Ryan Reynolds, Chris Evans, and Lucifer
By Ian Wilson
12 November 2010 — It is February 2008. Upon his mighty throne of charcoal sits The Lord of All Evil, Lucifer. The Devil is studying a clipboard as his minion Scumspawn enters his gigantic chamber of doom.
Scumspawn: Greetings, oh masterful ruler of all evil!
Lucifer: Is my nine o'clock here?
Scumspawn: He is, your dark excellency!
Lucifer: Bring him in, then.
Scumspawn exits the chamber before returning with Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds
Lucifer: Mr. Reynolds, how good of you to drop by.
Ryan Reynolds: Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.
Lucifer: All evil organizations bend over backwards for celebrities, Mr. Reynolds! Are you not a Scientologist?
Ryan Reynolds: Er, no. No, I'm not.
Lucifer: No matter. Now, I believe you want to "re-mortgage" upon our original deal.
Ryan Reynolds: Well, I did ask if it was possible when we had our last meeting.
Lucifer: It is definitely possible, Mr. Reynolds! I'm merely rather surprised that you aren't leaving it to chance. Most people seem to think the role of this, er, Deadpool was yours for the taking.
Ryan Reynolds: Well, I can't take that chance. I, and I alone, must play Deadpool.
Lucifer: I see. Well, I have been looking through my file here, and, apparently, you have already played a character for Marvel in a film called Blade Trinity.
Ryan Reynolds: Yes, I played the character Hannibal King, but it wasn't a very good movie.
Lucifer: Indeed not, Mr. Reynolds. It also says here that you've been talking to a Mr. Goyer about playing both the Deadpool and Flash characters, correct?
Ryan Reynolds: That's right, Satan. Do you think I could get away with playing a DC character, too?
Lucifer: I can add it into the deal, certainly. But I will give you one chance to reconsider what you are doing. Your soul is already mine for all eternity since I got you out of your engagement to Alanis Morissette and had another actress fall for no other man than you. What was her name, Scarlett Johnson?
Ryan Reynolds: Johansson.
Lucifer: The point is that you are damning yourself to an even greater afterlife of pain and torture. You may even be sharing a room with Rupert Murdoch once he finally gets down here.
Ryan Reynolds: The way I see it, Satan, is that my place in cinematic history will be made by portraying Deadpool, and that everything it takes to achieve that immortality will be worth it.
Lucifer: Well then, let me just whip up your new contract.
Satan claps his hands and a written contract appears from a cloud of ash.
Lucifer: Ahem. "I, Ryan Reynolds, pledge to redouble my commitment to the servitude of Hell and the dark lord Satan so that I can play both Marvel's Deadpool and a DC hero during the height of my career."
Ryan Reynolds: Awesome!
Ryan Reynolds: What was that?
Lucifer: Sorry, that was my emphysema playing up again. There are lots of fumes around here, y'know.
Ryan Reynolds: Oh right, well I'll just sign... there. Brilliant! Thanks, Satan! You're one heck of a guy, eh?
Lucifer: Yes, yes, I know. Now run along and enjoy yourself!
Contentedly, Ryan Reynolds walks out of the chamber with a skip in his step.
Scumspawn: My diabolical lord, why did you add that whispered caveat into the actor's bargain? He said that he alone wanted to play Deadpool.
Lucifer: Pride comes before a fall, Scumspawn. Believe me, I'm living proof. It is much worse to achieve your dream and then have it taken away from you than to never achieve your dream at all. Besides, this Mr. Reynolds is a greedy man; he would have got that role anyway. My intervention merely means that he doesn't even have to audition for it, and actors believe that this trivial matter is worth wasting my time for.
Scumspawn: He has re-mortgaged his soul though, my devious master.
Lucifer: Indeed, it means he can reside on one of the lower floors when he eventually gets down here. His torment shall be more entertaining than his film career! Now bring in my next appointment, Scumspawn.
Scumspawn: Certainly, my magnificent master!
Lucifer: I hope that's the last time I ever have to deal with a comic book fanboy actor. Ah, welcome back, Mr. Miller!
It is now March 2010. Scumspawn is about to shut up shop after another day's hearings when Chris Evans brushes past him and into Satan's chamber with an eager smile on his face.
Chris Evans: Hi, Satan! Remember me from when I was doing some method acting research into the part of Johnny Storm? Well there's this other part which is kind of a big deal, which would be awesome to have! Do you think you could see to it that I play Captain America?
Satan rolls his eyes before smiling with faux-sincerity.
Now clearly what I have presented above is fictional, as casting decisions are made by studios and producers, and Avi Arad clearly isn't Satan. Well, probably not. But I've covered the topic of studios and producers so often within this column that it did not seem relevant. The recent discussion on the forum about the Warner Bros. approach towards DC-based film properties could be answered by my previous two non-Behind the Mask or review score articles, even if they were written over a year ago. Marvel's doing their thing, and WB's weighing their options; nothing has changed, save the release of a few more films.
