Since the news broke late Thursday that Ben Affleck would play Batman in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel sequel, fan reaction has followed the Kübler-Ross model to the letter. First, there was the shock of denial (Affleck, really?), followed by intense fan anger on Twitter, then bargaining — as seen in the White House petition to make Affleck’s Batman role illegal — and now, in the penultimate stage before acceptance, we have depression. “Ben Affleck Is a Good Choice for Batman; Batman Is Not a Good Choice for Ben Affleck,” went the Huffington Post headline, summarizing a concerned-for-Affleck sentiment that Vulture’s Zach Dionne put best: “The man who directed the latest Oscar winner for Best Picture is going to be directed by the man who did Sucker Punch.” Why, so many wonder, would Affleck take a cash-grab superhero gig just as he’s won back the admiration and respect of the world who once treated him as a pop-culture punch line?
Because he still wants to be a gigantic movie star, that’s why.
Ben Affleck didn’t come to Hollywood to be a great director, though that has happened along the way. Ben Affleck came to Hollywood to be a famous, well-liked actor, and he clearly still wants to be. The Best Picture win for Argo ensures that he’ll have a nice, long directorial career, but it has also given him leverage to rehabilitate an acting career that had long gone fallow, and you’d better believe he’s going to seize that chance. You’re worried about Ben Affleck starring in a movie directed by Zack Snyder? This fall, Ben Affleck is playing the bad guy in a Justin Timberlake movie. He is fourth-billed on the Runner Runner poster after Gemma Arterton and Anthony Mackie, granted the special dispensation “and Ben Affleck” to note his willingness to slum it in an offshore gambling potboiler where he is not the lead. If you’re worried about Affleck’s post-Argo efforts, that plane has already left the runway. The dude wants to work!
And so, why shouldn’t he play Batman? For the last fifteen years or so, Affleck has watched as his contemporaries snagged a series of iconic franchise roles, whether it was Matt Damon in the Bourne movies, Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, or George Clooney in the Ocean’s movies. Ben Affleck has never had that. He’s never been offered a sequel to one of his own successes; arguably, he is a movie star without an iconic, career-defining lead character. (Unless you’re counting the work he did in Gigli, which notoriously warped Affleck’s career for the worse.) Characters don’t come much more iconic than Batman, so this is an easy brass ring for Affleck to grab, and when taken in concert with another significant studio film he recently landed — David Fincher’s highly anticipated Gone Girl — this gig sends Hollywood a clear message: As an actor, Ben Affleck wants to be back in the big time.
Let’s also not discount the payday. Affleck has spent the last few years drawing small fees for indie-scaled films like To the Wonder, The Company Men, and Extract; this multi-film Batman deal offers him the chance to finally collect in a major way. Yes, he doubtlessly took home a healthy back-end chunk of Argo, which made $232 million worldwide … but compare that total with the $649 million that Man of Steel made this summer, and the difference is obvious. Affleck can take home more money in less time by shooting the occasional Batman film over the next decade; meanwhile, the mid-range dramas that he typically directs take nearly two years to complete and have a highly contained upside. Yes, Affleck is already rich, but in Hollywood, you have to keep up with the ultrawealthy Joneses, and the Man of Steel sequel offers him the first opportunity of that sort that he’s had in a long time.
And he’s getting that opportunity at Warner Bros., which makes the gig doubly sweet. After Affleck’s most supportive executive Jeff Robinov left the studio, it was important for both Affleck and WB to make a big show of their continued togetherness; this deal takes care of that and then some. It’s also doubtlessly more lucrative than anything Affleck could have gotten from the penny-pinchers at Marvel. WB and DC are willing to shell out major coin for their superhero movies, and WB is paying Affleck not just to play Batman, but for his studio loyalty.
With all three of those factors at play — a renewed chance at movie stardom, plus a pretty paycheck and a demonstration of strong studio ties — is it any wonder that Affleck wants to play the Caped Crusader? You might have thought that Argo augured a path where Affleck stayed mostly behind the camera, but nope: He wants the George Clooney career, where A-list movie stardom and a top-flight directing career aren’t mutually exclusive. Let’s just hope that Affleck’s take on Batman turns out better than Batman and Robin, Clooney’s own Gigli-size superhero fiasco …