It's a brave new world for superhero films. The Marvel Cinematic Universe really raised the bar following the release of Iron Man in 2009 by creating a universe of interconnected films that showcase mostly rising stars like Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt and (newfound action star) Paul Rudd while supporting them with more seasoned acting fare such as Anthony Hopkins, Samuel L. Jackson, Glenn Close, Jeff Bridges and Michael Douglas.
No longer is the comic book genre something to be ridiculed thanks to the less than stellar offerings of Batman & Robin, Steel or even films as recent as Ang Lee's Hulk and Ghost Rider. But even though the Disney owned MCU seems to have the market cornered with their significantly more established library of blockbuster films, it's rising competitor – the Warner Bros. owned DCEU (DC Extended Universe for those not in the know) – is quickly gaining momentum thanks, mostly in part, to some rather unprecedented casting and directing choices. From (at the time) relative unknown actors like Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot to Oscar caliber stars like Ben Affleck, Will Smith and Jared Leto, Warner Bros. is building an arsenal of exceptionally talented, multi-range A-Listers to bring their grim and gritty new vision of the almost 80 year old universe to life.
So with [Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice](tag:711870) right around the corner and the recent announcement that Academy Award winning actor J.K. Simmons (whom you might also recall as having brilliantly brought the Daily Bugle Editor-in-Chief, J. Jonah Jameson, to life in all three of Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man films) having been cast as Commissioner Gordon in Justice League and (presumably) the untitled stand-alone Batman film, let's take a look at just what DC seems to be shooting for with their creative decisions and whether or not they are doing their fan favorite characters proper...dare I say...justice.
HENRY CAVILL as Superman
Like Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh, director Zack Snyder chose Cavill for his version of the last son of Krypton (for 2013's Man of Steel) because he was a predominantly unknown actor to mainstream audiences. The British actor, and star of Showtime's period drama The Tudors has a striking likeness to the titular hero of the film and did an exceptionally fine job for the material he was given. While I am still kind of at odds with the darker direction that the reboot took, it can't be said that Cavill didn't do his job admirably. He's a hell of an actor, having proved that in The Tudors and, more recently, in the incredibly underrated Man From U.N.C.L.E., and – though he lacks the charisma that I found so endearing from Christopher Reeve's performance – I have to admit I can't wait to see what he has going forward with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Cavill was a great find for the role given the actors available right now. He definitely has the build for the larger, more action oriented versions of Superman as recently drawn by artists such as Ed Benes and Ed McGuinness. I don't necessarily think that Superman actors need to be large because his strength isn't derived from physical muscles. It's the effect the sun has on his DNA. The slimmer physiques of Reeve and Routh were equally acceptable, if not more accurate. I've often thought that Matt Bomer (Magic Mike, Chuck and White Collar) would have also been a terrific choice. But Cavill is doing fine for the version they are depicting. The question, then, is are they doing right by depicting a darker Superman? That's a topic for a different article.
BEN AFFLECK as Batman
The casting of Affleck was a complete 180 from what fans were expecting, having been rallying for the likes of Karl Urban (Dredd and Star Trek) and Josh Brolin (now portraying Thanos in the MCU). It was being rumored that Affleck was targeted to direct Justice League, with many expecting him to accept only on the condition that he play Batman, but a collective sigh of relief was had when the Daredevil star declined the directorial offer. But then it was announced some time later that, to the devastating shock of many, the actor had indeed been cast as the Dark Knight in Batman v Superman. And the Internet exploded. I admit, I had mixed feelings regarding it. On one hand, Affleck is a terrific actor. Though never nominated for an Oscar in the acting category (despite amazing turns in Hollywoodland and Gone Girl), the Academy Award winning writer and producer will bring with him a particular grit and skill set that has yet to truly be applied to the caped crusader. On the other hand, there was a huge fan outcry given the stigma that comes with his Daredevil performance and other less than stellar offerings like Reindeer Games and Gigli. But I like Affleck. I'm willing to set the latter aside and see what he brings to the table. And if he, in fact, directs the solo Batman film then I'd say we're all in for a bigger treat than what was originally imagined. Personally, I would love to see what he could bring to a live action adaptation of the "Red Hood" or "Hush" storylines. Though "The Court of Owls" seems to be a fan favorite choice as well.
