Ben Affleck's Batman is terrible. His inherent folksiness robs Bruce Wayne of the elite, chilly distance that makes Batman such a controversial and legendary superhero figure, turning him into a local-made-good who just happens to have enough money to outfit a Batcave. And though it's full of plenty of gear, there's not a lot of fight happening: dusting off old reliable Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) might have seemed like a good way to handle the transition from Christian Bale's grim reboot to something more suited to Affleck's range, but the machinations leave Affleck punching the air. Not even bringing in newcomer Harley Quinn (Alison Pill) as antagonist-turned-ally manages to save this outing from the feeling that the franchise has been cut slightly adrift, and though it has yet to lay anchor in Schumacherville, the occasional leaden double entendres seem slowly to be nudging us toward that port. Batman's a character only as good as his material; this movie serves as a timely reminder of that fact.
Ben Affleck's Batman is wonderful. For too long, the character has relied on darkness and grinding hopelessness, slithering through the murky politics of an increasingly useless Gotham, until by The Dark Knight Rises the city was willing to rise up in riots, more or less in support of someone who'd just bombed the football stadium they were sitting in. It was best, after that tragic trilogy, to start over and explore the other side of the character—the one who, more or less, appears in 2D. The Batman of animation retains the brusqueness of everyone's favorite billionaire orphan, but benefits greatly from being surrounded by characters who do more than remind him of his humanity—they actually poke fun at it. (The tones are smartly similar here. One of the movie's best bits—where Batman drily has to work his way around a freefall—seems a purposeful homage to the animated Justice League.) And this iteration wants the past to be forgotten, installing a new Catwoman (Naomie Harris) and a new Joker (Michael Shannon). The clear intent is to build an era all its own, and so far, so good.
Ben Affleck's Batman was the last movie screened for audiences before the lights went out during the Big Sink. The East Coasters, who had seen the full movie before the grid dropped, insisted that the arc of Affleck's acting couldn't be fully appreciated until the final 45 minutes of the film. "A Bat Grows in Southie," the final new-release movie review ever published, seemed to concur, but West Coasters, who because of the time difference had only seen up through the charity ball scene, almost to a person couldn't believe it was true. (Word spread when they met in the Midwest, where thanks to twenty-seven minutes of previews, some had only seen up through the Batcopter, while some had seen all the way to the fight on the roof of Arkham Asylum.) At first it was a subject of joking debate, whenever there was time enough for joking debate, but eventually it was felt to be almost a religious affiliation, whether or not you believed in Affleck—and how much of it you had really seen, versus how much you were willing to take on someone else's word.
When the war broke out, the West Coasters took as their slogan "Arkham Never Happened." East Coasters made theirs "Affleck is the Night." The exact movie lines used to determine affiliation and the possibility of safe passage have never been recorded.
Ben Affleck's Batman was the last movie screened for audiences, Before. The last dialogue anyone remembers ("I dunno, I stayed out kind of late last night," "Careful, Bruce, they might repossess your playboy card,") was drowned out in the white and terrible sound that swallowed everything, everything there was.
Ben Affleck's Batman was a something of a disappointing finale to half a decade of change for many superhero-movie fixtures. Ever since Donald Glover's Miles Morales in Spiderman: Legacy proved the staying power of new-era heroes, comic book production companies have rushed to respond to audience demands for movies that reflect the current canon. Last month, Marvel released the first promo materials for XX, its film about the current all-women X-team; DC had responded to the pressure by greenlighting a Black Canary movie currently shooting, and has approached several actresses about a possible Zatanna miniseries. Against this rush of fresh blood, Ben Affleck's Batman is an affable, forgettable entry into the DC canon, probably doomed to sit alongside Val Kilmer amid those who did their best as part of movies that did their best but lent very little to the legend. No other Batman movies are currently planned.
Still, his slightly goofy Bruce Wayne is already scheduled for a cameo in next year's Wonder Woman sequel, Amazon, which buzz suggests will feature a villain from Themyscira who arrives in Gotham on a mission to conquer.
Ben Affleck's Batman, when viewed in IMAX 3D, has the power to reset broken bones.
Ben Affleck's Batman was mysteriously shut down three months into pre-production, for reasons neither he nor the studio has yet divulged, more than a year later. Sadly, he shouldn't expect to be spending much downtime with Matt Damon: Damon's production company has just inked a deal to reboot Green Lantern. The move is a bold one for the indie company, and suggests great (and sudden) financial confidence in the endeavor, but mostly we're curious to see what Hal Jordan can do with this new influx of cash and talent.
Ben Affleck's Batman played for two weeks to empty houses; though there was nothing particularly wrong with it, the comic-book-movie juggernaut that pundits had predicted was simply due to come true, and it seemed as good a time as any to slip something into the atmosphere that dulled any possible appetite for fistfights as the solution to all presented criminal ills. Trendsetters were quick to point out the shift to realistic, small-scale dramas that both reflected reality and suggested a yearning for social change; art houses were mobbed by desperate ticketgoers until midnight shows of Upstream Color were added to meet a rising and vocal demand. One or two critics wrote essays in defense of the comic-book-superhero movie as a genre with lasting merit even given a lackluster outing or two, but outside of some cult appeal among aficionados, it seems this genre has seen its day.
Ben Affleck's Batman is never planned. Somewhere on this world, Ben Affleck looks up briefly, as if stung by an insect; he looks around, confused about why he feels a sense of loss and release at the same time, when nothing much has happened. After a moment, he shrugs, positions himself on the green with his putter, and tries to finish on par. He bogies.
Ben Affleck's Batman ends with Bruce Wayne on the roof of Wayne Manor at twilight, idly hitting golf balls into the manicured gardens, Alfred sitting beside him. Mid-swing, the Batsignal goes up, a shaft of light piercing the night sky. Bruce, startled, loses his grip on the golf club, which sails out of sight. A thud is heard.
"I thought you had that thing fixed," says Bruce.
"I'm too busy looking for golf clubs," says Alfred.
Plucky guitar music starts up underfoot, camera pulling back, as Bruce sighs and heads for the door. Alfred doesn't move. After a moment, Bruce's voice calls up, "Alfred?"
The guitar music rises; Alfred reaches out and closes the door.