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Holy Affleck, Batman!

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08/29/2013

Holy Affleck, Batman! photo

If anyone’s happy that Miley Cyrus has claimed every headline on the Internet this past week, it’s Ben Affleck. Affleck’s casting as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the forthcoming Man of Steel sequel tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman was the dominant form of our collective social media ire for the entire weekend. Then Hannah Montana twerking with Teddy Bears and depicting sex acts with a foam finger happened.

I’ll admit: there’s plenty of need for public discourse regarding Cyrus’ performance and more than what’s needed on Affleck’s casting. Personally, however, I’d rather talk about the latter – because I am a nerd. Also, I am a Jewish nerd, and as we near Rosh Hashanah, I find myself inclined to defend the heck out of Batfleck.

When news of Affleck’s casting as Bruce Wayne broke, word spread fast and the early reaction was exceedingly poor. It appeared as if most people had suffered societal amnesia. Scott Beggs on Film School Rejects put it best:

Try to picture this: it’s ten years from now, and Ben Affleck has shaken off the hatred he earned for signing up to play a superhero by carefully choosing his acting and directing projects. In a rebound of public opinion, he’s delivered several trenchant performances — fulfilling the potential he showed back in the 90s — and crafted several prestigious films that prove his salt as a storyteller. With that, welcome to 2013, ‘Daredevil’ haters. It’s good to have you here.

Are Affleck and JLo still together? How long do you think we’ll be in Iraq for? And gosh, this band Coldplay is really catching on.

The real question is where is this Affleck hate coming from? Less than six months ago he was the toast of Hollywood, winning a Best Picture Oscar for Argo while the masses cried out against his snub of a Best Director nomination. He has worked tirelessly since 2006 to get to this point, refusing action and romance roles and gravitating toward dramas and thrillers, not to mention launching his feature directing career, which resulted in three excellent movies in three attempts (Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo). Gone, baby, gone were the disastrous years of 2003 and 2004 when he starred in Daredevil, Paycheck, Jersey Girl, Surviving Christmas and yes, the national punch line, Gigli. Gone was the pretty boy image of Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. Gone were the Kevin Smith days and attempts at lesser comedy.

Except not, apparently. The news of Affleck becoming the fifth actor to portray Batman on the big screen immediately snapped everyone back to the Daredevil days. I get the thought process: Affleck was once a superhero, it turned out badly, ergo, Affleck should never play a superhero ever again, let alone Batman, coolest of superheroes. That said, I find this logic … faulty.

First of all, if you’re still sore about Daredevil, get over it. Daredevil was not going to be a great superhero movie independent of Affleck. Daredevil was bad because it was Daredevil (and because Colin Farrell played a bald dude who throws knives), not because of Ben Affleck. Also, it has a 45% on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning, on average, 45 people out of 100 liked the movie on the whole.

Second, I know fans are particularly sensitive to who gets cast in superhero films and we especially don’t like it when someone who played one superhero plays another. But for every Halle Berry playing Storm and Catwoman, there’s a Chris Evans who played the Human Torch and went on to become Captain America. It’s about the film and its vision, not the actor and his or her reputation. Heath Ledger as the Joker? The star of A Knight’s Tale, 10 Things I Hate About You and Brokeback Mountain? The Internet was not happy in July 2006 with a heartthrob type being cast as a legendary villain. You tell me how that went.

I personally feel intrigued by the casting thanks to what Batman vs. Superman director Zack Snyder had to say about Affleck’s casting, which should give you a sense of his vision:

"(Ben) has the acting chops to create a layered portrayal of a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crimefighter, but retain the charm that the world sees in billionaire Bruce Wayne."

Let’s play the “what if” game for a moment. Let’s pretend the 1997 film Batman & Robin didn’t exist, and news broke that Snyder had cast George Clooney as Batman in Batman vs. Superman. Replace “Ben” in Snyder’s quote with “George.” What do you think the dominate reaction would be? Inspired? Brilliant?

Affleck has reinvented himself and few in the public spotlight can do that and succeed. Hate to mention it again, but look at Miley Cyrus. Image and perception are tough to improve; the response to Affleck’s casting proves as much. Even for those of us far, far removed from Hollywood, reinventing one’s self takes a lot of reflection and even more courage. People will say things and they won’t easily – if ever – forget you used to be a certain way. Affleck was clearly unhappy with his career choices. He did something about it. And to think of it, reinvention is something Bruce Wayne knows a little bit about.

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are called to return to ourselves. We are called to think about the person we’ve been and the things we’ve done. We take on the challenge of self-reflection in order to renew ourselves and our sense of purpose, to redefine who we are and who we want to be. And we ask others (and one particular Other) to look beyond what we’ve done and to support us in this new year as we try to be the best version of ourselves.

You don’t have to like the Affleck casting. Maybe you’ve never liked him period, and now he’s been cast in a movie you think you’ll like. You have every right to be skeptical from now until July 17, 2015; who’s to say a Batman vs. Superman movie will even work? But Affleck’s past won’t have anything to do with it. No one, not even a public figure, wants to be criticized for their past mistakes, especially when they’ve done so much to move beyond them.

Forgive Daredevil. Forgive the hotshot astronaut playing with animal crackers on Liv Tyler’s belly. Forgive whatever Gigli was about. Forgive yourself, and forgive your closest people for their past wrongs. Then move on with an open mind and open heart – and go become Batman.

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