I wish I could say I was disappointed right now, but the truth is, I am far past that point.
I wish I could say I was surprised, but that emotion too has long since gone out the window, right alongside your collective sense of shame, class, dignity, logic, and most importantly, patience.
No, what I really feel right now, less than 24 hours after seeing Twitter, forums, and entertainment websites all explode at the news of Ben Affleck’s casting as Batman in Zack Snyder’s upcoming Batman vs. Superman film, is exhaustion. Exhaustion tinged with anger and bitterness, because this cycle of overreaction during largely uninformed circumstances is slowly driving me crazy, but exhaustion nevertheless.
Last night, I was out of the house for six hours or so attending a screening of Edgar Wright’s incomparable Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy. A glorious time was had by all, as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are masterpieces and classics, and The World’s End lived up to every bit of that reputation and then some. For six blissful hours, I got to forget about the current, underwhelming state of mainstream cinema, escape from the pervading cynicism of the online entertainment community (which includes both the people who write film news and the readers who comment on it, myself included on both sides of the equation), and instead focus solely on enjoying and digesting three truly tremendous movies.
At the end of the day, that is all I personally want out of my relationship with cinema – good movies that provide fulfilling experiences and make me think and feel both while I watch and long after I leave the theatre. Everything else – save actual discussion of the art itself, be it through writing, recording, or in person – is, to me, is a distraction.
And I was reminded of how much I despise those distractions when I got home last night, high on the energy of the Cornetto films, only to find my Twitter feed ablaze with people talking about – or, should I say, complaining/poking fun at – Ben Affleck’s casting as Batman. My personal thoughts were something along the lines of: “Huh. Didn’t necessarily see that coming, but I can see it working. I will be interested to see what comes of this in two years time.” Naively, I thought other people might be on the same wavelength – a quiet, initial burst of interest, followed by moving on to something else instead of spending the next two years wringing hands over a casting choice we know next to nothing about.Next
As I got deeper in my Twitter feed, I realized it wasn’t going to be that easy. I may have been perfectly content to wait until 2015, when the movie will actually be arriving in theatres, to make substantive judgments on Affleck’s casting, but the Internet is not that patient. The Internet wants to judge Affleck now, to speak of his casting as though they have seen the movie, are aware of his (and the filmmakers’) specific interpretation, and are generally omniscient in all things related to this bit of news. And of course, the Internet, for the most part, wants to do so in the most immature, childish way possible.
So we already have two separate Change.Org petitions to remove Affleck from the role (I would say Change.Org loses all credibility because of this, but that happened a long time ago). We have Twitter hashtags mocking the choice, and countless people thinking themselves clever for bashing Affleck, Snyder, and Warner Bros. in 140 characters or less. We have forums, talkbacks, and comment threads aflame with people explaining how they would do things differently (or, more likely, resorting to petty name-calling and such), as if they have (or should have) any control in the creative direction of a film the world knows nothing about, because a script has not even yet been completed.
And my reaction, as stated above, is one of exhaustion. On some level, it does not even matter to me what the general online atmosphere about this news is – what bothers me is that the news has, in less than 24 hours, become so incredibly all-consuming. And at this point, I just don’t have the energy for this any more. I don’t have the energy to care strongly, one way or the other, about a project that is at least two full years from arriving in theatres. It is the same way I feel about Star Wars Episode VII, or Avengers: Age of Ultron, or any of the other big 2015 releases we have spent the majority of 2013 talking about. My favorite part of being a film fan, as I previously noted, is watching and discussing movies in the here and now – not dealing in broad hypotheticals about movies that will one day exist. When those movies arrive, and we have something tangible to examine and discuss, I will be happy to participate in the critical debate – because at that point, the movies will actually matter. Right now, they do not, because they do not exist. And when there are plenty of movies that do exist being released into theatres every week, and hundreds of thousands more that have existed for much longer and are still 100% worthy of evaluation, I think it is borderline insane to devote more than a modicum of energy to films that have yet to even be scripted, let alone filmed, edited, or released.Previous Next
Case in point: Before last night, when the Affleck news broke, everybody on Twitter was abuzz with excitement for The World’s End. As well they should have been, not only because it is a truly great movie, but because it is relevant. It exists, not hypothetically in the future, but here and now. It is in theatres, easily accessible and ready to be experienced, enjoyed, discussed, and debated. I was overjoyed to see Twitter embracing the movie so fully, even before I had seen it, because for once, the entertainment world was talking about something that mattered, not something that may or may not matter dozens of months down the road.
And then the Affleck news broke and all that went away. No more talk of real movies. No more meaningful discourse about films we should all concentrate on enjoying now, in the moment. Just a whole lot of tweets about Ben Affleck and a film that may or may not arrive in theatres two July’s from now. And that annoys and exhausts me to end because I really, really liked the idea of the Internet actually calming down for a few moments and focusing on the cinematic world as it exists right now. I liked the idea of a great, landmark dramatic comedy like The World’s End driving the cinematic discourse for a couple of days, rather than a product that has yet to even be fully conceived by its creators. But I guess that was all just too good to be true, because living in the moment is hard for people (which is, coincidentally, a theme of The World’s End, albeit with characters looking to the past rather than the future).
