Sunday 20 September 2015

Casting Call: Marvel Cinematic Universe and X-verse

Anyone looking for my review of the Doctor Who season opener will have to wait till next week; I'll be reviewing the full two-part story in one go.

Loads of casting news for the latest Marvel adaptations has surfaced since I last wrote on the subject, trickling out until the recent flood of Luke Cage details. Deep breath...

Tom Holland
Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Captain America: Civil War, untitled Spidey movie)

No introduction for the character required here. Spidey's latest reboot has been the subject of much anticipation and aggravation since Marvel made their deal with Sony to co-produce the character's outings. 19-year-old Holland was chosen out of many auditioning young actors, and will be playing Spidey a little younger than his actual age, bringing him back to the high school kid he began as. Kevin Feige and the team behind the movies have confirmed that they won't be rehashing the origin story, which is a relief - pretty much everyone knows the origins of Spider-Man anyway now, so it's hardly essential. Considering how late in the day he was cast, Holland's role in Civil War can't be especially large (unlike in the comic crossover it's loosely based on, in which he's an intrinsic central character). Also, the producers have confirmed that Spidey is already swinging around MCU New York (a throwaway line in Ant-Man supports this). What works nicely in this set-up is that he'd have been about twelve when The Avengers took place, so he'll have been inspired by the various supers charging around his version of New York.

Like the previous film Spidey (Andrew Garfield), Tom Holland is a Brit. He's best known for his time in the lead role in Billy Elliot: The Musical, plus screen appearances in The Impossible, Wolf Hall and How I Live Now. His schedule has become a lot busier this last year. We know that after his Spidey debut in Civil War, he'll have at least one movie to himself (officially untitled, but the smart money is on The Spectacular Spider-Man), with two sequels already optioned. It'd be a big surprise to not see him at least briefly alongside the other heroes in Avengers: Infinity War, but the contract between Marvel and Sony stipulates that he can't appear in any TV properties. There are also talks of an animated Spidey movie or two, but it's unknown if any of the screen actors will take up their roles in the voice studio.

Jon Bernthal
Frank Castle/The Punisher (Daredevil s2)

One of Marvel's most popular characters, but not one who's ever really caught on well on film, ruthless vigilante Frank Castle has been played by various actors over the years: Dolph Lundgren in the 1989 Punisher movie, Thomas Jane in the 2004 reboot (and its unofficial short sequel, Dirty Laundry) and Ray Stevenson in 2008's Punisher: War Zone. So this is just the latest of various unrelated attempts to bring the character to the screen (he's also had various animated appearances, including in the 1990s Spider-Man animated series and the rather good anime Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore. The Punisher lacks superhuman abilities but is a formidable hand-to-hand combatant and tactician, who has found himself both fighting with and against various heroes throughout Marvel's comics since his debut in 1974. Jon Bernthal, best known as Shane in The Walking Dead and Joe Teague in Mob City, is an absolutely spot-on choice for the role. We'll see what side of Daredevil's fight he's on when he appears.

Elodie Yung
Elektra Natchios (Daredevil s2)

One of the most popular and important characters in the Daredevil storyline, Elektra is ninja assassin with an almost superhuman proficiency in martial arts. She's been a longtime love interest of Matt Murdock in the comics, but has almost as frequently been set against him, predominantly because he has a strict no-killing rule while she's, well, a professional murderer. Her mercenary nature has led to her aligning herself with various groups over the years, from SHIELD and HYDRA to ninja groups the Chaste and the Hand. With the Hand seemingly set to be a recurring threat in the new Defenders oriented shows, and Murdock's sensei Stick confirmed to return, Elektra's malleable allegiance could lead to some significant conflict. A line in the first series of Daredevil about a Greek student during Murdock's college days strongly implies he's already met Elektra in this storyline.

This is Elektra's second live-action casting, following on from Jennifer Garner's attempt at the role in 2003's middling Daredevil film and its woeful spin-off, the 2005 Elektra movie. French actress Elodie Yung plays Elektra in the next season of the Daredevil series. A martial artist in real life, she's appeared in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Les fils du vent and as Jinx in GI Joe: Retaliation. Not that that's any reason to go and watch that film.

