Occasionally, actors just don’t work out. Sometimes, like with “Arrow’s” Vixen, played by Megalyn E.K., scheduling gets in the way. Other times producers want to take the character in a different direction, like what happened with Clare Foley, who played Poison Ivy on “Gotham” before the writers decided to make the character older. And sometimes, despite the performer’s talent, his or her take simply doesn’t work; Academy Award winner and former Catwoman Halle Berry probably knows a bit about that.
But most superheroes are bigger than just one actor, however, and sometimes when a franchise spawns sequels and reboots (or moves studios), producers must recast major parts. That’s not always a bad thing. Giving someone new a shot at a role is often a chance to correct past mistakes, and many of the most memorable superhero performances spring from characters who didn’t quite work the first time around.
Here are a few of the most notable examples.
13. The Hulk
In “The Avengers,” Bruce Banner reveals his deepest secret: he’s always angry. That should’ve made Eric Bana, who starred as a vicious criminal in “Chopper” before headlining Ang Lee’s “Hulk,” a perfect fit for the part. The same could be said for Edward Norton, who played rage-filled characters in films like “American History X,” “Fight Club” and Marvel Studios’ “The Incredible Hulk.”
And yet, it was everyman Mark Ruffalo who finally pulled The Hulk out of his cinematic doldrums. Where other actors focused almost exclusively on Banner’s rage issues, Ruffalo downplays the character’s internal struggles. That gives Ruffalo time to develop other aspects of Bruce Banner’s personality (remember, he’s also a brilliant scientist) and ensures that when the cracks in Banner’s public persona finally show, it’s that much more terrifying.
Kelsey Grammer will never escape psychiatrist Frasier Crane, the character that he played on television for a staggering 20 years. It was Grammer’s Emmy Award-winning work on “Cheers” and “Frasier” that won him the role of Beast, the X-Men’s resident egghead, in “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Just temper Frasier’s haughty elitism with a healthy dose of self-doubt and some fur. That’s Hank McCoy in a nutshell.
But, as Grammer learned, it’s hard to act under pounds and pounds of blue make-up, and Grammer’s Beast was a dud when “The Last Stand” hit theaters. Things went better for Doctor McCoy when Nicholas Hoult took over the role starting with “X-Men: First Class.” Thanks to Frasier, Grammer brings a certain amount of baggage to the screen. Hoult started with a clean slate, which gave him the freedom he needed to make the Beast his own. Over the past three X-Men films, he’s done exactly that.
11. James Gordon
Police Commissioner James Gordon is one of Batman’s closest allies, but you wouldn’t know it from Tim Burton’s “Batman.” Actor Pat Hingle built a career out of playing cops and military commanders, but over the course of the four 1990s Batman films, Hingle doesn’t do much more than light the Bat-Signal and fall victim to Poison Ivy’s poison charms.
By contrast, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is just as much Gordon’s story as Bruce Wayne’s, thanks in large part to Gary Oldman’s performance. With his thick glasses and bushy mustache, Oldman gives the audience a regular person’s perspective on the madness that engulfs Gotham City, and watching Gordon struggle while he grows into the steadfast ally that comic fans know and love is just as compelling as any of the trilogy’s superhero brawls. He may not wear a cape, but Oldman’s Gordon is the real hero Gotham deserves.
10. Nick Fury
Don’t dismiss David Hasselhoff because of campy shows like “Knight Rider” and “Baywatch” (or “Baywatch Nights,” which unfortunately is not a crossover). The man is a legitimate superstar — he holds the world record for Most Watched Man on Television Ever — and in the late ’90s, a name like Hasselhoff was a big get for a made-for-TV movie like “Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
But while The Hoff has charisma to spare, he doesn’t exactly command respect. Marvel Studios needed a Nick Fury with gravitas — after all, this is the guy who gives orders to Captain America — and artist Bryan Hitch had already modeled Ultimate Nick Fury after Samuel L. Jackson. Throw in the fact that Jackson is both a long-time comic book reader and a former Jedi, and it’s pretty clear that Sam “The Man” was the right call.
