Though we’re still only warming up to the idea of Ben Affleck starring in a Batman movie, now we’ve got to wrap our heads around the fact that Affleck is directing a standalone Batman movie. But while the actor’s inscrutable screen presence has held us back from accepting him as the next Bruce Wayne, this latest bit of news doesn’t come saddled with quite the same degree of skepticism. In fact, some might deign to say that Affleck is tailor-made to direct a superhero film. If you’re feeling really courageous, you might even call him a much needed breath of fresh air for the DC universe.
Looking at Affleck’s first two directorial efforts, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, you can see where DC found in him a kindred spirit. Releasing midway between Christopher Nolan’s industrial giants The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Affleck’s small-scale crime drama The Town seemed tonally in step with the grim accent ensnaring the blockbuster form. While Disney has since reverted to a more gleeful spirit in the construction of its Marvel Cinematic Universe pictures, Warner Bros. has kept in step with Nolan’s precedent in the release of its DC movies; the question “Why so serious?” has never been more applicable.
Paramount in both Gone Baby Gone and The Town is the character of Boston — the titular character in the latter picture, in fact — which Affleck uses in the same vein that Nolan used Gotham. Like Bruce Wayne’s home city, Affleck’s Beantown was both the anchor weighing down his central heroes as well as the dusty jewel whose glimmer they’d die to maintain. But while Affleck’s tenacity for the grim might have been a substantial factor in making it clear that he is well-suited to the gritty realness of the DC Cinematic Universe, it is Argo to which many of us should look for the suggestion of the kind of superhero film he might ultimately end up making.
We see in Affleck’s Argo protagonist, CIA Agent Tony Mendez, the makings of your classic superhero character. He’s desperate to protect his own “people of Gotham” — in the case of Argo, the members of the Embassy of the United States of America in Tehran — and forced to operate outside the margins of standard security measure to do so. He’s weighted through his war for justice by the toll of his personal battles. To Bruce Wayne’s childhood scars, Tony Mendez offers his recent separation and strained relationship with his young son; in the cases of each man, the quest for justice works in regular conflict with his yearning for emotional victory.
What makes Argo a preferable model for Affleck’s forthcoming Batman work is its understanding that gravity does not preclude all semblances of joy. In Mendez’s arrangement of an “outside-the-box” method for procuring safety for the American men and women at risk, there is inherent levity; the movie understands this, reveling in the opportunity for a joke or a smile at the occasional acknowledgement of just how harebrained a scheme it is dealing with. Argo’s comedy strengthens it to one of genuine humanity.
And this is no mean feat, not only due to the heavy character of the situation at hand, but also because of the “inside baseball”-nature of Mendez’s rescue ploy. We delve deep into CIA machinations and Hollywood policy without ever feeling estranged from the world onscreen. The business of superheroism, as we’ve seen touched on in Nolan’s Batman movies, is a fertile ground for intrigue. But where Nolan stays cold in his illustration of the behind-the-scenes world of Bruce Wayne’s night job, Argo lends credence that Affleck might be able to instill some warmth into the mix.
Affleck’s partnership with Geoff Johns, a principal mind behind DC’s television exploits, lends hope for his Batman film. After three Nolan films, one by Snyder, and one on the way, we’ve more than had our fill of the grim and gritty. It's time to take Batman to a whole new level.
Images: Warner Bros.