Ben Affleck had to take deep breaths and psych himself up to film Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Ben Affleck taps into his adult geekness and kid excitement to play the complex superhero

DC Comics fans were not exactly thrilled when Ben Affleck was tipped to play the caped crusader in the new movie Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice.

When the announcement was made in 2013, Twitter erupted in hashtags such as #NotMyBatman and #BetterBatmanThanBenAffleck, the naysayers also darkly referencing the actor's previous stab at playing a superhero in the 2003 flop Daredevil.

But, it turns out, fans were attacking one of their own: a comic-book geek well versed in the little-known tale of the superhero face-off that inspired the film, which opens in Singapore tomorrow and co-stars Henry Cavill as Superman, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor and Amy Adams as Lois Lane.

Affleck, 43, still remembers the store in his native Boston where, as a boy, he first came across the comics of Frank Miller, including his 1986 miniseries The Dark Knight Returns - one of the first DC Comics to explore the darker themes of the Batman and Superman universe.

"There is a store called Million Year Picnic, which is still open, I think. That's where I bought my first Frank Miller comic book and that took my appreciation of this genre to another level," he recalls.

"It was right when people were innovating in that way - newer, more adult, sophisticated and complicated ways of looking at this world started to be developed within the comic genre.

"It took the movie business 20 years to catch up, to be really willing to mine these stories and this genre for complicated, interesting and resonant stories - but it has now."

As he and the cast of Batman V Superman speak to The Straits Times and other press in Los Angeles, the star says he was all too aware of fans' scepticism about him as Batman and reveals he experienced a few moments of doubt himself.

He had to take a few deep breaths and psych himself up the first day he shot a scene in full Batman regalia, for instance, turning to co-star Diane Lane, who plays Superman's mother Martha Kent, for reassurance he could pull it off.

"It was a very unnerving day, the first day wearing the suit and being on camera, and you think, 'Well, here it is. I'm really doing this,'" he says. "And it was very nice to have Diane there as a friendly face and she kind of looked at me and said, 'Yeah, it's going to be okay.'"

He laughs at the memory, but nods grimly, as if in agreement, when co-star Eisenberg says of the negative reactions to his own casting as Superman's nemesis Lex Luthor: "It's certainly strange and unnerving to be criticised for a part you haven't yet been able to screw up."

Affleck is no stranger to brickbats, of course. He has had a rocky relationship with the press and fans throughout his career, from being feted for his breakout hit Good Will Hunting in 1997, which won him and Matt Damon a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, and then raked over the coals for the double 2003 flops Gigli and Daredevil.

Slowly, he rehabilitated his reputation to become one of the most sought-after writers and directors in Hollywood, directing the action on dramas such as Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Town (2010) and the 2012 Best Picture Oscar winner Argo.

And yet playing Batman/Bruce Wayne is still a risk, not least because this is a franchise with a long and illustrious history, especially following the critical and commercial success of director Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films starring Christian Bale (2005 to 2012).

"It's certainly daunting because of the people who have played this character before and the great film-makers, most recently Christian and Chris, who did three brilliant movies," says Affleck, adding that it gave him a "healthy respect for the project and the characters and their history, and raises the bar".

He took the leap because he felt he was "in really good hands with this script and with Zack Snyder" - Snyder is known for directing stylish, adult-friendly comic-book adaptations such as 300 (2007), Watchmen (2009) and Man Of Steel (2013).

Man Of Steel sets up events in Batman V Superman, which shows Batman and others blaming Superman for the death and destruction that occurred when he battled General Zod and other villains from his home planet.

As the two heroes gear up for a showdown, the film investigates each character's inner demons.

Snyder and screenwriter Chris Terrio embraced the notion of Batman as "a guy who, on the one hand, is powerful and exciting and can do things we all wish we could do, but is also still a human being and struggling with his own vulnerabilities", Affleck says.

"I like the idea that Bruce Wayne and Batman were both (f**ked up), unhealthy people who were engaging in unhealthy behaviour at night as a result of psychological scars they (bore) from childhood. That duality was something that was really interesting to explore."

Asked if his excitement at playing Batman came from his "little boy superhero complex" or his "adult hero complex", he quips: "I have too many complexes to sort through."

Adds the star, who has three children, aged four to 10, with actress and soon-to-be ex-wife Jennifer Garner, 43: "I think I tapped into an equal measure of my adult geekness and kid excitement. Every day, there was something to kind of geek out about."

