With “Edge of Tomorrow” director Doug Liman now set to helm “Dark Universe”, the long-gestating Justice League Dark film, fans of DC Comics’ cinematic universe would definitely be cautious given the criticism of Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad.” Both movies garnered heat from a vast number of movie pundits while Warner Bros. and DC Films have sufficiently satisfying box office returns to remain optimistic about.
Guillermo del Toro was previously attached to “Justice League Dark” for a number of years, and the latest news may come as something of a disappointment for fans hoping to see levity combined with the visceral nature of “Hellboy,” the exhilarating visuals of “Pan’s Labyrinth” and of course, the explosive grandeur of “Pacific Rim.” Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Audiences were left even more surprised (and polarized) when “Suicide Squad” took that major step introducing the supernatural dimension to DC’s movies through the villainous Enchantress. With an animated “Justice League Dark” feature set to arrive later this year, we could be getting a good taste of what the live-action “Dark Universe” has in store for audiences. Of course, “Suicide Squad” seemingly ignored what worked so well about Task Force X in the animated “Batman: Assault on Arkham,” so it’s possible both upcoming movies will have no bearing on the other. And with DC Films’ fanbase more tentative than ever following rumors of studio interference, problematic reshoots and competing cuts of the movies (something even Jared Leto has taken issue with).
From Ben Affleck as Batman to Will Smith as Deadshot to Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, casting is one aspect where DC Films rarely misses the mark. Here’s a pool we’d love to see Liman draw from to combat the occult and all things threatening from the mystical realms.
15. Constantine: Oliver Jackson-Cohen
If you watched him in “Faster” (2010) alongside The Rock and in NBC’s “Dracula” (2013), you’d have spotted the potential in this 29 year-old Englishman. While names such as Tom Hardy, Colin Farrell and Guy Pearce would add that blockbuster value to the franchise, there’s a certain wit and charm to the ruggedly handsome Cohen that really riffs off the essence that’s been cultivated with John Constantine since DC Comics refocused on him in the New 52. Albeit, still keeping him as the sassy detective of the occult and friendly con man we’ve all come to know and love as Hellblazer. Cohen has a few distinct advantages in that, first, age is on his side. Second, he’s obscure enough to take the character and subvert as he sees fit. In almost all of his roles, he’s been severely underrated while exuding a brash charisma that Liman can cleverly extract to lead this band of ragtag supernatural misfits fighting things that go bump in the night. We can already picture him verbally tussling with Henry Cavill’s Superman on-screen — not to mention Affleck’s Batman — without even breaking a sweat, doing so obnoxiously and without intimidation from the World’s Finest (hopefully winning even Alan Moore over!).
14. Zatanna: Alicia Vikander
Slimmer a figure than what the diehards would imagine? Well, please see Gal Gadot kicking major ass as Wonder Woman. Vikander has always cut a mysterious yet inviting presence on screen as seen in “Ex Machina” (2015), delivering every line with a quiet intensity. The 27 year-old Swede has a subtle yet exotic flair to her that we also saw alongside Cavill himself in last year’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” — owning almost every scene alongside the DC veteran and Armie Hammer. She offers a subdued command when floating across the screen and this is something that can be drawn as a parallel to the New 52 version of Zatanna as the character’s been written as more confident and self-assured. In fact, she’s never felt as major a player as she has now with DC maintaining her sex appeal as a hero and magician. In short, Vikander covers all these bases and as we saw in “Jason Bourne” this year, she can go toe-to-toe with the meanest of mugs and deliver the goods. You’d never expect Vikander to be a badass but she’s an actress that can pull off almost any role without surprise, which is exactly why she was recently cast as the new Lara Croft. She has immense range and, with her accent, reversing words to cast those spells should have us in fanboy glee. Also, it’s pretty clever to see the comics now not necessarily depicting her in magician’s garb and fishnets all the time. Jacket and jeans should cut it in the era of contemporary wizardry.
