Justice League Movie: Ben Affleck Talks Renewing Batman
We were on the set of Justice League to chat with Ben Affleck about Batman's renewed faith in humanity for the film.
Batman costumes have come a long way since the days of Michael Keaton. Once upon a time, an actor playing the Dark Knight would have to be buried under 70 pounds of rubber and forced to sit in it for the next eight hours, but while on the set of the Justice League movie this past week, I was surprised at how quickly crew members were able to get Ben Affleck in and out of his dark gray suit with relative ease.
Sure, it took over five minutes in each direction, and the look on his face is definitely not one of joy as the cowl is strapped on and off, but Affleck was quickly out and in good spirits when he bounded over to the journalists visiting the set.
We didn’t expect to have 14 minutes to chat with Affleck about donning the cowl for a second time. Yet, luckily for me and everyone else there with a recorder, Mr. Affleck had no qualms about coming over to say hello with the raccoon-eye makeup still surrounding his pupils.
Friendly and quick to enjoy the absurdity of how he was dressed, Affleck discussed at length with us how the Batman in Justice League is different from the one in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, how the film itself has a lighter tone, and just how his role in this film, both as star and executive producer, will affect his own upcoming solo Batman movie.
This sounds like a different Batman a little bit that battles flying monkeys. He’s got a little bit of an attitude.
Yes, and a little bit more sardonic humor, a little more irony. He’s a little bit more of a man on a mission this time, as opposed to how he was so full of anger because of what happened at that [alien attack] last time. That kind of colored the whole character, that sort of rage that possessed him. Now, he’s on a mission to get this group together to constitute this League. [He has] more of that sort of Bruce Wayne wry, ironic gallows humor coming out. It’s not like “ha ha” jokey, but it’s a little bit of his darker humor stuff that is present.
Does he still have a hard time playing with others?
Yeah, you know, that’s the interesting thing about this Batman. On the one hand, he’s sort of the ultimate loner, and on the other, he’s tasked with putting together a group. So, is like the guy who broods in a cave all day really the best person to put together a team of superheroes? And he doesn’t have huge success initially. He may rub some people the wrong way or they rub him the wrong way. He’s got to learn how to play well with others; he barely plays well with Alfred! [Laughs]
Well, it seems like the Flash is a little bit of a Robin-esque character because he’s younger.
That’s interesting. There’s an element of that to it. There’s a quality to really what Ezra does that is young and fun, and full of life and excited about what they’re doing that’s so in contrast to who Batman is. It’s a little bit of that natural yin and yang to playing scenes with him. So, there’s not the ward aspect to it, but there is kind of a little bit of the mentor—but I think there is, and I think it’s fun to play, definitely. What does Batman do around a guy who’s really excited and positive all the time, you know what I mean? [Laughs] It’s not his natural state of being, so that’s really fun.
It’s been really, really cool. Everybody has brought a certain kind of energy to their character that’s really distinct in this thing, so it’s all of a sudden a totally different kind of movie in ways from the last one, because all of a sudden it’s really an ensemble movie.
One of the things that is really well done about BvS is your fight scenes. That scene where you kick the [enemy] in the back of the head and keep going is fucking great. How are you ramping up from that to this in terms of seeing what Batman can do?
We have the same guys who choreographed and came up with those [stunts]. I’d like to say that was my idea, but I just do what they tell me, and we have a lot of the same from visual effects to practical stunts, a lot of these same guys doing really creative, cool stuff, and they just come up with really great ideas. It’s the same way I’d approach it were I directing, which would be like to say find a great stunt coordinator and a great effects guys, and stunt guys who can execute this stuff, and kind of put yourself in their hands and let them do it.
It’s kind of like getting a great composer, you know what I mean? It’s almost a separate thing, that fighting combat, that then layers onto the movie. If it works, it feels like it’s flawlessly integrated into it. How could Star Wars exist without that music, you know what I mean?
You’re also an executive producer on this. How does that change your role? Do you have more ownership on Batman now?
Why I’m an executive producer is because I’m directing another line of the movies. So, there’s some cross-pollination of story and characters, and I don’t want to give any of that stuff away, but it basically just means that it’s possible that there might be some things that happen in my Batman [movie] that are affected by—I mean, here we are on the roof of the police station in Gotham City. So, there’s an example of something that might potentially exist in that story. So, it’s a way of saying—it’s a kind of creative way that DC came up with both being a filmmaker driven company and entity, and also making sure that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing, and that there is collaboration and supervision, so somebody doesn’t go sailing off causing problems for your movie with their movie.
So basically, it’s also kind of a courtesy you know what they’re doing, so one hand knows what the other is doing. So, I get to weigh in on stuff that [affects] the Batman stuff.
How big of a role does Geoff Johns have in this?
Big! Geoff is a big part of things, DC’s a big part of things. He’s not here now, he’s having a baby. But Geoff’s a brilliant guy, and there’s nobody that I know who knows more about comic books and has great taste, and is really super-smart and is super-nice. And Jon Berg as well has a big role. Really, this is Zack’s movie, and we’re here executing Zack’s vision.
Does Batman have more detective work in this movie or does he kind of work in a team of detectives?
The World’s Greatest Detective aspect of Batman is more present in this story than it was in the last one, and would probably be expanded upon further in a Batman movie I would do. I think all the great Batman stories are at their heart detective stories. That’s why they feel a little bit like noir movies in a way and somehow feels like it could be The Maltese Falcon.
