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How the Bat-Signal lured Ben Affleck

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Ben Affleck overcame his post-Daredevil aversion to superhero tights and embraced his Dark Knight side...

 “Wearing a costume was a source of humiliation for me, and something I wouldn’t want to do again.”

In 2006, Ben Affleck made a bold statement. At the London premiere of his movie Hollywoodland, he told reporters that he would not be playing a superhero again — thanks to his experience in the much lambasted Daredevil: “Wearing a costume was a source of humiliation for me, and something I wouldn’t want to do again.” Yet, 10 years later, Affleck is back in tights for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as the Caped Crusader of Gotham City.

In an attempt to explain the about-face, Affleck’s friend, director Kevin Smith, told Variety that the actor had always wanted to play Batman — that he had been hesitant to sign on to Daredevil, preferring to hold out for a chance to play the Dark Knight. It was Smith who told Affleck that no one was going to make another Batman movie, so he should forget it and go for Daredevil.

...it does seem that Affleck is at his best when he has something to prove.

While it might be hard to imagine why, in his mid-forties with two Oscars on his shelf, the actor/writer/director/producer would still be so set on the well-trodden role — and why he’d risk ridicule again — it does seem that Affleck is at his best when he has something to prove.

Almost 20 years ago, he and best friend Matt Damon wrote and starred in Good Will Hunting to show they were better than the parts they were getting. When Affleck, after starring in a string of big-screen flops, turned to directing, he scored three consecutive critical hits (Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Best Picture winner Argo) — thereby silencing those who panned his post-Good Will Hunting career and claimed that Damon was the more talented of the two. By portraying Batman, Affleck’s out to prove that Daredevil will not be his superhero legacy.

Not an easy task. It wasn’t that long ago that director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale resurrected the Batman franchise with three critically acclaimed films (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises), two of which took in more than $1 billion US at the box office. When Warner Bros. announced that Affleck would be taking over the role, comic book fans flooded the Internet with vitriol, insisting that he wasn’t fit to carry Bale’s Batarang.

Affleck took it on the chin but understood. “If I thought the result would be another Daredevil,” he joked in a Playboy interview, “I’d be out there picketing myself.”

Affleck has said repeatedly that he is drawn to the older, more broken version of the superhero that you see in Batman v Superman. The film’s director, Zack Snyder, describes the character as “a Batman who had been Batman for 20 years, a war-weary Batman.”

As the title indicates, Batman comes face to face with Superman, a new generation’s hero, and he reacts with a more disturbing and violent brand of vigilante justice.

For Affleck, it’s another in a series of recent dark, damaged roles, including the adulterous, possibly murderous, husband in Gone Girl, the machine-gun-wielding CPA in The Accountant, and the prohibition mobster in Live by Night, Affleck’s next directorial project. He recently told the New York Times that he’s bored by likable protagonists, preferring characters who have the “tendency to do the wrong thing.”

Affleck could be referring to the tabloid version of himself. The one who blew up 10 years of marriage ... with his cheating, drinking, and gambling.

Affleck could be referring to the tabloid version of himself. The one who blew up 10 years of marriage to his Daredevil costar, Jennifer Garner, with his cheating, drinking, and gambling. If you believe what you read, he has issues. And so does this Batman — or, more specifically, Bruce Wayne.

Affleck’s Wayne is different from those who’ve come before. He doesn’t clean up as well as the others, and has permanent stubble and dark circles under his eyes. He’s tormented by nightmares, knows his way around an underground fight club, and skulks through society events, making bad jokes about women and booze. The Wayne Manor is in ruins, so Master Wayne now resides in a modern, all-glass bungalow perched above a remote body of water. It’s common to find a stranger in his bed and bottles scattered around the house.

“The next generation of Waynes will inherit an empty wine cellar,” sighs Alfred, Batman’s loyal assistant (played by Jeremy Irons). “Not that there’s likely to be a next generation of Waynes.”

Nor is there likely to be another actor playing Batman any time soon  — as Affleck has embraced the role and, despite the dire predictions, earned positive reviews doing so. After Batman v Superman (which has grossed more than $873 million US) and a cameo in Suicide Squad, he’ll take a starring role in Justice League (due out November 2017). Then Affleck will take the reins completely, co-writing, directing, and starring in a solo Batman movie. What better way to work out his — and Batman’s — inner demons?

Shanda Deziel is a Toronto-based freelance journalist.