News broke on Monday that the Caped Crusader himself, Ben Affleck — who, in addition to reprising his role as Bruce Wayne, had been attached to handle directing duties on a standalone Batman movie for Warner Bros. as part of the DC Extended Universe, or DCEU — has officially stepped down as director.
In a statement, the two-time Oscar winner said (per Variety), "There are certain characters who hold a special place in the hearts of millions. Performing this role demands focus, passion and the very best performance I can give. It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require. Together with the studio, I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film. I am still in this, and we are making it, but we are currently looking for a director. I remain extremely committed to this project and look forward to bringing this to life for fans around the world."
Despite Affleck's insistence that he's "still in this," his loss comes as a pretty big blow to the DCEU — partly because this is just the latest example in a string of similar behind-the-scenes upheavals that prompt one to ask: Is the DC cinematic universe in trouble?
Affleck is now the third director to leave a DC property prior to the start of production.
Previously, Emmy-winning filmmaker Michelle McLaren ("Game of Thrones," "Breaking Bad") exited "Wonder Woman," reportedly due to creative issues involving her desire to make a "Braveheart"-esque action epic, according to Variety. The studio replaced her just days later with Patty Jenkins ("Monster").
Meanwhile, the upcoming Flash movie starring Ezra Miller is currently in between directors, according to the Hollywood Reporter, after Rick Famuyiwa (Sundance hit "The Dope") became the second filmmaker to bail on the project due to an inability to "come together creatively," as he phrased it in a statement. Before him, according to vulture.com, writer Seth Grahame-Smith ("Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter"), who would have been making his feature directorial debut, also left due to — yep, you guessed it — creative differences.
This pattern of directors jumping ship only seems to bolster reports that portray a studio still struggling to figure out the basics of how to make its superhero properties work on the big screen.
Three movies in, the reviews have been anything but glowing for the DCEU. Last year's "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" scored just a 27 percent on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. Critics blasted the movie for its grim, humorless and uncharacteristically violent version of two of comicdom's most iconic characters, including a Batman who routinely kills and maims petty thugs.
David Ayer's "Suicide Squad," if anything, fared even worse with just a 26 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — this after the studio brought in the company that edited together the movie's trailers in order to make a lighter, more fun movie than what Ayer allegedly had in mind, according to vulture.com.
Not surprisingly, then, a lot of hope has been placed on this summer's "Wonder Woman" to right the DC ship. Gal Gadot's portrayal of the Amazon warrior has been one of the few almost universally well-received parts of the DCEU so far. However, according to International Business Times, "Wonder Woman" could turn out to be just as much of a mess as "Batman v Superman" and "Suicide Squad," at least if one unnamed insider is to be believed, who described the World War I-set tentpole as "discombobulated" and "disjointed."
Of course, Warner Bros. isn't the only studio to lose a director or experience upheavals during pre-production. "Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins was originally set to direct "Thor: The Dark World" for Marvel before being replaced by Alan Taylor, and fan-favorite director Edgar Wright notoriously walked out on "Ant-Man" mere months before production began after nearly a decade of pushing to get it made.
In other words, Affleck's departure as director isn't necessarily a kiss of death for "The Batman," and some of the names allegedly being considered to replace him are pretty enticing, such as Matt Reeves ("Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"), Gavin O'Connor ("Warrior") and George Miller ("Mad Max").
But there are other issues, too, including the fact that, despite initially being scheduled to start production this spring, the movie still doesn't have a workable script, according to Affleck. (One possible reason why he may have left.) According to Forbes, this has reportedly bumped the start of production back to this summer at the earliest.
Moreover, according to the same Forbes article, the overall situation might actually be a lot worse than what is being publicly acknowledged. Affleck, it says, might be considering walking away from the role of Batman altogether. If true, it could be due to a number of factors, including the DCEU movies' exhaustive production schedules and Affleck's general frustration over the critical and box-office disappointment of his last movie, "Live By Night."
Take that all with a large grain of salt. But if Affleck did, in fact, decide to hang up the cape and cowl and walk away, the question then becomes, does the DCEU have a strong enough foundation already in place to survive it?
Only time will tell.
Affleck will next appear as the Dark Knight in this year's "Justice League," slated for Nov. 17. Audiences can also look forward to Wonder Woman's first ever solo movie, which hits theaters June 2.