But at their heart, like I said, I think great Batman stories are detective stories and part of this detective story is a “what’s happening” element, but there’s also a “how do I find these people and how am I going to bring them together? How are we going to work together successfully through a multilateralist [scenario]?”
Obviously The Dark Knight Returns is a big influence on BvS, and that’s sort of an end of Batman story. Batman quits at the end, but you’re making a movie after that. So, how do you bring Batman back from the edge where he was maybe more violent, more harsh than before, and sort of bring him back down?
You make a really interesting point: that [movie] was really heavily influenced by Dark Knight Returns, and this has other influences that I don’t want to name, because then it’ll give away story elements and stuff like that, because then you’ll go, “Well in that story, this is what happens.” But I’m working with Terrio, and Geoff Johns, and obviously Zack. We’ve done what any smart person would do, which is steal the best stuff you can from all those great materials that’s out there. But one of the things is you obviously can’t go past the end.
Obviously, this is now not a guy at the end of his rope, but in a way a guy at the beginning again, beginning again. [He’s] starting over reborn and believing, and finding hope. And the thing that he’s hopeful for, he’s hanging onto desperately and he really believes in this idea of forming this group.
I can definitely say that, and that starts him off. That’s his core mission here. So, obviously that’s something different, because that’s a guy who’s not nihilistic, that’s a guy who’s not at the end, he hasn’t given up hope. He deeply believes this is something that needs to happen and he’s in the awkward position of being the guy out there with a cup in his hand trying to say, “Listen, you’ve got to believe in this. This is a good idea.”
In the last film, he was dark and gritty and in this scene, we’ve already seen you’re bringing some humor to it. What would you say are the biggest changes by comparison between these two movies?
There’s definitely room for more humor. It’s not going to be—DC movies are, I think, by their nature still a little more gothic, or a little bit more mythic, rather, than some comic book movies are. But that movie was a heavy, dark movie, because it was really rooted in Dark Knight Returns, which is a heavy, dark book. This is not that, this is a step sort of in evolution from that about like bringing together all these characters, who had their origins. And it’s about multilateralism and it’s about hope, and it’s about working together, and the kind of conflicts you have trying to work with others.
It’s a world with all these other superheroes that exist, so there’s comedy that goes in that necessarily from trying to work with other people. And people trying to accomplish goals together is the root of all great comedy in my view.
So, there’s definitely and hopefully some fun in it, but it’s [still] recognizably these characters and these stories; it’s not turning it upside-down or anything.
We know there’s Steppenwolf, we’ve heard about Mother Boxes, we’ve seen this concept art for Parademons. Is there an element for Batman to now be like, “I’m getting too old for this shit?” Like this universe is just not one Kryptonian or one monster, but it’s a lot of stuff?
Well, it’s “getting too old for this shit” or “I need help with this shit!” [Laughs] It’s like the guy’s getting way out of his league. It’s definitely stepping up into that level that’s in the comic books where you have a lot of things from other planets, other supervillains that are way more powerful than your average human being, who’s got a batarang and a grappling hook, is equipped to deal with.
We’re able to explore the powers of other heroes and what they can really do, which is pretty exceptional too. So, if you want to be able to use the powers of Flash and Wonder Woman, and Cyborg, you have to have bad guys that are up to snuff where they can really get their cars out on the track and open up the accelerator a little bit.
Batman is kind of the leader of the group. Is there any kind of challenge from the other members to his leadership? I mean, Aquaman’s a king. I wouldn’t imagine him taking orders from anyone.
Aquaman is a very strong character played by a very strong actor with a very strong personality, so he’s not a guy who necessarily at any time in his life takes orders from people. You know Jason Momoa, he’s got a very strong, stubborn, independent, powerful energy. So, it’s not like any of these characters show up and go, “Yes sir, what should I do, Mr. Wayne?” It’s about trying to get a lot of disparate people, who are used to being very powerful and very independent, to try to work together, and it’s about how hard that is to get them to all get along.
And there are some characters that really hit it off with each other, some that don’t hit it off with each other and almost come to blows, and it’s about trying to contain that kind of thing. So, it’s not an easy ride trying to get this group to come together.
Batman’s tactics were some of the things in the last one that were quite controversial, that Batman was—I wouldn’t want to say sadistic, but he was very violent and that he killed if he had to.
Yeah, definitely in the last one, Batman went to a very dark place that was rooted in this trauma that occurred to him and, well, the people that he loved and worked with, and what he saw. And this [movie] is not really about that issue for him so much anymore. He’s no longer sort of extreme in that way; he’s kind of from the experiences of the last movie learned some things, I think, and now—I want to say it without giving away any spoilers—but he’s wanting to redeem himself, and he’s wanting mankind to be redeemed, and he’s wanting to make the world better having learned lessons that were important in the last movie.
A lot of people are looking forward to your solo Batman movie. Do you have a timeframe when you might want to see it in theaters?
I think they have a date for it. [Laughs] But I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know that I would necessarily make that date, because I don’t have a script that’s ready yet. So that’s my—my timetable is just that I’m not going to make a movie until there’s a script that I think is good, because I’ve been on the end of things when you make movies with a script that’s not good. It doesn’t pan out. [Laughs]
Can you tell us where you are in the scripting process? Do you have a draft that you’re really happy with or a story that you’re really happy with, and it’s about fleshing it out further?
I had a script. We’re still working on it, and I’m not happy enough with it yet to actually go out there and make a Batman movie, which happen to have the highest of standards, I would say. It’s something that would have to pass a very high-bar for me, and not just say, “Yeah, this one might be fun! Let’s go bang this out!”