Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fantasy Casting - The Justice League,Part One: Heroic Choices

     OK, so after the Avengers made all the money in the world this spring the Justice League Movie was finally, totally green lit.  Which of course, begs the question:  Who might wind up playing who?  Nothing official has been released yet (although Ben Affleck is slated to direct, which sounds very promising), so we have a perfect window of opportunity to play...Fantasy Casting....
     It's important to remember that, while the Avengers have been around for a while, and have legions of fans, the League's members are even more iconic, both more archetypal and more intricately individual.  Of course, they have an advantage in that they have been explored and developed far longer.  Some version of most of these characters has existed since the late 30's/early 40's.   Batman had a quarter century of experience saving the world before Stan Lee had managed to settle on exactly what kind of radioactive bug he wanted to go with.
     The League has had a lot of members from the 1960's to the present, but the classic seven that most League fans would expect to see front and center in the first film are:

1. Superman - Yeah, Batman is my favorite, but you still have to put Superman first, because he WAS first, Modern Superhero Mach 1, from which all who follow are variations on the theme to at least a tiny extent.  He is also the moral center of the League, who is wise but also naive, able to believe in ideals of absolute good and evil, without a lot of moral murkiness.  He is the embodiment of hope. 
     It is very difficult to choose an actor for a role like that, but fortunately I don't have to do so.  With Man of Steel opening next year, a new franchise is just getting started.  So unless Man of Steel flops terribly, which I'm NOT expecting, count on Henry Cavill to play this role.  Let's hope he's up to it.

2. Batman - The Yang to Superman's Yin, The Batman dwells in moral murkiness.  He lives in shades of grey.  He is the prototype for the dark avenger superhero, angst ridden and troubled with a painful past he is trying to resolve, but never willEvery character that fits this model from Daredevil to Spawn owes a little something to the Caped Crusader.  He is the League's greatest thinker and tactician, the one who solves the unsolvable.  He is also the one that, despite having no powers, everyone fears just a little.
     Christian Bale has emphatically stated that he has no intention of ever playing Batman again, so that's out.  Besides, you sort of want Bruce, Clark, and Diana to all be young together when the League is born.  This leaves us with two options.  The first is to still feed out of Nolan's Dark Knight saga by using Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a Batman II, and I'm sure he'd be really good in the role, but I kind of want my JLA with a Bruce Wayne.  The other option is to go with a new actor cast as a young Bruce Wayne, just starting out.  He would have to work out a lot, and he's a little young, but I can so see Ezra Miller capturing the character of Bruce Wayne in his early twenties like no one ever has before.  He can be scary as hell as a scrawny teen (We Need To Talk About Kevin), so if he beefed up a bit....

3. Wonder Woman - Rounding out the big three, princess Diana of Themyscira is the original female superhero, half royal diplomat and emissary of peace, half fierce Amazon warrior.  Her outlook is like Superman's (but more so), as she dedicates as much of her time advocating for peace and human rights as she does fighting crime.  Of course, with no secret identity to maintain, she DOES have more time on her hands.  Her outlook is also like Batman's (but more so).  Of the three she will be the fastest to simply reach out and snap the neck of a dire threat, if no other solution seems possible.  She was trained to fight in wars.  She embodies both the tender, nurturing and fierce, protective aspects of femininity.  In the League, she often serves as the mediator between Supes and Bats, helping them to find a middle ground.  Her excellent military mind also makes her one of the League's best field commanders. 
     This one was hard to cast.  First you need an actress who can handle all of the diverse and almost contradictory elements of Diana's character discussed above.  Next, she can't be much older than 25 (as an immortal Amazon, Wonder Woman grew to young adulthood and stopped aging.  After all, her mother is the same Hippolyta who ruled the Amazons in the myths of antiquity, thousands of years ago).  Then she has to be gorgeous, statuesque and somewhat busty.  When I set out to do this fantasy casting, I set one rule for myself:  I couldn't use anyone who has already been used in another super hero franchise.  I am allowed one cheat on this rule, and I almost used it twice here.  My first idea was Ana Paquin (who was Rogue in the original X-men trilogy) but I finally decided she was too short and I'd never really seen anything to convince me that "warrior" was part of her repertoire.  I then briefly considered Hayden  Panettiere (of Heroes fame), but she too is pretty short.  I found myself wishing fervently that Angelina Jolie was just one decade younger.
    I finally settled upon The Big Bang Theory star Kaley Cuoco.  She's only 27.  She's demonstrated on the aforementioned show that she can play a character much more patient and nurturing than our society has been conditioned to expect a girl as pretty as her to be.  Before Bang, she was on the last season or two of Charmed playing a fierce warrior witch, much more prone to physical combat than any of the Halliwell sisters.  It would be a challenging role for her, possibly a game changer for her career, but I can't think of anyone else who embodies all the essential components quite the way that she does.