9. Gwen Stacy
Bryce Dallas Howard could’ve been great as Spider-Man’s love interest Gwen Stacy. We’ll never know. Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3” is stuffed so full of characters and storylines that there’s just no time for Gwen, and Howard’s performance suffers as a result.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” has its fair share of of faults, but casting Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy isn’t one of them. There’s palpable chemistry between Stone and her co-star Andrew Garfield (with good reason; while filming, the pair hooked up in real life), and it’s easy to understand why Spidey falls for the strong and vibrant Stacy. Against all odds, “The Amazing Spider-Man’s” romance works, and that goes a long way toward humanizing Garfield’s Peter Parker — and makes Gwen Stacy’s inevitable fate all the more tragic.
8. Martian Manhunter
The Martian Manhunter should be cool. He has Superman’s superpowers, a tragic backstory, and the Doctor’s paternal love for humanity — and he can read minds and shapeshift. And yet, in CBS’s late-’90s “Justice League” TV movie, J’onn J’onzz was not cool. As played by “M*A*S*H” alumni David Ogden Stiers, J’onn’s big moments involves a half-hearted attempt at protecting a fellow Leaguer’s secret identity and some lame comedic beats. (The film was described by critics as “‘Friends’ with superheroes.'” It wasn’t a compliment.)
CBS did better by J’onn the second time around. At first, David Harewood’s “Supergirl” character seemed like he was being set up as villainous Cyborg Superman, but by making Hank Henshaw into one of the Martian Manhunter’s many disguises, “Supergirl’s” producers both surprised fans and put a new spin on one of the Justice League’s founding members. Harewood’s J’onn J’onzz is colder and more distant than most comic book versions, but at least he’s a hero, not a joke.
Ask “Hellblazer” fans to describe John Constantine, and they’ll probably list the same things: spiky blond hair, a British accent, and a Sting-like swagger.
You know who has none of those things? Keanu Reeves, who played Constantine in the 2005 film of the same name. You know who does? Matt Ryan, who took over the role in NBC’s short-lived “Constantine” television series.
Ryan’s Constantine isn’t a comic-perfect portrayal. While Constantine’s signature chain-smoking is toned down on the show and the character’s bisexuality didn’t make it on screen at all, Ryan’s portrayal captures Constantine’s spirit: the sardonic sense of humor, the entrenched cynicism, and the sense that tragedy’s lurking behind every corner, just waiting for most inopportune moment to strike.
Before Black Widow, Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn started kicking butt on cinema screens, Jennifer Garner was tearing it up as the super-spy Sydney Bristow on “Alias.” So, when Garner was cast as Elektra Nachios in Mark Steven Johnson’s “Daredevil,” it seemed like a natural fit. Garner has both the acting ability and the action chops. What could go wrong?
Well, the script, for one thing. Both “Daredevil” and its spinoff “Elektra” feel generic and derivative, and for a story about a professional assassin, Garner’s performance feels awfully safe. Thankfully, the second season of Netflix’s “Daredevil” gave Elektra her edge back. Whether she’s stealing cars with Matt Murdock or fighting off the Hand’s ninja soldiers, Elodie Yung’s Elektra is dangerous. The audience is never sure what Yung’s Elektra is going to do next, making her relationship with Daredevil feel less like a soap opera and more like a roller-coaster ride with no off-switch.
5. The Punisher
When it comes to casting, The Punisher’s versatility is a blessing. If your ideal Frank Castle is a hulking meathead in the tradition of 1980s action heroes, then Dolph Lundgren is perfect for the part. If you like him more as a grim vigilante, watch Thomas Jane’s take. If you prefer the over-the-top lunacy of Garth Ennis’ “Punisher MAX,” then Ray Stevenson’s Frank Castle in “Punisher: War Zone” might work for you.
