Some Thoughts On Comic Book Casting

I know that my choice of blog reading skews the perspective, but it seems that a lot of sites talk about comic book casting as if it’s big news. When Elizabeth Hurley was cast as the villain in the new Wonder Woman television pilot, it was all over the place (the fact that I think that this a bad thing, and that Hurley is neither a good actress nor the right person for the role, is beside the point). This was nothing, of course, compared with the first photograph of the new Wonder Woman in the new costume (it reminded me more of one of those costumes you can hire or buy from online shops for your girlfriend to dress up to satiate a specific sexual fantasy).

It has even come to the stage that it’s news when someone wants to be cast in a comic book project: Katie Sackhoff wants to play Detective Deena Pilgrim in the television pilot for Powers, based on the comic book by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Avon Oeming. This would be perfect casting – Sackhoff looks the same as Pilgrim in the comic and has the sass, attitude and vulnerability to play the role – but it goes to show how things have changed.

I remember when the casting of a movie or television series for a comic book adaptation was a fun diversion for comic book fans – you never expected it to happen, so why not indulge in some ideal fantasy cast? However, that was the old days; now it’s a genuine prospect. And famous people now want to be in comic book films. There was the recent free-for-all with the casting of Catwoman in the new Christopher Nolan Batman film: practically every famous actress who was available and suitable was thrown into the mix.

If you take the start of the modern film adaptations of comic books as Superman in 1978, you can see that the only way to attract stars was money: Marlon Brando for Superman, Faye Dunaway for Supergirl (how much did they pay for Peter O’Toole?), Jack Nicholson got a particularly sweet payout for Batman (a large salary and a percentage of the profits, netting him about $50 million by most accounts). After the success of Batman, everyone else hoped they could get some of that comic book money, but Sylvester Stallone still needed $15 million to star in Judge Dredd (he should have been made to return some of that money), and the quality of films in the 1990s suffered.

However, since The X-Men in 2000, the quality of the films has been improving and the quality of the actors attracted to roles has increased. The parlour game of comic book casting has to led to realities, some good, some awful, and some that didn’t sound right initially but turned out to be perfect.

In the positive column, we got Chris Evans as the Human Torch, but in the negative column we got Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman. We got the perfect casting of Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier, and the now-can’t-imagine-them-as-anyone-else casting of Ian McKellen as Magneto and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Who knew Robert Downey Jr would be the perfect Iron Man? Who knew Heath Ledger would be so amazing as the Joker?

Some casting seems to ideally match the source material: Bruce Willis looks like his character from the comic of Red; Alfred Molina could have been a model for Doctor Octopus; Jackie Earl Haley could have been a model for Rorschach; JK Simmons is exactly like J Jonah Jameson; Sam Elliot (and his moustache) made for the perfect General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross; Kelsey Grammer (and his voice) was perfect under the make up for Henry ‘Beast’ McCoy. Some times there is cheating: the Ultimates version of Nick Fury was drawn to look like Samuel L Jackson before Iron Man was greenlit for production, although this didn’t work when Mark Millar asked JG Jones to draw the lead character to look like Eminem or The Fox to look like Halle Berry in his creator-owned book, Wanted.

Which brings up the bad casting: Halle Berry as Catwoman, Keanu Reeves as John Constantine (who was formerly blond and British), Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze, Vinnie Jones as the Juggernaut – the list could go on and on, but I won’t. You have to take the rough with the smooth, in a world where comic book movies are a staple part of the blockbuster season. We can take comfort in the fact that actors like Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Christian Bale, Gary Oldman and Tilda Swinton have been in films adapted from comic books. Anthony Hopkins is in Thor, for goodness sake. So, unfortunately, we get Elizabeth Hurley in Wonder Woman, but if Katie Sackhoff wants to be Deena Pilgrim, then it might balance out.

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