2003, an oversaturated superhero market, sandwiched between two X-men, two Blade and two Oscar nominated Spider-man movies, and the highly anticipated Ang Lee version of the Hulk (which Daredevil is probably just as good as), a time when superhero films were fighting hard to escape the “mindless geeky fanboy blockbuster” arena and gain the cinematic legitimacy it now has. This time period also included the final Lord of the Rings film and the Star Wars prequels that everyone was still desperately trying to pretend they didn’t hate. Since geek films hadn’t completely overtaken the mainstream yet (though this era had a lot to do with them trying to get there), the geek dollar was pretty tapped out. On pure name recognition Ang Lee and Hulk beat Daredevil and Mark Steven Johnson (who? exactly!) any day of the week. Even with all of that, it was a mild success ($100M profit) and managed a sequel (Elektra, which suffers from pretty much the exact same problems Daredevil does… and much more so). By the way, Catwoman and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen also came out at that time, so Daredevil is nowhere near the worst superhero movie of the era. Just sayin’
Anyway, my point is, Daredevil doesn’t suck because of Affleck. It sucked because of the script. It sucked because it was up against a whole bunch of stuff way better than it.
Which brings us to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I haven’t really made a secret of the fact that while I am hopeful that Batman vs. Superman is good, I’m pretty much expecting it to be awful. Why? Because Man of Steel was awful? I know a lot of comic book fans like to pretend that it wasn’t, but it was. It was a mediocre-at-best alien smash-em-up movie. It was basically a Godzilla movie, except Godzilla had an S on his chest. And also, now we try to make good Godzilla movies. I really wanted to like Man of Steel. I was excited about it after the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight franchise. But the thing is, when you rematch, say, The Dark Knight in 2030, you’re going to say “Wow, that’s a good movie. This is when superhero movie started being good!” When you watch Man of Steel, you’re going to say “Oh my God, this is ridiculous! Let’s watch Phantom Menace next!”
Cracked had a great article yesterday of why DC/WB is failing at the superhero movie game. Mostly it’s because they are more concerned with cashing on Marvel’s success at the box office without understanding that the secret to long term success is to actually create a quality product (or really, in this case, a succession of quality products) rather than going for the quick cash grab. And that starts with good writing.
Which brings us to a couple statement’s Ben Affleck made in a press interview today. The New York Times asked him about Batman v. Superman while he was promoting the upcoming film Gone Girl. Affleck is quoted as saying:
“I’m having a blast, [the film] is really unique to the genre and really smart.”
Comicbook.com jumped all over this. The Geek Faithful, those who were keeping the likes of Catwoman and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at the box office, are looking for any sign of legitimacy, any shred of news about the upcoming film. This is huge! Affleck says the script is good, and Affleck knows movies! He has two Oscars!
Umm, don’t you guys remember that a year ago you hated this guy and thought he didn’t have the chops to play Batman? Besides, what the fuck is he supposed to say? “I’m in this multimillion dollar blockbuster that’s supposed to start a decade long film franchise, but it turns out the script really sucks. Everyone just save your money.” Did you guys even read the rest of the article? When the NYT asked him about Gone Girl, he responded:
“David could’ve said, ‘I’m doing a project called the phone book, it starts with you reading A. A. Aramson,’ and I would’ve done it. He’s at the very, very tiptop of the list of directors I admire and want to learn from.”
Of course, Comicbook.com only thinks that NYT is “pretending to be interested in Gone Girl” so that they can get to the important Batman questions, because geeks don’t realize that there is a world outside of their interests. And of course, these days, Ben Afleck admits that Daredevil was a mistake (it’s hard not to). But what did he say about it at the time? If only there was a way for me to access press interviews from the past. If only I had a global computer network that archives everything ever and half a brain to do research with. Oh wait, I do. Hey look, what Affleck says about Daredevil in this interview from 2003:
“This one is unique in the comic book movie adaptation pantheon in that, while it has this tonal thing of people dressing up incostumes and fighting crime and super villains and stuff, there is a dual tone. There’s also an element of realism in it. That’s not tongue in cheek. It dares to ask the audience to take the characters seriously and to reallyget invested in their emotional journey which could be absurd. So you have tosort of invest yourself in it, be convicted of it. In order to do that, that was hard for me because it’s a little far a fieldfrom my everyday life; putting on a costume, doing flips, fighting crime, peoplegetting stabbed and just operatic, melodramatic-scale good versus evil. One ofthe things I could identify with this movie was, what’s at the center of itreally, which is this love story. The transforming power of love and theredemptive qualities that falling in love has.”
And even better, much like the tag-on question about Batman v. Superman in the Gone Girl interview, there was a tag-on question about Gigli at the end of the Daredevil interview. His response:
The movie played great. Everybody loved it…. I’m really excited about it. It’s a really good movie actually.
In other words, either Ben Affleck has no ability to determine what is and isn’t a good script (which, given the two Oscars is a little unlikely) or HE’S PAID TO SAY GOOD THINGS ABOUT THE MOVIES HE’S IN! There is literally no point to wondering what the star of a movie has to say about that movie ever, because even if he hates it, he can’t be honest. I actually think it’s a little of both. He’s not a starving actor. He has a good career going at this point. He is capable of turning down work. I’m sure he never sets out to make a bad movie. I’m sure he really hopes this will be excellent. Honestly, so do I. But as much as I am a fan, I have to admit: Ben Afflleck makes mistakes. He made Gigli.