GAL GADOT as Wonder Woman
Admittedly, I know very little about Gal Gadot. I have never seen any of her body of work and that's probably horrible of me to say as a film writer. So there's little for me to attribute in terms of acting ability. But, like with the aforementioned casting of Affleck, fanboy reaction was at extremes when the news of Gadot's nabbing the role of Diana Prince was released. Many were hating on her nationality while others were dismissing her for her not as muscular (or "endowed") physique. But let's keep in mind that even though Wonder Woman was created to empower women in the fight for American values, she's a Greek demi goddess. So the Israeli born star of Fast and Furious 6 is still in the right Mediterranean gene pool to bring our beloved female hero to life. As for her physique, let's keep in mind that Wonder Woman, like Superman, is granted strength more through metaphysical needs rather than actual muscle. However, keep in mind that the former Miss Israel also served in the IDF for two years, so don't count her out in the physical fitness department. Based on what I have seen so far, I'd say Gal Gadot is set up to be a terrific Wonder Woman and I have high hopes for her solo film.
THE SUICIDE SQUAD
If there's a movie in the more immediate future of the DCEU that I am really excited for it's Suicide Squad. The trailer was amazing and I have every bit of faith in [director] David Ayer's ability to do justice to this motley crew of badasses. I'm not going to dabble into each and every casting choice here. Most of the characters are so obscure that actors are interchangeable and any interpretation of said character will do. Digger Harkness, for instance, was never a particularly interesting character to me in the comics. His son was a much better addition in the early 2000s with his part in the Outsiders comic. Therefore Jai Courtney will likely do just fine. Primary concerns of mine to cover are Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Smith's casting caused some rumbling on the Internet because in the comics Deadshot (aka Floyd Lawton) is not of African American descent. Racial swapping is nothing new to comic based movies but when it's done to main characters, fanboys tend to raise the tension levels. Case in point, the casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch in Fox's recent abortion project that was The Fantastic Four. However, unlike Human Torch, Deadshot doesn't have a background that grounds him to any certain ethnicity. The casting of Jordan not only outraged fans but also lead to an incredibly awkward and painful to watch scene that had to explain why Sue (played by Kata Mara) was Johnny's white sister. We don't need to worry about that with Floyd Lawton so all we need to expect is the action packed spectacle that the king of summer blockbusters is sure to bring with him, while paired with his Oscar nominated dramatic chemistry. Floyd Lawton is one of those villains who has a moral code that often circles him around to the side of good. It's with that dichotomy that I can't wait to see what the star of Concussion brings to this universe.
Margot Robbie is another actress that I have limited experience with, having not yet seen The Wolf of Wall Street. However, I loved Focus and she was terrific in it. She really had the petty criminal with the pretty face down perfectly. She had great chemistry with Will Smith, which does make me a little worried that there will be an unnecessary romance with Lawton throughout the movie. Regardless, I think she's going to do great in the role and her casting continues to speak volumes towards the caliber of actor that DC and Warner Bros. are trying to achieve with their creative direction. They aren't just looking for tight bodies and flavors of the week. They are bringing in movie stars. Harley Quinn needs to be clinically insane and know how to have fun with that. I have complete faith in Robbie to pull that off.
Which then leads us into...
JARED LETO as The Joker
Heath Ledger's Oscar winning performance as the clown prince of crime in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is a tough act to follow. Especially so soon after that film, with the portrayal as well as the actor's sad fate still fresh in so many memories. When fellow Academy Award winning actor, Jared Leto, was cast as the DCEU's Joker I don't think anyone had anything to say about it.
Until we saw the promo shot.
The tattoos. The nuclear green hair. The grill of plated teeth. The J "prison tear" on his eye. This is not the Joker any of us were expecting.
I like Jared Leto. I haven't seen his Oscar winning turn in Dallas Buyers Club because that's not really my genre of film, but he was stellar in Fight Club and the way he longingly stared into Colin Farrell's eyes in Alexander was quite convincing. I have no doubt that he'll deliver an amazing version of the Joker that would combine the intensity of Ledger with the silliness of Mark Hamill. But I still don't think fans are sold on the look. It's one of the more prominent examples of how DC is re-imagining some of its core characters and that is always a dangerous thing where die hard fans are concerned. We'll just have to see what happens when Suicide Squad hits screens later this year.
JASON MOMOA as Aquaman
Moon of my life...it is about time we got a completely bad ass interpretation of the king of the seven seas. I love Aquaman (see the t-shirt in my profile photo). I always have. I think he's a terrific character with the negative stigma of how he was portrayed on Challenge of the Super Friends. But let's be honest, that wasn't exactly any character's shining moment. I will gladly accept the past if it means watching the former Game of Thrones star crush somebody with a [expletive deleted] whale! And did you see him wield that ax against Stallone in Bullet to the Head? Probably not because I think I was one of only 10 people who saw that movie (and of the 10 the only one who liked it). But it's safe to say that Jason Momoa is awesome and will be an absolutely amazing version of Aquaman. Based on the look they are going with the late 90s version that was a much more extreme than any version that had come before. I think DC nailed it with this one and I can't wait to see what he brings to Justice League and his solo film with [director] James Wan.
