The DCEU has faced a difficult journey so far. While Wonder Woman was beloved by fans and critics alike, the other four films have overall met mixed to negative receptions. As Gal Gadot continues–and rightly so–to receive praise for her portrayal of Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad is bashed at every opportunity, it’s important to remember the rich array of characters currently existing in the DCEU. A lackluster script or tonal inconsistency of certain DCEU films shouldn’t overshadow the incredible performances, as Wonder Woman isn’t the only film to boast inspired acting.
Many of the best modern day actors have dared to further the legacy of longtime comic book and superhero movie characters. Some have succeeded at making the characters fresh again while retaining the core attributes that make them so timeless. Others struggle to revitalize their characters or capture those core attributes. This is true of not only the iconic superheroes and villains, but also of supporting characters and individuals in their live-action film debuts. Whether it’s a single film or most entries in the DCEU, the casting has largely defined the highs and lows of this cinematic universe. Take a look at 8 incredible casting decisions and 7 awful ones in the DCEU:
15. Incredible: Jason Momoa as Aquaman/Arthur Curry
Before Justice League, Aquaman was considered one of the dorkiest and lamest superheroes. His powers, story, and appearance didn’t enthrall audiences like his superhero peers. The DCEU completely reshaped the character by casting Jason Momoa, the actor famous for playing Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones, as Momoa brought a hard-edged aura to the character. His Aquaman is a hard-drinking, blunt-talking loner with a secret heart of gold. These qualities meet Momoa’s intimidating physique and delivered a completely new vision of Aquaman. The trident, costume, and oceanic powers no longer seem ridiculous through a character that has become modern, funny, and exciting. Momoa naturally fits into the redefined role and will continue to make it his own. This makes the upcoming standalone Aquaman movie a particularly promising next chapter in the DCEU.
14. Awful: Will Smith as Deadshot
Will Smith excels at playing heroes. His characters tend to be pragmatic, badass, and have a distinct sense of humor. Smith is a versatile actor and has performed in many roles outside such a hero figure. However, Suicide Squad is supposed to be a story of antiheroes, and Smith fell back into the familiarity of his typical hero role. Even as the assassin Deadshot, he emphasizes the traits that usually define his heroes, especially when it came to the character’s backstory. Even the delivery of lines like “let’s go save the world” sound like they should be coming from another Will Smith character, and certainly not Deadshot. Part of what made Suicide Squad so promising in the first place was its promise to shirk the tropes of many superhero films. By focusing on a bizarre, ragtag group of antiheroes, the film dared to go where no other superhero film had gone before. Of course, the movie didn’t follow through on those promises, and much of that fault lies in the script. But the casting is also to blame as one of the most typecasted heroes was placed into the roles of one of the film’s most important antiheroes, only to deliver an uninspired performance.
13. Incredible: Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is one of the few bright spots in Suicide Squad. Taking on a role unlike any she had player before, Robbie’s Harley Quinn embodied everything audiences wanted out of the character. She was free-spirited, psychotic, unpredictable, and gorgeous. While the makeup and costuming helped emit these qualities, Robbie’s acting is what really sells the character. Her passionate, slightly pouty delivery immediately sets her apart from other characters. This is complemented by her movements, from the confident strut when she walks to her ferocity when she swings her baseball bat. Her wide, open-mouthed laugh is ridiculous, but also disturbing. Unlike most of the characters in the movie, Robbie leaves audiences wanting more of her character. Between future projects like Suicide Squad 2 and Gotham City Sirens, the DCEU will definitely include more Harley. Hopefully she gets the focus she deserves, without overly relying on the Joker.
12. Awful: Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent
As Superman/Clark Kent’s adoptive human father, Jonathan Kent should serve as a crucial role model to the future superhero. By example, Jonathan Kent should demonstrate the best facets of humanity, giving Clark a sense of pride and understanding that genuinely motivates him to protect and save mankind. Unfortunately, Kevin Costner doesn’t embody the best of humanity in Man of Steel. He comes off as cold and dismissive, especially in the scene where he chides Clark for using his powers to save a bus full of children. Part of the key to the Superman story is Clark learning what it means to be human through the Kents. This is where his genuine motivation to protect humans comes from, through witnessing the joys and humility of human life by growing up with the Kents. This integral piece of the Superman narrative is lost through Costner’s cold portrayal of Jonathan Kent and it weakens the motives and backstory of Superman in the DCEU.
