Earlier tonight, Ben Affleck and Warner Bros. each released statements indicating that Affleck had stepped down as director of The Batman, the stand-alone Batman movie in which he is set to star opposite Joe Manganiello.
The move is ruffling feathers in Hollywood and on social media, with fans and critics reflexively attacking or defending the DC Extended Universe, and assuming that Affleck's reason (directing a film of this scope while also starring and wearing a Batman costume the whole time is daunting as hell) isn't telling the whole story.
That may be; it seems like Affleck and Warner Bros. have never been on the same page with regard to The Batman, with Affleck's script either being ready to film, imperfect, or incomplete, depending on who you asked and when.
Typically, it's been Affleck expressing reservation, suggesting that he wouldn't direct a Batman movie he didn't think was 100% ready since the stakes are so high and the character so beloved.
While Warner Bros. has never disagreed with his commitment to quality, they've seemed much more confident than Affleck that his script had what they wanted, and more concerned than the filmmaker about the idea of getting the movie out on a schedule.
So what does it mean for the film, now that Affleck is out? Nobody knows for sure at this point, but we can probably make some relatively good educated guesses.
First of all, it's likely Affleck's script will continue to be used -- although it will almost certainly get a round of rewrites. With Affleck remaining on as an executive producer and his rock-solid relationship with Warner Bros. (for whom he directed the Best Picture-winning Argo), his creative input will clearly be considered. It's difficult to imagine a scenario where Affleck worked for this long on a script only to have it discarded completely -- especially after they have cast the film's villain, meaning that they are more or less stuck with Affleck's intended take on Deathstroke the Terminator.
That said, expect rewrites when the new director is chosen. It's the rare Hollywood blockbuster that doesn't get punched up at least a little when the new guy comes on, and Warner Bros./DC have shown a willingness to do that for incoming talent (Affleck brought Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio with him to punch up Batman V Superman).
It also wouldn't be surprising if Warner Bros. killed two birds with one stone and announced the new director along with a new, and official, release date for the film. It seems likely the constant push-and-pull between Affleck's desire for perfection and Warners' desire for completion was the ultimate culprit for this amicable split, so don't be surprised when the next person who comes in, comes in with a clear vision and a maximum of 18 months of turnaround.
Could we see somebody like Batman v Superman's Zack Snyder or Wonder Woman's Patty Jenkins step into the director's chair? While it sounds like a sensible enough move on paper -- they already know the players and understand how DC does business, after all -- it seems unlikely. Both of them will be busy editing and promoting their current DC films for the foreseeable future, and it seems likely that by the time Justice League is in theaters, Warner Bros. will want to have already made an announcement for The Batman.
There is nothing to indicate that Affleck will not star in or executive produce the film. While it might be easy to fall into panic mode and start imagining worst-case scenarios, the amicable split between studio and director seems unlikely to impact Affleck's long-term relationship with DC, Batman, or Warners. Obviously something could come out tomorrow to put lie to that, but with the evidence available there is no reason to believe it will happen.
Will this reduce Affleck's overall creative input in the DC Extended Universe, and/or reduce Batman's role going forward? Almost certainly not. Keep your eyes on this spot for the next little while, though; it's likely that rumors will start to churn and that Warner Bros. will want to get a director named as soon as possible to avoid the inevitable impression that things are falling apart.
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Justice League will open in theaters on November 17, 2017. The Batman release date is TBD.