Tilda Swinton
The Ancient One (Doctor Strange)

Once Sorcerer Supreme, the Ancient One is a Tibetan mystic, born over five hundred years ago, who is responsible for training Dr. Strange to become the Sorceror Supreme of the modern age. In the comics, he is, unsurprisingly, male, but Marvel have surprised everyone by casting English actress Tilda Swinton in the role. As with Baron Mordo (below), this is some inspired casting that totally ignores established racial and gender characteristics in favour of getting some true talent involved. Doctor Strange is looking like it'll have one of the best and most intriguing casts of any comicbook movie for years. The Ancient One's exact origins and characteristics have varied a fair bit over the years, but he's always been an incredibly aged, astonishingly powerful, albeit physically weak, sorcerer. As well as Strange and Mordo, he's been affiliated with such disparate characters as Eternity and the Black Rider, and while powerful now, is nowhere near as formidable as he was in his prime (hence his training of a new Sorcerer Supreme to take his place). Before training Strange, he almost single-handedly kept the Dread Dormammu from invading the Earth, has travelled to many other dimensions, and has continued to be a major force after death.

The Ancient One appeared, in spiritual form, in the 1978 Doctor Strange telemovie, voiced by Michael Ansara. The great Katherine Mathilda Swinton of Kimmerghame is perhaps the only actor living who is sufficiently talented, strange and remarkably unique to play the great sorcerer. Trying to sum up her career here would be a fool's errand, but for comicbook geeks, she was the Archangel Gabriel in the misguided 2005 WB adaptation of Constantine.

Chiwetel Ejiofor
Baron Mordo (Doctor Strange)

One of the great British actors of the current generation, Ejiofor's been attached to this for ages, but only recently has it finally been confirmed that he's playing Baron Mordo. One of Strange's arch-nemeses, Mordo is, in the comics, a Transylvanian of noble birth who was trained by the Ancient One to become Sorcerer Supreme, but was exiled for his treachery. Clearly, casting an Afro-English actor means that the character's origins will be tweaked a little, but the essentials will doubtless remain: Mordo is an incredibly powerful warlock who despises and opposes Strange. His abilities include, but are not limited to, hypnotism, illusionism, the summoning of demons, teleportation, astral projection, martial arts and numerous magical techniques. Plus, of course, he's been studying the magical arts longer than Strange, so he has experience on his side. In his long comics career, he's renounced evil a couple of times, but always been tempted back to the dark side.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is, of course, brilliant, and will bring some pure class to the role. Skiffy fans will know him from Serenity and Children of Men (and there's a rumour going round that he was offered the lead in Doctor Who at one stage), but his greatest roles have been in films such as 12 Years a Slave, American Gangster and Kinky Boots. He also won the Laurence Olivier Award in 2008, making him very probably the best actor to appear in the MCU by a long, long way.

Also confirmed for Doctor Strange is Rachel McAdams, aka Irene Adler in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies, Clare in The Time Traveller's Wife and much, much more. There's no news on who she's playing, but the likelihood is that she's playing Clea, who is both his main love interest and linked closely to the demon Dormammu. There are several other characters she could be playing, though, especially considering the unexpected casting decisions this film is taking.

Mark Willig 
Lash (Agents of SHIELD s3)

Lash is very new character in Marvel comics, having been introduced in the Matt Fraction-penned series Inhuman series in 2014. An Inhuman, but not one of the main society who we normally encounter, Lash grew up in an isolated community where very few are chosen to undergo Terrigenesis and mutate into their Inhuman forms. As well as being physically formidable, Lash has the power to absorb and convert any form of energy and release it as whichever form he chooses, often intense heat. In the Inhuman storyline, Lash searches the world for "Nu-Humans" - humans who have unexpectedly transformed into Inhumans following the worldwide flood of Terrigen mist. Unlike some groups, though, Lash is dedicated to wiping out these people, who he sees as underserving of their transformation. Given the similar events at the end of season two of Agents of SHIELD, we can expect something similar to happen here, although Joss Whedon has expressed that things will not be taken directly from the comics, so there may be some surprises. Mark Willig is fairly new to acting, having had roles in NCIS and Year One among others, and was formerly a career footballer.

