NPR logo SUPER BAD: Recasting comic book films often falls flat

SUPER BAD: Recasting comic book films often falls flat

Actor Donald Glover has the Internet going nuts with buzz of his desire to audition for the role of Peter Parker in the Spiderman reboot. Jemal Countess/Getty Images hide caption

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Jemal Countess/Getty Images
Sony Pictures Digital Inc.

The point of a cinema reboot is most often to refresh a popular franchise — which almost always guarantees a certain number of butts in the seats — by bringing in a new face. Actor Donald Glover has the Internet going nuts with buzz of his desire to audition for the role of Peter Parker in the Spider-Man reboot, but Glover should think that thing out a bit, because he’s no Spider-Man and he’s not on the short list, and that’s probably for the best.

When Hollywood attempts to reboot a franchise by sliding in another actor, the results are uneven. Sometimes, it’s a go. But sometimes, the audience doesn't respond, and that leaves the studio with just another critical and financial failure on the books to write off on their taxes. Movies based on comic books seem most vulnerable to this kind of re-tooling.

The list of hits and misses is epic, but here are just a few:

*Terrence Howard vs. Don Cheadle as "Iron Man"' sidekick Lt. Colonel James "Rhodey" Rhodes/War Machine — Howard was just cool enough to juxtapose nicely against Robert Downey Jr.'s playboy superhero Tony Stark. Howard loses the role in a contract dispute, and Cheadle picks it up, drops it to the ground where it smashes into a thousand pieces. Jesus wept.

VERDICT: Worse than George Clooney as Batman: "Iron Man II" does well, despite Cheadle, who's a fine actor. Just not in THIS film.


*Eric Bana vs. Edward Norton as "The Hulk" — Someone miscast Bana in the first shot at the big screen “Hulk” in 2003, using director Ang Lee's high-concept split-screen approach and got a lukewarm reception. Norton brings The Man Nobody Wants to Get Angry back to life in 2008 and redeems the franchise.

VERDICT: Bana makes a better villain. Norton is The Hulk.


*Christopher Reeve vs. That One Guy as "Superman" — I don't know who thought it was a good idea to try and bring back Superman in 2006, because only Reeve could ever play him. Ever. That "S" should be retired. Nicolas Cage was considered — yikes! — but the studio ended up going with some other guy for "Superman Returns."

VERDICT: Is he back yet? Even Kevin Spacey sucks in this film, a testament to the compilation of whack script, paper actors and general suckassity™ this film brought to bear.


*Eartha Kitt vs. Halle Berry as "Catwoman" — I wish this were closer than it is, but it isn't — respect to Julie Newmar and Michelle Pfeiffer. But Eartha Kitt is the only Catwoman there will ever be, and it oughta be a law. Kitt never took Selina Kyle to the movies, but even though it felt like a no-brainer at the time, Berry would have been better off leaving Catwoman alone in 2004.

VERDICT: It may have looked good on paper, but Berry sucks in this film. I would have rather have seen Kitt in that part, tights and all, in 2004. Seriously.


*Adam West vs. Michael Keaton as "Batman" —- West was never a serious contender to reprise his snarky, paunchy, Batusi-dancing version of the Caped Crusader from the 60s, but few had confidence that comedian Keaton had the gravitas and box-office sex appeal to re-animate the franchise for a new generation in 1989.

VERDICT: Val Kilmer comes close, but Keaton, with his mix of whimsy and self-loathing, kills it and puts his stamp on the franchise, FTW.


So if this list proves anything, it’s that even high-profile actors are sometimes better off keeping their day jobs. All in, I'd say Donald Glover should stop whining about Spider-Man, and feel lucky to have a role to call his own.