Batman Cinematic Universe Retrospective: Batfleck

With the release of The Snyder Cut, the world succumbed to the will of Zack Snyder.

Well, him, and his many fans, with the completion of his planned DCEU trilogy after he removed himself from the original project after a family tragedy. What we also have – and what the Batman-fanatic in me wants to talk about today – with the existence of The Snyder Cut is a supposedly fuller character arc for the DCEU’s version of Batman, played by Ben Affleck.

Affleck was a bright spark in the dirge that was Dawn of Justice, playing a more kill-happy version of the character than we have seen since Michael Keaton strapped a bomb to a clown’s chest and smiled as he exploded. The version we ended up with in the Whedon Cut of Justice League, as well as the middling to bad reception and box office failure of both that and Dawn of Justice, pretty much killed the idea of this Batman getting his own solo feature. Remember that The Batman was originally supposed to not just star Ben Affleck, but to be directed by him as well. The question becomes, in the Bruce Wayne sense, does The Snyder Cut save Batfleck?

The answer to this is a little more complicated than I first thought. I went a lot easier on Dawn of Justice than I expected to in this series. I took out my own expectations of what I think Batman should be and by doing that I enjoyed Batfleck, murder and all. Like most of you, I’ve been living with these movies for a few years now. You can’t get away from them, especially when Snyder is involved, so instead of settling on my opinion as written in the past, I came to the not entirely unexpected conclusion that The Snyder Cut doesn’t fix Batfleck, because he was broken in the first place. Let me explain.

Zack Snyder doesn’t get Batman, and, considering the character’s been about in many different iterations for over eighty years at this point that fact is astounding. Tim Burton got that he was a freak, Joel Schumacher got that he was meant to sell toys (awful? Yes, but relevant), and Christopher Nolan knew that he could be an ideologically complicated symbol of heroism in a post 9/11 America. Snyder sees him as a blunt instrument, a muscle-bound he-man who credits his powers with wealth before training, discipline, and above all, intellect. Snyder whittles Batman down to the abs, because that’s all he cares about when it comes to superheroes. That, and the fact that he can satisfy his goggle and shell casing fetish via him, too.

This isn’t just down to Justice League – this is clearly present in Dawn of Justice, too. Batman is an idiot in this movie. A fucking moron. Why? Because if this was Batman in any other guise than Snyder’s the plot wouldn’t work. The motivation is still solid, with Bruce witnessing the destruction of Metropolis from the ground during the day, helpless as Superman is shot to look like the aggressor against Zod. The meteors that follow them are from a Wayne Enterprises satellite, for fuck’s sake. I have no problem with this particular scene in Dawn of Justice as a set-up, as it is proof that Snyder knows what he’s doing a least once a movie.

But once the conflict is set up we have to ignore a major part of Batman’s characterisation. He is supposed to be the world’s greatest detective. I’m not even the best detective in my own house, but even I would be able to better investigate and track Superman’s movements the day he killed a city. We know from the Snyder Cut that Bruce has a few satellites. Through that I would be led to Smallville, then to the Kent Farm which Zod – y’know, the guy looking for a Kryptonian – is known to have visited and destroyed. From there, I’m thinking Clark Kent is Superman. I’ve got the fucker. I would even double-check, ask around town, surely there are some weird rumors about the guy, that he saved a bus full of kids by pushing said bus out of the water, when he was a fucking child! Got the fucker. Also, Superman doesn’t wear a mask and his face is the same as Clark Kent’s. Dead giveaway.

So, this is a Batman who has lost done the work, and so he won’t be blindsided by the Martha bullshit. He will have seen Clark as a human being much earlier, meaning they don’t have to fight. Which means that having the fight at all had to be engineered through movie bullshit, character stupidity, weak contrivances, and a director’s lop-sided vision. Which is exactly why, even in his first movie, Batfleck feels so distant from Batman – because he has to be, for this film to unfurl. Then, there’s the Snyder Cut.

It’s simple – Batman is not a character in this movie. He’s rich, he has gadgets, he needs to get the team together, not because Earth is under threat, he doesn’t know about Steppenwolf, but because he owed Clark. Here is the bombshell: Joss Whedon did this better. I’m not saying that he did anything right, Batman still sucks in his movie, but Joss Whedon on his worst day is a better storyteller than Zack Snyder on his best. Don’t get me wrong, the guy is a total cock behind the scenes and I’m not trying to suggest that his slightly-superior storytelling changes that, but he gets that Batman has to have a solid emotional motivation: while it’s not well explored, Bruce’s feeling that Clark was more human than him is a great place to start.

It’s a redemption arc that could neatly parallel Bruce’s guilt about his own parents. What’s worse is that Snyder didn’t have to take time off Cyborg or Wonder Woman for this; the idiot had four hours to fill, just cut some of the slow-mo so we can see that our only hundred percent human superhero is more important than just being the guy who starts the group chat. The movie does a lot to differentiate what each team member brings to the table; granted, it’s not much more than run fast, punch good, and shoot things, but still – and yet still forgets about Batman. It’s all artifice, it’s equipment without personality. The CGI used on his many vehicles is so ugly that I couldn’t tell you what they actually look like, a fair summation of Batman’s world as a whole.

And yet, The Snyder Cut has had the hypnotizing effect on people that they want that Batfleck solo movie after all. That wouldn’t be the worst idea, but not because Batfleck is any kind of success. If it does end up happening I have some advice for whoever makes it. First, ban Snyder from the entire creative process, get a proper action director to play up Batman’s fighting prowess, utilize his intellect, and watch Birds of Prey. Cathy Yan showed everyone how to maximise the potential of a possible good character being mishandled in an inferior movie. There’s still a chance to save Batfleck yet, but it just isn’t going to happen in the hands of Zack Snyder – who wants to strip the Dark Knight down to his least interesting parts, and leave him there.

If you enjoyed this article, please check out the rest of our Batman retrospective right here. You can also take a look at our other cinematic universe retrospectives, for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Jurassic Park movies! And, as ever, if you enjoyed this and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting us on Ko-Fi!

By Kevin Boyle

(header image via NME)

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