In a recent interview with the New York Times, Ben Affleck opened up about his struggles with addiction and mental illness. But we’re not here to talk about that. If you want that stuff, read my upcoming personal retrospective on Bojack Horseman. For now, let’s talk about Batman!
Roughly 8,000 years ago, around the time Justice League came out, Ben Affleck was supposed to write, direct, and star in a standalone Batman film called The Batman. Shortly after Justice League was met with a critical “meh,” Affleck announced he was leaving the project. Matt Reeves would be taking over.
It wasn’t hard to figure out why Affleck didn’t want to be part of the project anymore. Batman v Superman was not particularly well-received, with a score of 44 on Metacritic. Suicide Squad (in which Batman has a short cameo) is sitting even worse at a 40. And then Justice League came back with a whopping score of 45. Incidentally, I’d bet my house that all of these scores were significantly worse initially and have risen slowly as the righteous comic nerd anger has diluted over time and viewers. So, of course, Affleck would want out of this middling-quality-yet-high-profile franchise.
I want to say that I personally really enjoyed Affleck as Batman. I know it’s blasphemy, but he’s #2 in my rankings behind Christian Bale. That’s not a commentary on the quality of the films, just my opinion of the interpretations and performances. Justice League is maybe as close as I’ve ever gotten to walking out of a movie in theaters, and honestly, the only thing keeping me there was that they serve excellent beer. I also think Ben Affleck is an incredibly talented writer, actor, and director. So while I (thought I) understood his leaving The Batman, I was bummed out when he announced his departure.
But it turns out there was more to the story than an artist simply wanting to distance himself from a toxic property. In the Times piece, Affleck talks about his family history of addiction and depression. His father drank excessively nearly every day until he was 19. His younger brother Casey has spoken publicly about his problems with alcohol abuse. His aunt was a heroin addict. His grandmother and uncle committed suicide.
So when, after reading the script for The Batman, a friend said to Affleck, “I think the script is good. I also think you’ll drink yourself to death if you go through what you just went through again,” it was not a comment to be taken lightly.
It’s important to remember that Affleck has taken the brunt of the anger from Batman/DC fans regarding these movies. The moment that crystallized the failure of BvS–indeed the whole DCEU–is almost certainly “WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?!” Though certainly not his fault, Affleck is the face of that failure. And that face became even more iconic with the Sad Affleck meme. For those who don’t remember, that meme comes from the press tour for BvS where, while Henry Cavill does his best to seem enthused for the film, Affleck looks like a man whose very soul is slowly leaking from his body.
So, in conclusion, I think there are two morals to be gleaned from this. 1) Self-care is important. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, depression, or mental illness, please seek help. I can tell you from personal experience that talking to a professional can make a world of difference (for more on this, see my upcoming personal retrospective of Bojack Horseman). 2) Give artists a fucking break. There are plenty of real monsters out there who deserve your scorn. Just because someone played dress-up in a way you didn’t enjoy doesn’t mean they need your abuse. Especially with superhero movies–and ESPECIALLY with marquee characters like Batman–just wait a couple of years and someone else will give it a shot.
The Batman opens in theaters on June 25th, 2021.