Ben, Most People Would Turn You Away

A lot of my friends are into comic books, and as it naturally follows, superhero movies.  I was out with a couple of them last night when the news came out that Ben Affleck would play Batman in the sequel to Superman reboot Man of Steel.  One of my friends in particular was devastated.  I’m not overstating that, either; it ruined his night, and he’s been having conversations about it on Facebook all day.

I found his reaction hilarious, and certainly did my best to contribute to the ribbing he was receiving.  I couldn’t think of a memorable Ben Affleck line from any movie whatsoever (maybe Batman will put Superman’s cape on layaway?) so instead I just quoted Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting, asking how he liked them apples in a gruff, Christian Bale-esque, voice.

Turns out, a lot of people did not like the choice.  I talked to three people about the topic, none of them so-called “comic book nerds,” and the four of us all had the same sentiment: so?  What’s the big deal?  There is nothing wrong with Ben Affleck.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from trying to figure out why there was such a backlash.  Or batlash, if you will.  You won’t?  That’s fine.

My best guess was that even though it was a long time ago, people never forgave him for Gigli.  During that period, he was also engaged to Jennifer Lopez, and she has her own set of fans and detractors, and when you associate with people that have haters, you become guilty via that association.

Lopez and Affleck, known as “Bennifer,” may have been the first celebrity couple to be given a mashed-up nickname, and for being party to the start of that trend, they both deserve jail time.  But that whole “Hollywood” thing; dating famous stars, making crappy movies that never came close to the film that blew up his career, and seeming to be more of a celebrity than he “deserved” probably contributed to folks deciding that Affleck was a worthy object of scorn.

I also think the film that put him on the map, Good Will Hunting, is also responsible for the hate.  Damon was the star of the film, but they co-wrote it, and both won an Academy Award for it.  But Damon went on the become, well, “Matt Damon,” said with the reverence that top-notch A-list actors receive.  Affleck became “Ben Affleck,” said with disdain.  Why?

Well, Damon debuted as a star and has continued to be one throughout his career.  Matt Damon can carry a movie, and he has been able to carry a movie since day one.  But Affleck started out as a supporting character in Good Will Hunting, and then after he won a writing Oscar, people threw him into their films as a lead actor.  Maybe he wasn’t ready for it yet.  Maybe he chose his scripts poorly.  But being forever linked to Damon, whose star rose meteorically and then stayed at the top, made Affleck seem like an abject failure in comparison.

(Full disclosure: I don’t know what I would look for in a favorite actor/actress, but if I did pick, I think it would be Matt Damon.  Rounders is my favorite movie, The Departed is up there, and I absolutely love the Ocean’s movies.  He’s great in all of those.  I guess what I’m saying is that Matt Damon is my favorite actor.)

Regardless of why people didn’t like Affleck, it seems like things turned around for a while.  He married Jennifer Garner, who despite being a famous actress in her own right, is certainly much less…I guess the word is “offensive”…to people than Lopez or Gwyneth Paltrow, another former Affleck flame.  Nobody really dislikes Garner, and I bet the two of them got a lot of “aw, how cute” replies from the readers of People and Us Weekly.

Affleck also got into directing, and received acclaim for his work on Gone Baby Gone and The Town before winning all sorts of awards for Argo.  It seemed like America had come around on Ben Affleck: as he got older, we decided that you know what?  You’re cool with us now, Ben.  We’re over Gigli.

But now the whole Batman thing has undone the goodwill.  I’ve learned that it is a bad idea to tick off the dedicated core fanbase of your product, and no core is more dedicated than comic book fans.  And they’re ready to light torches and storm Warner Brothers’ offices.  They freaked out when George Clooney’s Batman and Robin costume had nipples, and this uproar is very reminiscent of that rage (which still simmers, apparently).  Just to show the lack of perspective, I’ve seen the word “tragedy” used more than once in the last 24 hours to describe the casting of a movie role.

When Daniel Craig was announced as the new James Bond in Casino Royale, I scoffed.  This guy?  Sure, he’s English, but he doesn’t look like James Bond.  I grew up playing Goldeneye and seeing Pierce Brosnan’s visage as what 007 looked like; Craig looks nothing like that, and it was going to ruin the film and maybe even the series.

I walked out of Casino Royale willing to cast Daniel Craig in every role in every movie forever.  And if I can change my mind on James Bond, let’s all hold off on judging Ben Affleck until we see what he does in the batsuit.

Unless the suit has nipples, in which case, just walk out.

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