Early fan reactions have been tepid at best with regards to the news that Warner Bros. is developing an Americanized, live-action adaptation of the cult Japanese comic book/animated film Akira. Previous reports that the movie will be Rated PG-13 and could star Zac Efron were generally not received in an optimistic light, either.
Now there’s word that no less than eight actors have been sent Steve Kloves’ reworking of the original script for the new Akira. Five of these gentlemen are vying for the role of punk bike gang leader Kaneda, and three for the part of Tetsuo – Kaneda’s best friend-turned-government-experiment-gone-horribly-wrong.
In our Akira script review, we learned that the original draft penned by Iron Man scribers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby shifted the setting of the story from the futuristic, post-apocalyptic setting of Neo Tokyo (circa 2019) to “New Manhattan.” That version of the screenplay also re-dubbed Tetsuo as Travis, but retained the name Kaneda; the latter was apparently considered enough of an “American” name to not be changed.
Deadline, however, lists the eight prospective male stars as being eyed for the roles of Kaneda and Tetsuo. That could be a reflection of changes instituted in Kloves’ draft of the Akira screenplay – or simply that studio executives are referring to the two main characters by their original names.
As it stands, the five actors reportedly in contention to play Kaneda are Michael Fassbender, Garrett Hedlund, Joaquin Phoenix, Chris Pine, and Justin Timberlake. The trio of men in the running to star as Tetsuo are Andrew Garfield, James McAvoy, and Robert Pattinson.
Hedlund and Pine stand out as more natural fits to play Kaneda since they’ve actually portrayed young rebellious biker types prone to getting in fights in TRON: Legacy and Star Trek, respectively. Timberlake arguably has too much of a (so to speak) comedic nice guy screen presence for the part, while Fassbender and Phoenix simply lack the boyish look and demeanor that (presumably) Kaneda ought to have. With Pine set to become the new Jack Ryan in Moscow, Hedlund appears to be the best (and most available) choice for Kaneda in Akira, given the options.
Tetsuo should come off as slightly more vulnerable and have less of a fiery presence - and in that regard, all three of the aforementioned actors arguably fit the bill. Garfield and McAvoy could both be tied to comic book franchises in the future – assuming that neither The Amazing Spider-Man or X-Men: First Class bombs at the box office – but Pattinson’s post-Twilight career is not set for the time being. Pattinson is arguably the weakest of the three choices, but he could actually be fine as Tetsuo.
One Akira casting combination you can pretty much count on not happening would be Fassbender and McAvoy, since the similarities between the Kaneda/Tetsuo relationship and the Magneto/Professor X dynamic from X-Men: First Class will probably seem too close for comfort – even for Warner Bros.’ tastes.
The Hughes Brothers (The Book of Eli) are in charge of the Akira adaptation, and the combination of their stylized filmmaking approach with a script that’s been crafted by some solid writing talent may be enough to ensure that the project won’t be the utter mess a lot of fans seem to think it will be. On the other hand – there’s a precedent for Hollywood studios flubbing up beloved graphic novels by making subpar cinematic adaptations.
Akira is tentatively scheduled to begin production this August, and will reportedly be based off the first three books in the original six-volume graphic novel – with the second three being saved for a sequel. Albert Hughes has already said he isn’t interested in making a followup, but best to wait and see how the first movie turns out before holding him to that claim.