We are firmly in the golden age of superhero movies (soak it up, people), and as the quality, scale, and performances improve, it’s always good to slow down and take stock of what’s happened; and by that, we mean time to pay tribute to those actors who elevated their superhero or super villain roles to new heights.
Jack Nicholson – Joker (Batman)
While it’s easy to compare actor performances of the Clown Prince of Crime over the years, Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film was a huge step forward for the genre. Nicholson took a campy and colourful approach to the character, resonating more with the Joker’s initial appearance in the first-ever Batman #1 comic book. His unsettling joy, nightmarish smile, and sinister undertone was a great first outing for the green-haired villain on the big-screen.
Alfred Molina – Dr. Otto Octavius / Doctor Octopus (Spider-Man 2)
Easily the best film in the original Spider-Man trilogy, Spider-Man 2 delivered on the character development and pivotal story points for the web-slinging hero, but it also introduced the best villain to date. Alfred Molina’s performance as Dr. Otto Octavius, a loveable and endearing man who goes through a horrifying transition into Doctor Octopus, showed great diversity from the actor, coming full circle at the end and still being likeable, despite his villainous ways.
Heath Ledger – Joker (The Dark Knight)
It would be impossible to speak of comic book performances without mentioning the late Heath Ledger as The Joker. Polarising Nicholson’s comical take, Ledger depicted the iconic Batman villain in Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece as a twisted psychopath, but not as callous as his appearance made him initially seem, showing a character who was an intellectual anarchist with some thought-provoking depth. The interrogation scene between Ledger’s Joker and Christian Bale’s Batman shows the complexity he brought to the character.
Robert Downey Jr. – Iron Man / Tony Stark (Iron Man / Avengers franchise)
The saying “some actors are born to play roles” is a cliché as old as Hollywood itself, but no one can deny the perfect casting that was Robert Downey Jr as billionaire-turned-superhero Tony Stark. Downey Jr was always a strong actor, but following his off-screen misdemeanours, no one expected him to return in style as he did in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. Downey Jr embodied Tony Stark’s look, mannerisms and attitude, captivating audiences with his arrogant charm and unrelenting likeability, and further setting the stage for the tone of the Marvel cinematic revolution that was to come.
Chris Evans – Captain America / Steve Rogers (Captain America /Avengers franchise)
Playing the archetypal Captain America was always going to be a tough job, but Chris Evans took on the role with great success in The First Avenger, and raised the bar even higher in The Winter Soldier. Evans brought a humanity and relatability to Captain America, making sure that the vulnerable yet brave foundation of Steve Rogers was never lost behind the shield. As Stanley Tucci’s character Abraham Erskine says to Steve Rogers in the first Captain America film, “You must stay who you are, not a perfect soldier, but a good man”. Evans definitely let that sink in with his performances.
Tom Hiddleston – Loki (Thor / Avengers franchise)
Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki in the Thor and Avengers films are pure class. Not since Heath Ledger’s Joker has a film’s antagonist completely dominated each scene he features in. Hiddleston’s maniacal and smooth-talking demeanour is bewitching , yet he manages to be some damn likeable that you almost forget who you’re rooting for. It takes a lot to have that effect, and Hiddleston pulled it off with ease.
Andrew Garfield – Peter Parker / Spider-Man (The Amazing Spider-Man franchise)
Poor Andrew Garfield got the short-end of the stick in the entire Marvel / Sony agreement to introduce Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While fans may be divided on The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, Garfield was one of the shining lights throughout both films. The young actor brought a sense of wonder and excitement to the wall-crawler that fans wanted to see, as well as some humour, awkwardness and tragedy to the character of Peter Parker; not too mention some undeniable chemistry with Emma Stone’s character of Gwen Stacy.
Hugh Jackman (Wolverine in Logan)
It can be argued that Hugh Jackman was born to play the character of Wolverine, and while he always had the fan-vote regarding that, his recent portrayal in Logan solidified it. The Australian actor always managed to capture the rage and brutality of the beloved X-Men member, but he took his performance to new heights to capture a broken, agonisingly endearing, and emotional Wolverine in a post-mutants world in Logan. Jackman’s performance is stellar, and arguably the best of his career, and his chemistry and relationship with Patrick Stewart’s father-figure-like Charles Xavier gave an extra edge to Jackman’s swansong.
Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool/Wade Wilson (Deadpool)
Not many actors get a second shot at the same character, but Ryan Reynolds took full advantage of his return to the role of Deadpool in 2016’s long-in-development standalone film. Rewriting the botched job in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Reynolds brought Wade Wilson’s signature humour, fourth-wall breaking quips, and quick comebacks to Marvel’s anti-hero, and did so in spectacular fashion. Even with a full face-mask, Reynolds managed to capture the attitude, emotion, and personality of one of the comic-book world’s most colourful character.
Which actor do you think deserves a nod for their superhero or super-villain portrayal? Tweet us @MenStuffZA and let us know…