TUFF GNARL CASTING CALL: Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”
Many years ago, the now-defunct comic book periodical Wizard Magazine ran an ongoing segment entitled “Casting Call” in which they would envision a film based on another medium – comics, animation, literature, etc. – and suggest which actors would best portray the major characters in the story. Sometimes they hit the nail on the head, like when they chose Patrick Stewart to play Professor X long before 20th Century Fox had even acquired the rights to the X-Men franchise. Sometimes they didn’t (see: Jason Mewes as Jimmy Olson, Stephen Seagal as Forge or Jean Claude Van Damme as Gambit). Regardless of how on-point their choices were, it was always a fun read.
Now that Hollywood seems to be scooping up every comic-related property possible, it makes sense to bring that feature back. In this, our first installment of “Casting Call,” we’re going to tackle one of comicdom’s most influential works: Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns.
Taking place in the familiar setting of Gotham City, TDKR tells the story of a battered and retired 55-year-old Bruce Wayne who takes up the charge of Batman once again after an upswing in crime becomes too much to ignore. Soon, he’s facing both familiar and new villains alongside some stalwart allies and a new Robin. If his troubles in Gotham weren’t enough, the American government outlawed superheroes right around the time of Wayne’s initial retirement, keeping only Superman active and under their employment. Once word of Batman’s return to action spreads, it’s not long before they sic their biggest dog on him.
(Note: While perusing the web looking for past info on Wizard’s original “Casting Call” run, I discovered that a few other sites had begun to do their own version of the series themselves – some even going as far as offering their picks for this specific adaptation. I acknowledge their efforts with a tip of my blogger cap, however I believe that there is ample room for all of us.)
Director – Clint Eastwood
Were he 30 years younger, few could argue against casting him in the titular role. Eastwood made a career out of playing grizzled, battle-worn outlaws who protected the weak while adhering to his own personal moral code. Whether he was “Dirty” Harry Calahan, the unforgiving Bill Munny, The Man With No Name or, more recently, the prejudicial but otherwise ethical Walt Kowalski, Eastwood, with merely a brow furrow, could make even the toughest opposition quiver in their boots. Since the early ’70s, Eastwood has also been equally as effective behind the camera, his range of work (including The Outlaw Josey Wales, Mystic River, The Bridges of Madison County, Flags of Our Fathers, and Best Picture winners Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven) as varied as it has been of a uniformly high quality. And sure, he’s proven himself capable of pulling off awesome action set pieces, but this living legend of the silver screen is all to aware that the real story, at its core, resides with the characters.
Bruce Wayne/Batman – Russell Crowe
Suffice it to say that Bruce Wayne’s best days, physically, are far behind him. Although hardly elderly at 55 years of age, the toll his countless battles as Batman have taken on him has left some irreparable damage. Miller’s depiction of Batman in TDKR is that of a much broader and denser body type – strength and impact above speed and finesse – than the more athletic form he had in Batman: Year One. Academy Award-winning actor Russell Crowe (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Noah) has both the acting chops and the physique to pull off the double role of the reclusive former billionaire Wayne, capable of being aristocratically snobbish in one scene and brutally terrifying in the next. And don’t let the actor’s sometimes doughy exterior fool you; when cast in a role that demands it, Crowe still has the ability to reshape his form accordingly.
Alfred Pennyworth – Max Von Sydow
Now in his 80s, the Wayne family’s forever trustworthy and dedicated butler still serves Bruce and assists him as best he can outside the reach of immediate danger (most of the time). Though it would be quite easy (and apt) to re-cast Michael Caine in the role, considering he is both temperamentally ideal and fits into the correct age bracket, I feel as if it’d be a bit of a cop-out and, let’s face it, not as much fun as coming up with a new actor. Multiple Oscar-nominated Max Von Sydow (The Exorcist, Needful Things, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) has the regal refinement to do the character justice.
Carrie Kelley/Robin – Chloë Grace Moretz
By the time TDKR begins, all of the other Robins have died or moved on, leaving Batman without a sidekick. Fortunately, 13-year-old Carrie Kelley shows up and earns Bruce Wayne’s trust, assuming the role of “Girl Wonder” and fighting alongside him. There is no actress currently working in Hollywood more perfect for this role than Chloë Grace Moretz, whose depiction of Hit Girl in Kick-Ass is the only audition she’ll ever need to submit for the role. They’ll have to expedite production to make sure Moretz, now 17, still looks young enough for the part, although Chris O’Donnell was 25 when he played Dick Grayson in Batman Forever, so it might not be too big of a deal, precedentially speaking.
Commissioner James Gordon – Ed Harris
Gotham City Police Commissioner James Gordon is on the verge of retirement when we first encounter him in TDKR, but when Batman resumes his roles as the city’s protector, he is thrust back into the thick of things rather quickly, regardless of whether or not he remains in a position of power. Throw a hair piece on four-time Oscar nominee Ed Harris (Pollock, The Abyss, Apollo 13) and call it a day. His authoritative air of leadership, offset perfectly by a minor rebellious streak, is ideal for portraying a man once in charge of running one of the most dangerous city’s police force while working in collusion with its universally feared outlaw vigilante.