However, that kind flexibility can be a problem, too: with so many potential interpretations, it’s hard to find a take on the character that works for everyone (it doesn’t help that all of The Punisher’s big-screen movies are pretty lousy). At least “Daredevil’s” Jon Bernthal comes pretty close. Throughout “Daredevil’s” second season, the audience sees Frank Castle turn from a run-of-the-mill mass murderer into a (relatively) more controlled anti-hero, and the slow transformation gives the character a depth that previous interpretations lack. Even better? Bernthal claims fans haven’t seen “the real Punisher” yet, and promises that Frank Castle’s best is yet to come.
Professional wrestling was big business back in the late 1990s, and casting World Championship Wrestling’s Robert “Jeep Swenson” as Bane in “Batman & Robin” probably made a lot of sense at the time. In the comics, Bane is a big, muscular guy who wears a luchador mask and breaks backs. That’s not a big stretch for a pro wrestler, especially one who feuded with pre NWO-Hulk Hogan, who’s the closest thing that WCW had to a real-life superhero.
However, it takes more than brute strength to take out The Dark Knight. Physically, Bane’s a formidable foe, but he’s also a master strategist, and it’s Bane’s keen intelligence that makes him a superior villain in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Hiding Tom Hardy’s face underneath a mask and distorting his voice to the point that it’s almost incomprehensible was a huge risk, but it paid off. Hardy conveys Bane’s menace through body language alone, and his performance elevated the character from a mid-’90s novelty into one of Batman’s greatest foes.
3. Green Arrow
Both of the small-screen renditions of Oliver Queen began life as Batman knock-offs. Like Batman, “Smallville’s” Green Arrow represents both a different moral viewpoint from Superman, and serves as Clark Kent’s closest ally. Aesthetically and thematically, the first season of “Arrow” feels a lot like Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy recreated on a television budget.
Only one Green Arrow changed. “Smallville’s” Justin Hartley never moved beyond Bruce Wayne-esque billionaire-playboy-with-a-secret archetype, but Stephen Amell’s Green Arrow transforms every year. He adopts new perspectives and he learns from his mistakes. After four seasons, Amell’s Green Arrow is a completely different character. That kind of growth wouldn’t work without Amell’s strong performance, and “Arrow” is all the better for it.
Ben Affleck might be an Academy Award-winning writer and director, but he’s a hit-or-miss actor, and despite saying all the right things — supposedly, “Daredevil” was his favorite comic growing up — he couldn’t elevate lackluster material to something watchable.
Charlie Cox might not have Affleck’s star power, but he is the superior Man Without Fear. By focusing on Matt Murdock first and Daredevil second, Cox gives the character a humanity that the big screen version lacks — and he can really sell a beating, too. Murdock’s life is full of pain and tragedy, and Cox makes sure that it hurts like hell.
Don’t worry about Affleck, though. All things considered, he made out pretty well…
The “Dark Knight” Trilogy is great, but Christian Bale’s Batman isn’t. In “Batman Begins,” the character’s not fully formed. “The Dark Knight” belongs to the Joker, and when Batman appears, the film is more interested in talking about his role as a symbol, not as a person. Batman’s not even in Gotham City for most of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and the movie is really about how the city reacts in the Caped Crusader’s absence.
Sure, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” has a lot of problems, but Affleck’s Batman isn’t one of them. Batfleck is tired, jaded, and cynical — twenty years of work as a vigilante will do that to a person — but at least he’s human. That makes him the most sympathetic character in “Batman v Superman” by a long shot, and it’s crucial that viewers can root for someone amid the movie’s pessimism and destruction. As an icon, Batman is fascinating, but occasionally, it’s nice to remember that there’s a man under that cowl as well.
Disagree with any of these replacements? Is there a recasting you loved that didn’t make the cut? Let us know on the CBR Community!
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