13. Jason Blood/Etrigan: Jonathan Rhys Meyers
He’s had quite an up-and-down Hollywood career in terms of his personal life and struggles, but when he’s on his game, Meyers is on his game. From “Mission: Impossible III” to “The Tudors” to “Dracula,” the Irish actor’s just about covered it all. With such an extensive resume, all it takes are a few looks back to see how mysteriously and enchantingly he glides across the screen, all the while commanding with a seductive power. This makes him the perfect fit to recite that poem to bring forth one of DC Comics’ most complex yet beloved demons. Blood has such potential to be a key player in DC’s supernatural world, yet at times he comes off as a card severely underplayed. Etrigan has found himself getting more love as opposed to being a random ace up the sleeve since the New 52 and “Forever Evil” shook up the established order. In fact, he’s evolved over the years as the go-to guy when knowledge is needed, topping off the many instances where he’s the proverbial muscle for those situations where things get sticky. These moments match so nicely with Blood’s snarky intuition. What makes this Jekyll and Hyde dynamic even more interesting is that as altruistic and endearing as this duality seems, any empathy you feel could well be canceled out when the monster emerges. Etrigan could also function as DC’s answer to Marvel’s Hulk, because at the end of the day, beneath the slivers of distrust and chaos, there’s humanity and redemption to connect with in the character, which Meyers knows all too well in real-life. As we all do.
12. Deadman/Boston Brand: Patrick Fugit
If you’re taking in “Outcast” on Cinemax then it should come as no big shock how good Fugit is, especially in roles that perceive him as cynical and tormented. He’s developed a lot since that coming-of-age performance in “Almost Famous” with a number of supporting roles in movies and TV thereafter not doing him full service. It’s clear now that he’s ready for a main role once more — so why not the acrobatic Deadman? With his diverse chops, it’s a safe bet that Fugit can nail possessing a multitude of people to ensure whatever quest he’s on succeeds. He’s already gotten great practice in the arena of creepy in Robert Kirkman’s exorcism drama and with each episode that passes, he shows layers and layers of depth. He’s one of the best at playing a haunted character (see his 2006 one-off performance in Fox’s “House M.D”) and this should be right up his alley. At age 33, he’s just about weathered enough in looks and personality which oddly enough throws back to former co-star, Billy Crudup, when Cameron Crowe decided to give Fugit his break into Hollywood in 2000. Coincidence that he crossed paths with Dr. Manhattan back then? Just picture him locking horns with the rest of the Justice League. Shouldn’t be a problem at all.
11. Doctor Fate: Riz Ahmed
Kent Nelson’s always been an interesting character, but in terms of getting more exploratory with this character, why not the Egyptian-American incarnation? In 2015, Khalid Nassour assumed the role of Doctor Fate and it’s been a delicate balance of self-discovery, knowledge transfer and growth in wisdom. If you’ve seen the media-commentary film “Nightcrawler,” HBO’s “The Night Of” or “Four Lions” (an English satire on terrorism), then you’ll know how dedicated Ahmed is to his craft. He’s all about transitional characters and with a role in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” later this year, trust us when we say you’re gonna want to get more familiar with him. Ahmed looks quite young at 33 but packs a veritable feel of someone hardened with age in most of his roles thus far. Ahmed would be ideal to flesh out a character that’s fairly new to comics. Also, more diversity is never a bad way to go.
10. Black Orchid: Ana de Armas
Alba Garcia shot to the limelight as the new iteration of Black Orchid that’s been part of Constantine’s new team in the comics. Her story is a perfect blend of vagueness and adoration, given that her arms had to be amputated. With her military alliance in the books as well as connection to ARGUS, this character and her unique power set could well be one of the breakouts of this film, perhaps even linking back to Ayer’s movie. Ana de Armas is a 28 year-old from Cuba who’s already tangled with Keanu Reeves in “Knock, Knock” and will also feature in the next “Blade Runner” film. Having just seen her in “War Dogs,” there’s more to her below the surface as she has that candor and oomph needed to place Orchid as something more than set decoration or eye candy. Whoever greenlit this version of the character made a wise decision in the book and Orchid could end up being a fan-favorite once the studio and director play their cards right. de Armas’ eyes and her accent alone would surely be reason enough to set the screen ablaze.
