For the man who had become one of Hollywood’s hottest directors, almost nothing went as it was supposed to go.
Six years ago, Ben Affleck was flying high. After revivifying his career by directing "The Town" and "Gone Baby Gone," and receiving his second Oscar (for co-producing 2013 best-picture winner "Argo"), he decided to enter the DC superhero universe. The actor-filmmaker would step into the Batsuit for a new phase of team-up films and, possibly, even direct some of them.
On Wednesday, Affleck tweeted confirmation that he was exiting his run as the Caped Crusader – with so little to show for those mostly lost years in the Batcave.
Perhaps if only George Clooney, a fellow "Argo" producer, had warned him at an Oscars after-party back then about the perils of donning the Gotham Spandex.
Clooney, fortunately, got back on track with 1998’s acclaimed "Out of Sight" one year after his turn in Joel Schumacher’s infamously laughable "Batman & Robin," a movie so mocked that live-action Batman went dormant for most of the next decade, until director Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale came to the screen character’s rescue.
Affleck’s years in the black-costumed, green-screened wilderness were nothing so camp, by contrast. The actor was mostly solid if not stolid – but his career seemed almost entombed by the suit, and all the DC machinery that came with it.
As DC tried to compete with Marvel Studios by making big team-up films, Affleck soon found himself stuck in unwieldy and ill-conceived, overblown and overpriced superhero vehicles – much of it guided by Zack Snyder.
But at that point, Affleck was all in with the apparent laudable belief that he could help right the ship, in part by working with his "Argo" screenwriter Chris Terrio.
2016’s "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," co-starring a less-than-transcendent Henry Cavill and a miscast Jesse Eisenberg, received mixed reviews and grossed $874 million worldwide – not quite the billion-dollar take that had come to be expected with big superhero team-ups. The film’s main bright spot was the too-brief debut of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.
The next year, Snyder’s "Justice League," with Terrio and Joss Whedon receiving writing credits, performed even worse with critics and audiences, grossing $658 million worldwide – including a dismal $229 million on domestic shores.
Affleck’s Batman also appeared in 2016’s "Suicide Squad," a critical dud that felt only half-completed, yet – largely buoyed by Margot Robbie’s inspired turn as Harley Quinn – grossed nearly $750 million worldwide on a $175 million budget. (That fiscal return was good enough to greenlight "Suicide Squad 2," which Disney-jettisoned filmmaker James Gunn is now likely direct, it was announced Wednesday, in addition to his writing.)
But in 2019, all signals point to a continued major shift for the DC universe.
This month at Sundance, "Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins said that she would like to see DC give its solo-character franchises more time to grow and deepen before emphasizing team-up films again. Or in other words, don’t keep playing by Marvel’s template.
Jenkins’ strategic sense speaks to the critical and commercial success of her "Wonder Woman" – her sequel "Wonder Woman 1984" is due out next year – and the box-office appeal of James Wan’s "Aquaman," which just became the highest-grossing DCEU movie yet ($1.1 billion and counting) before adjusting for inflation.
And that follows the news last September that Warner Bros. would move on from Cavill as its Superman, seven years after he accepted the three-movie gig.
Now, the next long-planned solo Batman movie won’t have Affleck aboard as actor or director. (He was originally going to guide the film, based on a screenplay he wrote with Geoff Johns.) Matt Reeves inherited the director’s chair two years ago; he is also writing the film.
On Wednesday, the next solo Batman movie got an announced release date – June 25, 2021 – and Affleck tweeted out the news broken by Deadline, which reports that the movie will center on a younger Bruce Wayne. (Affleck will be nearly 49 upon the movie’s scheduled release.)
This is good news for Affleck, whose run as Batman had taken on shades of missed-opportunity melancholy, as captured by a "Sad Affleck" meme from DC junket footage. Franchise entropy meets actor ennui.
Affleck has shown a flair for making thrillers, and he has long been attached to direct the Agatha Christie story "Witness for the Prosecution."
Finally, hope is raised that Affleck will rejoin the ranks of our more interesting directors, now that the Dark Knight’s cape is mothballed away as tightly as Affleck’s desire to play superheroes.