There will be many more opportunities for him to geek out, with DC Comics and Warner Bros studio to make nine more superhero movies between now and 2020, and Affleck's Batman set to reappear in several, including the ensemble adventures Suicide Squad later this year and Justice League Parts One and Two (2017 and 2019).

Titles such as Suicide Squad, next year's Wonder Woman starring Gal Gadot and Aquaman starring Jason Momoa, all have directors attached, but there are rumours that Affleck is in the running to take charge of one of these other films.

He does not address this issue directly, but says he was taking notes as he watched Snyder work his magic on the set of Batman V Superman, and is now more willing to try directing a movie like this.

"If I found the right material, I'd definitely throw my hat in the ring to direct something on this scale," says the actor, whose previous outings as a film-maker have been more character-driven dramas.

"I learnt a lot from Zack on this movie. One of the really valuable things about it for me was watching a guy who really understands how to make films on this level, with the cutting-edge technology and combining in-camera stuff with visual effects and stunts and practical effects and all the tools at a director's disposal.

"Seeing how Zack meticulously constructed them using hand- drawn storyboards, frame by frame, and evolving them into the movie you saw with a fairly consistent vision… was a valuable learning experience. So if that day did come, I definitely picked up a lot of valuable information and tricks. I'm definitely more emboldened now."

•Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice opens in Singapore tomorrow.

We love Batman...

"I can't stand blue, yellow and red all on one costume. Black and grey tones - or the lack of colours - are my favourite colours. I also like that Batman works his way up to be strong, unlike Superman who was born strong. And Batman has sidekicks, which shows he can handle teamwork. Most importantly, Batman has cool cars."

MR STANLEY "ARTGERM" LAU, 42, artist and creative director of digital art studio Imaginary Friends Studios

"I love his mysterious suit, his sexy voice and his black, subtle- yet-screams-for-attention outfit. How can someone so dark be so good? Because he relies on nothing but his determination - and some cool gadgets. He makes us believe that it is possible for us to be superheroes too."

MS SUZANNE CHEN, 33, marketing and communications professional

"Every time someone goes, 'Oh, Superman, save us.' He'll swoop in and use his super strength or speed or laser beams or whatever other generic power you can think of. But with Batman, it's all about the brains, personal trauma and being the smarter and better man - all without superpowers. Plus, who'd seriously have trouble recognising a guy who hides his identity simply behind a pair of glasses?"

MR JOHN TAN, 25, brand development specialist

"Batman has no superpowers and still manages to get the job done. He is the epitome of pure human perfection when it comes to fighting crime. His motivations derive from loss and hatred, yet he still upholds a code of no killing. He struggles with the weight of his actions."

MR KALVINDAR DHILLON, 32, staff nurse

"Batman is more relatable and realistic. He doesn't have any special powers unlike other superheroes and yet, against all odds, he still saves the day. Ultimately, Batman represents a human spirit that I can relate to. Of course, his bad-boy attitude always appeals to the rebels in all of us."

MR BRYAN TAN, 39, digital marketing consultant and co-founder of XM Studios, which produces statue collectibles of comic characters in Singapore

nah, Superman rules

"Batman relies too much on gadgets, whereas Superman has his own abilities and is near indestructible. So technically, despite how well armoured Batman is, Superman will win any time. He could crush Batman if he wanted to."

MR GABRIEL LIM, 36, executive director of experiential design firm Motiofixo Visuals. He named his three-year-old son Kal-el, which is Superman's birth name

"Watching Batman can get very depressing. Superman is more charming and gives off more positive vibes, which I like. Plus, he can fly. What's not to like about that?"

MS MIRIAM SIU, 29, lawyer

"I think director Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy converted a lot of younger people to liking Batman, but I grew up watching actor Christopher Reeve as Superman. He defined the superhero for me. And looking at the American psyche in their politics now, I think the United States - and maybe the world - needs a Superman more than it needs a Batman now. We need someone like Superman to unite people, rather than to divide."

MR DAVID LEE, 37, Singapore Film Society vice-chairman

"Superman is the perfect role model. He's very powerful, but he uses his powers for good. Sometimes, I think Batman just likes to kick a**."

MR SHAIK FAARUQ, 24, sales consultant

"I like Superman mainly because of director Richard Donner's movies. His films introduced me to the first visually convincing interpretations of superheroes. Actor Christopher Reeve made me believe that a man can fly and I have been a Superman fan ever since."

MR CHAI YEE WEI, 39, film-maker

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline 'Geeked out on Batman'. Print Edition | Subscribe