Warner Bros.' DC Extended Universe has had an interesting run since it began in 2013. To date, all three released films — Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad — are considered "rotten" on Rotten Tomatoes, with audience scores lower than you might expect from films featuring DC's most popular heroes. Despite the mixed reception, however, the DCEU has thus far been a financial success, with the three films combining for nearly $2.3 billion worldwide.
Adding to the financial success, there has been some reason for optimism regarding the future of the interconnected universe. While Batman v Superman failed to impress as many people as Warner Bros. would have probably liked, a bright spot was definitely Ben Affleck's portrayal of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman. Affleck will next appear as Bruce Wayne (assuming he does not cameo in Wonder Woman) in November's Justice League, and has long been expected to reprise the role in a solo film, called The Batman, featuring the Caped Crusader.
Shockingly, that expectation now seems less certain, with Collider Movie Talk's John Campea saying that sources have told him that Affleck "doesn't want to be Batman anymore." While Campea does urge his audience to take the statement with a grain of salt, he claims that if the Oscar winner cannot immediately get out of his deal to play Bruce Wayne, the solo film "will be the last time we see Affleck as Batman."
The future of the DCEU
Again, it is important to reiterate that even Campea is acknowledging that his information could be entirely off-base. However, should Affleck indeed be trying to get out of playing Batman, this is disturbing news for DC and Warner Bros., who have begun building a franchise around the actor.
While the DCEU is still in its relative adolescence (at least when compared to the Marvel machine), Warner Bros. has mapped out several years' worth of films. Those with definitive release dates include Wonder Woman (2017), Justice League (2017), Aquaman (2018), Shazam (2019) and Green Lantern Corps (2020). Out of those films,Affleck is only expected to appear in Justice League.
Affleck's departure from the franchise would thus have the most consequence for the various films that are in development, but without a release date. The two biggest? The Batman and the Justice League sequels, both of which are expected to feature Affleck's Bruce Wayne. Of course, it is also possible that Warner Bros. would have liked Affleck to cameo in Gotham City Sirens, as well as the proposed Deadshot spinoff and the eventual sequel to Suicide Squad.
Justice League was originally conceived as a two-part film that would be shot all at once. That eventually changed, and it was announced that Justice League and its sequel would be two distinct films. This means that if Affleck does negotiate a way out of his deal to play Batman, Warner Bros. would have to replace him in the Justice League sequel, which has not yet started filming.
Even with Justice League and its sequel being two separate films, it would be strange (to say the least) to see Affleck in the first, and an entirely different actor playing Batman in the second. Could you imagine if after The Avengers Marvel had to recast Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man? That is essentially the reality DC may be facing.
Of course, recasting heroes in superhero films is not necessarily without precedent. In fact, Marvel has done it already. Between Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Marvel recast Tony Stark's best friend, James Rhodes, replacing Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle. Furthermore, between The Incredible Hulk and The Avengers, Marvel cast Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, a role originally played by Edward Norton.
Those scenarios, though, are nothing compared to what Warner Bros. may have to contemplate. Col. Rhodes, while an important character in Iron Man lore, was only a supporting player in the first film, which was also just the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Batman is arguably the most important character in the DCEU, which is firmly established and built considerably around the Caped Crusader.
As for the Hulk, The Avengers was released four years after The Incredible Hulk, with the MCU continuity retaining very little from the latter. The Justice League sequel and The Batman will likely only be separated by a few years, and by then, Affleck will be fully ingrained as Bruce Wayne. In fact, we know from the Justice League trailer and the end of Batman v Superman, that it is Batman who is ultimately responsible for bringing the Justice League together.
Can the DCEU survive without Ben Affleck?
Ultimately, the answer to the above question is: Of course. Most of the films in the DCEU would not even be impacted by Affleck's hypothetical departure. And even those that would be, namely The Batman and the Justice League sequel, are such big properties that it is safe to assume they would still earn a pretty penny without him. Further, Gotham City Sirens and the other Suicide Squad spinoffs (or sequels) can easily survive without a Batman cameo.
While it would certainly be weird to see a different actor playing Batman in films that share the same continuity as those that feature Affleck as the character, after that initial discomfort, most fans would likely get over it — especially if the films (and the new actor) are any good. It is also worth noting that Batman has been replaced before. Val Kilmer took over the role from Michael Keaton in Batman Forever, while George Clooney starred in the follow-up, Batman & Robin. Of course, those are not examples fans likely want cited.
There are ways DC and Warner Bros. could ease the transition to a new actor. While many likely hope that Affleck will be kept on for as long as possible, if he is indeed trying to get out, Warner Bros. should let him go. Why? Well, rather than hold on to him for The Batman and then try to replace him for the Justice League sequel, which is expected to come afterward, Warner Bros. could use the standalone film as a way of introducing the new actor.
The solo film could almost act as a soft reboot of the character, and by the time the second Justice League rolls around, fans will be used to seeing a new actor as Batman. Should Affleck stay on for the solo film, there is also another, though likely less popular, option for replacing the actor. That is, replacing Bruce Wayne entirely.
While most know Bruce Wayne as Batman, there have been others to assume the mantle, perhaps most notably Dick Grayson. Warner Bros. could use The Batman solo film to introduce the former Robin, and for one reason or another, set him up to take over as Batman. None of these options are ideal, but should Affleck step out of the Batman role, Warner Bros. does have some options, and the DCEU will survive. Still, let's hope Affleck is not actually contemplating an exit, because he really is one of the best things about the DC Extended Universe.
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