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Plaster casting – fixing what’s broken?

This post by Phil Bowers originally appeared on the fine site World of Superheroes here

When you get called a “fanboy”, or “fangirl”, I bet there’s quite a bit of indignation, and you feel like someone has just dismissed your opinion, because they obviously think it’s cool to demoralise people who don’t agree with them?

Well, part of that is true – some people will do it just to get a reaction from you, some will do it because they do indeed think it’s cool to have a dig at someone with a different opinion than themselves, but some will do it because they genuinely believe in their view.

Let’s say, for example, that you said, on Facebook, or Twitter, or a forum, that you disagreed with, say, Jesse Eisenberg’s casting as Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman. Your statement will provoke a fair number of people who will agree with you, and some who will vehemently argue why he’s the best thing since sliced bread. Some will no doubt insult you for being racist, sexist, or even being too obsessed with the source material.

Image via Warner Brothers Pictures/DC Comics

Image via Warner Brothers Pictures/DC Comics

The casting of Batman v Superman, and the Fantastic Four in particular, has provoked much online debate, but how much of it is justified? You may have a very valid opinion about both sets of movies, but many people are probably a little afraid of voicing it less they get shot down.

And let’s be fair, this goes both ways – say you think Ben Affleck as Batman is amazing, and you’re likely to be decried, laughed at, and downright insulted. No one is right, and no one is wrong – more importantly, none of the studios are likely to change their decisions based on internet forum outrage. If they did, Firefly would be on its sixth season by now.

But what prompts that outrage? Well let’s have a look at the main reasons why the most recent casting decisions are splitting fan bases the world over.

1) He/she/they don’t look like the character they’re supposed to be playing.

This is the preserve of the anti-Gal Gadot movement, who reacted with horror when the Fast and the Furious actress was handed the role. Her physique, in both musculature and breast size, has angered a huge percentage of the character’s fans. They’re convinced that the part will be ruined, and that the chances of a solo Wonder Woman movie will be axed completely if she plays the role. But let’s look at both sides. Gal Gadot has been trained by the Israeli military, and will no doubt, given her experience in past movies, be able to pull off convincing fight scenes. Conversely, she is far shorter and less muscular than the comic book version of Wonder Woman, and given that the character traditionally has an ample bosom, Gadot’s bra size is very different to that.

The Verdict: Comic book fans are always going to want a faithful recreation of their favourite characters. Gadot’s physical appearance is probably what has created so much uproar, but isn’t the real issue as to how good an actress she actually is? Those pointing to the Heath Ledger/Joker argument forget that he had starred in historical dramas and in the theatre before his turn in the Dark Knight – he had considerable acting experience in varied roles. Other names in the frame for Wonder Woman included Gina Carano, but let’s face it, she’s an MMA fighter with limited acting experience. Her only acting experiences so far have been in the same type of movies as Gadot – so it’s just her physical appearance that has made her popular. My concern is that Gadot hasn’t got the past range of acting experiences that make me think she can carry off what is, in essence, the third part of DC’s Big Three. It doesn’t matter how big her chest is, it’s whether or not she can act.

2) He/she/they is/are too young to play that character.

Image via DC Comics/Warner Brothers Entertainment

Image via DC Comics/Warner Brothers Entertainment

You can level this one at a whole clutch of choices: Ben Affleck, Jesse Eisenberg and the whole of the Fantastic Four cast. The internet vitriol directed towards Affleck was nigh on unprecedented, especially after Warner Brothers had declared they were looking for an older, more experienced Batman. Affleck’s previous work in the superhero genre swamped opinion, and anyone who remembers his Daredevil fondly will again be castigated by large sections on the online community. Jesse Eisenberg – who I will admit I don’t like as an actor – as Lex Luthor garnered a similar reaction, especially when Luthor has traditionally been an older nemesis for Superman. Leaked details of him being a tattooed street thug working his way into the business world have again annoyed people. If I’m honest, they’ve annoyed me too – I don’t think the character should work that way. The whole Fantastic Four casting has been treated with derision too, partly because of the presence of Michael B. Jordan (which we’ll come onto later), but mainly because the whole cast appear to be very, very young compared to their comic counterparts.

