Why Ben Affleck’s Superhero Roles Deserved Better

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Ben Affleck gets blamed for bad comic book movies, but it is not his fault.

By Nathan Kamal
| Published

Ben Affleck may be the least-respected, most-acclaimed man in Hollywood. Despite having won Two Academy Awards (one for co-writing Good Will Hunting and one for directing Argo), three Golden Globes, and the highest honor given in the Venice Film Festival, Ben Affleck is considered as much a Dunkin’ Coffee meme as he is an actor and filmmaker. Nowhere is that more evident than in the two cursed attempts he made to break into the superhero game: first with Daredevil in 2003 and then with Batman, starting in 2016. 

In both cases, Ben Affleck being cast as a beloved comic book character was met with derision and frankly, it is deeply unfair to both the man and the superheroes he was portraying. In both the cases of visually impaired attorney/guilt-ridden Catholic Matt Murdock and adult orphan/drunkard Bruce Wayne, Ben Affleck was handed a no-win situation and then promptly destroyed in the public arena for it. It did a disservice to Ben Affleck (and his many public personal issues) and to the public image of the characters that he was portraying. 

We will start with Daredevil, the 2003 movie starring Ben Affleck as the title character, future Marvel Cinematic Universe mainstay Jon Favreau as his legal partner Foggy Nelson, Jennifer Garner as his romantic partner Elekta Natchios (as well as his future actual wife), Colin Ferrell as the assassin Bullseye, and Michael Clarke Duncan as Wilson Fisk aka the Kingpin. Put bluntly, in 2003, comic book movies were all over the place; for every X-Men 2 that pushed the genre a step forward, a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was there to pull it six steps back. There was no concept of a shared universe in which any movie had to pay attention to the tone or continuity, and no real blueprint for success. 

Into that furnace went Ben Affleck, and sure enough, he was burnt by Daredevil, so much that he claimed for a time to have inoculated himself against superhero movies forever. There is much to criticize about Daredevil, from the absurdly long voiceover origin story for Murdock to the ridiculously, clearly Batman & Robin-inspired suit-up scene in which the vigilante shows off his moves in an empty room for no particular reason to whatever the hell Colin Ferrell was doing. However, Ben Affleck is not the problem with the movie. 

The problem is that no one has any idea what kind of movie Daredevil is supposed to be. Director Mark Steven Johnson, who would go on to make the somehow-even-worse Ghost Rider with Nicolas Cage, is responsible for some of the slowest, most bizarre fight scenes ever to appear in a superhero movie. The movie abruptly shifts from melodramatic canted angles in courtroom scenes to Ben Affleck straight-up murdering a guy via subway train (never brought up again) to Colin Ferrell jumping on a pipe organ to fight. 

None of this has to do with Ben Affleck, who actually puts in a decent, subdued performance as Matt Murdock. He was given a bad situation in a time period in which 20th Century Fox’s best idea to follow up the most acclaimed X-Men movie was to give the franchise to Brett Ratner. Daredevil began the worst downward trend of Ben Affleck’s career, swiftly followed by Gigli, Surviving Christmas, and Paycheck until he resurrected himself as a director of Boston-set crime thrillers.

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Later, the announcement that Ben Affleck had been cast as Batman for the (then) Zack Snyder-orchestrated DC Universe was met with howls of disgust from fans online. Now that he seems to be nearing the end of his long, arduous journey as Batman, it cannot be argued that Ben Affleck was anything close to the worst thing about any of the films that he was set in. His take on Batman was something close to new: a world-weary, borderline alcoholic who was near burnt out on crimefighting before Superman’s existence first threatens, then inspires him. 

Instead of Ben Affleck ruining Batman, it nearly ruined him, with the experience reportedly exacerbating a drinking problem to the point of him fearing for his life. He has described the production of Justice League as one of the worst things he has ever done, and pretty much everyone else on the set has agreed. How could he possibly be expected to have lived up to fan expectations when the entire Warner Bros. DC Universe was wildly careening from director to studio expectation to near-collapse?

Put simply, Ben Affleck keeps getting dealt a terrible hand when it comes to comic book movies and then gets blamed for them being bad. Hopefully, he has learned his lesson this time.