Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Affleck battles Batman backlash

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NEW YORK -- Ben Affleck will be the next Batman: How 'bout them apples?

Well, the Internet, which erupted Thursday night after Warner Bros. announced that Affleck will play the Caped Crusader for its Superman-and-Batman team-up movie, does not like them apples one bit. Jokes flew on Twitter. Petitions with thousands of signatures were launched to urge Warner Bros. to rethink their decision.

Affleck, the toast of Hollywood for his best picture-winning Argo, hasn't had so much scorn heaped on him since Gigli.

The response, roughly equivalent to news of the apocalypse, was undoubtedly out of proportion. After the leaden, joyless Man of Steel, adding Affleck -- an actor of light, easy charisma and an increasingly capable filmmaker -- can only improve a franchise currently in the hands of Sucker Punch director Zach Snyder and the unremarkable Superman actor Henry Cavill.

There's a long history of casting overreaction that's later turned out laughable. There were plenty of critics when Daniel Craig, who had the audaciousness of being blond, inherited James Bond. Some, too, questioned Jennifer Lawrence's suitability for Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

But Affleck's casting speaks to a larger shift in this age of the superhero blockbuster. He will be following in the footsteps of Christian Bale, the star of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy -- the artistic apogee of the superhero movies that treated its hero not as cartoon but a vessel for exploring themes of terrorism and justice.

The days of such aspirations, though, seem to be dwindling. Most of the most popular superheros are on their second or third reboot. After the success of Joss Whedon's The Avengers, Hollywood is looking increasingly to pairing its comics. And after the Superman-Batman movie, a Justice League film is rumoured to follow.

These are the kinds of projects that could be seen as jumping the shark if this wasn't a genre built on men in tights. The superhero blockbuster, still the biggest draw at the multiplex (with $408.2 million, Iron Man 3 is this year's biggest box-office hit), has made gimmickry a way of business, not a fault.

In the past, superhero movies didn't need stars: The brand was the main attraction.

But being a major star, Affleck comes with a lot of baggage that many expect will grate the way George Clooney did in Joel Schumacher's 1997 Batman and Robin -- a film so bad, it's often been cited as a catalyst for more serious interpretations of superheros.

Affleck, 41, will take on Batman at a slightly older age and in a more established place in his career. But he'll be best to listen to a piece of advice from Clooney: Don't let them put nipples on the Batman suit.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2013 G12

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