Being Ben Affleck must be like riding a rollercoaster in a whirlwind. He has known ecstatic highs (winning a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon) and nausea-inducing lows, notably, when he became a walking punchline after making Gigli with his then-partner Jennifer Lopez—with whom, let us not forget, he also became the first recipient of the now-customary hybrid tabloid brand name. (Yes, before Brangelina there was Bennifer.) He takes all that with extremely good grace, which is why it’s no surprise to see how he has handled the most recent onslaught of opprobrium. This has been directed at him over the announcement that he will play Batman in Zach Snyder’s forthcoming Superman sequel Man of Steel 2.
I know, I know—this was supposed to be the moment when the world gave Affleck a break. How can any year which began with him winning a Best Picture Oscar (for the rather lacklustre Argo, which he directed and starred in) end up with Affleck back in the bad books? Well, it’s only the case if you listen to the most toxic, insidious and ramshackle fraternity in the entire entertainment universe. Not the studio executives. (And no, not the critics, before any of you wiseacres try that one.) I’m talking about They Who Must Never Be Heeded. In other words: the fans.
When the Batman news broke, the “fans”—I’m putting it in quote marks because they are patently fans of nothing but their own opinions—wasted no time complaining. This, to their minds, was the worst news of all time, or at least since they were last distracted from World of Warcraft for five minutes by the supposedly cataclysmic casting decision before this one. 90,000 people with nothing better to do signed their names to a petition calling for Affleck’s casting to be overturned. He dealt with it neatly on a US talk show this week: “I’m a big boy. [The studio] said just don’t use the internet for a couple of days … I’m very tough. I saw the announcement, I look down on the first comment … the first one just goes, ‘Nooooooooo!’”
As Affleck must know, this is the sort of palaver with which any change in the fanboy movie world is always greeted. In the pre-Twitter era, some 50,000 Batman fans were incensed enough to crack open the green ink and dash off letters to Warner Bros when it was announced in 1988 that Michael Keaton had been cast as Batman in Tim Burton’s first superhero film. Now, of course, any sane viewer can see that Keaton’s subtle, even sexy, portrayal of Batman as a tentative loner represented an oasis of contemplation in the midst of that chaotic movie; it also laid the groundwork for Christian Bale’s recent interpretation, which the braying hordes probably consider definitive. It isn’t. Film is cyclical. For all we know, moviegoers of the future will regard Bale’s Batman much as we now regard Roger Moore’s James Bond.
Talking of Bond, Daniel Craig’s casting provided another recent example of wrong-headed pre-emptive outrage. His arrival heralded a brave shift of tone for the Bond series, so it seems laughable now that his appointment was so derided, though in that instant the media were as blameworthy as the fans. “The press complained because he was blond, and said he looked like Vladimir Putin,” said Martin Campbell, who directed Craig’s first Bond film, Casino Royale. “I asked Daniel, ‘Do you listen to all this crap?’ He said, ‘Yeah. What I do is I make sure I’ve seen it all and that everyone on set knows what’s been in the press, then there’s nothing to hide.’ I thought that was a very perceptive way of dealing with it.”
In retail, the customer is always right. But we should remember that these hypothetical customers are only usually involved at the consumption end of the deal: they’re not patrolling the factory floor saying “Don’t use a screw of that diameter—are you goddamn nuts?” or “Only a freakin’ moron would make a chair like that!” If they are “right,” it is only ever after the fact. And so with the fans. Let them moan and bitch and whinge once Man of Steel 2 is released in 2015. Let them squeal to their shrivelled, unimaginative hearts’ content. Until then: put a sock in it.