Comics on Film: The 5 Best Recastings in Comic Book Movies

Comics on Film: The 5 Best Recastings in Comic Book Movies

Mar 26, 2014

In last week's edition of Comics on Film, we talked about avoiding recasting characters as much as possible when it comes to building a successful franchise with a shared universe. Recasting characters, especially within a work that shares continuity with a previous entry in a film series, has a lot of bad elements to it when looking at it conceptually. The character fundamentally looks and acts differently, while it often meets immediate fan resistance and can be a crapshoot for studios, especially if that actor was particularly well liked in the role being recast.

I thought it might be good this week to delve into the element of recasting in comic book films, since three highly popular and established superheroes are on the verge of being filled by new faces in upcoming installments: Christian Bale will be passing the torch of Bruce Wayne/Batman to Ben Affleck after playing the part in the highly successful Dark Knight trilogy, Hugh Jackman has been open about discussing the "inevitability" of recasting the X-Man Wolverine, and Chris Evans has flatly stated his intention to retire from acting altogether, which will obviously necessitate recasting Captain America in future Marvel Studios films after he fulfills his contract.

So, that led to this week's question: are there any comic book movie recastings that perhaps worked better than a previous installment? To answer this, I only applied one rule: reboots don't count. Of course in a reboot there might be intense interest in the difference between new and prior iterations, so the recastings in this list are strictly from within a film series where the continuity is shared and unaltered. If I didn't do that, then the perhaps-obvious choices of Bale and Heath Ledger -- and maybe even Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man -- would've likely topped the list.

So, here are the five comic book recastings that may have actually worked out for the better...

5) Ellen Page (from Katie Stuart) as Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat in X-Men: The Last Stand
Although Katie Stuart's time as Kitty Pryde amounted to little more than a cameo in 2003's X2, the casting of Ellen Page in the follow-up was one of the few bright spots in a film that can kindly be labeled as a misfire in the X-Men franchise. When The Last Stand dropped in 2006, Page was a particular focus of acclaim by fans and commentators, and she further cemented her skill as an actress with audiences in 2007's Juno. Kitty Pryde is a beloved member of the extended X-Men cast, and her first major translation to film needed to translate the character's immense likability to the screen. In that sense, Ellen Page was a clear choice.
Page's turn as Kitty Pryde helped give The Last Stand some sorely needed natural character interactions in a film filled with character deviations and missteps, which Bryan Singer feels he has an opportunity to "fix" in the upcoming film X-Men: Days of Future Past. One of the elements the director isn't fixing, though, is Page's casting as Kitty Pryde, who will be returning to the "present day" X-Men cast in those portions of the upcoming film, due out May 23.
4) Maggie Gyllenhaal (from Katie Holmes) as Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight
Although Batman Begins was a critically acclaimed breath of fresh air in the Batman film franchise, several critics and many fans alike seemed to point at one overall weak link in the cast: Katie Holmes, who played Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne's childhood friend and love interest.
Fortunately for fans and critics alike, Holmes' career choices are at least as good as her turn in Begins, since she elected not to return in the sequel (The Dark Knight) alongside Christian Bale and Heath Ledger to work on a new film, Mad Money, starring Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah. A choice she later said she didn't regret at all, since she was "really proud" of the finished film.
In The Dark Knight, Maggie Gyllenhaal helped craft the Rachel character into a far more understandable and relatable woman, whose toughness and commitment to justice against Gotham City's corruption made her more worthy of the affections of Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent and audiences alike. While people would likely have raved about Dark Knight whether Holmes had returned or not, Gyllenhaal elevated an already stellar cast just enough to help make it one of the absolute finest examples of a superhero film. 
3) Liev Schreiber (from Tyler Mane) as Victor Creed/Sabretooth in X-Men Origins: Wolverine
While most fans would likely agree that there was nothing significantly or particularly wrong with Tyler Mane's portrayal of Sabretooth in the original X-Men film, it certainly lacked focus for a comic book character that has a rich and important history in the mythos of the most popular X-Man, Wolverine. Sabretooth was Mane's first speaking part, since his prior forays into performance art were as a stunt man in previous films, and as a professional wrestler in the now-defunct WCW in the early 1990s. Mane's Sabretooth had only a few lines in the film, and no real narrative service was given to the character's backstory and relation to Wolverine.
While the 2009 prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine is rather far from the world's most popular comic book film, the fact that a prolific and versatile actor like Liev Schreiber was cast in the role of Victor Creed means two major things: an actor like that means the character needs a bigger, more important role in the story, and he also needs signifcant developmental attention, which basically means the filmmakers need to read more comics in order to adapt more from Sabretooth into the X-Men film series. While some fans weren't exactly happy with what the film did with Sabretooth, Schreiber's turn made it look like the actor was having a ball with a larger-than-life character.
2) Mark Ruffalo (from Edward Norton) as Bruce Banner/The Hulk in The Avengers
Before Marvel Studios was getting ready to announce the existence of The Avengers at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2010, efforts were made to get Edward Norton on board, but it never panned out. So, Marvel Studios felt it had to recast, which is certainly unfortunate because of the credibility and caliber that Norton brought to the part of Bruce Banner in 2008's The Incredible Hulk. Plus, just imagine if Norton's name was alongside the likes of Robert Downey, Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson on the marquee of the team-up film. It may have been even bigger.
Credit is given where credit is due, though, and Mark Ruffalo's portrayal of the fidgety Dr. Banner (and the raw power of the Hulk) easily helped make this one of the absolute smoothest recastings in comic book movie history, and Ruffalo also gave his Banner something the character kind of needed: geekiness. This recasting could've gone a lot worse, but in the capable hands of Joss Whedon and Mark Ruffalo, it still reached some giant green heights. 
1) Val Kilmer (from Michael Keaton) as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman Forever
Placing Val Kilmer's casting as Batman in the number one position on this week's article is not a statement saying the Tombstone actor made a better Batman than Michael Keaton. What Kilmer helped provide, though, was a more well-rounded look at the man behind the mask. By comparison, Michael Keaton's Batman was neurotic and very mysterious, especially on an emotional level. His Batman was stoic and silent, yet forceful in word (in the few moments he did speak) and action. Keaton's Bruce Wayne never seemed particularly comfortable in his own skin, even in his public appearances, and was perhaps even a little too eccentric and awkward around people ("Give Knox a grant.")
Val Kilmer helped provide a relatively fresh take on both the private and public Bruce Wayne, which I'd argue is very important when understanding the actions and motivations of the Batman himself. In both final scenes and deleted material available on the DVD and Blu-ray of Forever, Kilmer plays a far more tortured and driven Bruce Wayne, while also taking a page from the slightly whimsical-yet-suave Roger Moore-as-James Bond playbook ("I really gotta get you out of those clothes... and into a black dress.") when it comes to the public persona of Gotham's number one billionaire philanthropist.
As it stands, both actors provide different but equally valuable looks inside one of the world's most popular fictional characters, and Kilmer gets rather unfairly maligned when lumped in with the other massive missteps Joel Schumacher made over the course of his two films.
That does it this week for Comics on Film! What are some of your favorite and least favorite recastings in comic book movies? Continue the conversation in the comments below, and we'll see you next week!

Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and former retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.comThe Huffington Post, and You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film every Wednesday right here at Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.




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