The Verdict: Well, for a start, it’s not the actors’ fault – they’ve been cast in a role and will be paid handsomely for it. If the aim is also to do the story, however good or bad, in a certain way, then maybe that actor is right for the role. If Lex Luthor were to be a mid 40’s business magnate, then Eisenberg isn’t the right guy, but if they decide that they want a younger Luthor, who is on an upward curve and still making his fortune, then it would be no good casting someone like Bryan Cranston. The key part of playing Batman is being able to play both Batman and Bruce Wayne. My initial choice for the role, Karl Urban, was based on his performance in Dredd, but as a friend pointed out to me, he would have made a good Batman, but could he play Bruce Wayne? At that point I had doubts. Maybe this Batman is going to need to keep up the facade of his alter ego more than previous versions? Argo proved Affleck is more than capable of a mean acting performance, as well as being a chameleon when it comes to his appearance – he may be more suitable than people realise. As for the Fantastic Four, their youthful looks come direct from the Ultimate Comics interpretation, where Reed Richards and Co become superpowered somewhere between their 18th and 21st birthdays. Again, if that’s what the makers of the movie want, then it makes sense to cast a younger group of actors. In the end, it comes down to the director and what they want from the movie – spilling hate in the direction of the actor isn’t fair, if they’re the right age for the role that’s advertised. But is the story right? Well that leads nicely on to…

3) He/she/they has/have had their character altered from the source material.

Now this does encompass some of the previous two categories, but certain criticisms made me put it apart from the others. For one, the “R” word – Race. This is specific to Michael B. Jordan’s casting as Johnny Storm in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. You can’t really get over the fact that this one causes a huge uproar, because Johnny Storm, in every incarnation, is white. Michael B. Jordan is black, so where has the casting move come from? There are a multitude of arguments – the need to introduce “political correctness” by casting an actor of a different ethnicity, that it shouldn’t matter what colour the actor’s skin is as long as he is a good actor, that people objecting are “racist fanboys”. This isn’t one that’s going to go away. To a lesser extent, the Luthor argument falls here too, as you’d be hard pressed to find a book, cartoon or comic strip depicting Lex as one of the Splatter Punks from Robocop 3.

Image via Marvel Comics/20th Century Fox

Image via Marvel Comics/20th Century Fox

The Verdict: This is where it gets a little heated. Opposition to Jordan’s casting is attacked as racist. And to a certain extent, that could be viewed as being true – the argument that blond haired, blue eyed Johnny Storm’s role went to a black actor has enflamed some people, but dismissing all the complaints against his casting as being an ethnic slur is generalisation that’s as sweeping as it is dangerous. Things are complicated somewhat by retaining the role of Sue Storm as Johnny’s sister – going to white actress Kate Mara. There is a flipped argument to say why can’t Sue be black as well, and there is some logic to that. Maybe a better explanation is that Jordan and director Josh Trank worked together on Trank’s first major hit Chronicle. Jordan was the first actor cast in the movie, way before any of the others. It’s not unreasonable to assume Jordan was always going to have some kind of role once Trank was handed the keys to the franchise. Rather than castigate Trank for picking a black actor to play a traditionally white role, should the larger criticism be that the director picked the actor first, and then went about finding out which character he could play? Should he have looked at the character first, then decide which actor he wanted to play him? On the other hand, other iconic white characters have been successfully played by black actors. I point to the fact that one of Batman’s greatest villains, Harvey Dent, was always white – until he was depicted as black in The Animated Series, one of the most critically acclaimed interpretations of The Dark Knight. But by far the biggest one of all, that no one really seems to have a problem with, is the change of Nick Fury from a white, blue jumpsuit wearing David Hasselhoff lookalike, to a badass, leather clad, Samuel L. Jackson, both on the printed page and on screen.

Overall, none of us really know how good these movies are going to be until we see them. Nobody really knows how well Ben Affleck will be able to adapt to the role that Michael Keaton, Christian Bale and Kevin Conroy have become synonymous with. How will audiences take to a Johnny Storm that’s the adopted brother of The Invisible Woman, rather than her biological sibling? Will Wonder Woman turn out to be an underpowered piece of eye candy, or a shrewd piece of casting? No one knows yet, so let’s not prejudge before we know what’s what.

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