To some it came as a complete shock and surprise. To others, who had been paying attention to the events, odd statements, mixed signals and contradictory positions not as much so. Either way it shook the entertainment world this past weekend when Ben Affleck announced that he was stepping down as the director for the upcoming Batman stand alone film. His statement was very diplomatic, professional… and complete fiction. Here’s his statement:
“There are certain characters who hold a special place in the hearts of millions. Performing this role demands focus, passion and the very best performance I can give. It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require. Together with the studio, I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film. I am still in this, and we are making it, but we are currently looking for a director. I remain extremely committed to this project, and look forward to bringing this to life for fans around the world.”
Diplomatic. Professional. Complete fiction that isn’t to be believed.
Before I venture into why no self-respecting film fan should buy into this well meant, although completely deceptive statement, let me say that this was nonetheless absolutely the appropriate statement to make. Regardless of how messy, heated or conflict muddled the true situation between Ben Affleck and his vision for the Batman film and Warner Bros had become, it would serve no one’s best interests to air the grievances. No party here stood to gain anything by throwing the other under the proverbial bus or engaging in any sort of public “he said/she said” quarrel, especially since they are both stuck working together (more on that later). The professional thing to do here was to draft a statement singing the praises of each other and that’s what they did. That’s also what they should have done notwithstanding that it’s a complete lie.
So why am I and others completely convinced that this statement is nothing more than a PR charade masking a much deeper problem? Well there are several reasons:
1) A GROWING LIST OF DYSFUNCTION AT DC
One could look much more innocently at the directorial departure of Ben Affleck as nothing more than the face value of his statement had this been the first “break up” between WB/DC and one of its filmmakers in recent months. However, Affleck’s departure is just the latest in an ever increasing pattern. From FLASH recently discarding their script (yet again) for a full page 1 rewrite, to WONDER WOMAN director Michelle MacLaren leaving the project over “creative differences”, to FLASH going through 2 on record directors (and a third unofficially as it was strongly reported that LEGO MOVIE’s Lord and Miller were tapped to direct the project before departing the project) and still to this day is without a director after parting ways with Rick Famuyiwa. The list astoundingly does go on. A DC movie disruption of one sort or another has become a weekly headline and occurrence. To see the Affleck departure outside of that light would be neglectful at best.
2) DID BEN LIE TWO WEEKS AGO OR NOW?
Amidst speculation and reports that the relationship between Affleck and WB was souring (I’ll go more into that in a moment), Affleck took to the stage on Jimmy Kimmel roughly 2 weeks ago to “set the record straight”. Kimmel directly asked Affleck: “Are you directing the next Batman”? To which Affleck firmly replied: “I’m gonna direct the next Batman we’re working on it now”. It was clearly set up intentionally. Affleck and WB wanted to dispel the reports and rumors that had started swirling that he may be looking to get out of directing Batman. It was a strategic move to quell the rumors and keep fans confident in the project. With such a calculated and definitive statement made just mere weeks ago, are we actually to believe that Affleck, who has already taken on the dual role of director and actor in 3 films, one of which winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards, now suddenly just days later had a complete reversal of philosophy or confidence? Why was he still firmly confident in his ability and desire to direct Batman just weeks ago, and then suddenly convinced he was incapable of competently doing it now? These are realizations that happen over the span of years, not days.
3) IT WAS CLEAR HE WAS BECOMING UNHAPPY
It wasn’t that long ago that Affleck was speaking enthusiastically about the status of his project. He seemed excited. So much so that he actually revealed to the world that he was so far along in the process that he had selected actor Joe Manganiello to play his villain Deathstroke and had even conducted some concept screen tests which he shared with the public. However, that projection of enthusiasm and excitement ended. Near the beginning of this new year Ben gave us our first look at things falling apart in paradise. When asked if he was still directing Batman, Affleck famously responded:
It’s not a set thing and there’s no script. If it doesn’t come together in a way I think is really great I’m not going to do it,”
Not a set thing? No script? Not coming together? Affleck was the writer. He had seemed highly motivated and at least gave the impression that the script was more than just “coming together”. It was clear that there was something bigger happening under the surface. Speculation began that certain WB execs had begun meddling, essentially derailing Affleck and stymying his creative process. The Jimmy Kimmel appearance and statement was in direct response to these rumors, and as I mentioned above, that statement now has to be drawn into serious question.
4) SINCE WHEN CAN AFFLECK NOT ACT AND DIRECT THE SAME MOVIE?
One of the most obvious fabrications of the Affleck/WB statement is the supposed claim that Ben had decided that he could not properly act in and direct a Batman film at the same time. In the 2012 film ARGO, Ben both acted and directed… and it could be argued that it was both Ben’s finest work as an actor AND his finest work as a director. The film went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards and Ben went on to receive the Best Director award from the Director’s Guild Of America, The Critic’s Choice Awards and the Golden Globes.
Some may want to say that the pressure of directing a Batman film would be different. I could accept that logic had it not been for the fact that Ben has already been dealing with that pressure for over 3 years now ever since it was announced he was playing Batman. He went through shooting 2 movies as Batman (Batman V Superman and the first Justice League which is long since wrapped). Ben Affleck did not just suddenly “realize” that there would be great pressure in doing a Batman movie. Not in just the last 2 weeks. He has been living it and dealing with it and acclimating himself to it for years already. If Ben Affleck was going to suddenly drop out of directing a Batman film because he realized it was going to be too much to handle, he would have done it while shooting Justice League, or BVS, or early in the stages of shooting LIVE BY NIGHT. Again, I have to go back to the statement he made just a few short weeks ago. Just WEEKS ago. “I’m gonna direct the next Batman”.
Are we to believe that he went through the hellish internet backlash upon the announcement that he was our new Batman, that he went through seeing the rigors firsthand shooting Batman V Superman and how much difficulty there would be in directing it, that he went through the entire production of JUSTICE LEAGUE and still felt completely confident that he could act in AND direct the Batman movie enough to say on national television “I’m gonna direct Batman” only to then have a total change of heart on the issue just 2 short weeks later? The thought is utterly absurd to anyone with an ounce of common sense.
5) AFFLECK IS OBLIGATED TO CONTINUE TO PLAY BATMAN
Some try to lend credibility to the statement by saying “If Ben was unhappy or if there was trouble, why would he still stay on to play Batman”? The answer is a simple one. Affleck would actually have no choice in the matter. He is contractually obligated to play Batman for however many more films remain on his deal. It would be a crippling PR disaster for WB/DC to let Affleck walk. Affleck as Batman was one of the few elements of Batman V Sueprman that most people agreed was a strong point of the film. To allow Affleck to walk out of his deal would not only crush the already fragile public perception of the DC Cinematic Universe, but also hurt them creatively as Affleck’s Batman is needed to carry the franchise. This leaves Ben in the position that he would have no choice but to act professionally, continue to do his job as an actor, and help the company save face by co-signing the drafted statement. To fail to do so would not only put Affleck in a precarious position legally with WB, but also damage his reputation with other studios who may think twice about working with him again were he to throw another employer under that proverbial bus we talked about earlier.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
The statement Affleck and WB released makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and doesn’t stand up to the slightest tests of logic or critical thinking. So what really did happen? What is the real reason Ben Affleck is no longer the director of the upcoming Batman film? There are a lot of possibilities. Endless possibilities actually. Anything I list here would just be scratching the surface of what is possible. The only thing I feel very confident in is that the statement in question is not the truth. There are large systemic problems at WB/DC in terms of how they are handling their DC Cinematic Universe and I fear the enormity of Ben Affleck stepping down as the director of Batman is just the tip of the iceberg.