If you’re a movie studio with a major, interlocking superhero franchise, the last thing you want before heading into San Diego Comic-Con is a bombshell story that one of your stars is half out the door. Being kneecapped before the Geek Super Bowl is just as harmful as before the Sportsball Super Bowl. But this is exactly what happened to Warner Bros. last week when news broke that Ben Affleck may not be asked back to play Batman in the near future. Of course, the studio trotted out its chief Toby Emmerich to say “Ben is our Batman. We love him as Batman. We want to keep him in the cowl as long as we can,” but anyone versed in Hollywood double-speak know anything other than a solid denial is not a denial at all. “As long as we can,” is not the same as saying “Ben Affleck is our Batman. Full stop.”
That news broke on July 21, 2017. The very next day, Warner Brothers hosted their Hall H panel which included bringing the entire Justice League (minus Henry Cavill) on stage to roaring cheers. I was present and live-blogging the panel and was convinced no one would dare mention the rumors. But then moderator Chris Hardwick directly asked Ben Affleck if he was leaving the DCEU. Somehow Affleck’s response cause a flurry of articles to be written entitled things like “Affleck squashes exit rumors,” and “Affleck denies he’s leaving Batman role.” I find these extremely odd, because that’s not what he said. This is.
“I am the luckiest guy in the world. Batman is the coolest part and I’m so thrilled to do it. It’s f*cking amazing and I still can’t believe it after two films.”
Affleck also added that just because he wasn’t directing the Batman solo movie any more doesn’t mean he isn’t enthusiastic about the character or Matt Reeves taking over. But nowhere in that statement did Ben Affleck confirm he was staying on with the DCEU to play Batman indefinitely. He didn’t even confirm he would be Batman past Justice League. Being “lucky” to play a cool part like Batman is not the same as denying rumors that he’s being ushered out the door. In fact, I’d argue a non-answer like that at the biggest geek venue in the world the day after the rumors began swirling is more of an indicator that said rumors are accurate. Warner Bros. has some of the best publicists in the game; if they wanted to flat out deny Affleck was out they would’ve crafted a carefully worded statement to either release immediately or have Ben Affleck say on stage to assuage fears. Instead, fans got “It’s been an honor.” That doesn’t exactly engender confidence.
As the original Hollywood Reporter article pointed out, Ben Affleck will be pushing 50 by the time The Batman happens (if it happens). I would suggest that should Warner Bros. and Affleck work through whatever their issues are, maybe Bruce Wayne should just be Old Man Batman from Batman Beyond and pass the baton to Nightwing or something. But if you’re holding your breath for another decade of Batfleck in the cowl? You’re probably gonna pass out.