To be clear, my disappointment goes for people ardently defending Affleck’s casting as much as it does those endlessly mocking the man. Either way, people discussing this casting in any detail whatsoever are trying to make something out of nothing, and I am tired of that. At its full potential, the Internet should be making something out of something, not blowing a lot of hot air around about largely meaningless news.Previous Next
Because here’s the thing: All we literally know about this situation is that a good actor has been cast as Batman. That is not an opinion. One does not get to argue about that. It is simply a statement of fact. That does not mean you have to personally like Ben Affleck, or be a crazy devotee of every single movie he has ever made, but when performances like his work in The Town or Argo or To The Wonder or State of Play or Hollywoodland exist, and are readily accessible and objectively solid-to-excellent pieces of acting, you do not get to claim Affleck is a less-than-good actor. Because he isn’t. He had a stretch in his career when he made an awful lot of bad decisions about which movies to star in and how to approach those roles, but pretending that this is still the status quo for the man is just that: pretending. Such an insistence has no basis in reality.
And on the flipside, people trying desperately to convince the rest of the Internet that Affleck is the right choice are also overreacting and wasting our collective time. If I see one more person go “Well the Internet complained about Heath Ledger as the Joker at first too,” I am going to throw my computer through a wall. That’s not the point, and in its own way, that argument is just as bad as insisting Affleck will be terrible, because it is using the example of one of the most inspired casting choices in modern cinematic history, and therefore connecting a performance that has not even been given to an endlessly iconic piece of acting. I get what people are trying to say with that statement – never count someone out until you see the finished product – but I still find it overly presumptive. People arguing this point should instead be saying that “the Internet complains about everything no matter how much information they are or are not given, so everybody shut up and wait to see the movie.” That is a counter-argument I can get behind.
Affleck could be a great Batman. Or he could flame out spectacularly in the role. There is absolutely no way to know which one will be the eventual outcome because again, at this point, all we know is that a good actor has been cast. And good actors can be wrong for certain parts. People defending and decrying the choice alike are ignoring the fact that we have no way to know whether or not Affleck will be a good fit, not only because we haven’t seen the movie, but because we lack even a mildly clear indication of where Snyder, David S. Goyer, and the team at Warner Bros want to go with the character this time around. That, to me, is a much more important part of the equation than who has been cast – interpretation has to come first when building a character, and that is especially true when reestablishing an icon.
If Snyder wanted to go in an Adam West direction, for whatever reason, Affleck obviously would be a dreadful choice. If he wanted to go down a more Animated Series-esque route, in which Bruce Wayne is a strong, decisive businessman and Batman a confident but vulnerable superhero, Affleck is probably a tad too deadpan. But if Snyder is envisioning a take similar to what Frank Miller or Tim Burton did in the 1980s, with a dark, brooding Batman and a visibly detached Bruce Wayne? Sure, Affleck’s specific skill set fits that interpretation. And if they are simply going to try recreating Christopher Nolan’s take, with tortured playboy Bruce Wayne and impossibly dark Batman, they should stop right now and reevaluate, because Christian Bale already did that, and no one else could do it as well.Previous Next
But again, all of this is nothing more than idle, uninformed speculation, which is all we have to discuss at this point. And if that is the case – if there is literally nothing of substance to be said as of now other than “a good actor has been cast to play Batman” – then what I ask from the Internet is silence. I want the Internet to shut up about this and focus its collective attention elsewhere, to something that is actually relevant right now, in August of 2013, and not return to talking about Affleck and Batman for another two summers, when the discussion actually has a degree of relevancy or significance.
I know that is probably too much to ask. I know the Internet has become far too attention-deficit to live in the moment, or even the near future. It is simply the state of entertainment culture and reporting right now. This very website is guilty of it – we make our money reporting on the news stories we think people are interested in, which often involve projects far off in the future. We are fueled by the hyperactive fandom, and yet we also give fuel to it by perpetuating the cycle; it is just the way things go right now. I consider my work in film criticism to be my primary role as a writer, for both We Got This Covered and other publications, so I try to remove myself as much as possible from writing or reading about far-off projects (I personally do not even like watching or covering trailers). As long as I work online, though, or am involved in online communities, there is only so much I can avert my attention from, both as an active and passive participant. And at this point, the amount of attention being given to the future, always at the expense of the present, is seriously eroding my love for this medium. It has already sapped nearly every ounce of enthusiasm I once had for mainstream cinema.
The question I ask is this: If we invest ourselves entirely in the future, always debating and discussing the hypothetical ‘next big thing’ rather than focusing our energies on what actually exists to engage with in the world right now, then what chance can we possibly have of properly enjoying (or reviling) Affleck’s Batman when he actually arrives in 2015? If we expend all our praise and vitriol before there is anything to get emotional about either way, what will we have left when the product actually arrives? Do movies themselves even matter to us anymore, or is it the hype that we crave?
If the answer is the latter, then more power to you, Internet – you and I no longer see eye to eye, and I may have to extricate myself from this increasingly uncomfortable relationship.
But if, deep down, what we really want is the former – real, tangible movies that we can debate, discuss, and revel in – then I think we all need to clean up our act and get back to basics. Stop chasing every piece of casting news like it is the Holy Grail. Stop working ourselves up over information that literally does not matter. Stop ignoring current or older movies to focus on upcoming ones.
And most importantly, we need to quit prioritizing the future at the expense of the present. Because no matter what your opinion, stance, or viewpoint may be, constantly living outside of concrete moments is never a path to a happy, fulfilling fandom – nor, indeed, a worthwhile life.
Jonathan R. Lack
P.S. – Send me hate mail on Twitter @JonathanLack – or, if you feel more positively inclined towards me, buy my book about the art of film criticism, Fade to Lack, at www.fadetolack.com. Be warned, though – it was written before the ‘great hype breaking point’ of 2013, and is therefore much more optimistic about cinema in general.Previous