Ben Affleck: the king of controversy

As Batman v Superman is ridiculed by reviews, we breakdown the turbulent career of the new man in the batsuit. 

March 27, 2016

The last time we saw Batman, he was jetting off to enjoy a new life in the sun as Bruce Wayne, having again saved Gotham City from certain peril.

In The Dark Knight trilogy, Christian Bale successfully rejuvenated the Batman series for the modern era with considerable help from director Christopher Nolan and renowned cinematographer Wally Pfister.

They made Batman dark, emotionally conflicted, and somewhat believable – well, as believable as a billionaire who wears leather suits and jumps off buildings in his spare time can be. It would be a brave man who decided to climb inside the Batmobile next.

Enter one of Hollywood's kings of controversy and inconsistency: Ben Affleck.

Since his involvement was announced in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice mega-flick, Affleck has been on the receiving end of harsh criticism. After the first flood of teasers and trailers surfaced, fans of the series feared Affleck’s monotone and static approach he brings to many of his roles had found its way into Snyder’s film. 

Affleck’s voice and wardrobe choices also came under heavy fire. Even his chin – always on show thanks to the bat mask ­– got criticised. 

Of course, experiencing the slings and arrows of the public court that is Hollywood is nothing new for Affleck. His role-choices have been the cause of much of the heat, combined with an eventful personal life. Whether welcome or not, Affleck has spent the majority of his career in the tabloid spotlight.

The Oscar-winner has been a walking expose on modern Hollywood ever since he announced himself in the mid-1990s with Chasing Amy and then Good Will Hunting. Since the turn of the decade, Affleck has enjoyed being lauded as one of today’s finest working actors and directors, having made his directorial name with Gone Baby Gone, The Town and then with his biggest triumph, Argo.

So why then, when things are going so well, would he put himself forward for a movie that was already laced with controversy, and a character that had not-long been aced by one of the best actors on the circuit? Well, to his credit, it seems Affleck had been lured by the challenge.

“Batman is basically the American version of Hamlet,” he said of the role in 2015. “We accept that he’s played by actors with different interpretations. 

It was a huge gamble, and after the many scathing reviews of the film since it hit cinema screens at the weekend, it seems it may have been one that has not paid off for Affleck. 

The rise of Affleck and the ultimate bromance 

Affleck owes much of his success to his close friend and fellow Hollywood juggernaut, Matt Damon. Affleck suffered a slow and uneventful start to life in feature films in the mid-90s, with flicks such as Glory Daze and Mallrats in 1995.

However, some way through this journey, he began lodging with Damon, who was adapting an old school script. The two of them collaborated on the screenplay and sold it to Miramax in the late 90s as Good Will Hunting. The pair took up lead roles in the film, alongside Robin Williams, and walked away with an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 1997.

Affleck and Damon won more hearts when they delivered one of the most genuine and heartfelt acceptance speeches of all-time. Affleck quivered, “There’s no way we’re doing this in 20 seconds,” before he and Damon reeled off a list of thank yous in tandem, like two kids playing a travel game on a long car journey.

Good Will Hunting catapulted both actors to fame within the next 12 months. Affleck was immediately rewarded with a leading role in the space-epic Armageddon, while Damon took a better path in Steven Spielberg’s war-time classic Saving Private Ryan, alongside double-Oscar-winner Tom Hanks. 

Crashing back down to Earth

As Damon’s rise showed little sign of slowing, with strong performances in well-received movies such as The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ocean’s Eleven, and The Bourne Identity, Affleck’s heartthrob status led him down a sorry path towards a typecast, average actor with a growing list of failed flicks.

Pearl Harbour (2001), Daredevil (2003), and Gigli (2003), all did little to grow his stature as a leading actor, with the LA Times labelling him a “passable actor, but a lousy star. The bigger the movie, the worse he comes across.”

“I have regrets about Daredevil,” admits Affleck. “I have regrets about all the movies I don’t think were executed properly.” 

Affleck’s screen woes followed him into his personal life. After very publically calling off his engagement to Jennifer Lopez in 2004 and therefore ending the showbiz phenomenon of ‘Bennifer’, he took an acting hiatus in order to escape the media microscope.

“I think Jen and I made a mistake in that we fell in love,” he said. “We were excited and maybe too accessible. I don’t think either of us anticipated the degree to which it would take on a world of its own." 

Damon would later claim in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, “There’s nobody who’s more misunderstood [than Affleck].” 

“It was like he was being cast in a role, that he was a talentless kind of meathead. With his whole relationship with Jennifer Lopez, it was really painful. It was painful to be his friend, because it wasn’t fair, you know?”

The resurrection of Ben

But you can’t keep a good man down. After marrying Jennifer Garner in 2005 whom he met on the set of Daredevil (at least something good came of that movie), Affleck was back on screen, and receiving plaudits for performances on both sides of the camera. Directing his brother Casey in 2007’s Gone Baby Gone resulted in a surprising hit at the box office and was applauded by critics.

He followed that with an actor/director role in The Town, before taking home an Oscar for Best Picture, as well as a Golden Globe and the Director’s Guild of America award for Best Director for the Iranian hostage drama Argo. The true-story of six American diplomats being smuggled out of the country by posing as film-makers showed a side of Affleck not previously seen since Good Will Hunting 15 years before. 

Damon summed it up by saying, “Through his work, he climbed from the bottom of the mountain all the way back up to the top and past where either of us had ever been.” 

His biggest gamble to date

It’s surprising to some that Affleck would go anywhere near Snyder’s Man of Steel follow-up. From a character perspective, playing Batman in this era would be much like taking over the role of James Bond from Daniel Craig (good luck to whoever has a crack at that).

It seems Affleck just cannot shy away from controversy. Late last year it was reported the actor’s marriage to Garner was in trouble amid allegations of an affair with his children’s nanny. Then came the news that the couple were divorcing after ten years of marriage. When you’re about to take on one of the most challenging roles of your career and you need all the fans you can get, Affleck’s timing could not have been worse.

However, on Affleck’s side is the behemoth that is Warner Bros. Rumour has it, the studio’s first look at the completed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was so well received, it pushed two of Affleck’s films back in order to accommodate his on-going stint in the cape. 

Now we know the negativity of the film’s initial reviews, was that really a huge vote of confidence for what Warner Bros. consider to be an excellent career-defining performance? Or just some PR puff to bolster Affleck for the wounds that they knew would be coming?

Whichever it was, Affleck’s career is continuing unabashed in its familiar, turbulent way.