English: Ben Affleck at the premiere for He's ...

English: Ben Affleck at the premiere for He’s Just Not That Into You. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Take a deep breath.  Have you calmed down yet?  Does your world make sense once more?  Because when the news that Ben Affleck had been cast as Batman in Warner Bros. upcoming Superman/Batman movie (scheduled for a 2015 release) hit the internet like a fanboy tsunami, the response was a seismic outcry of anger, shock and amusement.  I initially wasn’t going to comment on it but when I saw CNN running the story (and fan’s angry reaction) on its ticker while Piers Morgan was interviewing a man convicted of murdering his parents, a good twenty-four hours after the story first broke, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold my tongue (or my keyboard) any longer.  And let’s be honest, while no one expects all that much from CNN these days, my Facebook feed is still going nuts over this.  The story is trending higher than news the United States is planning possible missile strikes against Syria for using chemical weapons against rebels and civilians, that San Diego mayor Bob Filner is being chased from office by a sexual harassment scandal he’s spent months denying or dismissing and that a doctor in the highly catholic Ireland performed that country’s first ever legal abortion.  In fact, the news that Affleck was going to be donning the cape and cowl has trumped every other news story on the planet since it broke.  To borrow a phrase from our British cousins across the pond, everyone needs to calm down and carry on.  Besides, everyone’s so obsessed with Affleck’s casting as the Dark Knight, they’re missing the real reason they should be concerned about the film.  And that’s why I’m dragging out my soap box (see, and you thought I was going to judge your priorities.  Suckers).

I’ll be honest, as a huge Batman fan, I initially had my doubts.  I thought he’d be a make a much better Bruce Wayne than he would a Batman but upon further reflection, I’ve mellowed out.  I overcame my knee-jerk reaction and a lot of other grumbling fans should too.  The man can project a pretty strong screen presence, despite having more than a few duds in his closet.  And honestly, what actor doesn’t have a few roles they’d love to forget.  Kevin Costner, who drew praise for his portrayal as Pa Kent in this summer’s Man of Steel, wrote the book on starring in movie’s you’d wish never saw the light of day.  Affleck was more than solid in 2010’s The Town (which he also directed) and he was impressive in last year’s Argo, the movie that won the Oscar for Best Picture.  And he looks like he’s showing off some pretty meaty acting  chops later this year as a villainous online gambling mafioso in Runner Runner.  And his portrayal of a fallen angel in Kevin Smith’s Dogma? Arguably it was Oscar worthy.  Before any one brings up 2003’s Daredevil-AGAIN-I agree that it stank more than a thirty year old pair of bowling shoes.  But Daredevil’s epic levels of suck weren’t Affleck’s fault.  Instead, you should blame the story, the directing, and then the story some more.  And while The Man With No Fear’s only cinematic foray has become the butt of more than it’s fair share of jokes, it did make a very handsome profit despite being released in February, Hollywood’s no man’s land of release dates.  Plus, at 41, Affleck still has enough of the physical goods to be convincing as a crime fighter, given the proper stunt work and special effects support.  And remember a few years ago when then relatively unknown Daniel Craig was chosen as the new agent 007, James Bond fans became hysterical, taking to the internet to describe the decision as the worst one ever made in the history of human civilization.  Well, Casino Royale breathed new life into the franchise and last year’s Skyfall became the highest grossing James Bond film of all time, topping the one billion dollar mark (maybe Craig wasn’t such a bad choice after all).

What should truly be concerning fans about Superman/Batman isn’t any of the actors in front of the camera, but the director behind it.  While Zack Snyder did direct this year’s blockbuster Man of Steel, he did so with Christopher Nolan riding shotgun as producer.  Nolan, the mastermind behind the uber successful trilogy of Batman films that came to an end last summer with Dark Knight Rises, has essentially divorced himself from Warner Bros. studios for the time being and has surrendered all rights to DC comic book properties as part of the split.  And while Man of Steel was a financial success, it deeply divided both movie and comic book fans.  Some most die-hard fans of the Big Blue Boy Scout absolutely loathed the movie.  Making matters worse, the few elements Super-fans liked about MoS seemed to have Nolan’s fingerprints all over them.  His absence from Superman/Batman doesn’t bode well for the movie or the marquee characters.