4. Martian Manhunter - Most people would probably list J'onn J'onnz, the Manhunter from Mars, sixth or seventh on this, but to me he has always been the most essential element of the League other than the trinity.  He is the most consistent member of the team, having been an essential part of almost every line up that the League has ever operated with, often as the leader.  John is perhaps the most tragic of them all.  Bruce lost his parents, John lost his wife, his daughter, and his whole world.  Now he devotes himself solely to the protection of his new home, a world that has always feared and mistrusted him more than any of his companions.  Rather than judge humanity for their fear and ignorance, he has always been patient, nurturing, and humble.  This humility is perhaps the most impressive element of his character, considering that he is probably the JLA's most powerful member.  He may not be QUITE as fast, strong, or invulnerable as Superman, but he is close.  Add to this the fact that he is one of the DC Universe (or DCU)'s most powerful telepaths who can also shape shift, and become invisible or intangible.  Being much older than most of his team mates (at least in human years), J'onn is the League's ultimate mentor and is very protective of the only family he has left.  He has often led the team, and is one of their best field commanders, easily using individual member's skills in tandem bringing about a whole that is truly greater than that old sum.
     In the various animated incarnations of recent years, J'onn has usually been portrayed as a black man in his human guise to help increase the team's diversity.  Why not? He's actually green, so one human ethnicity seems as reasonable as another.  I think that Malcolm Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile) might make an excellent choice for this character, who is often a rather large and hulking physical presence, belying a gentle nature.

5. The Flash - There have been two generations of Flash's in the JLA.  The first was police scientist Barry Allen, who was always sort of the Middle America everyman of the team.  He wasn't an alien, a member of a royal family, a reckless test pilot, or an obsessive creature of the night.  He was someone whose barbecue you could imagine attending.  He was always the easiest persona to relate to, and the most down to earth of super heroes.
     When Barry died saving the universe during the Crisis On Infinite Earths series in the mid eighties, his mantle, and eventually his place on the team were filled by his nephew Wally West, formerly Kid Flash.  Wally was a bit of a cad and a showoff in his early days as The Flash, but he has since grown out of that and become in many ways a lot like his uncle.  He also represents the up and coming generation of heroes as the first Teen Titan to actually take the place of their mentor.
     If the film goes with a Barry Allen flash, I think James Franco would be nearly perfect in the role.  He can pull of the scientist aspect and I would totally go to his barbecue without even being too self conscious.  This version of the Flash is the way that I think the film should go.  However, if...
     ...the film makers decide to go with Wally, and make him the youngest member of the team, I think that Jeremy Irvine might be a good choice.  A lot of the reason that the first half of War Horse was so much better than the second was because so much more of it was him.

6.  Green Lantern - There have actually been four different Green Lanterns in the League (five if you count Kilowog during the years when he had lost his ring), and they've all been very different people.  The classic,  Hal Jordan, is a bit of a daredevil and at times a downright loose cannon.  If we use Hal, we are pretty much saddled with Ryan Reynolds, who only seems to be able to reach his full potential as an actor when Buried alive.  I think we can do better.
     John Stewart is probably my favorite of the Earth's Green Lanterns.  Where Hal was a dashing stunt pilot, John is an architect.  He is at his best when creating something out of only the ideas rolling around in his brain, whether it be a skyscraper or a ring construct.  He is a little more introverted and holds himself to impossible standards at times.  He is more of a thinker than Hal, whenever possible concocting a plan before jumping into battle.  THIS is the GL I want in my JLA film, and I feel pretty confident that Anthony Mackie (Hurt Locker) would make an inspired casting choice.  He could really play John as both smart and strong, but still haunted by self doubt.

7. Aquaman - Oh, Arthur.  Aquaman in the early days was always the lamest member of the team.  He never felt completely at home either in Atlantis or the surface world, but always maintained this nondescript, slightly sunny disposition.  We would definitely need to find a way to spice that up a bit if we chose to go with this version of the Sea King.  I think I would rather utilize the license these films always have to play with continuity a bit, and present Arthur at a slightly later point in his life:  the gruffer, scruffier, yet infinitely more regal version we saw during the classic JLA's rebirth in the early 2000's. 
     If we go with the greener, more innocently naive version, I think Channing Tatum could pull it off nicely (and he'd look great in those green tights).  I would prefer, however, the more mature (and grumpy) version and I would absolutely love to see this interpretation brought to us by the (highly impressive) acting talents of Mr. Ryan Gosling.

Other Classic (mostly) JLA member who could factor into either this film or sequels:

  1. Hawkman - The only member of the JSA from the 1940's who carried his own legacy in the Justice League, rather than passing his mantle on to the next generation.  The re-incarnation of a hawk god worshipping prince from ancient Egypt, he embodies all the grace, beauty, ferocity, and strength of his feathered namesake.  He has also developed into quite the crotchety old man over the decades no matter how many times his youth has been restored, making him the League's resident curmudgeon.
     Hawkman is huge and buff and he often has a really bad attitude.  Is it wrong that my choice for this role was chosen partly for how he would look in that chest harness?  Not really, because there are many better reasons just as valid.  I pick Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Magic Mike) whose acting will surely be impressive the second time I watch the film...

