Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My problem with the Batman vs. Superman casting (It's not what you think)

Batman has, and will always be, my favorite character in all of pop culture.

The once and future Bat-fan

Being both a movie and comic book fan, I consider myself more than adequate to discuss the recent casting for Batman vs. Superman. Like any good pop-culture snob, each bit of news has both piqued my interest and befuddled me. However, while I may have some issue with the certain actors playing these comic book characters, my problem has nothing to do with Ben Affleck’s ability to play the Dark Knight.

 Internet trolls are a superstitious, cowardly lot.

Affleck became a punch line in the early 2000s for such duds as Gigli, Surviving Christmas and Daredevil (which doesn’t deserve half of the flack it gets). Despite his fall from grace, though, he has more than made up for it in recent years by finally falling into his niche as a director. You see, dear reader, while Affleck may not have had the biggest presence on screen, he has proven himself behind the camera with Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo.

Suck it, everybody.

Fresh off an Academy Award for Best Picture, Affleck has been the most on fire that he’s ever been. Against all odds he has become a critical darling and that is what makes his next movie choice so important. Momentum is a very fickle thing. It can die in an instant. With that being said, no matter how well he does as Bruce Wayne, taking a role in Batman vs. Superman may be a career mistake.

Like I said before, I love Batman. Batman is arguably one of the most important members of America’s pop culture pantheon. He has endured as a character and as a symbol for decades upon decades through comic books, film, video games and television. The power in Batman, though, is the ability for the reader to live through his adventure. The biggest personal trait for Bruce Wayne while he is wearing the cowl is his lantern jaw and nothing else.

If people weren't so hung up on race, Idris Elba would be the perfect choice.

Batman is a vessel where we can project ourselves as an ubermensch. He stands toe-to-toe with figurative and literal gods and holds his own through sheer ingenuity and training. That projection, however, is the reason why there has never really been a defining Batman in film. Adam West, while enjoyable, was its own character. Michael Keaton, while insane, couldn’t fill out a suit. Val Kilmer, while vulnerable, was rather bland. George Clooney, while possessing a magnificent chin, smiled too much. And Christian Bale, while an incredible actor, was hardly memorable past a few memes.

 No comment.
The man who has represented Batman to most people is a man who never even donned a cowl. Kevin Conroy, through voice alone, has defined the voice, gravitas and pathos of a man that dresses up like a Bat despite only voicing him in the phenomenal animated series. While Conroy alone is legendary, part of the reason why it worked so well is because he was still a drawing. That sense of projection was still possible because Bruce Timm and Paul Dini made the design both iconic and abstract enough to be truly powerful and long-lasting.

 He does have the chin for it though...

The deck is so stacked against Affleck that he will be blamed for any shortcoming in the movie. He can’t win, even if he puts the performance of a lifetime. This makes me worry because, although I think he is a good actor, he has proven himself as a magnificent director and I don’t want to see that tank like his acting career once did.

My true trepidation toward Batman vs. Superman comes from unsubstantiated reports that Bryan Cranston could possibly play Lex Luthor. Now, don’t get me wrong, Cranston is possibly one of the greatest actors around right now and I have no doubt he would do an amazing job as Luthor. My problem is that the casting of Cranston is itself unimaginative.

 I've always kind of hoped for Billy Zane as Luthor.

One can almost imagine the casting conversation, where somebody says they need somebody bald and evil. Cranston, being bald and villainous on Breaking Bad, would fit that very limited viewpoint perfectly. The problem is that Luthor could be so much more than those two traits.

 Here's the part where I admit to being a Breaking Bad hipster.

One needs only to look as far as the two actors that have portrayed Luthor in film: Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey. Both are amazing actors that have proven themselves in roles that I won’t even bother to list here because this post is already long enough. The people making the movies, however, had a very one-dimensional vision of the character. They only saw Luthor as an unscrupulous businessman, which leaves him nothing to do but cackle, collect kryptonite and plan elaborate real estate schemes.

Both Superman and Superman Returns hinged on horrible real estate schemes. 

The villain's plans are unimaginative and downright stupid but the writers needed to come up with the most despicable way that capitalism-incarnate can make money. Money isn’t Luthor’s motivation though. What Luthor wants is to be the most powerful person on the planet and Lexcorp is only one field where he exercises his control. He doesn't want to have to compensate for himself against Superman just because he is human. His biggest strength and weakness is his pride and what he fears most is being thought of as weak.

It's hard not to feel inadequate when you compete against Superman.

All great villains see themselves as a hero and Luthor is the biggest example of all. His biggest desire, when boiled down to it, is to be Superman. He wants to be this awe-inspiring presence that the human race should strive for. He wants to be the poster-boy for mankind’s evolution and potential as a species. All of those dreams, though, were dashed away the second the big, blue boy scout flew on the scene.

 Does it really sound any different from any politician you've met?

What Luthor wants the most in this world is power and control. He truly believes that the world would be better off under his megalomaniac rule and Superman, who isn’t even from this planet, is his biggest obstacle. Michael Rosenbaum, from the television show Smallville, was the only live action depiction of the character that realized Luthor could be both charming and menacing at the same time. In comic books, the depth of Lex Luthor can be found in stories like Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, Brian Azzarello’s Luthor: Man of Steel and Action Comics #890 to #900 by Paul Cornell.

 Read this story!
If Cranston becomes Luthor, which he himself laughed off on Twitter, he would probably do a good job. The decision to name Cranston as Luthor, though, proves to me that the people making this movie may not be as imaginative as I hope (with a name like Batman vs. Superman, how imaginative can I expect them to be?). We still have plenty of time until the movie even starts being made but, I admit, I’m not holding my hopes out for it.