Last year, Ben Affleck was all set to direct, co-write and star in The Batman, the first solo outing for the character in the DC Extended Universe. Then he was no longer directing it. Then he was no longer co-writing it. Now, apparently he might not even be the star of the film.
Warner Bros. is reportedly looking for a way to “gracefully” usher Batfleck out of the DCEU even as Justice League is just months away from release, according to The Hollywood Reporter. It’s not clear at this moment when or how it will happen, but apparently we shouldn’t count on seeing Affleck in The Batman or, presumably, anything else beyond Justice League.
Exactly why this is happening isn’t entirely clear. Publicly, Warner Bros. has nothing but praise for Affleck as the Caped Crusader and his DCEU arc has set him up as de facto leader of the Justice League. It’s possible that Affleck himself just doesn’t want to add any more years to his superhero grind. He’s already dropped out of Netflix’s Triple Frontier to focus on “wellness and family,” and of course earlier this year he decided he would no longer direct The Batman.
War for the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves, who replaced Affleck as director, is eager to make a trilogy of Batman films, so it’s possible Affleck would just rather back out now instead of enduring at least another half-decade of contracted action movies. Or it’s possible that a power struggle has ensued, as Reeves recently confirmed that he’s tossing out Affleck’s script for the film. Reeves is a very hot director coming off a very acclaimed Apes franchise, so the studio might be backing him rather than continuing to bet on Affleck. Whatever the case, if this exit really does happen it feels like something that’s been building for a while as Affleck’s role in production has consistently diminished over the last few months. For the moment, Affleck is publicly still very much onboard. He’ll be at Warner Bros.’ Comic-Con panel tomorrow to talk about Justice League.
So, if this does happen – however “gracefully” – what will it mean for the DCEU? Well, one possibility is that Reeves will just make his trilogy of Batman films with a completely different actor while the Justice League timeline does its own thing. While it’s possible, that is very, very unlikely. Warner Bros. has spent years trying to get to this point in finally building a shared superhero universe. After years of catching flack for falling behind Marvel, they’re finally here and ready to unveil the Justice League. They’ve got high-caliber talent (Zack Snyder, Joss Whedon, Patty Jenkins) to pitch in on this universe and loads of money invested. They’re not about to just fragment it. So, there will be one DCEU, but could we have two Batmans?
There is, of course, quite a precedent for this in the comics. Dick Grayson (the original Robin) and the vigilante Jean-Paul Valley (aka Azrael) have both enjoyed runs in the Batsuit in Bruce Wayne’s absence. We know that a Grayson film is already in development. So, it’s quite possible we could see Batfleck retire, or die, or some weird combination of both (because comic book movies) only to have Dick Grayson take over in future films. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has already teased a past for Batman in which The Joker killed a previous Robin (in the comics, that’s Robin II Jason Todd), so presumably the backstory could be further mined for another protege. Or, perhaps a new protege. Either way, the idea of someone Bruce Wayne mentored taking over his hero role seems like the most likely possibility. Zack Snyder purposefully set up this Batman as an older, almost semi-retired hero. That feels like a built-in trapdoor for Affleck to make his exit.
But, maybe Warner Bros. is just really married to the idea of Bruce Wayne as Batman. Where do you go then? Alternate universes are not out of the question. The Justice League film is about to show us a battle with creatures from another planet, so why not another dimension? The concept of a “multiverse” (or lack thereof, depending on which story you read) is an integral part of DC Comics. The films could introduced that too, and give us an “Earth 2” Bruce Wayne to fill Affleck’s shoes. Or, Affleck could die and change appearance as part of his resurrection? Crazier things have happened. Or, DC could go the Terence Howard/Don Cheadle route and just recast the role without ever acknowledging it in the story. As long as Gal Gadot’s still there to anchor the thing, who would really mind that much?
It’s too early to tell exactly how Warner Bros. plans to play this. Perhaps we’ll get more details at Comic-Con this weekend, but that seems doubtful. For now, it feels like the other shoe has finally dropped on months of Batfleck drama. The studio will either weather the storm or move on.