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Batfleck Begins

With a “certified rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s safe to say that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was not a critical success. It’s hard for audiences to sift through its massive, messy, and generally uninteresting plotline. There are times when the green screen-heavy action sequences look mediocre, while Doomsday and all the explosions that followed in his wake seemed like they were pulled out of Dragon Ball Z.

Across the board, critics from every echelon of the movie review world have some grievance with the superhero blockbuster, save for one exception. Most people seem to agree, aside from everything else, that Ben Affleck’s Batman was actually pretty great and, in a lot of ways, he was unlike any Batman that has been seen in cinema before. With Warner Bros. Studios’ confirmation Tuesday night that Affleck will direct and star in a stand-alone Batman film, there’s a lot to be excited about with the Bat-fleck hanging around theaters for a while.

Dating back to World War II-era serial films, eight different actors have donned the famous cowl over the span of most of the last century. The Dark Knight has flown in and out of popularity repeatedly, but since Christopher Nolan revived Batman in film in 2005 with Batman Begins, it’s safe to say that Batman has held a steady position toward the top of the list of icons of American culture.

It’s important to date Batman’s rise in popularity back to 2005 because, for a while, it had seemed as though the Dark Knight had seen his last day in 1997. Joel Schumacher drove the franchise into the ground with his two entries in the series, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Tim Burton’s Batman movies were popular for their grungy, goofy, and gothic Gotham and Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito’s takes on the Joker and Penguin, respectively. Schumacher’s films ditched Burton’s edgy grittiness for flamboyant bat-nipples and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pun-rific Mr. Freeze, which more devoted Batman fans and casual moviegoers alike seemed to disagree with—violently.

Seven years after the horrific Batman & Robin, which George Clooney, who played Batman, still apologizes to fans for, Nolan revived the series, introducing his iteration of Bruce Wayne to a modern, realistic metropolitan setting. While The Dark Knight Rises was a little outlandish with its nuclear bomb and occupy-Gotham movement, the Nolan Batman series established a realistic setting and approach to the Dark Knight that was evidently appealing to fans across the spectrum.

Now, Affleck has got the reins in his hands. Much like its recent predecessors, Batman v Superman tried to place Batman and Bruce Wayne in a modern city and imbue him and the rest of his world with a dark, serious tone. In Batman v Superman, unlike in Nolan’s series, we get Batman at the tail-end of his career, or so it seems. He’s been the Bat in the night for over 20 years, lost friends along the way, and isn’t afraid to rob people of their lives (he definitely kills more than a couple people in that movie). This sort of inherently cynical, ruthless Batman hasn’t been explored on the silver screen and, even in the context of such a bad film, it’s really engaging to see Ben Affleck’s version of the world’s greatest detective. There’s only one problem. I don’t want to see him fight alongside the Justice League.

Batman is, to a degree, useless when compared to Superman, Wonder Woman, or the Flash. Sure, there are moments in the Justice League animated series where Batman proves his worth, making useful inventions to take down evil-doers or solving mysteries that the rest of the crew couldn’t, but, in my thinking, Batman can’t fit in with any of the Justice League members. He’s too well-liked by the fan-base to be downplayed and too ineffectual a superhero to make a large (and well-developed) contribution to whatever is happening on screen. Besides, if Batman v Superman is any indication of how cluttered Zack Snyder’s Justice League movies are going to be, Batman could fall back to the depths of obscurity once more if he were just part of Snyder’s next ensemble.

Affleck needs to make the standalone Batman films his priority. He’s shown a wholehearted, genuine interest in the part and he has fans and critics backing his Dark Knight. If he puts his full attention and effort into his Batman movie(s) and treats the upcoming Justice League movies as auxiliary projects, Ben Affleck could possibly solidify his place as not only a Dark Knight, but as the Dark Knight.

Featured Image By Warner Bros. Pictures

April 13, 2016