What turn of events could have suddenly made it clear to Ben Affleck that he can no longer direct and star in The Batman (which has always struck me, by the way, as a comically brain-dead title)? Affleck and Warner Bros. had been contractually committed to Affleck wearing both hats for the last 18 months so what changed their thinking?
I’ll tell you what happened. Live By Night happened.
I didn’t have that many issues with Affleck’s 1930s-era gangster flick (Robert Richardson‘s fine cinematography certainly made it one of the handsomest crime dramas I’ve ever seen), but the fact that Live By Night, which Affleck directed and starred in, lost $75 million plus the general critical impression that it felt a bit staid and listless and lacked that essential snap (32% Rotten Tomatoes, 49% Metacritic) must have scared the shit out of Warner Bros. honcho Kevin Tsujihara.
Affleck is obviously a skilled, Oscar-winning director-writer but somehow or other he developed cold Batman feet and Tsujihara was nervous enough about the possibility that Affleck might deliver Batman By Night that they both figured “fuck it, let’s not risk it…not this time.”
First portion of Affleck’s official explanation: “There are certain characters who hold a special place in the hearts of millions, [and] performing this role demands focus, passion and the very best performance I can give. It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require.”
Translation: “Although I directed and starred in The Town and the Best Picture-winning Argo, my spirit and confidence wilted after Live By Night tanked, and Kevin, ever attuned to the bottom line and stockholder concerns, is afraid that I might drop the ball in a similar fashion on The Batman. And so I decided that if Tsujihara doesn’t have 100% confidence in my wearing two hats on this thing, I’m not gonna fight him.
“I’m down, man…the failure of Live By Night was shattering. Plus I never really loved the idea of The Batman to begin with. The D.C. Batman lore has been milked to death — I know it, the public knows it. The idea of my directing The Batman was mainly just an opportunity for paycheck-and-points plus directing a successful superhero flick would give me extra power in negotiations down the line.”
Affleck was obviously on auto-pilot when he said that “performing this role” — i.e., playing Batman/Bruce Wayne — “demands focus, passion and the very best performance I can give.” Speaking in a bassy gravelly-gut voice behind a mask and otherwise doing the “guarded, aloof Bruce Wayne sipping a glass of champagne at a black-tie gathering” thing demands focus and passion?
Remainder of Affleck’s statement: “Together with the studio, I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film. I am still in this, and we are making it, but we are currently looking for a director. I remain extremely committed to this project, and look forward to bringing this to life for fans around the world.”