“And it doesn’t matter, uh, how you get knocked down in life. Because that’s gonna happen. All that matters is that you gotta get up. Violet, Sam, and Sara, I love you! This is for you!”
That was Ben Affleck, holding back tears, as he accepted the Academy Award for Best Picture for Argo a decade ago on Feb. 24, 2013 — a night that capped off the single-greatest career comeback in Hollywood history.
A decade before that, Affleck was the butt of jokes across the industry, thanks single-handedly to Gigli and the fallout stemming from that infamous 2003 bomb, which basically killed his planned marriage to Jennifer Lopez (don’t worry, it ended up working out for them 20 years later) and nearly killed his career.
That period marked a low point for Affleck, but 10 years later, he had climbed his way back to the top of the mountain and stood in front of his peers — and millions of people watching around the world — as the hottest director in town. As he beamed with pride standing beside fellow Argo producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov, the world was his oyster, and one could only imagine where his career would go next.
But that very moment proved to be his peak. A combination of hard knocks in Affleck’s much-publicized personal life — which we aren’t going to get into here — and the critical and commercial disaster of his pet project Live by Night — the Prohibition-era crime drama that served as his follow-up to Argo — hit Affleck hard. So hard that it scared him away from directing altogether.
Maybe it was self-doubt stemming from whether he’d ever be able to live up to the glory days of Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and especially Argo. Maybe his own personal demons — Affleck has famously struggled with alcoholism — were simply too strong to shake. Maybe he felt everything was just slipping away. We don’t know.
But if Affleck was ever going to return behind the camera and remind the world what he’s capable of as a director, he had to go on his own journey inward in order to find both himself and creative inspiration. That journey appears to have culminated with Air, the forthcoming drama about the making of Nike’s iconic Air Jordan shoe, which sees Affleck reteam with his old pal Matt Damon. And after watching the trailer, it sure seems like Affleck has rediscovered that fire in his belly that put him back on top a decade ago.
Like Argo, Affleck’s latest film is another “true to life” drama that is lightly fictionalized by screenwriter Alex Convery, whose script was on the 2021 Black List, just as Chris Terrio‘s nail-biting script for Argo was on the 2010 Black List before going on to win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
I saw Argo with my brother, Dwight, the week after the film opened, and it was one of the greatest moviegoing experiences of my life. Every choice that Affleck made was the right choice. Argo is the kind of masterwork a director is lucky to make once in a lifetime. I’ve already promised Dwight that I won’t see Air without him, as the trailer gives me a similar feeling.
It’s a feeling that Affleck himself is said to share, as our very own Jeff Sneider reported on a recent episode of The Hot Mic podcast. Sneider said that Air has been finished since last November and that Affleck was so high on the film that he pushed for Amazon to release the film in theaters in December and give it a last-minute Oscar push, sensing a weak Best Picture field. Amazon vetoed that, as the studio was planning a robust theatrical release given its high commercial hopes for Air — hopes that it didn’t want to see dashed by the December release of box office juggernaut Avatar: The Way of Water, which would surely have eaten it alive.
I’ve heard good things about Air and would love to see Affleck making more movies like it, so I’m nervous when I’m reminded of the fact that he has already sat down with DC Studios’ dynamic duo James Gunn and Peter Safran to discuss the possibility of directing a project for them. There have been plenty of murmurs and whispers about what said project might be, but the rumor I’ve heard was that Affleck was planning to direct The Brave & the Bold.
Moving fully behind the camera and casting his own successor — if one doesn’t count The Batman star Robert Pattinson and the returning (albeit for only one film now) Michael Keaton — in the cinematic universe he previously headlined is such a strange concept. One of those “so strange, it must be true” ideas, perhaps? Assuming it is true.
As I’ve stated previously, Gunn is more than welcome to say I’m totally wrong here. I would consider it an honor to be “called out” by him. No hard feelings whatsoever!
But that’s not the point here. This isn’t about Affleck doing The Brave & the Bold. It’s about him avoiding it.
Surely, one understands the appeal from Gunn and Safran’s perspective. It’s not so much about working hand-in-hand with Ben Affleck, the previous custodian of the Batman mythos onscreen, as it is working with Ben Affleck, the two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker. They want to see what that guy brings to the table!
But personally, I don’t see what Affleck would get out of this. Yes, he’s flirted with blockbusters before — directorially speaking — having been up for Man of Steel and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And he is a noted genre fan. For example, in the closing scenes of Argo, the bedroom of Tony Mendez‘s little boy — full of comic books, video games, and Star Trek and Star Wars action figures — was modeled after Affleck’s very own bedroom growing up, as he was the exact same age in 1980.
I suppose, given Affleck’s choices as a director, that The Brave & the Bold would present him with some new challenges and give him a chance to work with new tools and toys. So in that sense, sure, I get it.
But regardless of whatever this DCU project is — whether it’s The Brave & the Bold or something else entirely, and that’s if it even happens — the fact is that if Air is as good as I suspect, then Affleck will be too good for the DCU, and I mean that with all due respect to what Gunn and Safran are building. Not only that, but Affleck just plain doesn’t need to make a comic book movie at this stage of his career, let alone his life.
It’s not that Affleck wouldn’t give the DCU 110 percent, but his heart and soul clearly belong in adult dramas like Argo and Air. After all, that’s the whole reason that he and Damon started a new production company, Artists Equity, which, as reported by the New York Times, has lined up $100 million to finance those kinds of mid-budget movies.
The old “One for them, one for me” model — which Affleck himself was a longtime proponent of during his movie star heyday in the late ’90s/early 2000s — is no longer a workable model in today’s environment where studios are making fewer and fewer films, and the ones they do make are mega-budget popcorn movies. Thankfully, those smaller, more intimate character dramas are still being made by the likes of Amazon, Apple, and Netflix, though their commitment to theatrical is questionable. Indeed, though Air may be receiving an unprecedented wide release from Amazon, will other films without Damon and Affleck be so lucky? That’s why we need Affleck making more of those kinds of movies — to help ensure that they’ll continue being made in the future.
Again this isn’t meant to throw shade at any parties. But Affleck can’t definitively put the cape-and-cowl behind him if he’s still playing in the DCU waters, even if it’s strictly from behind the camera. It’s in Affleck’s best interest, and likely our own as movie fans, for him to leave his time in the DCEU (now the DCU) behind him so he can focus on being the truly great director we all know he was before, and judging by the Air trailer, can be again.