As we saw in 300, Watchmen and Sucker Punch, Snyder is a visuals man who strives for the spectacle, trying to brand as many shots as possible with a very stylized, signature aesthetic. But what we also saw from those movies was that he favours style over substance, and giving his films a glossy, striking look seems to take priority over telling a story or developing his characters.  How he might decide to indulge that habit with the world’s two most popular super heroes should fill fans with more concern than how Ben Affleck is going to pull off playing Gotham’s Caped Crusader.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Affleck is going to make everyone forget Christian Bale; he could just as easily sink the role-and the movie-worse than an errant iceberg sank a little dinghy called the Titanic.  Nor am I saying that Snyder will destroy the film; there’s a good chance this could be the movie where he realizes the potential so many people believed he’s been capable of in the past, but unable to deliver on.  But if I were to lay money down on who has the greater potential to derail Superman/Batman before it even starts shooting, my bet would be the guy siting in the director’s chair and not the one who’s been handed the keys to the Batmobile.

Shayne Kempton

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Starring:   Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Lawrence Fishburne.

Director:  Zack Snyder

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Rated:  PG

Length:  2 hours, 28 minutes

Superman is perhaps the most famous, most iconic super hero ever conceived by modern human civilization.  He is arguably the industrialized world’s version of Jesus.  A stranger from the stars, with powers and gifts that make him a god among men, always striving to show us the hope at the end of every dark tunnel. A shining example of what mankind could be.  What it could choose to be.  A constant reminder of the greatness we are capable of.  But ever since 1980’s Superman 2, Hollywood has struggled to make a film befitting such an icon.  In fact, most of what Hollywood has churned out in blue tights and a red cape has pretty much sucked.  That has changed.

Man of Steel is Warner Bros and DC Comics long-awaited, super hyped cinematic reboot of the Superman franchise, not only succeeding where Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns failed miserably in 2006, but seemingly apologizing for that ill-fated piece of movie dredge as well.  Directed by confessed comic book geek Zack Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan of Batman fame, Man of Steel manages to energize the most important comic book character ever created, and it doesn’t just make stop at making him relevant again, it actually makes the big blue boy scout sexy for movie going audiences that may have never set foot in a comic book store.

Everyone and their brother knows the story of Superman-his brilliant parents flung him out into the stars to escape the doomed planet Krypton, choosing Earth to be his new home, its yellow sun turning him into a god.  But Man of Steel puts a fresh twist on it.  There had been rumours circulating the internet that the film makers had tinkered with Supes origin, that the infant Kal-El, born to father Jor-El (one of the finest minds belonging to an incredibly advanced civilization) and mother Lara-El, was rocketed to Earth where he could choose his own path, saved from a sterile world where everyone was born to pre-determined roles and were essentially genetic slaves.  What I found to be the most disturbing part about this rumour was that Krypton never blew up, and the movie’s villains were hunters come to collect their planet’s wayward son.  While this mercifully turned out to be false, Man of Steel‘s premise turns out to be a nice little combination of the two.

Krypton’s scientific advancements stagger the imagination.  A once star faring race that bent entire planets to their will, the Kryptonians retreated to their home world, fashioning an unnatural society where people are bred instead of born.  Each Kryptonian is designed from the ground up to serve a specific purpose within the larger society.  No one gets to choose what they’ll be when they grow up because they know what their future holds from the second they’re removed from the incubator (imagine a world with no high school guidance counsellors).  Krypton’s leading scientific genius Jor-El (Russell Crowe), and his wife have conceived a child the old-fashioned way, and Kal-El is the first Kryptonian born from a woman’s womb in centuries.  Krypton is dying, a victim of an insatiable hunger for energy, and Jor-El sees the birth of his son as Krypton’s best chance for survival.  Amid a military coup led by krypton’s top military officer, a genocidal General Zod (played magnificently by Michael Shannon), Jor-El sends his son to Earth, dying at Zod’s hands in the process.  Zod and his co-conspirators are exiled to the phantom zone for their crimes, but Krypton meets its end soon after, its destruction freeing Zod and his band from their celestial prison.  The surviving Kryptonians spend the next three decades salvaging what is left of their empire, it’s ruins scattered among the stars.  Eventually they discover Jor-El’s refugee son, hiding on Earth, a planet that could serve as a new Krypton to be built by the obsessively driven Zod.  And they aren’t keen on sharing their new world with humans.

Man of Steel succeeds in every way that Superman Returns failed in 2006.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that Kevin Spacey, Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth did adequate jobs in their respective roles, they just weren’t given much to work with.  And while Returns possessed some interesting ideas (like Lois and Superman’s love child) and using John Williams original score was a stroke of genius, everything else failed on an epic scope.  Large chunks of the script were taken directly from the original Superman, the plot had enormous holes in it and the film makers seemed to think that I was willing to slap down ten plus bucks to see Lex Luthor reduced to a gold digging, evil real estate agent and the climactic fight had Superman in one corner and a tidal wave in the other (Superman vs the tsunami probably didn’t help the film’s  under-achieving gross).

Man of Steel doesn’t suffer from any of those problems.  Henry Cavill is a perfect choice to play the titular character; he has the look, the acting chops and he worked hard to acquire the necessary physique.  Amy Adams portrays a fiercely independent and ballsy Lois Lane and Micheal Shannon’s convincingly ruthless Zod will earn him villain of the year honours.  Even the supporting cast does an excellent job, whether it be Kevin Costner and Diane Lane playing Johnathan and Martha Kent, the Kansas couple who discover and adopt the star lost child as their own, instilling in him the values that will guide him as he becomes the world’s greatest hero; or Lawrence Fishburne, playing a cranky but loveable Perry White, publisher of the Daily Planet.  The visual effects are outstanding and should receive more than a few Oscar nods come February, although there were a few that looked as though I could have been watching a cut scene from a PS3 game.  To say the action scenes are ambitious. is a gross understatement  Remember, these are scenes involving characters that can bench press continents and move at the speed of sound.  If you aren’t a fan of fast-moving visuals or loud noises, do not see this in IMAX.  Entire city blocks are demolished during some of the fight scenes (a few of the fight scenes do seem to drag a bit).

The story has enough human warmth and tenderness to compliment the eyeball busting effects and the massive action sequences.  Superman’s back story is relayed through a number of flashbacks, taking place in Smallville, Kansas, a town surrounded by wheat fields and where the coolest place to hang out is the local Ihop.  It’s like a rustic Norman Rockwell painting of the modern midwest, complete with a Sears outlet.  Man of Steel‘s carefully paced storytelling actually seems to have more of Christopher Nolan’s fingerprints on them than director Zack Snyder’s, which might be why Warner Brothers tagged him to produce.  There’s also some easter eggs for the die-hard Superman fans and a little setup for the inevitable sequels (Warner Brothers had already green lit a sequel before Man of Steel opened).

Man of Steel isn’t perfect, but it may likely be the best super hero movie out this summer (I’m going into July’s The Wolverine with low expectations).  Could it have been better?  Probably, but it could have been a lot, lot worse and as far as popcorn flicks go, I enjoyed Man of Steel as much as I did last summer’s The Avengers.  Now, if the powers that be take the same approach to their anticipated Justice League movie scheduled for 2015, it could well launch a whole series of successful film franchises for Warner Bros and DC.  Let’s hope Man of Steel‘s box office is enough to convince them.

Shayne Kempton