The internet was aflutter last week when our first look at Robert Pattinson in the upcoming film The Batman was released online, but in an alternate universe we’d be getting a look at Ben Affleck in his first standalone Batman movie. After much coaxing from Warner Bros., Affleck agreed in 2016 to direct The Batman from a script he was working on with Geoff Johns. The film was intended to follow Justice League, which would be Affleck’s second Batman movie after his debut as a grizzled version of the caped crusader in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In January 2017, Affleck stepped down from the director’s chair but still (publicly) intended to star in the film, and by January 2019 it was official: Affleck was leaving The Batman altogether.
So what happened? Why did Ben Affleck leave The Batman? That’s undoubtedly a complicated question, as response to Affleck’s casting in Batman v Superman in the first place was met with hot takes aplenty. Reviews for Affleck’s performance in the eventual film were kind, but then production of Justice League was something of a mess—director Zack Snyder’s original vision was reworked during filming due to the lackluster response to Batman v Superman, and eventually Joss Whedon was hired to write and direct significant reshoots. What was intended to be a triumphant DC superhero team-up film was a genuine disaster that was released to little fanfare and a ho-hum response when the neutered version of the film finally hit theaters.
That whole experience was certainly trying for Affleck, who you’ll recall at this point is an Oscar-winning screenwriter and producer with a successful directing career of his own. But at the time that The Batman was coming together, Affleck’s personal life was also suffering, and in a candid new profile in the New York Times, the actor and filmmaker opened up about how he began drinking heavily while his marriage was falling apart:
“I drank relatively normally for a long time. What happened was that I started drinking more and more when my marriage was falling apart. This was 2015, 2016. My drinking, of course, created more marital problems.”
Coming off the reaction to Batman v Superman, the “Sad Batman” meme from that film’s press junket, and the troubled production of Justice League, a friend of Affleck’s cautioned against wading back into the DC waters with The Batman:
“I showed somebody The Batman script,” Affleck recalled. “They said, ‘I think the script is good. I also think you’ll drink yourself to death if you go through what you just went though again.”
Indeed, the NY Times piece says the cursed shoot for Justice League “sapped his interest” in returning as the character. Rumors swirled in the summer of 2017 that Affleck was exiting the role of Batman altogether, but that news wasn’t made official until January of 2019. This is entirely conjecture on my part, but it’s possible that Affleck had already made known to Warner Bros. that he wanted out in 2017, but the studio still had Justice League and other DC films to promote and didn’t want to further dissuade audiences from buying a ticket. Hence why the actor’s exit from the role wasn’t made official until long after Justice League had already crashed and burned at the box office and the studio had decided to move away from an interconnected universe idea.
All’s well that ends well, though. Most importantly, Affleck seems healthy and sober now, and can next be seen onscreen in the Warner Bros. drama The Way Back about a reluctant basketball coach struggling with alcoholism and the end of his marriage. Affleck says in the NY Times profile he found the experience of making The Way Back cathartic, and it sounds like it was likely a better use of his time than trying to appease a swath of comic book audiences with a new Batman movie.
And on that front, director Matt Reeves is spearheading The Batman, which is now in production with a stacked ensemble. That film now looks to be more of a reboot than a piece of the DCEU puzzle that WB and Zack Snyder first envisioned, but sometimes life has other plans.
I’ll forever be bummed that Affleck’s unique take on Batman never fully got the movie he deserved, but you have to respect the man for bowing out of The Batman altogether for the sake of his health and his family.