By now you've probably heard the news that, at least according to early reports, Ben Affleck is Warner Bros. choice to direct their upcoming Justice League movie, which would essentially be The Avengers for DC heroes like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and company. The choice makes sense on one level, because Affleck made the highly successful Gone Baby Gone and The Town for the studio. But a superhero movie is pretty much nothing like the films Affleck has made before, which means the news took a lot of us by surprise.
With no confirmation yet on whether Affleck will take the job, we're still really intrigued by the choice-- and among at least two of us, really divided on whether he's the right guy to do it. So welcome to our latest Great Debate, in which Eric and Katey debate the pros and cons of bringing in the Guy Once Known As Gigli to direct a massive, important superhero movie. Take a look at our argument below, and then weigh in with your own vote in the poll at the bottom of the post.
ERIC:I totally understand why people might be down on the idea of having Ben Affleck direct a Justice League movie. While he did kick off his career by winning an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, he managed to completely soil his career and reputation in the mid-00s by allowing himself to be cast in some truly horrific movies like Surviving Christmas, Paycheck and, most notoriously, Gigli. While some people still laugh at and mock these projects – and they really do deserve to be mocked and laughed at – it’s really not the part of Affleck’s career that people should be focusing on.
But he's a solid choice for a Justice League film because he has proven himself to be a more-than-competent filmmaker who understands story and character. As thrilling as the action sequences in The Avengers were – and they were truly fantastic – what made the movie work wasn’t all the things going kaboom, but rather all the moments in-between when the team was establishing a dynamic and learning to work with each other. And while Affleck has never really directed a movie that can be considered an ensemble, both Gone Baby Gone and The Town are both driven by their characters, and that’s exactly what a Justice League movie needs to do.
KATEY:My problem with Affleck directing Justice League really has nothing to do with his checkered past-- hey, we've all made mistakes! It's exactly those films you're praising that makes me think he ought to stay away. Yeah, he showed a deep interest in character with The Town and Gone Baby Gone-- but he also showed interest in proving his own voice as a filmmaker, and one that would inevitably be drowned out by the demands of a superhero franchise. Affleck is just getting his legs as a director; why leap immediately into a franchise that, if it goes the Whedon or Nolan or route, might take over the next 10 years of his life?
And yeah, I brought up Whedon, who like Affleck was an unproven director when he took on The Avengers. But Whedon has always been all about world-building in his TV shows, and as evidenced by the deal he's signed with Marvel, he's taking those instincts to be able to tinker with this pre-established universe. But Affleck seems more interested in tackling realistic characters who exist in the real world, not cooking up something new on his own. I'm just not sure he's got that same master-builder bug that Nolan and Whedon do, and it seems like he could grow a lot more as a filmmaker by choosing more of his own projects going forward.
ERIC: I find it interesting that you mention Nolan because he may be the exact example of why this is the perfect time in Affleck’s career to direct a superhero movie like The Justice League. People forget that Nolan only directed three movies - Following, Memento and Insomnia - before being brought in by Warner Bros. to direct Batman Begins.
But Nolan is also a director who makes great studio blockbuster films and then using that fact as leverage to make his pet projects. If it weren’t for Batman there probably isn’t a studio on Earth that would have given Nolan the money he needed to make Inception, but Warner Bros. made it happen and was rewarded as a result. If Affleck has a project he’s aching to make but can’t find any way to fund, this is his golden ticket.
I think you are also possibly ignoring the fact that this could be a movie that Affleck would love to direct. He grew up as a fan of comics, has had roles connected to the medium in the past with characters in titles like Daredevil and Hollywoodland, and nobody spends that much time around Kevin Smith without buying a few hardcovers and a stack of single-issues. Would it be a completely different kind of moviemaking than what he’s shown us so far? Absolutely. Would the rules in his development process have to change dramatically? For sure. But it might actually be worth it for him.
KATEY: Alright, your Nolan example almost has me convinced, because he really did manage to adopt a franchise without letting it drown out everything else. But Affleck, no matter what love he may have for superhero movies, just doesn't seem to have the same giant ambitions that Nolan does, or even Whedon does. His movies have been character-driven and with small stakes, in exactly the way you might expect for an actor. He seems to be modeling his career off Robert Redford or Clint Eastwood, actors who became directors so they could create the kinds of characters they'd want to play. Not to say that you can't get good characters into a superhero movie, but it's a different kind of beast, and one that Affleck wasn't angling for before.
Then again, Argo could come out and be full of explosions and big action and we'll all see how perfect he is for it. And superhero movies are filled with directors who didn't seem right for it at first, from Joss Whedon and Marc Webb this year way back to Sam Raimi. I don't want to be negative about anything when I don't know what's happening, but I just don't want to see Affleck reach for the brass ring on this and leave behind what's been most promising about his career so far.