  2. Hawkgirl - Two heroines have joined the League using the name Hawkgirl.  The first was Shiera Saunders, who had been following Carter Hall (or Prince Khufu, or Hawkman) through an endless series of reincarnations for centuries.  Just as fierce in battle, she was truly his better half in their personal interaction, possessing far more compassion, patience, and reserve.  Where he found aggravation, she found bemusement.  I think Mila Kunis could play this dichotomy brilliantly, but I can't decide if I'd rather have this Hawkgirl, or her niece who took over the role after she died.
      Kendra Saunders absorbed just a bit of Shiera's soul when she tried to kill herself around the same time that Shayera died.  Kendra survived, but...changed.  She has identity issues and a lot of angst to work out.  She's also much younger.  I'm thinking Saorse Ronan.  I would love to see her kick butt Hanna style again.

3. Green Arrow - Oliver Queen has always been the great bleeding heart of the JLA, always crusading against some social injustice or other.  He also serves as the team's moral compass of last resort, always on the watch for signs that the absolute power at play in the League is beginning to fulfill the proverbial job.
     Some versions of the League's history (time having been rewritten more than once in the DCU)have depicted Ollie as being a little older than most of his team mates and I think that I would like to play things that way and cast Matt Damon.  I've never seen him play scruffy and bombastic, and his efforts off screen as an activist indicate that he should be able to relate well to the role of Green Arrow.

4. Black Canary - If Wonder Woman is the (mostly) chaste Madonna of womanhood, then I suppose that Black Canary is the whore.  Part super hero, part super spy, part femme fatale, and part martial arts prodigy, if there is a female equivalent to the Batman in this pantheon, it is Dinah Lance.  With or without the sonic cry, she is without a doubt the second most prominent heroine in the DCU (next would probably be Barbara Gordon - Oracle - the original Batgirl, but that lady belongs to a later roster entirely). 
      I know its a LITTLE of a type cast to be suggesting Rooney Mara for this role so soon.  Dinah and Lisbeth, however, are very different characters.  Lisbeth could ONLY be herself and was socially awkward to say the least.  Dinah can be anyone and slide through social gatherings and small talk with ease no matter who she is being at the time.  No other actress even occurred to me.

5. Atom - If there is one member of the JLA who would be the best chess opponent for Bruce Wayne, it is Professor Ray Palmer.  Whereas Batman is a detective and a tactician in his approach to investigation, the Atom is all scientist, devising tests for theories and occasionally making logical-intuitive leaps that make normal genius' brains hurt.  But there is also a sense of adventure to the Atom, driven no doubt by a scientist's naturally overwhelming sense of curiosity.
     Again, I almost used my cheat, because I really wanted Michael Shannon for this, had settled on him, then found out he is already Zod in Man of Steel.  The NEXT idea I came up with was Zachary Quinto, but I think playing Syler on Heroes has to count as having already played a super villain.  My newest idea is Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks, Being Flynn) and for now, he's gonna be my pick.

6. Zatanna - The League's expert on all things magical, Zatanna Zatara has spent her whole life facing down the kind of threats that most easily render Superman and Batman helpless.  More sorceress than super hero, her participation with the JLA has grown more sporadic as she has grown up, but almost every incarnation of the team has had to turn to her for assistance at some point.  The most unique element of her character may be that a part of her truly loves the stage.  She is a consummate show woman, hiding the secrets of the universe in plain sight.
     I played with lots of actresses as possibilities here, but nothing really stuck until I remembered that when she first joined the team, Zatanna was barely a legal adult, definitely the youngest of the original team's core.  I doubt she'll be in the first film, so in two or three years, Chloe Grace Moretz will be the perfect age to play Zatanna.  I think she might also be the perfect actress for the role.

7. Plastic Man - Plas was not actually a member of the original team, but even before the death of the Elongated Man, Plas had pretty much taken his place in the pantheon.  People think of him largely as comic relief, and he certainly can be.  Plas's heart and mind, however, are much darker and more complex than they seem at first.  He probably IS a little crazy, and uses humor as a way to deflect his feelings.  I laugh lest I dare to weep.
     Oh my gosh, I love this pick.  I see Plas done largely as motion capture animation, constantly warping and stretching and shifting in ways that simple CGI overlay isn't going to render well enough.  Now picture the (further) stretched and warped features of Jack McBrayer, who plays Kenneth on 30 Rock.  Funny and a little disturbing, isn't it.  That's the best kind of Plastic Man.

So, for the heroes, we have:
Superman - Henry Cavill
Batman - Ezra Miller (or Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
Wonder Woman - Kaley Cuoco
Martian Manhunter - Malcolm Clarke Duncan
Flash - James Franco (or Jeremy Irvine)
Green Lantern - Anthony Mackie
Aquaman - Ryan Gosling (or Channing Tatum)
Hawkman - Joe Manganiello
Hawkgirl - Saorse Ronan (Mila Kunis)
Green Arrow - Matt Damon
Black Canary - Rooney Mara
Atom - Paul Dano
Zatanna - Chloe Grace Moretz
Plastic Man - Jack McBrayer

Got a better idea?  PLEASE share it in the comments.  Next will be the villains, and I still have my previous super hero franchise involvement cheat in play. 

Related posts:  Merchandisers Assemble (Avengers review), The Dark Knight Transcends, We Need To Interrupt Miss Bala (We Need To Talk About Kevin review),

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