OPINION - Replacing Ben Affleck as Batman
Love him or hate him, Ben Affleck as Batman has been a lightning rod among fans of the DC Cinematic Universe (as well as its critics) since his introduction in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (I will refer to it from this point forward as BvS). Since that film, we’ve seen him in Suicide Squad in a post-credit scene with Amanda Waller, and most recently, Justice League. As you may or may not have heard, several pieces of information have cast doubt on whether he will continue on as Batman or not. He has detached almost fully from the solo Batman movie, and the studio has been rumored to have looked at replacing him with Jake Gyllenhaal or Jon Hamm. He said on record with USA Today that “You don’t do it forever, so I want to find a graceful and cool way to segue out of it.” Personally, I like his Batman and what he brings to the table, but we must consider all options here, especially considering how things have gone with this studio. So here we are – how do we find a way to replace him without causing more of a media circus and doing a further disservice to the fans?
Let’s first look at what movies we have coming up where he’s contractually obligated to appear in as Batman. His contract was originally for 3 movies – BvS, Justice League, and a solo Batman film. Suicide Squad was a walk-on part which means this doesn’t count towards his contractual obligation. I’ve also seen reports that he may be in The Flash movie (hold onto that one – we’ll revisit it later), but it is unclear how prominent a role he will play in that movie. So, at the very least, we know he has one more turn at this iconic character in him.
As far as the solo film he was initially slated to star, write, and direct the movie, but later backed out citing that it’s too much for one person to handle and was replaced with Matt Reeves. While concrete details are scarce about the original script, at one point it was rumored to feature Deathstroke as the villain, which naturally got everyone excited. All of this may change, which provides an excellent opportunity on the way to replacing Batman while still being able to use Deathstroke. After all, you’ve already cast Joe Manganiello as the titular mercenary/assassin, and we’ve already seen him in that EXCELLENT Justice League post-credit scene.
This solo film sets up a unique opportunity to move things forward, while laying crucial groundwork to providing that graceful and cool exit that Affleck mentions. They should tell this story in 2 pieces – a present day and a flashback, where you can utilize a younger, fresher actor like Gyllenhaal (or insert your choices for a replacement actor) as a younger Batman, showing his growth and history with another villain you may not have used yet. Or even better, utilize a character (and possibly actor) from Suicide Squad (I’m looking at your Deadshot, Will Smith), while using present-day Batman engaged in a story centered on Deathstroke, while using still Joe Manganiello. You can use Affleck to narrate the portions of the movie that are flashbacks to keep the story moving along and provide a familiar voice. This is also a good time to introduce Nightwing, because if anyone could use the experience of learning from a younger Batman’s mistakes, it’s his first protégé. Additionally, Nightwing is slated for his own film down the road, so this could serve as his introduction to the audience. As this story concludes, we know we have a face and story behind past and present Batman.
Then we have Flashpoint, which is the title of the Flash movie. Here is where we capitalize on the work done by the solo Batman movie. As we’ve seen in comics and on TV, this story centers around Barry (The Flash) going back in time and preventing the murder of his mother, which has effects on the timeline rippling outward. That story is complex and does not only affect The Flash and his personal world, but also includes Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and of course Batman. This presents the opportunity to show cool interactions from different angles with these characters. You could also scoop up Jeffery Dean Morgan to play Thomas Wayne, who is Batman in the Flashpoint timeline – if he is free from his The Walking Dead commitment. As we have Affleck reportedly involved, we could entertain the possible death and/or time displacement of Batman which could happen early in the movie. When we get to the end of the movie, we have Barry setting things right again, except this time we have a new, younger version of Batman instead of Ben Affleck. Alternatively, we could see something occur in present day that causes Barry to run back in time and change things, explaining his appearance in BvS, communicating with Bruce.
At the end of all of this, we have a cool Batman film that has introduced characters and battled Deathstroke, a Flash movie that capitalizes on the fun chemistry between the Batman and Flash actors (as well as being an absolute game changer), and finally, we have a new Batman for the fledgling DC Cinematic Universe to grow with. Again, personally, I think Ben Affleck has been a welcome addition to the DC Cinematic Universe and was probably my favorite part of BvS outside of Wonder Woman and I would not be happy to see him leave. However, should it follow something like this, it would feel more acceptable to me as a comic book fan.