Beard: Casting BatmanWritten by Jim Beard | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman in the upcoming “Man of Steel” sequel. That’s the one and only time you’ll see the star’s name in this article because, when you get right down to it, the weight and merit of his abilities doesn’t really matter — it’s all about the character. Despite the Internet cracking in half once again upon hearing the news, the real question should be “Why would Warner Bros. cast a ‘name’ in the role?”
There’s no guarantee of success in casting a recognizable star in a superhero role, and especially not with Batman. Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowery of the 1940s serials were not household names, and Adam West of the infamous 1960s TV series was a virtual unknown before donning the cape and cowl.
It wasn’t until 1989’s big-budget bat-feature film that Warner decided a “name” was needed, and so the already-established Michael Keaton climbed into the Batmobile and a morass of controversy. Once Keaton finished his two turns in the mask, more “names” followed, namely Val Kilmer and George Clooney, who both brought little to the role, despite their pedigrees.
Was it the almost-universal panning of Clooney’s 1997 “Batman and Robin” that convinced the studio that a “name” wasn’t needed the next time out? Regardless, it took them eight years to figure it out. Christian Bale, arguably the most successful Batman of all, while not exactly a neophyte at the time of 2005’s “Batman Begins” was certainly not cruising on star-power; yet his bat-trilogy has raked in billions of dollars.
Let’s face facts here: When you add in the fact that the ’60s TV series was both a worldwide hit and a fiery fad, you must admit that the character trumps the man in the tights more often that not.
There’s a preconceived notion of Batman that we all carry around in our mind’s eye — whether or not we’re comic book fans — and when a star is shoehorned into the role — however good their intentions — what you get is not Batman, but “fill-in-the-blank as Batman.” That’s a gamble for a studio if they want even the slightest whiff of artistry wafting about their cash cows, because when the cow-chips are down, the man -on the street wants the Caped Crusader, not a well-known actor who professes to “love” the medium.
And pity poor Henry Cavill here, the still-somewhat unknown Superman of “Man of Steel.” Following in the footsteps of fellow newbies Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh, he probably thought he had a pretty good thing going after the box office numbers came in.
Now he’s got to go up against a “name” in the sequel to his own film and carry his weight while the audience focuses on his popular co-star … and, Great Rao! He’s Superman! Who’d blame him if he turned around and handed in his cape with a mumble of “This isn’t what I signed up for” on his lips?
So, after all that, why’s Warner dead set on pouring a “name” into the role this time around? Good question, but it may have something to do with the failure of Ryan Reynolds’ expensive glow-in-the-dark Green Lantern turkey and their continued nervousness over superhero films in the face of Marvel’s “can-do-no-wrong” string of movie hits. Sure, the suits at Warner Brothers may be taking a cue from Robert Downey Jr.’s casting as Iron Man, but to be real about it, Iron Man’s no Batman — a star in Tony Stark’s tin can was a definite plus.
But, as comic fans well know, Batman’s bigger than starpower, and Superman’s no slouch, either — their fame and universal appeal cannot be diminished by mere casting couches and uninspired boardroom decisions.
Beyond all the hype and controversy, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, Warner could hire an unemployed chiropractor to play the Dark Knight Detective — the mask hides all sins! — and the world would still line up to see the hero they love … no “names” need apply.