The news that Paul Rudd will play Hank Pym in the 2015 Ant-Man movie is the latest piece of inspired casting from Marvel Studios. Rudd will bring charm, humor and an appealing eye-twinkle to what may prove to be Marvel's most comedic movie under writer Joe Cornish and writer-director Edgar Wright.
Marvel characters have found tremendous success on the big screen, both in Marvel's own "in-house" movies such as the Avengers line and in those produced by other studios, such as the Wolverine/X-Men films. Bringing an established character to the screen is an unusual challenge because readers have a strong idea of what they want to see, and actors want to bring something new to the role. ComicsAlliance offers its view on the performers who pulled this off best.
Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter
Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011
Captain America's World War II paramour was an American Resistance fighter in the comics and a British agent on the screen, but in both incarnation she was a tough, take-no-bull fighting woman. Hayley Atwell matched grit with glamor and left us wanting to see so much more of her character. (We're keeping our fingers crossed for that Agent Carter TV show.)
Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner
Ed Norton was too cold, Eric Bana was too hot; the third movie Banner was just right. Mark Ruffalo brought pathos to one of the toughest superhero characters to put on the screen. Bruce Banner isn't super; he's cursed. Being Bruce is a tense and wearying experience, and Ruffalo's performance brings that across without having to shout about it.
X-Men, 2000; X2, 2003; X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006
McKellen was in his 60s when he was cast as the X-Men's major nemesis -- an unlikely age to land one's first action movie franchise. Long lauded as one of Britain's leading stage actors, he brought presence and gravitas to the role. As one of the first gay actors to build his movie career after coming out, he also brought resonance. He has some understanding of what it means to endure persecution.
Don't let Fukushima's extraordinarily youthful face fool you; she's as tough as they come as Yukio, the ebullient ronin(ja) who appoints herself Wolverine's bodyguard. The mutant powers the movie saddled her seemed gratuitous; Fukushima understood that all her character needed to make an impact was the right attitude, and maybe a cool sword.
Chris Evans as The Human Torch/Chris Evans as Captain America
Fantastic Four, 2005; Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 2007; Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011; The Avengers, 2012
Evans surprised many with his turn as Captain America -- he always seemed like too much of a goofy pretty-boy to play the stalwart Sentinel of Liberty. Yet he landed it beautifully. It's all the more surprising when he seemed so note-perfect in his previous Marvel role, as the Fantastic Four's goofy pretty-boy, and even that was a surprise, because who knew Evans could be so damn charming? At this point we're prepared to believe Evans could play all the superheroes.
Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man, 2012
Tobey Maguire was a good actor who didn't quite fit the suit; a better Peter Parker than a Spider-Man in director Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy. His successor, Andrew Garfield, gets both halves of the role right, and brings a geekish glee to the hero in Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-Man series. He's got the right build, the right face, the right touch of vulnerability, and it's obvious that he shares both Spider-Man's exhiliration and Peter Parker's sense of responsibility. We're keeping our fingers crossed that he gets to star in a movie that's equal to his talents.
Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man
Iron Man, 2008; Iron Man 2, 2010; The Avengers, 2012; Iron Man 3, 2013
If any one man can be called the foundationstone of Marvel's cinematic universe, it's Robert Downey, Jr. Before him, Marvel had nothing; its two best-known brands, X-Men and Spider-Man, were off at other studios, and they didn't have a Superman or a Batman. Downey brought credibility to a superhero most of the audience had never heard of and propelled him into the premier league. Downey's performance has even echoed back into the comics to help push the Avengers to new prominence.
Idris Elba, Jaimie Alexander, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth as Asgardians
Thor, 2011; The Avengers, 2012; Thor: The Dark World, 2013
If we counted them separately, these Thor castmates would dominate this list, so we've counted them all together. Idris Elba brought depth and gravitas to the role of Heimdall; Jaimie Alexander set the standard for tough and vibrant movie superheroines as Sif; Tom Hiddleston turned a thin pantomime villain into one of the most memorable screen characters of the past ten years. And then there's the main dude. Chris Hemsworth's performance doesn't get the credit it deserves. It's not easy to make Thor seem approachable and real, and any actor cast in the role would be cast for his looks before his talent. Hemsworth, it turns out, has both. He found the humanity in the buffoonish alpha male thunder god, and turned people into Thor fans who hadn't given the character a second look since Walt Simonson left the comics.
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine
X-Men, 2000; X2, 2003; X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006; X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 2009; The Wolverine, 2013
He's too tall. Let's just say that straight out. He may also be too handsome. But in every other respect Jackman is a perfect Wolverine in all his glowering, grimacing, cigar-chewing glory. If Downey made Marvel Studios credible, Jackman made Marvel's screen superheroes credible in the first place, introducing a wider audience to a world of heroes who aren't always clean-shaven and sure of themselves. If screen superheroes are cool today, it's because Jackman's Wolverine made them cool.
J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson
Spider-Man, 2002; Spider-Man 2, 2004; Spider-Man 3, 2007
To date there hasn't been another performance of a Marvel character on screen that matches JK Simmons as the Daily Bugle editor. The look, the attitude and the line delivery were all perfect. Simmons spoke with the voice you heard in your head when you read the comics; there can be few greater compliments for this kind of page-to-screen transition than that. It's a shame that we lost Simmons when we gained Garfield's Spidey, but if they ever reintroduce Jameson in the rebooted movies we hope Simmons can return, just as Judi Dench's "M" survived the James Bond reboot. We don't want to hear anyone else scream, "Parker!!!"
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