LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 22: Ben Affleck attending 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' Europe...

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Ben Affleck’s return as Batman exposes the DCEU’s biggest headache

Bat-fleck will return in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, but what are we to make of the canon of the DCEU?

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Over three years ago, Ben Affleck gave up being Batman with a smile.

With a whiff of Matt Damon’s bedazzled thong and relief in his voice, Ben Affleck confirmed in a February 2019 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that he had officially given up his role as the Caped Crusader in DC’s cinematic franchise.

After stepping up for 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and trying, and failing, to get his own Batman film off the ground — a project that would later become The BatmanBen Affleck left the cowl up for grabs. “I’m... not Batman,” Affleck said to Kimmel, laughing to himself. (In reality, Affleck was feeling turmoil, which he’d later open up in a 2022 interview with The L.A. Times.)

Somewhere along the way, Affleck turned the Batmobile around. It’s good for anyone who loves Affleck’s Batman, but it raises a lot of new questions about the continuity of DC’s “Extended Universe.”

What Happened? — On Friday, Aquaman star Jason Momoa shared on Instagram a new photo of himself with Affleck on the set of Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom.

Based on Momoa’s post, it seems Affleck’s presence in the movie was meant to be a surprise — until it wasn’t. Apparently, a public tour of Warner Bros.’ studio lot caught sight of Affleck on the set of the Aquaman sequel. Momoa was there to capture video, where he is heard saying: “It’s not a fucking secret anymore, is it?” (He apologizes to the kids for his F-bomb.)

Whether the moment was manufactured or a real case of major spoilers being revealed to the public by accident, it’s now out there that Affleck is once again back in the DCEU.

Ben Affleck signed on as Batman in 2014 and starred in two movies (technically three, including 2021’s Zack Snyder’s Justice League) before exiting the role in 2019. He is now expected to return in two movies. Will there be more?Hector Vivas/LatinContent WO/Getty Images

A History of The Cowl — This is the second time Affleck is reprising his role as Batman. In August 2020, over a year after he hung up his cape on Kimmel, the actor was confirmed to return in The Flash.

The movie is set to star Ezra Miller in a story centered on the DC multiverse, with obvious inspirations from DC Comics stories Flashpoint and The Button, the latter being a detective story in which Batman and The Flash investigate a strange happening in the multiverse. The Flash has undergone major delays but now has a release date in 2023. The Flash will not only have Ben Affleck’s Batman but veteran star Michael Keaton reprising his iconic Batman as well.

Importantly, the movie was seen as a one-off deal in terms of Affleck’s return. In Anthony Breznican’s 2020 exclusive for Vanity Fair, it was described as “one more movie.” Affleck himself said it would be his last Batman appearance, calling it “a really nice finish on my experience with that character” in an interview with The Herald Sun in January 2022.

Now, we know Affleck is far from done. In what looks like an inch-by-inch, case-by-case basis, Affleck is slowly reintegrating into the DC franchise, albeit at arm’s length. Batffleck isn’t dead, but the actor still seems disinterested in committing to an entire Batman movie. It remains to be seen what his capacity is in both The Flash and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Affleck may not be “gone” as Batman, but it’s unknown if he’s willing to stick for anything longer than a cup of coffee.

Ben Affleck’s original last appearance as Batman was in the troubled 2017 film Justice League, later re-released as Zack Snyder’s Justice League.Warner Bros.

The State of the DCEU — What’s further complicated about Ben Affleck’s status in the DCEU is the DCEU itself.

With Henry Cavill’s status as Superman opaque and Affleck’s situation being what it is — and Dwayne Johnson endlessly promoting how much Black Adam will upset the balance of power in the DC Universe or whatever — the DCEU is as directionless as ever.

Even rival Marvel, which spent most of its “Phase 4” slate equally aimless, now has a clear narrative target in the form of Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars. Marvel fans don’t know everything, but those two titles indicate some kind of waypoint in where the saga is going.

DC has never had such direction. While it has enjoyed a modest level of success with standalone hits, like 2017’s Wonder Woman and 2019’s Shazam!, there’s been no semblance of a proper universe continuity beyond stray cameos. (This is only going to continue: Viola Davis is confirmed to return as her Amanda Waller in Black Adam, which is about the only concrete connection Black Adam has to anything in the existing canon.)

Black Adam at Comic-Con 2022.CHRIS DELMAS/AFP/Getty Images

One can argue that DC has never needed direction and that the director-driven approach is what gives it an edge over Marvel. At the same time, it’s confusing to audiences which actor is playing Batman these days, when Robert Pattinson is doing his thing at the same time Ben Affleck comes and goes like a divorced parent.

Had Warner Bros. stuck to its intended schedule, there would have been some consistency. The Flash and its multiverse premise are critical to mapping out the DCEU moving forward. It was meant to be released in summer 2022, with the HBO Max film Batgirl — which will star Michael Keaton again as Batman — following it in the fall or winter.

But because of delays, Batgirl is now expected to stream on HBO Max later this year, with The Flash opening far later in June 2023. This means audiences may be harshly reintroduced to Keaton as Batman in the same year Pattinson played his buzz-worthy Batman, and when headlines report on Affleck’s return.

Fan know how to keep up with the madness, but it’s undeniably a headache having to explain to your less-connected relatives trying to make sense of it. As the DCEU marches on, the DCEU is a universe chock full of more questions than it has heroes.

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