By Laura Kern
In his 2013 Oscars acceptance speech, Ben Affleck choked up thanking his wife and children. His tears charmed the world as viewers dabbed at their eyes like proud grandmothers. In the fifteen years between his two Oscar wins — the first in 1998 for Best Screenplay for Good Will Hunting, and the second for Best Picture for Argo — audiences watched Affleck grow up, get married, and have children, all while balancing a seemingly successful movie career. His career seemed to have come full-circle.
But Affleck’s career came to a monumental moment once again in 2016, when he took on the coveted role of Bruce Wayne in Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Rotten Tomatoes panned the movie, calling it “tiresome,” “nonsensical,” and overall “disappointing.” Affleck’s performance as Batman also drew personal jabs: David Edelstein wrote in Vulture that Affleck seemed “weighty,” one of many insults toward Batman’s fuller figure, and that his face resembled a “sour gargoyle.” Harsh.
This is not Affleck’s first time at the superhero franchise rodeo. Thirteen years ago, he played comic book crusader Matt Murdock in Marvel’s Daredevil, coincidentally considered one of the worst Marvel movies of all time. Ben Affleck seems like the common denominator, then, between these superhuman failures.
Though Affleck is generally hailed as a talented actor, DC’s Batman v. Superman drew attention to some of his worst filmographic slip-ups, including the comically dreadful Gigli (2003) and the TV movie The Leisure Class, which he also executive-produced. The latter remarkably received a 0% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, rarer even than a perfect 100%. Could Oscar winner Ben Affleck really be responsible for the failure of both of his superhero films?
Considering the finer production details of these movies, the answer appears to be “No.” For starters, both films suffered from the effects of notoriously unskilled directors: Mark Steven Johnson wrote and directed DC’s Daredevil, as well as Ghost Rider (2007), another failed Marvel adaptation starring Nicolas Cage as the skeletal antihero. Similarly, Batman v. Superman director Zack Snyder is known for his career as a director of unexceptional superhero films like Watchmen (2009) and the most recent Superman reboot, Man of Steel (2013). Both directors continued their respective franchises, largely excluding Affleck from later movies, with similarly limited success: Johnson’s 2005 Daredevil spinoff Elektra was slammed even harder than Daredevil itself, and Snyder produced this summer’s shamefully disappointing Suicide Squad.
If that doesn’t convince you that Affleck is not to blame, just take a look at the costuming. Edelstein’s “weighty” comment related mostly to Batman’s bulky new suit—the hero’s classic cowl was so ill-fitted that it turned Affleck’s dimpled chin into a Play-Doh factory. And Daredevil’s red leather getup — complete with scarlet go-go boots and a long zipper up the front — made him look more like a dominatrix than a superhero. No actor could fill those costumes and retain any level of dignity. Affleck was damned from the first fittings.
But why does it even matter whether Affleck is at fault? Truthfully, as a die-hard Marvel fan, I breathed a sigh of relief when Batman v. Superman took a box-office tumble; I munched gleefully on buttery popcorn as Suicide Squad hammered the last nail into DC’s coffin. I should be thanking Ben Affleck for his contribution to these critical failures, but I hesitate.
As a young girl who idolized comic book superheroes in the early 2000s, I felt the sting of each disappointing adaptation, especially Daredevil. I cannot help but imagine current audiences feeling the similar sting of DC’s failures. It seems easy to place this onus on Affleck as the most obvious connection, but blaming a single actor for the destruction of a cinematic empire is more than unfair. Though Affleck may have indisputably terrible taste in roles, his inclusion did not cause these superhuman catastrophes: even without Affleck, Daredevil and Batman v. Superman were destined to fail. Affleck was not responsible for my disappointment thirteen years ago, and he is not responsible for it today—he was only a victim of the times. Celebrities: they’re just like us.