9. The Spectre: Keith David
Jim Corrigan’s always been one of DC Comics’ most enigmatic yet powerful entities. A role like this requires someone that overpowers. Especially vocally as the majority of this character is most likely to end up being CGI. Look no further than the voice of Goliath from “Gargoyles.” David also boasts a lengthy film and TV resume, albeit primarly in supporting roles. The idea of casting a 60 year-old may not tickle your fancy if “Dark Universe” is designed to be a franchise that goes the distance, but it works considering the character’s very strict disposition. David suits the role of a veteran cop passing judgement with a power that can shake the very foundation of the universe. His voice is striking and iconic, but even more so, when he’s been thrust into roles with gravity, he’s claimed them with poise and assertiveness. This may be a left-field call but as far as taking a gamble goes, this is one curveball well worth it. Don’t expect Spectre to be present in too much of the film due to his power level, but expect that when he does grace you with screen-time, it’ll be interactions you won’t forget. David is ideal to bring that kind of scary authority to life.
8. Felix Faust: Oded Fehr
You can’t have black magic and sorcerers without having this guy causing mayhem. A relic to some, but nonetheless, he really rocked the socks off Constantine’s team in the books. Faust has always been one of DC’s villains that, if written well, could pose a massive threat worthy of being the signature villain of a big budget comic book movie. While Faust is set to star as the villain in the “Justice League Dark” animated movie, it’s up in the air as to if the movie will follow suit or go its own way. But assuming they opt again for Faust, why not Oded Fehr? He killed it in “The Mummy” and also voiced Doctor Fate and Ra’s al Ghul for DC’s animated universe. With a wealth of TV shows under his belt to keep warm, the Israeli actor could look to the likes of “Resident Evil,” “Cover Affairs” and “The Blacklist” to help back up his claim. Faust is a character that needs to be fleshed out with a sense of heritage and in a rich manner. Fehr has the class and latitude as an actor to do just that.
7. Madame Xanadu: Alexandra Daddario
Geeks need absolutely no introduction to this young star. From the “Percy Jackson” movies to “Texas Chainsaw 3D” to “True Detective,” she’s spanned more than a few genres. Picture the chemistry between this 30 year-old and Cohen as Constantine — may the tarot cards fall where they may. Xanadu has been another key cog in the “Justice League Dark” comic and it would be a wise move to capitalize on a character that’s shown as much duplicity and guile as she has sultry smiles and alluring looks. To call her character in the books seductive would be a gross understatement, and you do need that real-world version of a temptress to bring such a character to life on screen. Daddario’s proven that she’s ready to make that leap after already taking a stab at a franchise and we can’t see a studio being afraid to take a risk on her following her body of work thus far. Or smile. She embodies every ounce of what Xanadu represents in the comics — temptation.
6. Trigon: Alexander Skarsgard
Having already battled the Justice League and Teen Titans in the animated universe, it’s another toss-up as to whether Trigon will get another bite at the cherry. If so, it’ll probably be in the same motion-capture vein as Thanos and once they go this route, they’ll need another domineering presence to drive the engine. Move over, Tarzan. We need to borrow that viking for a second. Skarsgard offers a mammoth physical presence as well as the skill required to unleash terror with biggest and baddest of heroes. “True Blood” fans can attest to this, as well. If he weren’t cast as Aquaman, Jason Momoa would be a great pick for this role but if Skarsgard’s Plan B, then you’ve got one of the best back-ups you can find. Trigon has a very enduring history with the big-hitters in the DCU and they may have to gamble throwing him at fans before Marvel Studios can unpack the likes of Dormammu or, someday, maybe even Mephisto.
