Just months after Hollywood lauded Ben Affleck as a heavyweight actor-turned-director he surprised everyone by returning to comic book blockbusters, stepping into the recently vacated cowl of the Batman.
Warner Bros announced that the 41-year old, the toast of Tinseltown when he picked up the best film Oscar for Argo in February, would follow in the footsteps of Christian Bale and Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader in the forthcoming sequel to Man of Steel.
Greg Silverman, president of the studio, said: “We knew we needed an extraordinary actor to take on one of DC Comics’ most enduringly popular superheroes, and Ben Affleck certainly fits that bill and then some.”
Affleck had described Argo, which he directed and starred in, as giving him a “second act” after a string of questionable big-budget films including comic-book turkey Daredevil. That movie, he said in 2006, had “inoculated myself from ever playing another superhero”.
The news, predictably, sent social media into a spin, while a poll on the website of industry bible Variety found that out of more than 75,000 voters, 77 per cent thought Affleck was the wrong choice.
Steve Walsh, bookseller at Gosh! Comics, said: “Every time a new Batman is announced, we are told it will be a nightmare and will destroy the franchise.
“I think Ben Affleck will be very good. He has the physicality to pull off the Batman stuff and playing charming playboy-tycoon Bruce Wayne won’t be a stretch.”
He pointed out there was huge outcry when Heath Ledger was unveiled as the Joker in The Dark Knight, while Keaton’s casting as Batman in 1989 prompted fans to burn their comics, “and he was great”.
It is a tough role. While the recent trilogy starring Christian Bale made billions of dollars for the studio, attempts to cast George Clooney and Val Kilmer in the role met with mixed reviews.
Warner Bros revealed at Comic-Con last month that Batman and Superman would appear together for the first time onscreen.
Man of Steel, itself a reboot of the Superman franchise starring Brit Henry Cavill in the title role, was a global box office success this summer, taking more than $650m.
The follow up does not have a title so far, but will again be directed by Zack Snyder, and star Cavill alongside Amy Adams.
Snyder said: “Ben provides an interesting counter-balance to Henry’s Superman. He has the acting chops to create a layered portrayal of a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter, but retain the charm that the world sees in billionaire Bruce Wayne.”
Christopher Nolan, who successfully rebooted the Batman franchise with Bale as the lead, is an executive producer. The film starts shooting next year and will be released in cinemas in summer 2015.
Mr Walsh said: “Many people’s initial response was that Affleck shouldn’t be Batman because he was in a bad Daredevil film. That’s an odd idea, Daredevil was a very different role.”
Among the humorous responses were Chris Rock and Richard Dreyfuss who both lamented their missing out on the role, and even shadow chancellor Ed Balls who tweeted a picture of himself in a comedy Batman mask.
Affleck has played George Reeves in a biopic about the former Superman actor, and is a comic book fan. “He loves comics,” Mr Walsh said. “It will be interesting to see someone in the role who is, if not immersed in comics, he is certainly surrounded by them.”
Caped crusaders: The men behind the mask
The first Batman
Wilson was the first actor to play a live action Batman on screen in 1943. He was pitted against a Japanese spy called Dr Daka.
The camp Batman
In bulging Lycra and with comic-book bubbles heralding his every punch, West’s classic TV series Batman, with Burt Ward as Robin, ran for 120 episodes between 1966 and 1968.
The left-field Batman
He was a surprise choice for Tim Burton’s gothic reinvention of the Caped Crusader but was well received. Came back for a sequel.
The marginalised Batman
The family-friendly version did well at the box office, but Kilmer did not return, feeling he had been marginalised.
The gay Batman
Clooney has revealed in interviews that he “could have played Batman straight, but I made him gay” for the 1997 Batman And Robin, which received a critical drubbing.
The blockbuster Batman
As dark as the Dark Knight gets, in the most successful and acclaimed interpretation, taking more than $1bn.