Speculation has been flying like debris in a gale-force wind ever since the upcoming Batman Vs. Superman movie was announced. A fanboy/girl’s dream come true, the movie brings together all of DC Comics “Big Three” characters and continues the new Zack Snyder-led Superman series. The sequel was announced at last years’ San Diego Comic Con with a reading from the fan-favorite graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns which pits the Dark Knight against the Man of Steel. From that moment, anticipation and criticism have been at a fever pitch and nothing has caused quite as much controversy as the casting.
The first uproar came with the announcement of Ben Affleck as Batman. As the star of the much maligned Daredevil, Affleck’s last foray into the superhero genre was not a promising one. Despite his recent acclaim in both acting and directing for such films as Argo and The Town, the shadow of Daredevil dogged Affleck’s steps as the internet revolted against the announcement. The hate was quickly countered by those who recalled the uproar that surrounded Heath Ledger’s casting as the Joker, and the subsequent eating of words when his performance was universally praised and even recognized with a posthumous supporting actor Oscar following his tragic death. To the Affleck objections I can only say this: Chris Evans’ role as the Human Torch in Fantastic Four (another unloved member of the Marvel movie family) did not in any way reflect what a brilliant Captain America he would be in later years. It was a mediocre role in a mediocre movie and not a suitable measuring stick of ability. Think of what a loss it would have been had Chris Evans not been considered for the role of Steve Rogers because of his involvement with Fantastic Four! And Affleck has proven himself to be a strong artist in both acting and directing. Argo (which Affleck directed) won the Oscar for Best Picture just last year! I now consider him an asset to any film’s production and hope that he will elevate the movie past our collective wildest dreams. He has come a long way since the days of Daredevil and flops like Gigli. So perhaps the anti-Affleck arguments aren’t quite fair.
After the dust had (mostly) settled from the Affleck Apocalypse, another bomb dropped, this time a double threat: Warner Brothers announced Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor and Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth. For months big names like Bryan Cranston and Joaquin Phoenix had been rumored for the part of Luthor. Positive buzz surrounded Cranston in particular, lauded as he was for his award-winning portrayal of Walter White in the mega-hit Breaking Bad. I personally had become quite excited about the thought of Joaquin Phoenix as the great supervillain. The announcement of Eisenberg seemed… odd. Here we come to the poisonous power of rumors. They flood the internet, turning people’s hopes and expectations in one direction, making reality much more galling than it might have been otherwise (although I suspect this casting would have been controversial in any case). The Social Network, Eisenberg’s breakout role, cast him as an intensely wealthy businessman, but a juvenile human being. Perhaps this has biased people against his ability to step into the shoes of the entirely powerful, controlled, brilliant Luthor who could believably challenge Superman intellectually and morally. Of course, this depends on the version of Luthor in this movie which we know nothing about (it’s so difficult to speculate when there is so little information!). Lex Luthor has been everything from a mad scientist in early comic incarnations, to a whacky but evil villain in Superman: the Movie, to a powerful and successful businessman in Superman: the Animated Series (my personal favorite, with a fantastic voice-acting job by Clancy Brown) and even a troubled teenager in the Smallville television series. Eisenberg could very well be perfect for whatever version they aim for – time will tell. As for Jeremy Irons, not much need be said. I have seen no controversy around this casting choice, and with good reason. Irons, an accomplished and popular performer, has done everything from Disney to Shakespeare and is widely loved. I think we may be confident that Alfred Pennyworth is in good hands.
The announcement that caused more of a ripple than a tidal wave was that of the third member of DC’s “Big Three,” the Amazonian princess herself, Wonder Woman. When Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress best known for her role in the Fast and Furious franchise, was announced in the part, the reaction seemed to be mostly one of confusion. Why was Wonder Woman appearing in what would be a movie already tightly packed by the presence of Superman and the introduction of Batman? Would she have a cameo leading into the long-rumored Justice League film? Would she receive a solo spin-off? Was the Batman Vs. Superman movie secretly a Justice League origin story? Even now, no one knows much. Gadot received much less hate for her casting than did Affleck, although the hate that did come her way seemed to center around the fact that she was “too skinny” to play Wonder Woman, i.e., she was not well-endowed. I find this objection particularly galling when aimed at a character that is supposed to represent female empowerment. Let us hope such petty concerns will not become the main points of discussion surrounding this version of Wonder Woman.
Only after the movie’s release will we the viewers know whether these unexpected and unorthodox casting choices were the product of inspired thinking and storytelling, or merely an ill-conceived attempt to duplicate the Heath Ledger effect. It may be that all will become clear when we finally see the finished product, and we will mention Eisenberg’s Luthor in the same breath as Ledger’s Joker. Of course, we might also have to group him with the less-than-successful takes on villains like Julian McMahon’s Victor Von Doom or Topher Grace’s Venom… But as of yet, we don’t know the story or even the version of the characters that will be depicted. So many shades of Batman and Luthor and Wonder Woman have been depicted in the past that this movie and these roles are something of a wild card – they could turn out to be anything.
It is a universal truth that people complain about anything and everything -particularly movie casting. But this comes from a place of love; iconic, much-loved characters mean so much to us as individuals and as communities, and attaching a certain image or persona to these figures always causes disagreements. It is, of course, much too early to tell whether these unusual casting choices will have the unexpected brilliance of Heath Ledger’s Joker. But I remain optimistic. In any case, we have a long wait until May 2016… and I’m sure the fan storms have only begun.