Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The second slump of Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck has already lived many Hollywood lives for someone who's only 44. In fact, Monday was his 44th birthday. Happy birthday, Ben.

The reviews of Suicide Squad couldn't have made a very good birthday present, but then again, he's not in that movie very much. It's not really "his" project. Actually, he's not even credited.

However, those reviews do impact him as a bellweather of the enterprise in which he has gotten himself so intricately entwined. Simply (and crudely) put, Ben Affleck is balls deep in the DC cinematic universe, about which nothing is currently going well.

So when I forecast a second slump for Ben Affleck, it's not that it's totally upon us yet. It's that we will be living through it for the next three to five years.

But let's first look back at his first slump. In fact, let's go back even further than that. Some of this is covered in this post, but just so you don't have to click on any links, I'll summarize it for you again.

Affleck was certainly around before then -- in fact, his first credited acting role was in 1981 -- but he burst on the scene in 1997 when Good Will Hunting forced us to recognize him and won him a screenwriting Oscar. This launched about a six-year period in which he could do no wrong -- or rather, the wrong he did do (like Pearl Harbor) did not stick to him.

Things changed when he got together with Jennifer Lopez. With Lopez he made Gigli and Jersey Girl, both flops, though his worst film of the ensuing period may have been 2004's Surviving Christmas. By 2006, Affleck somewhat involuntarily took a three-year hiatus from acting. Imagine that -- a big movie star being forced to step away from what he loved at the age of just 34. (However, it should be said that he did direct Gone Baby Gone in 2007.)

That period of infertility also lasted six years, if we want to define it as ending when he returned to acting in 2009 with a series of high-profile roles that were well received, plus two more successful features as director (The Town in 2010, Argo in 2012, the latter of which won best picture). There was no doubt Affleck was back, and perhaps the purest sign of that was Terence Malick casting him in 2013's To the Wonder.

But another six years have passed for Affleck, and things appear to be going south again. Twenty fourteen and 2015 were both relatively quiet for Affleck on the acting front, with just Gone Girl in 2014 and just "Brian Salty Flanigan" on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2015. (Hey, I'm just going by IMDB.) But that takes us to the end of 2015 without his fortunes really changing, which is convenient since I'm breaking down Affleck's career in six-year chunks.

Twenty sixteen appears to be the beginning of another Affleck downturn, and it all relates to his entrenchment in his new role of Batman. At the time of his casting it was viewed as just another feather in his cap, as there was every probability that another run of Batman movies would be both a critical and a financial success. But now that it has actually transpired and his name is signed on the dotted line for God knows how many umpteen more movies, we're starting to realize it may have been more of a curse than a blessing.

Simply put, the reviews for these first two DC movies he's appeared in have been devastating. Batman v. Superman was bad, but if possible, Suicide Squad has been even worse. The former has pulled down just a 44 on Metractric; the latter is four points lower than that.

So time for Affleck to reinvent himself again, right?


The number of additional movies with which Batman is involved or rumored to be involved is staggering. Okay, it's three, but given the reaction to these first two movies, that's still staggering in terms of useful ways for Affleck to spend his time. Two Justice League movies (both directed by Zack Snyder) are set to come out in 2017 and 2019, and Untitled Batman Reboot has also been announced. Of course, they can't just be making one standalone Batman movie. Plus, I have to think Affleck's contract stipulates that DC can use him for anywhere from three to 27 additional movies, should they see it fit to make them. And since Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad will both be financial hits, the bean counters will surely be into that.

The gray in Bruce Wayne's hair in the photo above will certainly be real by the time all this is said and done.

Of course, it's always possible he continues to do good outside work while he's playing Batman. Robert Downey Jr. has managed to keep up a fairly active parallel series of jobs even while playing Tony Stark for eight years now. Affleck already has Gavin O'Connor's The Accountant scheduled for release later this year, and his own fourth directorial effort, Live by Night, scheduled for next year.

But the more DC scrambles to course correct, the more likely it is to take up more of his time and spread its stench to him.

So the dimensions of Affleck's second slump may be a bit different from his first one. The first time around, he was actively killing, or at least not helping, his films' prospects at the box office. This time, no such stink of failure may be attached to him. But his critical stink will be a heavy one, and that may be what the current incarnation of Ben Affleck cares about more.

And how long before Affleck has any reasonable chance of pulling himself out of this projected slump?

Probably about six years.

At which point I will welcome his second comeback with open arms.

Even at nearly 50, Affleck will surely have several more Hollywood lives left to live.

No comments: