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Friday, August 23, 2013

Ben Affleck is the New Batman: The History of the Dark Knight

The Caped Crusader Through the Ages

By Chris Sabga

It's official: Ben Affleck is the new Batman! Based on the nuclear reaction, you'd think the world has gone up in flames. Gotham City may have though.

Affleck is a great director and a decent actor, but I'm having a very hard time picturing him as Batman. After all, his last foray as a superhero – in 2003's "Daredevil" – wasn't exactly a success. Daredevil is an incredible character – a blind man who uses his disabilities to his advantage – but the film was as mediocre and mundane as they come. Affleck certainly doesn't deserve all of the blame for that, but nothing about his performance as Daredevil convinced me that he could tackle the role of the even more iconic Batman.

Bruce Wayne, yes. Batman, no.

Affleck certainly has the looks and charm to portray the billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, but the daring, deadly Dark Knight is another story entirely. In that regard, Affleck seems like another George Clooney (1997's "Batman & Robin").

Clooney has repeatedly poked fun at himself for one of the biggest disasters of his career. It's clear that Affleck either didn't seek his advice or chose to ignore it. I can only hope this isn't just a "paycheck role" for Affleck. That would be doing the character and franchise a great disservice.

Reportedly, Affleck's Batman will be an older, wiser, grizzled veteran to Henry Cavill's Superman. There's only one problem with that: Despite an eleven-year age difference, Affleck doesn't look any older than Cavill. Of course, that's nothing a little makeup and hair-dye can't take care of.

Truthfully, I like Ben Affleck, and I'm rooting for him to surprise us all. In order for that to happen though, he is going to have to learn from history. Seven other men put on the cape and cowl before him for live action adaptations of "Batman."

Lewis G. Wilson: Batman (1943 – Serial)
Robert Lowery: Batman and Robin (1949 – Serial)

Raise your hand if you thought Adam West was the first actor to portray Batman on-screen. I certainly did. But two others came before him: Lewis G. Wilson was the first Caped Crusader in 1943, and Robert Lowery followed in his footsteps six years later in 1949. Both serials are readily available on DVD, and episodes can also be found on YouTube.

Adam West: Batman (1966-1968 – TV Series), Batman (1966 – Movie)

Fun, outrageous, and completely campy – Adam West's Batman was a cartoon come-to-life. Generations of Bat-fans grew up on West's version, and it remains just as beloved today as it was when it first aired all the way back in 1966. For over 30 years, West's zany take on Batman was the most famous televised version of the character. But the door was definitely open for a more serious interpretation of the Caped Crusader. That finally happened in 1989.

Michael Keaton: Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992)

At the time, people must have had serious doubts about Keaton's ability to become Batman. On paper, it seems like something that shouldn't have worked at all. By all appearances, Keaton wasn't suave enough to be Bruce or tough enough to be Batman – and yet, somehow, he pulled it off spectacularly. Perhaps the same will be true of Affleck? It helps, of course, that everything else was so perfectly realized. Gotham City came alive – transformed into a dark, atmospheric, stunning metropolis for this movie. Jack Nicholson was brilliant and manic as The Joker; funny, serious, and downright creepy – often all three at the same time. And all of Batman's amazing "toys" – such as the Batmobile – completed the effect. But none of that would have mattered if Keaton himself wasn't equipped for the task. The sequel, "Batman Returns," wasn't nearly as good, but Keaton remains one of the best to ever wear the cape and cowl.   

Val Kilmer: Batman Forever (1995)

If Adam West's Batman had a baby with Keaton's and then they performed an abortion, you might get something like "Batman Forever." Val Kilmer was hardly an extraordinary Bruce Wayne or a great Batman, the villains are barely memorable (Jim Carrey's version of The Riddler has nothing on Frank Gorshin), and the movie is so garish and off-the-rails. Despite all of that, I have a soft spot for it anyway. It's a mess, but an endearing one – to me at least. The same, however, cannot be said for the film that put the Batman franchise on ice for almost a decade.

George Clooney: Batman & Robin (1997)

Where to begin with this wretched train-wreck of a movie? Clooney is an adequate Wayne but can't pull off Batman at all. I fear the same fate will befall Ben Affleck. But at least Affleck won't have to contend with Bat-nipples. Clooney's suit was designed with this "effect" presumably to enhance his "sex appeal," but all it did was make him look like a cloaked clown. Arnold Schwarzenegger is absolutely abysmal as Mr. Freeze – the less said, the better. Neither of their careers took a hit, but Batman retreated to the Batcave until 2005.

Christian Bale: Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Just as a darker tone was necessary for 1989's "Batman," the same was true when Christopher Nolan was tasked with rebooting the franchise for 2005's "Batman Begins." Over the course of three movies, Nolan and star Christian Bale never wavered from bringing a grittier, more true-to-life Batman to the screen. Instead of a campy Sunday morning strip like the Adam West TV version or a live action comic book like Keaton's 1989 film, this was a far more plausible, down to earth, serious take on Batman. Gotham City finally looked like a real city that real people could live in.

After three exhausting mega-blockbusters, Christian Bale has understandably decided to move on. That brings us back to the current situation – to Ben Affleck.

Ben Affleck: Batman vs. Superman – AKA Man of Steel 2 (2015)

Affleck does have a few major elements working in his favor:

Unlike the other seven Batmen who have preceded him, he does not have to carry an entire TV show or film all by himself – "Superman" Henry Cavill will be sharing the load.

Superman and Batman appearing together in the same movie is a massive event. That "gimmick" alone will alleviate some of the pressure from Affleck – much like Mark Ruffalo had an easier time stepping in for Edward Norton as Bruce Banner in "The Avengers" because he had to share the screen with so many others.

Because the movie will not be focused solely on Batman, the man behind the mask isn't quite as important as it normally would be. That doesn't mean Carrot Top could suddenly play Batman and all would be well, but even if Affleck is ill-suited to the role, he is by no means a bad actor.

Still, I'm skeptical and wary. I can't help but think that there were better options available.

Even Affleck's best friend, Matt Damon, would have been preferable – not ideal either, necessarily, but I can sort of picture it.

Since the character is supposed to skew a bit older, my dream pick: Daniel Day-Lewis. There was probably no chance in hell of that happening, but you know you want to see it!

Out of the plausible candidates available, it's hard to really say. Mel Gibson is probably too old now – and he's box office poison for obvious reasons – but he wouldn't be bad, talent-wise. If his Bat-suit had nipples, would they be sugar tits?

Casting a virtual unknown or respected foreign actor – similar to Henry Cavill in "Man of Steel" – might have been the best bet. But since I'd personally want an American actor to play Batman again (I realize neither Gibson or Day-Lewis fit the bill in that regard, but they can pull off the accent convincingly), I'm forced to admit that there aren't too many viable candidates for the role.

If I'm backed against a corner and have to pick someone right now, I'll go with Liev Schreiber.

He's dapper enough to pull off Bruce Wayne and more than tough enough to stalk the streets as Batman.

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