Nostalgia: Is It Hurting Current Comic Book Films?

Joseph Gioeli Joseph Gioeli
Expert Contributor
July 22nd, 2017

ComiConverse Expert Contributor focusing on film and television.

We are living in the golden age of comic book films, but that does not mean that we are the first generation to love them. ComiConverse contributor Joseph Gioeli examines the role nostalgia plays in today’s comic book film industry.

There has always been a generational gap when it comes to popular culture. It seems that every generation has their preferences when it comes to comic book films, heroes, villains and the actors that play them. For now, I will focus on the generation-defining actors who portray these characters as opposed to films as a whole.

Over the years, there have been a number of heroes portrayed by different actors, where one is clearly superior. Some examples of these are the Hulk, Thor, Dr. Strange, the Punisher, the Fantastic 4, and Daredevil. Some more contentious choices, and the ones that will be the focus of this article, are Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man.

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The battle over the superior Superman is an interesting one. Three actors have brought the Man of Steel to the silver screen; Christopher Reeve in the four-film Superman franchise between 1978-1987, Brandon Routh in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006) and the current Superman, Henry Cavill who stars in the DCEU.

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Credit: Dovemead Films

Many people praised Reeve’s performance, especially in the first two films, at the time of release. For years he was Superman to nearly everyone, and even after Routh had his stint in 2006, Reeve was the top choice for a lot of fans. That finally changed when Zack Snyder cast British actor Henry Cavill to play Kal-El in the DCEU inception film, Man of Steel (2013).

To many fans, especially those that are a bit older and experienced Reeve as Superman first, Reeve is still their Superman. But to many younger fans, seeing Cavill in Man of Steel and then again in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), was a fresh take on a relatively well known hero.

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Credit: DC Entertainment

In Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, Superman was darker than his previous incarnations. This did not sit well with many fans, especially the moment near the end of the film when Superman kills General Zod to save an innocent family. The massive amount of destruction Superman, Zod, and Zod’s confidants inflict, first on a small town and later on Metropolis also did not sit well with fans. Cavill's portrayal is not any worse for these story elements,  but it did hurt his standing among fans as the man who portrayed Superman enacting such violence and destruction.

The next hero to consider is a fan favorite, Batman. A whopping six actors have donned the cape and cowl in on screen (not including the mostly forgotten adaptations from the 1940s and 50s), starting with the late Adam West in the film adaptation and the popular television series. The others who have played the role are: Michael Keaton in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), Val Kilmer in Batman Forever (1995), George Clooney in Batman & Robin (1997), Christian Bale in the Christopher Nolan-directed Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012), and finally, Ben Affleck in the DCEU.

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Credit: 20th Century Fox

Batman could be the most common source for arguments like this. Few fans choose Kilmer or Clooney's versions of the character as their favorite. They appeared in sub-par films and, though they did their best, were either ill suited to the role, or could not rise above the material they were give. This still leaves four actors. Until Tim Burton’s dark and gritty 1989 film, Adam West was many fan’s Batman, and even though the television show is what made West’s Batman popular, the film was also successful. Once Keaton’s portrayal hit theaters, West’s became an outdated, campy joke. West separates himself slightly from this debate because his version of the character is so far removed from those of the other actors who played him decades later.

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Credit: Warner Bros.

The generational argument over Batman actors is usually Keaton v Bale. Both of their takes on Batman were dark and gritty while their versions of Bruce Wayne were quietly confident. One of the only things that doesn’t give Bale a clean win here is the fact that his villains carried that franchise. Nobody wrote as much about Bale’s role in the as they did about Heath Ledger's now legendary portrayal of The Joker. The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) were buoyed by Heath Ledger’s Joker and Tom Hardy’s Bane.

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Credit: Warner Bros.

A dark horse candidate who could dominate this discussion soon is Ben Affleck’s Batman from Batman vs Superman and, briefly Suicide Squad. The fact that Affleck hasn’t had a solo Batman film yet is a hindrance. DC Comics Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns did mention that the future Batman of the DCEU will be a little less brutal, so hopefully the current Batman can fall in with some of the greats.

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Credit: DC Entertainment

Due to the recent release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the Spider-Man argument has been rekindled. Three actors have portrayed the Web-Head in films. Tobey Maguire in the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy (2002-2007), Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), and the MCU Spider-Man, Tom Holland, who appeared in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and now features in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).

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Credit: Columbia Pictures

The main argument is between Maguire and Holland. Maguire did a fine job as Peter Parker in his trilogy and peaked in the second film which also featured a spectacular performance by Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus. Maguire was painfully awkward as Peter Parker and not nearly outgoing enough as Spider-Man. Not to mention he was 27-years-old playing a high schooler in the first film. This is a common grievance with Andrew Garfield as well, who was 29 when The Amazing Spider-Man opened. Age authenticity is a great selling point for Tom Holland. When Civil War was released, Holland was still 19-years-old playing the high school aged Peter Parker, which is much more realistic to see as a fan. His performance in Homecoming was also great. He was awkward enough as Peter Parker without being cringe-worthy while also being vocal and outgoing in fight sequences as Spider-Man.

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Credit: Marvel Studios

These heroes have caused controversy throughout the past 40 years, and I don’t see it stopping anytime in the future. All we can really hope for as fans is that every version of a superhero is favorable to someone so that these films can continue to be made.

Do you agree? Who’s your favorite Superman, Batman and Spider-Man? Let us know in the comments below!

Joseph Gioeli is an Expert ComiConverse Contributor. Follow him on Twitter: @joegioeli

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