The advantage of Marvel showing their hand is not for me to applaud their production approach, but because I now know who has been chosen to play the Avengers and their supporting characters. Obviously Chris Evans being Captain America is one of those talking points, but he and Ryan Reynolds are hardly the only people to have portrayed one or more comic book character. Opposite Evans, the Red Skull is being portrayed by V for Vendetta's Hugo Weaving, whilst the army general responsible for Steve Rogers becoming Captain America will be played by Tommy Lee Jones, who has previously appeared in Batman Forever and the two Men in Black films. Also in 2011 is Kenneth Branagh's take on Thor. Although this is Chris Hemsworth's first role within a comic book movie, his supporting cast includes Natalie Portman, Idris Elba, and Ray Stevenson, who have starred in V for Vendetta, The Losers, and Punisher: War Zone, respectively.
This isn't a new trend either. From playing my favorite on-screen iteration of General Ross in Ang Lee's Hulk, Sam Elliott went on to 2007's Ghost Rider, joining other actors that had, or have since, appeared in multiple comic book movies: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley, Donal Logue, and Peter Fonda. To list them all would use up too many words and make this paragraph a lot less fun to read, although I have an ulterior purpose for this as well. If you think about it, it isn't too difficult to think of the comic-based films that Cage and Mendes have gone on to do, Logue and Fonda require slightly more guesswork, whereas Bentley depends on people daring to watch Jonah Hex. I could similarly throw out the names of many other actors who have taken on multiple comic character roles in which one role might be far more obvious than the other. Go on, have fun with the names William Hurt, Dominic West, Gabriel Macht, Jaime King, and Ben Foster, the latter two having three roles to their names by my count.
Apart from the inevitable minority of nutters that forums and comments pages on the Internet throw up, fan communities are rarely bothered that the guy who played Deacon Frost's second-in-command in Blade is the same guy playing Johnny Blaze's best friend in Ghost Rider. These parts are usually taken by character actors who do not distract from the flow of a film, even if their appearance is virtually identical. The problem usually comes with the higher profile actors and actresses: Halle Berry, Jessica Alba, and Samuel L. Jackson to name a few. As comic book movies gradually become a playground for A-list stars to have a go, the more difficult it becomes to believe them as that character in just one film, never mind two different ones. This is, of course, a wider problem within Hollywood, as the greater your media exposure, the more difficult it is for audiences to buy you as a character. And when a character has anywhere between 10 and 80 years worth of rich, detailed back-history, that actor has to put all their skills into that role and do their utmost to distinguish their character from themselves. Batman Begins saw Gary Oldman do this wonderfully as James Gordon and Katie Holmes fail abysmally as Rachel Dawes, which is even worse when you consider that this particular role was created for the film.
As hard as it can be from a comic fan's point of view to accept a certain A-lister as their favorite character, it is hard to blame the acting profession for doubling up on comic-based roles. Ever since the film industry moved blockbusters to the forefront of their priorities, the biggest movies are the ones that are marketed to appeal to young men, as proven by the fact that Megan Fox has a career. The renaissance of the comic book movie was arguably inevitable due to the crossover appeal of the demographic; the only reason why this didn't start in the 1990s is that blockbuster films were often very empty, formulaic, and effects-laden, as proven by the Batman films of that decade. With a greater emphasis on story and the high revenues generated by such films, it is not unduly surprising that big name actors would want a share in its success. The irony is that commercially unknown actors often do much better out of this sub-genre than big stars. For years, the highest grossing comic book movie starred the art-house orientated film actor Tobey Maguire, teen starlet Kirsten Dunst, and Willem Dafoe, whose commercial peak was over a decade ago. Compare that to the following year's Daredevil, which saw a backlash against its star Ben Affleck whilst he was at the height of his fame, and his supporting cast of Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Colin Farrell were also very well-known to American audiences. Now obviously it isn't fair to directly compare Spider-Man and Sam Raimi with Daredevil and Mark Steven Johnson for a variety of reasons, but the fact remains that Affleck and the film's legacy to this day have been tarnished by criticism.
There is, however, no golden rule that says that a stellar cast of established stars will hurt a film whilst a cast of relative unknowns will help it to flourish. The Dark Knight is currently the highest grossing comic book movie of all time, boasting a cast including Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Sir Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Christian Bale, and Heath Ledger (I will concede that Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal may not have been as well-known before the film was released). Similarly, Watchmen, Kick-Ass, and The Losers have been well-received without being financial powerhouses. But a comic book movie's success can be measured by more than simply the money it makes as fans will also care whether they were entertained, whether the film was true to its source material, and whether it reflects their favorite characters well.
Does it matter that some people will see Wade Wilson (no relation) when they watch Green Lantern next year, or that some will see Johnny Storm as they settle down to watch Captain America: The First Avenger? Possibly, although a good director will be more than capable of making audiences engage with them as the characters within the story they're telling — and Martin Campbell is a damn good director, whilst Joe Johnston has a few good films to his name. It is possible that fans are more frustrated by the implications that there will be no future film for Deadpool or a third Fantastic Four installment. But is Ryan Reynolds the definitive Deadpool? He was certainly the brightest spot of the frankly appalling X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but just because he lobbied for the role doesn't make him the ideal choice. An unknown actor could probably do the character justice perfectly, and his appearance wouldn't matter on the grounds that the character is a hideously disfigured man who is almost always covered up. Not starring in his own Deadpool spinoff will not trouble Reynolds too much, especially if Green Lantern is a massive hit and he continues to satisfy Scarlett Johansson. And if that image fills you with envy, be content knowing that his soul will be tortured throughout eternity by Satan and Scumspawn. Unless you're also an atheist, in which case you're bloody difficult to please.