Comic book fans and movie-goers are divided in their reactions to the cinematic arrival of DC superheroes. Put any current franchise on a website and watch the comments section fill with angry fanboys expressing their rage at castings they hate, while attacking anyone who dare express a different opinion.
For this post, I thought I would look at some of the least controversial superhero movie castings. Characters and performances that for the vast majority of viewers, faithfully captured key characters in ways that matched how those viewers thought of them in their minds.
I thought that for once, it would be nice to focus on the stronger performances rather than jumping on the modern bandwagon of tearing strips from everything that perhaps wasn’t at the same level.
A few caveats. I’m going to skip over the earliest superhero movies that I experienced, being the Christopher Reeve – Superman films (1978-87 showing my age). While for many Reeve remains the truest iconic Superman, Kidder the truest Lois Lane, and Gene Hackman and Terence Stamp among the most iconic villains, I find it difficult to compare with more modern films. If those same films were released today, they would likely be panned as camp. They were made for a different time. I will also skip the Batman films from 1989-1997 for similar reasons.
This doesn’t limit us to the latest incarnations of the various superhero franchises. We have seen multiple Batmen, Supermen and various X-men since then.
In no particular order:
1. Heath Ledger – Joker. The Dark Knight.
For many, Jack Nicholson’ s performance in the 1989 Batman movie was iconic. And any actor taking on the role after that knew going in they would be compared to that. Ledger’s performance embraced the role and made it his own. It not only earned him a (tragically posthumous) Oscar, but probably paved the way for many of the modern reboots and character reprisals that studios may have otherwise been afraid to undertake.
2. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan – X Men franchise
Listed together as the chemistry these two have is as important as their individual performances. A chemistry that is reflected in a real-life friendship that is beautiful to watch. The more recent performances have, perhaps, tried to draw too often from the same well, but these two arguably are the reason the X-franchise has survived for so long.
3. Robert Downey Jr – Iron Man. MCU.
In a period where superhero movies were characteristically grim and dark, RDJ reminded everyone that superheroes could be fun as well. In many ways anchoring the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though again, in recent times, another well that may be running dry while the unkind ravages of time continue to take their toll.
4. J.K. Simmons – J Jonah Jameson – Sam Raimi Spiderman movies.
A relatively minor character here in a series of films filled with heroes and villains. But the JJJ performance perfectly captured everyone’s idea of the comic book character. So much so that for many he was a highlight, even though JJJ is intended to be a character you hate. With J.K. Simmons is now preparing to play Jim Gordan in the Justice League films, some are as eager to see his performance as any of the lead characters. Spoiler alert – in the first Justice League film at least, his role is apparently pretty minor.
5. Tom Hiddleston – Loki. MCU
Literally the best movie villain Marvel have created to date. Though with Marvel’s propensity for killing off their villains, along with a couple of terrible villain misfires (Iron Man 3), that may not be as big a statement as it initially sounds.
6. Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool.
Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool (in his own film only – ignoring the Wolverine Origins version). Which is kind of interesting when you consider that Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern could just about top any list of controversial superhero castings.
Alfred Molina as Dr Octopus – I found more compelling than the comic book version of the character.
Chris Evans as Captain America – I could probably have included him in the list, but didn’t want to overload the Marvel representation.
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine – For many, an iconic part of the X-franchise. But early reactions weren’t as favourable. Too tall, an Australian actor playing a Canadian, etc. But with his final performance as Wolverine coming up, he will be very difficult to replace.
Michael Fassbender as Magneto – A great actor, highlighted in his scenes without the other stars (XMen first class – Bar Scene. Apocalypse – scene with his family). His performances so often overshadowed by other issues in the films they appear in.
Some additional thoughts.
I have high hopes for Gal Gadot as Wonderwoman, and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. I just don’t feel we have seen enough of either yet to properly rate them. The same could be said for Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange and Brie Larsen as Captain Marvel.
The other highly successful superhero team not mentioned here is Guardians of the Galaxy. While the movie and performances were great, most fans of the film are unfamiliar with the source material. I did have Guardians of the Galaxy in my comic book collection, but the version of the team I collected had a completely different line up than the movie version. I loved the film, but just couldn’t make a call on faithfulness to the source material.