By now, you've heard the news: after what felt like years (but was really closer to like, 18 months) of tedious back-and-forth, hemming and hawing, and non-committal vague statements, Ben Affleck is finally, officially, for real, out. Of rehab, yes, but also of the DCEU's Batman franchise. The writing's been on the wall for a while now. Initially, Ben was set to act but also bring his Best Picture-winning talents both to the director's chair and the script for a solo Batman movie. Say what you will about Ben, but the guy who made a crowd-pleaser like Argo and directed solid shootouts in The Town taking a stab at Batman couldn't have been any worse than what Zach Snyder gave us.
Alas, as critical reception for the films around Ben's Bruce flailed and the harsh realities of anchoring a huge legacy franchise with nine figures and mercurial fans set in, Ben's enthusiasm waned. First, he dropped out of directing and the honor fell to Matt Reeves, he who revamped the Apes trilogy and directed the original Cloverfield. A few half-hearted statements later, it was conceded that Reeves probably definitely wouldn't be following Affleck's story drafts to pursue his own take on the Caped Crusader. And finally, yesterday it was definitively announced that Ben will hang the cowl up, as Reeves' story—which he teases will highlight Batman's more noirish-mystery, detective traits, an aspect of the character under-utilized in all of his big-screen adventures thus far—aims for a younger take on the character. Of course, the DCEU is so splintered right now that it was highly possible for Ben to continue on as his grizzled, jaded Miller-esque Dark Knight while Reeves went forward with his own vision—this is the same company with a dozen different Jokers on the slate after all.
But let's be honest. Ben never really wanted this shit, and his buyer's remorse was increasingly evident in every interview. His tenure was a strange one. For my money, he did exactly what the role called of him in Snyder's joyless Batman v Superman, rising above muck like pee jars, Martha lunacy, and Jesse Eisenberg's Heath Ledger cosplay to emerge as, technically, the best part of a thoroughly non-enjoyable film (Wonder Woman isn't in it enough, relax). But an attempt to lighten up the character in Justice League fell woefully flat; you can practically see him blinking SOS as he sleepwalks through every scene muttering quippy Joss Whedon dialog through clenched teeth. Affleck's great but he's no David Boreanaz!
So, fare thee well CrossFit Batman. Onward to a new era. We're never getting Chris and Christian back. Jake is, sensibly steering clear of this mess (even though a man of his talents could certainly do better than MCU villain if he wanted to). Forward is the only motion. And with "younger" as the only directive, that leaves the field wide open with no clear front-runners. So the Complex Pop Culture brain trust is here to do our best. You don't have to agree with our picks but someone has to put a few sensible ideas out into the universe before we end up with Noah Centineo under the cowl, God forbid.