As I walked out of the Tinseltown that is in the renovating process by the Layton mall in Utah, I bid farewell to my buddy Matt who I watched Batman vs. Superman with. Then as I got into my Buick to drive home, I came to the unexpected and quite stunning realization.
Ben Affleck is the best Batman. He gave the greatest live-action portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Dark Knight of Gotham ever.
Step aside Bale. Sorry Messrs. West and Keaton, you’re still the originals. Kilmer I’ve basically forgotten you, and Clooney I wish I could forget you. The master of the cape and cowl is the kid from Cambridge and a winner of two non-acting Oscars (so much irony there).
The reason that all of this is so surprising is because in numerous circles, Affleck has been expected to fail since he got the role. Multitudes groaned the word: “Daredevil,” referencing the actor’s previous experience over a decade ago as the title Marvel hero as cryptic foreshadowing. “Daredevil” reviews were not kind and in cases of that nature, the lead actor becomes the Hollywood equivalent to the President of the United States. If something goes wrong, he gets blamed whether it’s his fault or not.
Affleck’s defenders pointed out that it was other causations and not Ben Affleck that caused the eventual failure of “Daredevil.” It didn’t matter. The anti-Affleck crowd has been gathering pitchforks, tar, feathers, and torches for over a year now. Too often people are going to make up their mind about something and they aren’t going to change their mind about it.
I was skeptical about Affleck more for his age (41 when he got the part) than his talent. However, I’ve been enlightened more about his underrated talent in the last two years. Affleck is not a celebrated actor by any means, but on the flip side, he’s not a bad actor by any means either. He’s had some fantastic moments like his performance in “Good Will Hunting.”
What also was Affleck’s corner is who he is as a person. He is an avid superhero fan who cares about the roles he gets and puts in arduous effort in preparation. Even if people think that he loused up “Daredevil” there was no question that he cared about “Daredevil,” so all a person needed to be was open-minded and give this man and the movie a chance.
Those who took a chance were rewarded ten-fold by the most compelling and most articulate performance of Bruce Wayne/Batman that’s ever been done and he did it by playing a different version of him.
Mostly every Batman has been around an origin story with a young man playing a young Bruce Wayne, who is late 20s or early 30s. In a contrasting move, D/C decided to make Affleck’s Batman older and more seasoned (which alleviated some of my skepticism). It feels odd seeing Batman and Superman a good 10-15 years apart in age, but once a person accepts the alteration and gives it a try, then they are given a unique treat.
Affleck shows off the bitterness and the emotional exhaustion of the Dark Knight and how over a decade of battling in Gotham and fighting the never-ending world of villains, criminals, and darkness can eventually take its toll and drag morale through the shadows. Now Batman trusts no one outside his faithful butler and even those who seem pure (Superman) are only a matter of time away from becoming corrupted. Even Batman himself is partially corrupted as his vigilantism has branched out to “branding” particularly loathsome and heinous criminals.
Yet, despite the scars, Affleck also conveys the indomitable spirit and mind that Bruce Wayne possesses. He personifies what humanity has been doing since it first began. Falling and then getting up despite the pain and dismay. Affleck’s Batman reminds us of what Thomas Wayne said in “Batman Begins.” “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
Except Batman has always been a tough character. Even in the comedy show of the 1960s, Adam West’s Batman was still tough even if it was for laughs. Going forward from then to every portrayal since, we’ve seen the strength that Bruce Wayne possesses.
Instead, Affleck shows that and also what has been missing for years which is just how hard it is to be Batman. What the daily stresses of that lifestyle will do to someone. Because he still manages a top-tier business, he goes to events of the public eye, he even goes through the one-night-stands and hard alcohol to keep up appearances, but all the while, he’s tired.
We saw glimpses of fatigue and pain, especially in Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” and parts of “Batman Begins,” but Bale kept on an invisible mask for the most part. Affleck rips off the mask, shows how enervated he is and all the while still able to look suave, sophisticated, attractive, and charming.
Affleck’s performance makes one admire Batman even more when witnessing how his drive is greater than the weight of it all. What I personally loved the most about his performance is that Affleck shows off a mostly unseen dimension of Batman. His compassionate side.
Stereotypical male fans roll their eyes at words like “caring,” “compassion,” and “love” but they are still the primary components as to why Bruce Wayne is Batman. Because he cares about people, as a humanitarian, as a businessman, as a person who’s lost his family, and as a person with a heart as large as Gotham.
Previous Batman’s have held that back in their performances. Bale showed a few flashes, Clooney did a good job in the end of his movie, West, Keaton and Kilmer had signs, but Affleck’s face is a mirror that reflects how much he cares over the welfare of good people.
Case example 1: (prepare for a slight spoiler): After saving a young girl from being smashed by falling debris, Bruce Wayne (out of costume) holds her and says, “Its ok, we’re going to find your mom,” and a moment later, you see him pull her close in an embrace. Drawing on his experience as a father, Affleck pulls off showing how Batman is the ultimate superhero. Because of his love for people.
Take away the glitz, the glamour, the flashy cars, and all the money which are covers/resources that he uses to forge the facade of a spoiled brat with hedonistic vices. Once those are removed, what’s left is an ordinary man just like the average adult male with a conscience. It’s his humanity: his heart, desire, and drive to become Batman, the Dark Knight of Gotham, and a savior to the people that endears him to so many fans. Affleck portrays that Bruce Wayne/Batman better than any man has ever done.
Case example 2: One of the best scenes in the movie to me is when Wayne sees a former employee in trouble and (slight spoiler) he says, “Why hasn’t he been given his checks?” (I’m paraphrasing), but the compassion in how he says it, the obvious concern and the borderline anger that he was oblivious to this particular case showed that even the smallest employee or “ant” in his colony means the world to him.
This is a side of Batman that needs to be shown because it’s the oceanic depth of the character that makes him not only a top 1-2 superhero but a top 10-15 character regardless of genre. Batman is more than smoke grenades, battarangs, utility belts, and crime fighting. He’s a warrior fighting for what is good and his humanity is not only his greatest virtue, but the albatross around his neck. Because in this dark world, no matter how much progress Batman makes, he cannot stop evil forever.
Affleck has broken superhero ground at this point by personifying that inner battle inside Bruce Wayne’s mind and it is evident in his face. He is tired. He is worried. But he keeps on fighting. That is Batman. That is why we love him. He’ll never stop the unwinnable battle and his last breath will be in the midst of fighting. He is the human spirit in a sense and Affleck not only understands that, he did the perfect job of showing it too.