5. Swamp Thing/Alec Holland: Justin Bartha
Many fans of “Brightest Day” didn’t foresee how crucial Chief Creative Officer and President of DC Entertainment Geoff Johns was in positioning him at the end of the event, and it turned out to be one of the publisher’s biggest surprises. Since then, the jury’s out on how big the character became but Swamp Thing’s definitely more mainstream these days. With Johns taking an even more hands on role with DC Films, there’s a good chance the films could more closely imitate the comics. Alec Holland deserves that anxious and jittery treatment and who better than Justin Bartha? It’ll be a challenge not playing second fiddle to Nic Cage or trying to ascertain what went wrong the night before disaster struck with Bradley Cooper, but we think he can handle it. He’s got the nerdy scientist vibe down cold and, once more, a contrast is needed for when his other half emerges. Swamp Thing will surely be a spectacle and someone’s needed to treat Holland in such a way so that when he sets us up for the big reveal, it’ll be quite a rewarding payoff for fans of the green.
4. Raven: Olivia Cooke
This character’s often torn and in despair, struggling with her internal conflict and of course, the underlying power of her birthright that could well end up corrupting her. Complex and intriguing. If you’ve seen last year’s “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” then you’d know how underrated Cooke is; same for those who’ve looked at “Bates Motel” or the sci-fi thriller “The Signal.” She’s the new Mia Wasikowska — petite, angsty, yet very telling. At just 22 years of age, I can see her easily being a thread tied to Trigon. And let’s be real, if he’s in it, Raven needs to feature, too. It’d make more sense to have her origins here as well so that she isn’t shoehorned (or Enchantress’d) into a potential Teen Titans film. It’d be nice having her start here and make her way on the recommendation of someone from the “Dark” team to greener pastures with the Titans. Even if it’s just a cameo, expect fans to lose it for this fan-favorite character.
3. Klarion: Freddie Highmore
The Witch Boy meets Norman Bates. Enough said. Highmore’s quickly charted his way as one of Hollywood’s young guns by selectively choosing his roles. It’s this kind of cherry-picking that we think strengthens an actor and Highmore usually expresses himself in roles that require inner-turmoil quite nicely. Being more outward about it could work wonders as it did when Heath Ledger cut loose with his take on the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” This leaves us wondering, when Highmore gets that role to go crazy, how brilliant will he be? The answer: Mindblowing. Klarion’s the right character for him to shake off the chains and go ballistic. We’ve seen shades of that dark side over the years on “Bates Motel,” so Highmore finally going full villain is sure to be a spectacle to behold. Even if just for a few minutes, his presence should be more than enough to shake up the plot. He’s the guy to evolve that character on screen into something much more sinister than just a boy.
2. Morgaine le Fey: Rachel Weisz
She’s tied to Arthurian times just as much as Jason Blood and would prove an organic connection to any seeds sewn with Constantine’s squad. Always conniving, le Fey has this aura about her, this gait that just makes you want to partake in more and more of her schemes. She’s also been translated nicely into the “Justice League” animated series, and in terms of magical villains, she definitely needs to be checked as a power player. Earmarking her as a big screen villain is another gamble given what ensued with Enchantress, but if done right, le Fey can be quite an asset. That’s where Rachel Weisz comes in. There are too many amazing performances she’s turned in to list here, but if there’s one thing she’s proven over the course of her career, it’s that beauty can be as dangerous as it is mesmerizing. They way she enunciates as well invokes tension makes her perfect for this role. It may end up with her masked for the majority of the time, but when flashbacks occur, expect the wow factor to be cunning, regal and high.
1. Sandman: Eddie Redmayne
Forget that time when we wanted Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play Neil Gaiman’s titular character. This is all Eddie Redmayne. One of the best actors in the game, period. While he may be busy with the sequel to Harry Potter prequel “Fantastic Beasts” for a bit, if DC can find finding a way to get Redmayne involved for a brief cameo or minor sequence, he’d undoubtedly blow the lid off DC’s supernatural ambitions. He has the look as well as that cryptic feel to him that matches the character that fans have clamored for for so long to be awakened on a medium other than books. The lore here is beyond comparison and DC fans can definitely count this as a trump card that if unleashed, it would reel in fans young and old. Sandman’s story is poetic in every ounce of its majesty. There aren’t many words to describe how fans would react if this character jumped to the big screen after being mentioned in a few stalled developments before. This could well be as big an appearance as Darkseid — and that says it all.
“Dark Universe” does not currently have a release date.
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