11. Incredible: Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth
As a character already portrayed brilliantly in a variety of Batman adaptations, making Alfred feel fresh could’ve become yet another stumbling block for the DCEU. Instead, Jeremy Irons was cast as Alfred and is one of the DCEU’s gems. Irons conveys the resourceful, trustworthy, gentlemanly nature that is crucial to playing Alfred. Best of all, he makes the character sassy, from jabs at Bruce Wayne’s lackluster dating life to blunt statements about the craziness of the DCEU world. Irons isn’t the first actor to play a sassy Alfred, but he does it with such naturally dry humor that it makes him a delight to watch. Beyond the sass, the character exudes a sense of uber-competency, helping audiences buying into this Alfred aiding Batman with his technology and during missions. Irons is also younger than the typical Alfred and Ben Affleck is, of course, an older than normal Bruce Wayne. The two actors have thus built a chemistry that feels like they’re old friends. If anything, Alfred has been underused so far and deserves more screen-time in the DCEU.
10. Awful: Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor
It’s always difficult to step into the shoes of an iconic character. Do something different and you’re criticized for ruining the character; borrow too much from past iterations and you’re criticized for an unoriginal portrayal. Jesse Eisenberg dared to tackle Lex Luthor in a unique manner as a flippant, spoiled visionary playing with forces ultimately too powerful to handle. Certain moments play well through Eisenberg’s approach, such as the “Granny’s Peach Tea” scheme. However, for the most part, Eisenberg leans too heavily into the flippant nature of his portrayal, making Lex Luthor a goofy and cartoonish villain. He’s supposed to be an evil mastermind worthy of pitting Superman and Batman against each other with no way out. However, it’s difficult to buy into this narrative through the overemphasis on eccentric humor.
9. Incredible: Robin Wright as Antiope
Every hero needs a mentor and a call to action. For Diana Prince in Wonder Woman, Antiope helped serve both roles. As she trained Diana to be a warrior, Robin Wright brought the perfect intensity and physicality to the character. Beneath the ferocity, Wright also conveyed compassion and belief in Diana, the forces that influence her intensity. While Diana’s mother Hippolyta tried to shield her from the world and her destiny, Antiope acted as the definitive role model in Diana’s life. That perfect intensity and physicality is so much of what makes Wonder Woman a unique and beloved character. These traits, and Wright’s ability to nail them, make audiences feel genuine grief when Antiope dies, even though she’s ultimately not in much of the film. Her death is a direct result of war and given Wright’s ability to make audiences care and admire her in just a few scenes, Antiope’s death makes sense as a call to action. Diana’s decision to leave Themiscyra with Steve Trevor to end war doesn’t feel contrived through Wright’s incredible acting.
8. Awful: Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag
Most would agree that very little worked in Suicide Squad. Among the many elements that didn’t work was the romance between Rick Flag and June Moone. If audiences became invested in their relationship, the movie could’ve had much more impact. However, Joel Kinnaman never really sells audiences on the fact that he loved her. This makes it hard to buy into his actions and motives, let alone root for him. His mistakes as a leader don’t feel as devastating as they should, while the triumphs don’t feel as victorious as they should. This may stem from an attempt to play the character ambiguously. However, instead of an ambiguous portrayal, it only comes across as flat and unconvincing. It also doesn’t help that the motives and actions of his boss, Amanda Waller, are ambiguous to the point of confusing.
7. Incredible: David Thewlis as Ares
The role of Ares is one of the few criticisms of Wonder Woman that both fans and critics agree on. While there could’ve been more development of Ares to make the villain as compelling as the protagonist herself, casting David Thewlis was a brilliant decision, given the preconceptions surrounding the character. Many audiences primarily associate Thewlis with his portrayal of Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter movies. In those films, despite turning into a werewolf once a month, Lupin is a kind, protective, loyal figure. With this preconception in mind, it was easy for audiences to buy into the facade of Sir Patrick Morgan in Wonder Woman. Like Lupin, he appeared kindly, only he lacked the convictions of Lupin as a well-meaning politician with his hands tied from taking meaningful action. This made the twist that Sir Patrick Morgan was Ares particularly shocking. Thewlis can carry himself in a reserved manner, but also has the ability to launch into the grandiose. Such versatility allowed him to navigate the transition from the Sir Patrick Morgan facade to the fearsome Ares in the film’s final battle with Diana.
6. Awful: Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent
The DCEU began with Man of Steel and with the exception of Wonder Woman, every film in the cinematic universe so far seems to revolve around Superman. This is even true for Suicide Squad where Amanda Waller partly justifies bringing the team together in response to a world no longer protected by Superman. Considering his overall importance to the universe, Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Superman is integral to the DCEU’s success. Cavill is physically perfect for the role, but his acting is not as strong, though. His version of Superman comes off as much too stiff and dour. This seems like part of the attempt to make Superman a darker, more conflicted character than in past iterations. However, there are far more effective ways to do this, and Cavill’s approach makes the character far too bland and unlikeable. Superman needs to be more charismatic to truly act as a beacon of hope. Interestingly, Cavill’s approach worked well in Justice League after the team resurrected him. That stiff, dour portrayal worked perfectly for the character’s troubled rebirth. Justice League also showed an attempt to break away from the older portrayal, by having the character smile, save civilians, and talk to starstruck kids. There is promise with Superman moving forward in the DCEU, but above all it hinges on Cavill’s abilities as an actor.
