On Collider Movie Talk this Monday, host John Campea confidently asserted that Ben Affleck no longer wants to be Batman. “Over the past four days, I’ve talked to three separate people, who are connected in some way, to what is going on over at Warner Bros.,” Campea said. “They’re telling me that Ben Affleck, make no mistake, he does want out. He doesn’t want to be Batman anymore.” Afterward, many rushed to proclaim that THERE’S NOTHING TO SEE HERE — Campea himself said his sources’ comments should be taken with a grain of salt. Until we hear verified quotes from the principals, Affleck is still Bruce Wayne and this is just a rumor. But it is a good one.
Since March 25, 2016, the release date of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we’ve been hurtling toward this moment. From 2010 to 2015, Affleck was on an absolute tear. His directorial efforts in The Town and especially Argo, along with his role in Gone Girl, allowed Affleck to change the industry’s perception of him. Hollywood stopped laughing about Gigli and started handing him Oscars. But that train stopped with Affleck’s first appearance as Batman.
BvS was a critical failure. The movie made a monstrous amount of money (way less than Furious 7 or Jurassic World, though), but Affleck seemed visibly shaken by the overwhelmingly negative response. The image of him seated next to costar Henry Cavill in a black room, staring off into space as the latter answered a junket question about the bad reviews, embodied Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” even before the internet thought to pair the two. By the end of March, Affleck had become a meme encapsulating existential sadness. The April 2016 paparazzi photos of Affleck savoring the sweet, sweet vapors of an e-cigarette — along with his profanity-laced appearance on Any Given Wednesday and the emergence of a possible back tattoo — cemented that the actor-director was in a rut.
Affleck’s work following BvS didn’t provide any respite from this narrative. Suicide Squad, in which Affleck’s Batman briefly appeared to knock a woman unconscious, was received even worse than BvS was. The Accountant was a box-office surprise success in October, but it was also panned. (Mostly.) In mid-January came Live by Night, directed by and starring Affleck. There was hope that his cold streak would end, but it only worsened. Variety reported that the mobster period piece lost $75 million. Unlike BvS and The Accountant, Live by Night couldn’t even say “scoreboard” to its many detractors. It was just a movie that lost a lot of money and made Affleck look like Lou Bega. Four days after Variety’s report, Affleck stepped down as director of The Batman, DC’s stand-alone Batman movie.
After an objectively difficult year, it’s easy to buy that Affleck is looking to change things up. Stepping down would alter the landscape of movies for the next few years to come, but for Affleck the decision would be about maintaining, and perhaps rehabilitating, his personal legacy — something he’s already proved he has a knack for. You can imagine him looking at DC’s recent track record and the commitments that being Batman requires and concluding that it’s all a lot of trouble for nothing. Affleck doesn’t need to be Batman — he’s got the money, and his participation in summer blockbusters has no bearing on his personal projects getting green-lit — and no one even knows the status of the script for The Batman. His next turn as actor-director, a remake of the 1957 film Witness for the Prosecution, is already in motion. After that, maybe he’ll just want to return to Boston and mine for inspiration, a strategy that’s benefited him before. Maybe he’d rather just never answer another question about Batman in his entire life — especially during interviews that are supposed to be about another one of his movies.
“I remain extremely committed to this project, and look forward to bringing this to life for fans around the world,” Affleck said in his January 30 statement announcing that he would no longer direct The Batman. That might still be true — up until this point, Affleck has been a dutiful supporter of DC and Warner Bros. (though his relationship with the latter may be on thinner ice now, after the botched rollout of Live by Night). This is why “Ben Affleck wants out of Batman” is a perfect movie rumor — both outcomes feel possible. If you think that Affleck is personally invested in and loyal to DC’s cinematic universe, you can buy the counter-report that he isn’t leaving the franchise. But if you believe that Affleck is at a crossroads, contemplating his legacy — and I do — you’re already talking about who else would make a good Batman.