DC’s Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad honed in solid casting to complement their massive character and story flaws. The films had various and complicated issues, but choices like Ben Affleck, Jesse Eisenberg, Jared Leto and Margot Robbie all seemed really smart on the surface. Some of them didn’t pan out, but what did they really have to work with?
The post-Zack Snyder era is finding better success, however. Wonder Woman opened to positive reviews that year, but it wasn’t until James Wan’s Aquaman when a real change came about. The film was received as a bloated triumph by most – a popcorn-shoving-into-your-mouth-good-time. The horror director experiment worked once again with David F. Sandberg’s (Lights Out) Shazam!, which was recognized as a less-harsh, but just as hilarious Deadpool.
Whichever way you want to put it, though, Todd Phillips has changed the landscape. Joker is a dangerous film. One that denies any resemblance to past DC/superhero movies. One that required cops to monitor movie theaters weeks after the release. One that won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival – an award that Roma and The Shape of Water also picked up.
That success is supremely due to the casting of indie-darling Joaquin Phoenix. Phillips only wanted to green-light the film if Phoenix was on board, and it took quite a while for that to happen. Reports claim that Phoenix took over four months to decide whether he wanted to take it on, worrying that the role would be cartoonish, but Phillips and fellow writer Scott Silver (The Fighter) convinced him that he would play a complex character.
Simply the presence of likely a top-five working actor (who you can read about in my article here) that makes deliberate choices rather than ones for cash certifies the film, at least to some degree. Add on the fact that ‘70s and ‘80s movie star Robert De Niro, who hasn’t been in a film of this caliber since Silver Linings Playbook (and also appears in Martin Scorsese’s new gangster Netflix drama The Irishman), joins the show, and the film is automatically lifted from the play-around days of Leto in Squad to serious freaking intentions.
This is why I’m excited for Matt Reeves’ The Batman, coming in 2021 (and currently in pre-production).
After weeks of attempting to court Jonah Hill to play the Riddler alongside new Batman actor Robert Pattinson, Hill fell out of the race, wanting more than twice as much money as Pattinson. It seems there was already a backup plan in place because of this worry – and not-quite-household-name Paul Dano is your new comic-book villain.
The more thought that is put into this pairing, the more and more ecstatic one should be about the quality of this new blockbuster, helmed by a commercial great in Reeves. The Planet of the Apes trilogy, especially War, showcased his ability to effectively pace and create mood while adding the extremely significant emotional attachment to long-winded mainstream pieces.
But with names like Ben Affleck and Jonah Hill and Will Smith, I don’t think this piece would work.
First off, Pattinson. The deal made to bring him in was honestly one of the most shocking things in movie news over the last few years, and created backlash from most who are unaware of his dives into the depths of strange art house pieces from serious filmmakers. Breaking Dawn – Part 2 is the last big film he has done, being seven years ago.
In between, he has sought out work with directors whom he has admired over the years. Both he and Willem Dafoe called up Robert Eggers because of their love of The Witch and let him know that they wanted to be in his next film. Pattinson even got so deep as to call up the Safdie brothers after seeing an image from Heaven Knows What…and knowing he wanted to work with those guys. The outcome was Good Time, one of the best films and lead performances of 2017.
After all the stories that recently came out about his dedication to his craft on The Lighthouse, it seems that even if The Batman is a flop, we’ll have something to talk about with the new direction of the character.
As for Dano, he has really hit a sweet spot with his choices recently. His last seven roles include: Looper, Prisoners, 12 Years a Slave, Love & Mercy, Youth, Swiss Army Man and Okja. All seven films have received critical acclaim, including a Best Picture win back in 2014. His work in the 2000s includes Little Miss Sunshine, Where the Wild Things Are and the towering There Will Be Blood. Last year, he made his directorial debut (entitled Wildlife) with Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal and received praise from nearly everyone.
If there is anyone who can get lost in a role, it’s these two. Dano is unrecognizable with his portrayals in most of his features, specifically looking at both Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood. His terror and ravaging in Blood, and ability to go neck-and-neck with Daniel Day-Lewis, almost seems like a precursor to suiting up across from Bruce Wayne.
It all still almost feels like a dream. One actor hasn’t made this mainstream of a choice his entire career while the other seemed to have hung that part of himself up in the early part of the decade.
There is no proof that the capability of both and the likelihood they will create good chemistry on-screen will result in quality cinema. But these are smart choices, almost seemingly going the same route as the casting of Phoenix over a year ago.
Remember: Reeves started out as an indie-darling himself (as most do, I guess). Cloverfield, and Let Me In specifically, are certainly horror-centric films, following the path of hiring Wan and Sandberg. While those two have relied on typical tropes to successful effect, Reeves has been praised for his originality early on (even with helming a remake).
His startlingly interesting take on Let the Right One In surprised many in 2010. It’s 10 years later. Let’s hope he can do it again.