Most of the time, in comic book movies, we like our superheroes mighty and daring, but, also likeable and often witty. In our villains we want an evil calculated side whilst desiring a sense of humour that is smart and fiendish. Both of these traits suggest that there should be more comedy actors in superhero and villain roles. Comedy is often mentioned by great actors as being the hardest thing to do right. However, the past has proven that it can be an absolute disaster to hire a comedic actor to play your superhero or villain unless they are mocking and parodying.
The most notorious case of a villain being cast in a comedic role was Jim Carrey as The Riddler in Batman Forever. In 1995, Carrey could of been in whatever movie he so wished. He was unequivocal box office gold and producers knew anything he was in would make massive amounts of money. However, Batman Forever was a critical disaster and almost ruined the franchise before Batman and Robin plodded along to finish the job several years later.
That’s not to say that Carrey was the worst thing in Batman Forever, the massive influence from the campiness of the 1960’s show that strayed away from the world created in Batman and Batman Returns by Tim Burton and the horrible chemistry between the leading actors Val Kilmer, Nicole Kidman and Chris O’Donnell, also has to take the blame somewhat. Carrey has a body of work that any actor would envy, both in comedy with The Mask, Dumb and Dumber and the wickedly dark and massively underrated The Cable Guy, and drama, for Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind and The Truman Show in which he should have won best actor ahead of Roberto Benigini in 1999.
However, looking back at Batman Forever, you see how miscast he was. It was like director Joel Schumacher let him do whatever he wanted on set and just rolled the cameras whilst he improvised continuously. His moments and jokes in the film go on too long and make The Riddler little more than a farce rather than a threat. The Riddler should be Batman’s psychological equal and challenge Bruce Wayne’s intellect with his genius and cunning. Instead, he just dances around the room with Tommy Lee Jones’ Two Face and doing weird accents whilst prancing and laughing.
There is a big parallel for me with Richard Pryor’s casting in Superman III in which director Richard Lester let him improvise for huge amounts of time which turned the film’s tone into something strange and centred the movie on the story of Pryor’s character as opposed to that of Superman. Superman very much became the second string character in his own movie because Richard Pryor was beloved by the American public and directors thought he could be shoehorned in to lend humour to the franchise. It would be like Kevin Hart or Rob Schneider being the sidekick to Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel in the upcoming Batman v Superman. Just writing this now, I remember, with regret that Rob Schneider already played a sidekick to Sly Stallone’s Judge Dredd…
Other cases include that of Seth Rogen in The Green Hornet. Like Jim Carrey and Richard Pryor you could say that Rogen is also the comedian of his generation, he is always guaranteed to make a huge amount of money at the box office with his comedies and he is massively well liked, some would go as far to say he has been the era defining comedian of the past decade. Unfortunately, the move to a superhero film didn’t suit him. It’s a lot more likely that the disastrous outcome of the film was not because of Seth Rogen and his inability to be serious or understand the tone of the movie. It’s a lot more to do with the many production and personnel issues on the movie.
Rogen has stated in interviews that when he wrote the movie with co-writer Evan Goldberg they had an idea that started well and began to change as the budget escalated. The screenplay was often heavily scrutinized by studio executives, nipping needlessly at pieces of dialogue. This explains the confusing tone of The Green Hornet which is constantly changing. Director Michel Gondry, better known for his excellent independent films, had also never worked on a big budget movie before. Even though the same can be said of Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow, at least he had the support from Steven Spielberg and studio executives who knew what they could expect and just wanted to make the best film they could.
The Green Hornet was not Rogen’s fault, like Batman Forever wasn’t Jim Carrey’s, but they’re the ones who get left with the mess while the director’s, the writers and the rest of the cast go about their careers without any criticism by the mainstream audiences. Because they are actors more known for another genre, they are pinpointed and given the most criticism as clueless hacks tell them to go back to “what they do best”. Although not strictly a comic actor you could argue Ryan Reynolds got a similar treatment as both Deadpool in the abysmal X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which he is atoning for with his forthcoming standalone movie, and the perennially derided The Green Lantern.
Which brings me to Marvel’s newest offering Ant-Man. It’s been over a ten year wait as the baton of director has been passed from Edgar Wright to Peyton Reed but throughout the entirety of Ant-Man’s production history the lead actor has always stayed the same. Paul Rudd is an actor of immense quality and is known mostly as a comedy actor; it is the genre that he has appeared in most and if you were to think of three Paul Rudd films off the top of your head the chances are they would be comedies.
Both the filmmakers and Rudd are taking a huge risk with Ant-Man because if this film flops, it will flop hard, considering Marvel are currently on such a winning streak. Sadly is would be harder for Rudd to recover than Marvel, it won’t ruin his career but it will be a blot on an otherwise wonderful oeuvre. He will forever be known as Ant-Man which would always have those negative connotations and would be the face of the Marvel movie that didn’t quite meet the standards of the others. Some people survive the bad reviews, comedic actor or not (George Clooney in Batman and Robin) and some don’t (Brandon Routh in Superman Returns and arguably Halle Berry in Catwoman) we will see what the audiences think in a few weeks’ time.
What Marvel are great at doing in terms of casting is hiring actors who are deemed serious actors, and then add the comedy as opposed to hiring comedians and then writing the script to suit them. The Marvel writers make the characters witty and funny, and that is due to great writing and the charisma of the actors, especially the likes of Robert Downey Jr. But it’s fair to say Paul Rudd could boast the same amount of charisma as any of The Avengers.
These days you don’t see too many comedians in these films. When people like Kevin Hart, Adam Sandler, Ricky Gervais, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel are making millions and millions of pounds with their movies why would they want to risk sullying their career with a massive flop of a superhero film. They don’t need that grief, especially as the superhero movies now move into the deep echelons of darkness; there may not even be room for these talented actors within the genre.
I think Paul Rudd is going to excellent as Ant-Man, whether the film will be equally great is another matter. He can take a ray of light from the fact that before The Guardians of The Galaxy last year, Chris Pratt was primarily a comic actor with Parks and Rec, The Five Year Engagement and What’s Your Number, with only really cameo appearance in films like Moneyball and Zero Dark Thirty to flex his acting chops, but has now established himself into the go to action hero for casting directors in Hollywood.