Harvey Dent/Two-Face – Ralph Fiennes
Roughly the same age as Wayne, Harvey Dent has spent the last 12 years in Arkham Asylum receiving treatment and undergoing plastic surgery procedures which have fixed his once repulsively scarred visage. Despite all this, however, his mental state remains the same and, upon his release, he’s soon back to his old ways, this time with bandages enwrapping his entire face, as he considers both sides now disfigured. English actor Ralph Fiennes, whose roles in The English Patient and Schindler’s List earned him Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor nominations from the Academy, has shown in the past that he is more than capable of depicting the seething, self-loathing madness synonymous with the man known as Two-Face (see: Red Dragon, the Harry Potter series, Spider).
The Joker – Mel Gibson
Awaking from a catatonic state upon learning of Batman’s return, TDKR’s Joker wastes no time in getting back to his old ways, carving a brutal swath of murder and mayhem across Gotham City in the hopes of luring the Dark Knight into one final confrontation. (Spoiler Alert: He succeeds in getting Batman’s attention.) After mulling over a long list of viable candidates ranging from Nicholas Cage and Crispin Glover to Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe, one actor stood out from the pack based on an unparalleled combination of genuine craziness and onscreen charisma: Mel Gibson. The Academy Award winner (Best Director: Braveheart) has flirted with insanity both on and off-screen and, judging from his recent crazy-eyed performance in The Expendables 3, he’s still got the juice to fill the Clown Prince of Crime’s shoes.
The Mutant Leader – Brock Lesnar
The physically imposing boss of a vicious mutant gang based out of the Gotham City dump, this character almost beats Batman in a fight before Robin distracts him long enough for Wayne to subdue him. That, however, is only part of his story arc. Though it’s likely that the actor portraying the Mutant Leader will have his physical appearance further enhanced by CGI, it’s important to start from a believable base. He’s yet to do as much in Hollywood as fellow wrestler Dave Bautista, but former UFC heavyweight champion and current WWE champ Brock Lesnar, already a physical freak, is a pretty perfect fit for the role.
Dr. Bartholemew Wolper – Jude Law
The psychiatrist in charge of many of Batman’s rogues gallery institutionalized at Arkham Asylum, Dr. Wolper sees many of them – namely Harvey Dent and the Joker – as victims of Batman’s “fascist vigilantism,” appearing on television to say as much. Plainly put, he’s an educated buffoon whose ill-advised choices unleash two of Gotham’s deadliest killers on its citizens once again. Two-time Oscar nominee Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley, A.I., Cold Mountain) has made something of a career out of playing cocksure characters who make dreadfully bad choices – just see the criminally under-watched Side Effects, in which he plays a rather similar role.
Ellen Yindel – Katee Sackoff
Set to replace James Gordon as Gotham City Police Commissioner at the beginning of the book, Captain Ellen Yindel’s outlook differs from her predecessors in that she perceives Batman as an outlaw who needs to be stopped. This role calls for a tough, take-no-nonsense woman who commands respect with a physique befitting someone who has spent her fair share of time patrolling Gotham’s streets. Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Oculus, Riddick) can do tough and assertive like few others are able to. That she’s familiar with the Batman franchise (having voiced Detective Essen in the animated adaptation of Batman: Year One) is just an added bonus.
Oliver Queen/Green Arrow – Jeff Bridges
Batman’s old friend and former Justice League of America teammate Oliver Queen, better known as Green Arrow, is an outlaw when we first see him in TDKR, rebelling against the government’s banning of superheroes. Despite having lost an arm – an accident he blames Superman for – he’s still a deft marksman and agrees to help Bruce Wayne when things become particularly troublesome. To play Queen, we need an actor who can do both playful and cunning, grow a mean beard and who possesses a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Who better than the chameleonesque Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, Starman, The Contender)?
Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman – Josh Brolin
Now under the employ of the United States government, Superman is essentially the only superhero from yesteryear still operating openly when TDKR opens. His secret identity as Clark Kent now a matter of public knowledge, Earth’s mightiest protector operates solely at the behest of his superiors. When they set their sights on the newly-resumed activities of Batman, he’s called in not long after to confront his one-time friend. This role calls for a slightly older and more emotionally removed depiction of the last son of Krypton than we’ve yet to see onscreen, but one whose physical attributes remain otherwise intact. Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, Oldboy, Jonah Hex) seems tailor-made for the part and, judging from his portrayal of Dwight in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, he’s already a fan of Frank Miller’s work.
Selina Kyle – Sharon Stone
This criminal, antihero and sometimes lover of Batman formerly known as Catwoman now owns and operates an escort business. Still on speaking terms with Bruce Wayne when TDKR opens (although their relationship remains distant at best), the overweight middle-aged retired cat burglar becomes unwillingly involved in one of the Joker’s sinister plans to lure Batman into battle. Sharon Stone is certainly in much better shape than her comic character counterpart, but her ability to combine sultry and crazy better than 99 percent of her peers garners her the nod.
(All images used from “The Dark Knight Returns” are the property of DC Comics and Warner Bros. Entertainment.)
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