5. Incredible: Chris Pine as Steve Trevor
Wonder Woman not only showed the power of a well-developed female superhero, but also the power of a well-developed love interest. A superhero’s love interest is often thinly developed, serving the role of eye candy instead of having a compelling story and meaningful relationship with the protagonist. Steve Trevor was physically attractive or as the character himself describes, “Above average.” More importantly, Pine showed audiences that a physically attractive love interest doesn’t need to be a bland character. Steve Trevor has his own unique personality, motivations, and flaws. Pine’s charm can be both humorous and dramatic. While all these aspects of his character intertwine in meaningful ways with Diana, Steve Trevor doesn’t exist just for Diana. Pine has the energy of a leading man and charm that is both dramatic and humorous, but he pulls it off in a way that never overshadows Diana’s story. Both characters are their own people but they still form a beautiful relationship and undergo a journey that strengthens their individual development.
4. Awful: Cara Delevingne as Enchantress/June Moone
As mentioned with Rick Flag, Suicide Squad largely relied on his romantic relationship with June Moone to be successful. Audiences barely get to experience their relationship or get a sense of June as a character before she becomes possessed as Enchantress. As both June and the demonic Enchantress, Cara Delevingne is never very convincing. Beyond the issues with her CGI, the acting doesn’t demonstrate the qualities to make her an intriguing or terrifying villain, as the character’s motives seem generic and vague. Even the seduction of Rick Flag comes off as hollow and isn’t the tense moment it should be. Delevingne seems more at home playing the outwardly confident, secretly troubled teen Margo in Paper Towns than June or the fantastical Enchantress in Suicide Squad.
3. Incredible: Ezra Miller as The Flash/Barry Allen
If there’s anything the DCEU learned from Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it’s that superhero films need humor. This doesn’t mean straight-up comedy, but it does mean creating moments that break the tension while also serving the characters and their stories. Ezra Miller achieves this perfectly through his portrayal of The Flash/Barry Allen. Part of what makes his humor work so well in Justice League is that he often says and does things that normal people would say and do in such dire situations, but it never seems to happen that way in movies. While saving Silas Stone and the other captives from Steppenwolf, Barry starts freaking out. He’s never saved anyone or fought in a battle before, making this a natural reaction. His reactions are refreshing as they’re both humorous and realistic. Unlike his peers, and many other characters in fiction, he doesn’t just snap into hero mode during his first mission. And even once he’s more comfortable in that role, he doesn’t have it all figured out, like when he’s not sure what direction East is in when he runs to save the civilians. In addition to the humor, Miller brings a lot of heart to the character, especially during the scenes where he visits his father in jail. In both dramatic and humorous scenes, Miller is clearly having a lot of fun in the role, which is what audiences want to see from their favorite superheroes.
2. Awful: Jared Leto as The Joker
Following in the footsteps of Heath Ledger’s Joker, any actor who dared tackle this character would inevitably face controversy. Ledger’s performance is iconic both for what happened onscreen and, as a result, in real life. Jared Leto took on the challenge for Suicide Squad and the results were not only controversial, but disappointing. Leto delivers his lines and even moves in a manner that is nothing more than a cheap imitation of Heath Ledger’s Joker. The aesthetic is quite different, but the acting itself seems like a poor knockoff of The Dark Knight antagonist. Some argue Leto was never really given the chance to create his own Joker given how little he’s ultimately in the movie. However, even in the scenes audiences do get, Leto’s portrayal is unoriginal. Disturbing reports of how he immersed himself in the role doesn’t make his performance any better.
1. Incredible: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince
Wonder Woman boasted an incredible supporting cast, but Gal Gadot above all defined the film’s success. In an age of fashionable cynicism, Gadot played an unapologetic optimist and idealist. The character never comes of as self-righteous or foolish, but inspiring, fierce, and intelligent. This performance stayed consistent in both dramatic and humorous moments. The No Man’s Land scene is equally as believable as her conversation with Steve Trevor about reproductive biology or her awe at babies and ice cream. After previously brooding and chaotic installments, Wonder Woman provided a much needed breath of fresh air for the DCEU. Gadot’s performances have also enriched the DCEU by providing the best character development yet across the various films. Her character development is fascinating in Wonder Woman, given the testing of her optimism and idealism. The reluctant hero in Batman v Superman and later confident leader in Justice League is just as important to her story, a journey fans will continue to enjoy through Gadot’s outstanding acting.
What do you think are the best and worst casting decisions in the DCEU? Sound off in the comments below!
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