It has been almost a week now since the incident, code-named “Hashtag Batfleck” unfolded, and while the damages are still being assessed, and many speculators (self-included) are predicting worse things in the future, one fact remains:
It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Oh, don’t get me wrong – I dislike Affleck’s acting and have little hope it will get better. I don’t buy comparisons with Michael Keaton and Heath Ledger, as both of them, while unorthodox choices, had proven their chops with movies like Clean and Sober and Brokeback Mountain. And I could think of many people who could do a better job. But with that said, I also have a memory. A memory that extends back to some prior attempts at bringing page to screen that brought only folly and scorn upon all involved. The fact that Ben Affleck even remotely looks like Bruce Wayne puts him way ahead of some others who got the big chance. Does this mean I like Ben any better? Nahhh. But it gives him something to be better than, and I hope he does.
For the purposes of this list, we are focusing on the actor – Halle Berry may or may not have made a decent Catwoman, but we’ll never know, since the movie she was in was such a radical reimagining that she had no chance to get it right. Nor will we say Sam J. Jones was a bad Flash Gordon – he may not have done the comic character, but for the movie he’s in he fits perfectly. These are the ones who arguably could have done it right in their respective projects, but went oh so wrong.
10. Rex Smith as Daredevil (The Trial of the Incredible Hulk).
Affleck gets some deserved grief for his portrayal of Matt Murdock, though that red leather costume did him no favors and handicapped him from the start. But he’s not the worst live-action Daredevil – that honor goes to Smith, star of the short-lived Street Hawk, in which he fought crime on a high-tech motorcycle. Affleck’s costume wasn’t even the worst costume, as Smith got a black body stocking with a blindfold (this was just before Tim Burton’s Batman came out, ushering in the era of the fake muscle-suit).
The TV movie – which thankfully never spun off into a planned Daredevil show – is most notable for featuring the first live-action cameo by Stan Lee, John Rhys-Davies’ performance as Kingpin, and the first time the Lou Ferrigno Hulk ever wore the signature purple pants. Most of us have blotted Smith from memory; he’s one of two actors on this list whose name I had to look up.
9. Eric Allan Kramer as Thor (The Incredible Hulk Returns)
Ah, the ’80s. The only decade that could have made stars of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. The decade when casting logic went thusly: you can either cast a muscular guy as your hero, or a competent actor. You may not have both aspects in one human being.
Kramer has since demonstrated comedic chops in movies like Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but at that time, he was most definitely the latter category (the more obviously Nordic Dolph Lundgren would have been an ideal choice, but Hollywood was still busy trying to make him a movie star). Not helping matters was the way he was poorly costumed and shoehorned into a superhero show that, up to that point, had relied on science-based fiction. It took several movies and lots of groundwork for Kevin Feige to build up to Thor in the current films; part of this was because everyone remembered what a thud he had made when awkwardly brought into live-action previously, arguably poisoning the well for two decades.
8. Seth MacFarlane as Johann Krauss (Hellboy II: The Golden Army)
Few things seem to make idiots laugh harder than a fake German accent, especially if its primary basis appears to be Colonel Klink. Alan Tudyk has made his especially grating in 28 Days and Transformers 3, and Guillermo del Toro’s one misstep in an otherwise fantastic and spectacular supernatural super-sequel was to let MacFarlane do his version of Dee Bradley Baker’s American Dad “Klaus the fish” character for more than a second or two.
Krauss, a sentient cloud of vapor who uses a diving suit to take physical form, is an interesting character, and one of the few who can easily kick Hellboy’s rock-hard red ass. Giving him such a broadly false, stereotypical voice, however – especially when the gifted Thomas Kretschmann was the original choice – makes him the sort of grating, nationalistic comic relief we usually, rightfully pick on when other directors use. He’s a gas, all right – the kind that should be passed.
7. Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World)
Do not, I beg you, take me out of context here. Though I’m pretty much asking for it.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a fantastic movie. There is no question in my mind that it is Edgar Wright’s best. And in a vacuum, Michael Cera might have even been an acceptable choice for the lead role as a rocker torn between a beautiful high schooler and the equally beautiful – but more mysterious – girl of his dreams.
This is not that vacuum. Cera brought to the movie a baggage of being the nervous puppydog loser, and audiences had trouble buying that he would be a dude confident enough to go through seven evil exes. Hell, some actively hated the idea that they were supposed to root for this guy to go after Mary Elizabeth Winstead when he already had Ellen Wong. He’s not so terrible in the movie – but his presence in it needlessly kept people from seeing it, which makes him a more unusual sort of bad casting than most on this list. Sometimes that can be overcome, as per Messrs. Keaton and Ledger, who delivered unexpected interpretations – but Cera wasn’t different enough for a large percentage of moviegoers.
At least he’ll always have money in the banana stand.
