With the confirmation that Robert Pattinson has been cast to play Batman in Matt Reeve’s The Batman there’s a certain section of the Internet exploding with frustration over the fact that the pale guy from Twilight is going to be donning the cape and cowl of one of the most iconic superheroes in existence. There’s plenty of reasons that this is a knee jerk reaction, not the least of which is that Pattinson has a had a perfectly tailored career since Twilight to get him to this spot, but the main reason might be this: the one thing that WB and DC have gotten right most of the time throughout the years is casting.
Even in the more recent years where the DC and Warner Bros. have been flailing around like blind octopus trying to make the DCEU work, the one consistent has been that their casting choices have, for the most part, worked. DC films have been making out-of-nowwhere, ballsy, and sometimes proactive casting choices since casting Christopher Reeve as Superman. It is quite possibly the only thing you do not have to worry about with DC movies. So before you start ranting and raving about how this is a terrible decisions lets all learn a bit from history about how wrong we can be about casting.
Let’s just get the “the guy from Twilight” crap out of the way now. Since starring in that really and truly terrible series of films, Robert Pattinson has taken a series of strategic and mostly independent roles to distance himself from simply being a teen heartthrob. These have included working with David Cronenberg on the underrated Cosmopolis, the emotionally challenging High Life, and the genre-busting Good Time. Not all the films he made have been great movies, but they’ve all had challenging roles for him that have distanced him from Twilight. He’s had a very intentional career since then and it’s proven his ability to act and take on a variety of roles. In short, his acting chops are not in question here.
However, people are still going to scream and shout about how he’s wrong for the role (except for his jawline, no one can argue that’s not Batman’s jawline). History should tell us all differently. What history tells us is that when DC/WB cast someone in a role they know what they’re doing and we should all follow them along for the journey… to see how they’ll screw it up in some other way.
That’s more recent history, though, DC/WB weird casting choices started long ago when they were making critically acclaimed superhero movies and Marvel was dumping their characters to outside studios left and right. We’re going to skip over the fact that Christopher Reeve was a skinny, nerdy, completely unknown actor when he was cast as Superman because WB only distributed that film and wasn’t too involved in casting, but their first film with DC brought a hell of a lot of heat. The cast Michael Keaton as Batman. Now, we all know Michael Keaton as an accomplished actor but back in 80s the man was seen as a comedic actor who couldn’t do much more. He’s also not quite as, shall we say, physically fit as one would expect the dark night to be. His casting brought uproars throughout comic circles and everyone was bemoaning it. Then the movie landed, and the guy knocked it out of the park in a rubber mask that he couldn’t even turn his head in. This isn’t to mention the pitch-perfect casting of Jack Nicholson, Michel Pfeiffer, and Danny DeVito throughout the first two films.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that casting (and everything else) went a bit haywire for the next two Bat films, though the villain casting for Batman & Robin is pretty strong with. We’ll just write Batman Forever off as their biggest and most utter failing in casting ever and must have triggered some sort of terrible casting hangover because they then went on to cast Shaq in Steel. However, from there on out it’s been almost universally strong casting, and yes I’m including Catwoman in this; it was a terrible movie, but Halle Berry’s casting was a good choice that placed a good actor in the role and changed a character’s race before representation in comics was even a real discussion.
That brings us up to the grand daddy of all casting cliches. Whenever someone challenges a strange casting someone else will bring up Heath Ledger in Batman Begins. Much like Keaton as Batman, when Ledger was announced as the Joker no one could picture it. The guy was a teen heartthrob, not a psychotic killer. He looked nothing like the comic version of the Joker and he honestly hadn’t built up his indie cred like Pattinson has at all. We all knew better than WB and DC, right? Clearly not. The role changed what we expect from performances in superhero movies and helped mainstream the genre by pulling in an Oscar win.
But we don’t have to stop there to give some push back to the idea that WB/DC knows what it’s doing in casting Pattinson in the role. Nearly every casting decision throughout the Dark Knight trilogy was good, and many defied expectations. I’ll even give a nod to Tom Hardy doing something different, if not entirely successful, with his Bane. And what about Brandon Routh as Superman in Superman Returns? I’ll defend that movie to the death as one of the greatest pieces of homage ever created, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better actor to play Christopher Reeve playing Superman or a person more perfectly fit to play Lex Luthor than Kevin Spacey (current issues aside). They also made the striking decision to cast a bunch of “Hey, I know that person” actors in Watchmen, a choice that not only paid off but helped reaffirm many of the movie’s themes about heroism. There are issues with a lot of these films but they are almost never in casting. Hell, even their total flops delivered great casting in the form Josh Brolen as Jonah Hex. In fact their only big hiccup in the pre-DCEU days was Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan in Green Lantern, which could have worked but never actually fit.
That brings us to the DCEU films, in which the studio has repeatedly hit home runs in casting despite people routinely thinking they made the wrong choice. This starts with Henry Cavill, who was met with a collective shrug when first announced as Superman. However, since then, on the rare opportunities the movies give him the chance, he’s shown that he can knock the character out of the park. After this WB/DC went on a roll of left-field castings for their leads. They plucked Gal Gadot out of relative obscurity (her “breakout” role was in Fast and Furious but she was far from a household name) for Wonder Woman, a choice fans pushed back on almost immediately, bemoaning her look and lack of acting experience. They then went out and got an aging Ben Affleck to tackle Batman, a long-haired Jason Momoa to be Aquaman, a comedic and youthful Ezra Miller to be The Flash, and the relatively unheard of Ray Fisher to be Cyborg.
The jury is still out on the latter two, but the other three all turned out to be solid choices until Affleck decided to leave the role. Gadot brought a toughness and humanity to Wonder Woman and Momoa actually made Aquaman cool, redefining the character completely into something you would actually want to watch on screen. The point is that all these casting choices, especially Momoa, took a lot of flack for being outside of what people wanted/expected, but they worked and worked well. Now, the movies these actors starred in may vary wildly in quality but they’ve nailed their roles. Probably the best example of this in the DCEU is Suicide Squad in which the perfectly cast Margot Robbie played off a surprisingly good choice in Will Smith, but the film was truly terrible in almost every other aspect. Of course, the film also had DC/WB’s biggest casting flub: Jared Leto. But Jared Leto seems to be the entire industries biggest casting flub since he keeps on getting cast in things so we’ll let it slide.
Casting is not an easy task at all, especially since it relies as much on actors schedules and willingness to play the part as it does on the studio wanting the right person. This is something Marvel, who we can’t not mention in a piece about DC, has struggled with far more than DC, especially in the X-Men and non-MCU Spidey films. To name a few, there’s Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk, Paul Giamatti as Rhino, Topher Grace as Venom, Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2, Taylor Kitsch as Gambit, anything that has ever happened with Fantastic Four, and, probably most striking of all given his longevity, Don Cheadle as War Machine. Marvel has obviously hit on some fantastic casting throughout their myriad film properties but they’ve got a lot more high-profile misses than DC does despite the overall higher quality of their films.
Mentioning Zachary Levi’s great casting in Shazam! is pretty much obligatory since we’ve gone through everyone else in the DCEU, but the point is that DC knows how to find the right actors for the right roles. The upcoming Joaquin Phoenix Joker seems to be another indication of this, and Robert Pattinson probably will be too. We, as fans, like to jump on bandwagon when castings don’t go the way we think they should but for the most part DC has delivered in their choices. I’m guessing they’ll do it again.