There’s a quote about acting that Uncle Monty says in Withnail & I, “It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life when one morning he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself, ‘I will never play the Dane’.”
Lots of people have probably been saddened by that over the years - the realisation that they will never play Hamlet - but more people have surely been upset by the realisation that they will never play Batman. Any Tom (Hiddleston, at RADA, 2017), Dick (Burton, in New York, 1964) or Harry (Irving, in London, circa 1870) can play the Prince of Denmark, but far fewer get to play the Dark Knight.
(If Batman were held in as high regard culturally as Shakespeare, the expression wouldn’t be “any Tom, Dick and Harry”, it would be “any Michael, Val and Christian”.)
Our current Batman, Ben Affleck, hasn’t had the best of times with the role. Despite having the perfect jawline for it, he’s had to Bat-act in Bat-films that have mostly been a little Bat-underwhelming. He seems quite Bat-depressed about the whole Bat-thing to be Bat-honest. Who can be Batman after him, though?
One name that has circled the role for a few months is Jake Gyllenhaal, who director Matt Reeves was said to be tapping up for The Batman, a noir-y take on the character that was originally meant to be an acting/writing/directing showcase for Affleck.
While promoting a posh watch he’s the face and wrist of, Gyllenhaal was asked about the role of Batman and his involvement, or lack thereof, in The Batman. And, anyone holding out hope for his take on the Caped Crusader, sorry, it’s bad news.
Gyllenhaal said: “Wow, that’s a very difficult question. The answer to that question is no.”
That’s obviously disappointing for a lot of people. But here’s the thing: Jake Gyllenhaal, despite being a great actor and about as handsome as a human being can get, would make a bad Batman.
The reason, and stick with us here, is simple. His eyes are too kind.
Here’s Jake Gyllenhaal:
He looks so nice. “Hey guys!” he’s thinking. “Hey, guys! Shall we all have fun today? Let’s all have fun today!” He’s thinking that, even though it’s a thing one would normally say. He’s so nice his internal monologue includes other people. Like, even on a movie where he was playing a psychopath, it feels like he’d be joking and laughing between takes, telling charming anecdotes about a time he had a funny encounter with a nice dog. His Batman wouldn’t strike fear into the hearts of criminals, they’d wonder if he wanted to hang out or play catch or something.
And here’s Ben Affleck.
Ben Affleck’s internal monologue is livid, all the time. “You fucking–,” it says, too angry to finish a sentence even inside his skull. “All of you fucking, fucking, Jeeeeeeesus Christ, you goddamned fucking.” He has almost definitely stopped cleaning his teeth halfway through before, in order to twat his toothbrush against the sink until they both broke, then calmly taken two steps to the right, where another sink complete with toothbrush was waiting for him. He’s wealthy.
If you made Ben Affleck angry, he could beat you until his knuckles bled. He’s grizzled, taut. A human iron bar, a savage mass of sinew and anger, just like Batman himself. If you made Jake Gyllenhaal angry, he’d just look at you sadly with his big beautiful eyes and tell you he expected better. No less upsetting, but arguably not quite as good a film.
If you saw a news headline about Ben Affleck getting so angry that he punched a guy through a brick wall, you’d absolutely believe it. He’s got that quality to him, the kind of feeling that he’s always only ten bad minutes away from unleashing absolute hell. But you wouldn’t believe that with Jake Gyllenhaal, you’d think there must have been some mistake. You’d absolutely believe a headline where he bought teddy bears for everyone on the sick kids ward and led them all in a two-hour singalong though.
Batman isn’t a hugger. Hugging Ben Affleck would feel like hugging a fridge some idiot had filled with oak - unnatural, unfeeling, angular. Hugging Jake Gyllenhaal would be nice and warm and you’d fall asleep immediately. That’s great but it’s not Batman.
Good news for Gyllenhaal, though, is that there are characters that exist that he’d be perfect for. DC occasionally tease the idea of making a Booster Gold/Blue Beetle film, and if they do, he’d be so good as Booster Gold. Or, if they ever want to have another crack at Green Lantern, he’d be an amazing Hal Jordan. In fact, pair him with a good-looking blond dude with a sick goatee, make a period-set film of the 1970s Green Lantern/Green Arrow social justice Hard-Travellin’ Heroes storyline and you’ve got an immediate cinematic classic on your hands.
Just, sorry Jake, you’re no Batman.
(Pics: Getty, DC)