If, like me, you pay close attention to the bread and the circuses in order to distract you from the governmental monument to the arrogance of man that we’ve been erecting, you may have heard last night that Ben Affleck, both matinee idol and director of lean thrillers born too late as well as the currently sitting Batman, has dropped off his directorial duties for the upcoming solo Batman flick in the DC Extended Universe.
In the exclusive for Variety, Affleck seems to attribute the decision to the difficulty of juggling the physical and emotional demands of performing the main role combined with the physical and emotional demands of the main creative role on this film. It’s interesting to note that the Variety announcement seems to only state that Affleck is pulling back to only producing and starring as Batman, which leaves his role in the screenplay of the film to be determined.
That’s an important note because the screenplay seems to be the thing that ended up pushing him out of the film. Affleck repeatedly commented that he wouldn’t do the film unless he felt he could get the script right and he was reportedly having trouble getting the script to that place, especially in the long post-production wake of Live By Night.
Affleck’s The Batman was long-considered to be the ace in the hole for the DCEU, the film that was almost certain to gain the critical respect that no other film seemed to be able to find. So, what does it mean that it’s not happening and where do we go from here?
Without context, this doesn’t necessarily seem to be a bad move. Affleck is right, Batman is an incredibly physically intensive role, both in prep and in the stunt work that would be asked of him in even the most basic iteration of a story like that, much less the fact that he would be directing in the often stifling Batsuit. In the wake of the critical reception to Live By Night, much of which was focused on the poor decision that Affleck made to write and direct and star, it seems reasonable that Affleck would reconsider his decision in a role that could have been a particularly damaging failure for him.
But let’s keep in mind the context of the behind the scenes drama of the rest of the DCEU. So far, this is the fourth director these films have lost and we’re currently only three released films in. These are critically reviled films that seem to have a longer life as bad movies than they do in their success. This news seems to speak not only to Affleck being unable to get the script together, but that Warner Brothers isn’t ready to give him the time to get it together, scrambling to try anything to revive this universe in the public eye, as this is definitely a rushing sort of action. Between that and a major change of creative head on this film, it bodes ill for the confidence we should have in this film.
It also potentially speaks to the disarray behind the scenes. Affleck is a major creative force in the universe as a whole. This looks like a distancing tactic, Affleck pulling away from associating himself with it. You see, Affleck could honestly pull off getting distance. I mean, he’s one of the more uncontroversial parts of this universe, his performance is legitimately good even if his writing is iffy. But it’s also because he has a long career as an actor and he has directorial work to fall back on, unlike the “First Major Film” association that a lot of the other stars of this universe are having to deal with. So, if there’s rumblings of worry that he’s feeling with Wonder Woman and Justice League, then it’s perfectly possible for him to pull away.
This is all, of course, speculation. Everything to do with this development will be, at least until the behind the scenes tell-all comes out. But something that we can start to think about is who’s gonna replace Affleck in the director’s chair. Batfleck is, like I said, still a relatively well-liked part of this universe and the quicker they can make something happen the better.
The director shortlist is already out there. You’ll notice the absence of fan favorite names like David Fincher. The first thing to understand is that despite the “director-oriented” universe, DCEU now has a reputation for studio interference. Fincher is sure as shit not about to jump into another Alien 3 scenario, and without a dump truck full of money and total creative freedom, I can’t imagine him on board here.
The other thing to remember is that shortlists aren’t necessarily who’s legitimately interested, but more who Warner Brothers wants and has maybe had a meeting with about the possibility. On lists like this, never necessarily look at the exciting possibilities as being at the top.
Which means not to get to jazzed about George Miller or Denis Villeneuve. Miller has spoken to wanting to do something smaller before jumping back into a large scale project. Besides, I don’t necessarily see him as a perfect fit for a Batman movie, which should thrive on a smaller scale of action (much more one-on-one) than the massive Fury Road.
As for Villeneuve, he’s likely moving straight to Dune, reportedly a dream project that Legendary wants to make happen fast for the franchise potential. I can’t imagine he’ll delay that one too long, given the blank check that he now has thanks to his Oscar nomination. Besides, I feel like he’s going to want a little more freedom than Warner Brothers is willing to give. Villenueve is a Fincher/Nolan-style director where he tends to take other scripts and make his own style and concerns out of it, where I imagine Affleck is still going to be a strong creative voice.
Which leaves Matt Ross, Matt Reeves, and Gavin O’Connor. Matt Ross, coming off Captain Fantastic, is an odd choice, so I can’t comment on why he’s here. Matt Reeves and Gavin O’Connor are the most natural fits, both being company men familiar with collaboration who have made big budget genre pictures. Reeves made the phenomenal Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as well as Cloverfield, so it seems like he’d be a natural fit if he’s willing to jump big franchise to big franchise.
But your most obvious fit here is Gavin O’Connor. He’s collaborated with Affleck before on a visceral and vaguely superheroic pulpy action film that did well for Warner Brothers, and Warner Brothers tends to reward its successful directors. He’s a capable action director and he’s not exactly overwhelming in his style. In fact, this seems like a choice so obvious that you absolutely should be shocked if it doesn’t end up being the case.
Yeah, none of the realistic possibilities exactly light the world on fire. Villeneuve’s Batman or Miller’s Batman could be something worth getting excited for again. O’Connor and Reeves seem like fairly standard for the way the universe is putting things together. And they’re certainly not as exciting as Affleck, a director almost made for the noir-ish crime thriller that Batman has never really gotten the chance to be.
Really, that’s what we ended up losing here. Affleck’s meat-and-potatoes thriller directing was exactly what the DCEU and Batman needed. His action-thriller flicks are a rare treat, but it seems as thought The Batman is doomed to be another entry in a slowly declining set of possibilities.