EZRA MILLER as The Flash
I have been speaking pretty positively on everybody so far. Even the ones that weren't necessarily the perfect choice or following the best creative direction, I found the positive. That said, I'm not sold on Ezra Miller as Barry Allen. The 23 year old actor of such films as Trainwreck and Perks of Being a Wallflower just doesn't scream Barry Allen to me. Fan reaction online wasn't sold either. It didn't help that his casting was announced just days after Grant Gustin blew up TV ratings records with his portrayal of Allen on The CW's hit new TV series based on the character. In the comics, Barry Allen is an older character and not very small in frame. John Wesley Shipp was great casting for the character when The Flash aired on CBS in 1990. Miller's casting shows that DC is angling for another re-imagining by showcasing a character known for running as being very slender. Being a former Cross Country runner myself I can relate to that approach but Allen compensates for his accelerated metabolism and doesn't really suffer any physical effects. Marvel has often surprised with left field casting so we'll just have to wait and see if DC and Warner Bros. know what they are doing with this one.
RAY FISHER as Cyborg
Ray Fisher is another one of those actors who just hasn't done much yet so I can't attest to him as such. I did watch The Astronaut Wives Club and he was fine enough in his episode of that. If anything, my concern here is with Cyborg as a character. There seems to be a lot of attention brought to him in recent years but I was never that big of a fan. There's strong evidence that DC is planning a "Flashpoint" film in their universe's future and Cyborg plays a significant role in that. However, he really works best (to me at least) in a supporting or ensemble role. That is all well and good for Justice League but what about the solo Cyborg film that is planned to follow? Personally I kind of wish they would opt to turn that film into a Titans movie now that the proposed TNT series has been cancelled. However, it will really come down to Fisher and how much charisma he brings to the role. Like I said above, I can't judge anything until I've seen it because I just don't have much to go on.
JESSE EISENBERG as Lex Luthor
Superman's arch nemesis has certainly had an eclectic history and gone through a variety of re-imaginings. He began life as a mad scientist, gone full battle suited super villain, the head of a corporate empire and President of the United States. He's been a childhood friend of Clark Kent and also not met him until he became Superman as an adult. However, despite all of that, nobody was prepared for that announcement that we'd be getting "Google Hipster Lex" in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Personally, my favorite version of Lex is the cold and calculating business man who secretly masterminds operations behind a respected public persona. This was best represented in Superman: The Animated Series (as voiced by Clancy Brown) and I always felt that Billy Zane would have been the best choice to bring this fan favorite incarnation to life. However, Zack Snyder and company continue to operate the re-imagining wheel and seem to be bringing us a Lex Luthor for a new generation and casting the Oscar nominated star of The Social Network certainly helps to enforce that. I like Eisenberg but so far I'm at odds with this creative decision. The Luthor scenes in the trailers haven't been the most awe inspiring for the character. Hopefully there are still bigger plans that we haven't been privy to.
J.K. SIMMONS as Commissioner Jim Gordon
The most recent casting announcement was definitely a pleasant surprise. Personally, I was hoping for Bryan Cranston as Gordon. The Breaking Bad star was trying to nab the role of Luthor but I felt he would have been the best choice for Jim Gordon (perhaps even better than Gary Oldman). I have to say, though, I'm not disappointed with the casting of Simmons. The Oscar winning actor did an amazing job in Spider-Man and virtually any character he touches is pure gold. He's terrific. It's not yet known the extent of his role in Justice League but it will be a pleasure to see what he brings to the Batman solo franchise with Ben Affleck.
I'm going to bring it to a close there. I know I didn't cover everyone but I think I've drug this out enough. If you're interested to hear my thoughts on the casting of Jeffery Dean Morgan and Lauren Cohan as Thomas and Martha Wayne or Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth then just let me know and perhaps I can manage a follow up.
In the meantime, what do you think about DC's casting choices? Is there darker, grittier approach with A-List movie stars and Academy Award winners an intriguing approach? Or do you prefer Marvel's more fun loving popcorn flick approach? Sound off in the comments and don't forget to follow me on Twitter (@ThisIsJamesT) for all things rant and ravey.