Idea for a superhero movie: America needs rescuing from its superheroes. In a world where the public is menaced by will-this-do superhero movies, one man must save them by torpedoing the entire genre. Ben Affleck stars.
And so to news that the Gigli actor/Oscar-winning Argo director has been cast as Batman for director Zack Snyder's upcoming Superman-Batman mash-up, which has been met with a mostly outraged reaction. Within a few hours, a petition against Warner Bros was doing the rounds of the internet — and if that doesn't confirm how lame the fight between good and evil has become, then nothing does. "Sock!" "Pow!" "Electronic signature!"
Look, don't get me wrong about Affleck: he seems like a nice guy, and I was made up for him over that business with the Iranian hostage movie and the beardy Oscar and whatnot, even if best picture is an award also recently bestowed upon the likes of Crash and The Hurt Locker (huzzah for movies which dispense with yesteryear concepts like 'stories' and 'characters anyone could give a toss about'). But before Argo, Affleck had pretty much had to retire from being a frontline movie star because he almost without exception ensured any movie's eternal epithet would be "the Ben Affleck shocker —". As far as summoning horrible reviews and hysterical giggles, well, Affleck was like the bat-signal.
Bizarrely, though, the smelling salts were still being called for when news of his emBatment broke on Thursday night, as though the hire is some sort of aberration in the evolution of the American superhero movie, when in fact it is entirely of a piece with the direction of a genre which could really use a transformational event. Maybe it could be unbitten by a spider, or something.
One major problem, unfortunately, is that the US government has stolen all the superheroes' clothes. Not their literal clothes — the dress code of the White House situation room is still not believed to stipulate capes and pants worn on top of tights. But it has stolen their ideological garments. The American government now openly acts like a superhero. Historically, the thing about superheroes is that they're secretive and extrajudicial — they are vigilantes, who know you can't trust government, and they dispense swift justice outside the parameters of ordinary law enforcement. (They're always rightwing, obviously.) But these days, even the government appears not to trust the mechanics of the State, given its reliance on extrajudicial solutions — so you have to think superheroes have ceded their natural territory to the very establishment whose failings were supposed to have made them a necessity. "Special powers" are no longer things like the ability to fly or shoot projectile webs from your finger — they have become a questionably legal euphemism for the most sinister abuses of the president. Quick, to the Dronemobile! Actually, don't worry: this baby drives itself.
As for Batman's last outing in The Dark Knight Rises, I couldn't have been more excited to see that one on the day it opened last summer, and I couldn't have been more relieved to walk out of it after an hour and 45 minutes, still without the faintest clue what the villain wanted. I understand there was a full hour of the opus left to run, and that — spoiler coming right on up — it eventually falls to Catwoman to dispatch the baddie Bane. You know, I don't mean to be a stickler, but I don't go to the movies to watch Batman's girlfriend have to kill his enemies. In fact, I struggle to think of something more emasculating for Batman than that –— and that's before you consider that Catwoman apparently does it for him with a big, phallic rocket.
Honestly, who watches these watchmen? Gazillions, is the somewhat sobering answer — not that a strong box office should insulate the genre against people being allowed to wonder what it's doing with its life.