Also appearing in the third season of SHIELD are Constance Zimmer as Rosalind Price, an agent for a rival organisation who will cross paths with SHIELD in the hunt for new Inhumans; Juan Pablo Raba as Joey Gutierrez as one such newly transformed Inhuman, and Andrew Howard as Agent Banks, who is also set to be on the hunt for Inhumans.

Simone Missick
Misty Knight (Luke Cage)

Misty Knight is a fan-favourite character, and a big part of the stories of both Luke Cage and Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist. She's just a much a product of the seventies as Cage, being a combination of both blaxploitation cinema tropes and kung fu martial arts flicks. A former police officer, she boasts both detective skills and martial arts prowess; she lost her arm in the line of duty, receiving a bionic arm from Tony Stark that has granted her various enhanced abilities. How much of this will make it to the series in unknown, although if Phil Coulson can come back with a cyber-arm, I don't see why Misty can't. Knight's had romantic and heroic partnerships with both Cage and Rand (the latter of which has still not been cast), so she's bound to be a major part of not just the Luke Cage series, but the Iron Fist and Defenders series as well. Simone Missick is a fairly new face on screen, but she absolutely looks the part. Playing Misty's police partner Rafael Scarfe is Frank Whaley, who's had minor to middle roles in more or less everything in the last twenty years or so.

Theo Rossi
Hernan Alvarez/Shades (Luke Cage)

Shades was one of the cons sharing Luke Cage's cell during his time, and like Cage, suffered abuse at the hands of those in authority. Since he got out, the Dominican-born Shades has struggled to stay straight, acting on both sides of the law, and as both friend and enemy to Cage. At one point, he acquired a technologically-enhanced visor that allowed him to fire optic blasts (rather like Cyclops in X-Men). In latter stories, he's mostly, but not always, been on the side of right. His son, Victor Alvarez, developed some of the powers of Iron Fist when he absorbed the chi of over a hundred people in the disaster that killed Shades; with the new abilities he displayed, he took on the name Power Man, formerly used by Luke Cage. While I'm not convinced we'll see Shades blasting people with his super-sunnies on TV, I'd be surprised if Victor isn't introduced, if only as a kid. Sounds like Shades will be very much still a street criminal in this version, we shouldn't assume there's no chance for redemption. Theo Rossi has appeared in many popular shows, but is best known for his role as Juice in Sons of Anarchy .

Mahershala Ali
Cornell "Cottonmouth" Strokes (Luke Cage)

A powerful drug lord in New York, Cottonmouth was involved in the drugs sale that framed Luke Cage and led to his incarceration. A man with many enemies, he's been a target of  the Hand as well as Cage and his allies. At one point ending up with all is teeth shattered, he got them replaced with razor-sharp gold caps, and has enhanced strength in certain storylines too. Actor Mahershala Ali is familiar from The 4400, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and Predators. Also cast is Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard, Cottonmouth's cousin who intends to run for office and bring change to Harlem. Woodard is a familiar face with years of screen roles behind her, most recently 12 Years a Slave and Annabelle, but is best known to genre fans for appearances in K-PAX, The Forgotten and Star Trek: First Contact.

Andre Tricoteux
Piotr Rasputin/Colossus (Deadpool)

It's confirmed that actor and stuntman Andre Tricoteux will be taking over the role of metal-plated Russian mutant Colossus in February's highly anticipated Deadpool movie. The character was previously played by Daniel Cudmore in X2, X3: The Last Stand and Days of Future Past.

Léa Seydoux
Bella Donna Boudreaux (Gambit)

The latest casting news for the Gambit  movie has confirmed that French actress Léa Seydoux will be co-starring with Channing Tatum, and although it's not been officially confirmed, it's accepted that she'll be playing Bella Donna Boudreaux, otherwise known simply as Belladonna. A mutant like Gambit, Belladonna has the ability to shoot energy blasts and to astrally project. She shares a long, complex history with Gambit in the comics, and it can be expected she'll be a combination of romantic interest and villain in the movie. Léa Seydoux is  a major rising star in Hollywood, soon set to appear in the Bond flick SPECTRE, having had previous English language credits in Inglourious Basterds and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Her most acclaimed performance is alongside Adele Exarchopoulos in the French graphic novel adaptation Blue is the Warmest Colour (aka La Vie d'Adele), an award-winning romantic drama.

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