Batman and Superman are perhaps the two most iconic fictional heroes of all time. But when it comes to the big screen, they exist in radically differing genres and carry entirely different reputations.
Batman recently went through Christopher Nolan’s masterful trilogy, while Hollywood struggles with the Superman franchise. In a major move from DC Entertainment and Warner Brothers, the worlds of Superman and Batman will collide in a new movie tentatively titled “Batman vs. Superman.”
Vigilant casting is essential to superhero movies — the casting director has the ability to turn unrealistic dialogue into truth with the right selections.
Superman films have always struggled in the casting arena. The first film adaptation of Superman was made in 1978 with Christopher Reeve, a mirror image of comic book depictions but lacking in dramatic skills, in the title role. The innocent Margot Kidder played Lois Lane, and Gene Hackman played Lex Luthor. Despite Hackman’s performance, the clichéd screenplay ruined the film.
Bryan Singer, director of the “X-Men” films, attempted to start fresh in 2006 with “Superman Returns,” a much darker film than the original. However, unlike Reeves, whose physical appearance partially justified his surface acting, Brandon Routh as Superman was plain and forgettable. The film was somewhat redeemed by Kevin Spacey’s turn as Lex Luthor, which illuminated hidden aggressions and gave the character some much-needed depth.
The most recent incarnation, 2013’s “Man of Steel,” tried to compensate for the shallowness of its predecessors. A smorgasbord of visual effects with an unnecessarily drawn out backstory, the film starred Henry Cavill as Superman, Amy Adams as Lois and Michael Shannon as lead villain General Zod. These talented actors were left as victims to the shallow dialogue that starkly mismatched the attempted profundity of the action sequences.
On the other hand, Christopher Nolan’s recent work with Batman has been nothing short of brilliant. He shows the humanity of Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale, while presenting violence as a justifiable — and at times poetic — means of storytelling. Heath Ledger’s Academy Award-winning performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” is arguably the best performance by a superhero villain of all time at the cinema.
The new “Batman vs. Superman” film is due to premiere in May 2016. Given the unique challenge of melding two worlds together, the film has supplemented the principal cast of “Man of Steel” with Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and, in a move that raised some eyebrows, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.
Eisenberg is known for his antisocial, neurotic and usually humorous characters. But as Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” Eisenberg showcased his ability to play a more sinister man of power. The choice may reflect an attempt to play to younger audiences, as Eisenberg will be the youngest person ever to play the role.
One thing is certain — Eisenberg and Affleck are unorthodox choices in a prolonged cinematic experiment. All audiences can do is wait, hoping they are right. In the interim at least, many upcoming Marvel projects on television and in theaters can satisfy the fans’ cravings.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 11 print edition. Daniel Rubin Lieberson is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.