6. Keanu Reeves as John Constantine (Constantine)
The main reason Reeves isn’t higher on this list is because if you can bring yourself to forget that Constantine is based on a popular character who exists in comics, the movie itself isn’t bad. Reeves’ limited range includes “dazed” and “jaded,” both of which are perfect for a guy who has seen so many literal and metaphorical demons that he doesn’t give a shit any more, and is chain-smoking himself to death.
Except: Constantine in the comics is blond, English and smartly sarcastic, none of those being things Reeves even attempts. To be fair, he wouldn’t have been good at doing any of them, so for the sake of the movie we got – rather than the movie we deserve – he stuck to his safe zone, and the climactic showdown with Peter Stormare’s Satan is inventive and fun.
Then the movie craps on our Make the Best of It Parade by having Constantine quit smoking, and Shia LaBeouf turning out not to be dead. In storyline, and perhaps everything else, this J.C. should have ended up going to hell.
5. Topher Grace as Eddie Brock/Venom (Spider-Man 3)
It’s hard to know how much to blame the actor for this one, since he was both horribly miscast and the victim of a director throwing a hissy fit. But considering how generally faithful in tone Sam Raimi’s first two wall-crawling features were, and how good he was at translating villains like the silly looking Dr. Octopus into real threats, Venom sticks out like a sore organic webshooter.
Avi Arad asked Raimi to include Venom because the fans wanted to see him; Raimi responded by neglecting the more classic interpretation of Eddie Brock as the physical opposite of Spidey as well as the moral one, and casting Grace as a creepy little worm of a guy. Then he had Venom frequently show his Topher face for no reason, and after teasing us with a defeat that would allow the character to return, flipped us off by having him commit suicide. While it was a nice change to have a Spidey villain who was genuinely evil, rather than a kind mentor figure accidentally corrupted, which was becoming a tedious cliche, it would have been nicer if both director and star could have given him to us the way we actually were demanding. Instead we got fangs for nothing.
4. D. B. Sweeney as Terry Fitzgerald (Spawn)
I know, I know…singling out any one thing about Spawn seems unfair to the numerous other things it got wrong, from giving Spawn a kid and a dog as sidekicks to the needless way the script felt the need to explain how Jason Wynn’s doomsday device works at least four times. And yet given how good many of the principals were despite their surroundings – I cannot fault Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo, Nicol Williamson or Theresa Randle in this – we can be aware of just how flat Sweeney is.
Yes, he was miscast from the start. According to Todd McFarlane, New Line basically told him he needed another white guy in a lead role, or the film would be stigmatized as a black movie and lose a potential audience share. So rather than sacrificing the male or female lead to whitewashing, he chose the best-friend character – which, funnily enough, adds a miscegenation element that arguably would offend racially prejudiced audiences even more than not having a white guy would.
All that aside, though, I understand that there are white male actors out there who don’t act stoned for an entire movie. McFarlane just didn’t happen to find any.
3. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze (Batman and Robin)
Mr. Freeze, when properly portrayed, can be a tragic and complex figure. A brilliant scientist whose wife suffered an incurable disease, he keeps her body frozen even as he must remain in sub-zero temperatures himself, having a mutated body that would melt at room temperature. It all drives him mad…and to crime.
Indeed, it’s a meaty role for the right actor who could portray pathos, brilliance and gradual derangement in equal measure. So of course they cast this guy:
The one thing I will say is that this should have clued people in to Joel Schumacher’s intent, because the only precedent for a Freeze who talks like that is the one from the 1966 series, where he is campily portrayed by the brilliant Austro-Hungarian-American director Otto Preminger.
Reared on the Burton movies, a generation of fanboys felt stabbed in the back when it became clear that Schumacher wanted to bring the Adam West tone back…but they should have seen it coming.
“They should haff had…ICE in da back off deir headss!” [That’s already a better pun than some in the movie.]
2. David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury (Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD)
The reason many of today’s fans are totally okay with colorblind casting.
1. Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face (Batman Forever)
Part of what makes this one top the list is the wasted potential it represents, on all counts. Firstly, there’s the Billy Dee Williams factor – he was established as Harvey Dent in the first Tim Burton film with the idea that he’d be Two-Face in a sequel. Rarely a villain but always a fun actor, Williams may or may not have been right for the conflicted role, but we all wanted to see it nonetheless.
Joel Schumacher said at the time that he felt Williams couldn’t play evil as well as Jones could, and since they were recasting Batman anyway, audiences couldn’t complain too much. He was right about this…in theory.
Jones is a good actor, and he probably could have played a conflicted character. He is also an ornery fuck who does what he wants, especially if he senses weakness in a director. What he wanted – based on all the available evidence – was to do his take on Jack Nicholson’s Joker, even though it made no sense for his particular part. Duality? Nahh; this Harvey was a ham with a machine gun. Belief in random chance? Gone too – this Two-Face kept flipping his coin until he got the desired result, rather than accepting fate’s ruling.
Aaron Eckhart finally did Harvey Dent justice years later, but Jones remains a bad one forever in my memory.
Nice suit, though.