I read this morning that Logan Lerman, the guy who plays Percy Jackson in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, is very close to being cast as Peter Parker in the upcoming Spider-Man reboot. I enjoyed Lerman in The Lightning Thief. I thought he did nice work evolving his character’s unsteady charm into the winking confidence that his demi-god required. As Peter Parker, I’m pretty confident that he would deliver a solid and likeable performance, embrace the awkwardness and insecurity that defines Parker, and ultimately rise to the heroics that makes him Spider-Man. That’s all fine.
However, none of this forgives him being a franchise hog! Popular actors cashing in on multiple high-profile franchises is really nothing new. Did people cast aspersions on Harrison Ford for playing Han Solo and Indiana Jones? Did they level criticism on Humphrey Bogart for playing Rick Blaine and Sam Spade? I can’t say, but these days franchise hogging seems to have become an epidemic. It seems like every time I read the entertainment headlines there’s another franchise hog, and it’s gotten out of control.
Shia LaBeouf first got me thinking about this when he appeared in Transformers and then Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I like Shia LaBeouf, and I know he worked for years to get to where he is. I’m sure when his agent came to him with the possibility of working on either film, he hesitated to think about the greater good. He just screamed, “Hell yes!” The idea of working with Steven Spielberg or even getting punched by Michael Bay were too good to pass up. No one can blame him.
Let me back up for a second and define what I mean by “franchise.” Entertainment lawyers may debate me, but I mean movies that are based on materials that have a devoted fan base and will likely lead to sequels. I’m talking about reboots, comic book movies, book adaptations, TV crossovers, etc. You know what I mean. Shia LaBeouf can make Eagle Eye and Disturbia all day long, as far as I’m concerned. The problem lies when he starts popping up in things that have become iconic to our culture, playing household name characters (or characters from tremendously popular movies) over and over: franchise hogging.
There have been plenty of other offenders lately. The surly and gravel-chewing Christian Bale chomped down on Batman and Terminator, a major issue for me. Should he be allowed to be both Bruce Wayne and John Connor? Robert Downey, Jr. played Tony Stark in Iron Man along with Sherlock Holmes. Shouldn’t he just get one?
Why is this a problem? It breaks the spell. I want to disappear into my entertainment. I want Batman to be Batman, dammit! I don’t want to be distracted thinking I just saw him fighting robots in the future. I don’t want to wonder if Jude Law will make a wink-wink cameo in the next Iron Man movie. I just want to grab on for the ride and not be distracted by stuff like this. Hats off to Peter Jackson for mostly avoiding huge name actors for the Lord of the Rings movies. Not to say that he went with unknowns, but can you imagine if he had cast Tom Cruise as Aragorn? What if Tom Hanks played Bilbo Baggins? Why not Cameron Diaz as Galadriel?
I also believe in spreading the wealth. Years ago, a friend of mine who does voice acting was lamenting the loss of voice work to name actors. Yes, Billy Crudup and Morgan Freeman, we’re talking to you. If you listen to the voice work in commercials these days, you’ll recognize Edward Norton , David Duchovny, Tom Selleck and so on. These jobs used to go to unknowns, but more and more big name actors (or their agents) have been muscling in on the voice action. I understand wanting to ride the gravy train that their success provides, but that half-day’s voice work would have paid someone else’s rent for a year.
The same goes for franchise hogging. Why not let somebody else get their big break?
Hollywood economics aside, franchise hogs mostly upset me as a fan. Nowhere is this more evident than in comic book movies. I grew up reading comics as a kid, and I still love them today. I celebrated the victories of comic book heroes and mourned their losses. They even helped me to better understand some of my own challenges growing up. While I didn’t have blue skin like Nightcrawler, I did know what it was like to feel ostracized sometimes. Peter Parker didn’t always get the girl, and neither did I. When you grow up loving these characters and their journeys, you want them brought to the screen with the greatest of care. And it’s a fucking honor to get to play their parts.
You shouldn’t be playing multiple superheroes. Period. Ryan Reynolds played Deadpool in the awful X-Men Origins: Wolverine and is set to appear in his own spin-off film about Deadpool. Awesome! But wait, he’s also going to be Green Lantern? And both movies are set to be released next year? What the hell? How can he be in both the Marvel and DC universes?
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Chris Evans was recently cast as Captain America in The First Avenger: Captain America. Congratulations, Chris. You look the part, you’ve got natural charisma, and you’ve proven yourself as a leading man and ensemble player time and time again. I can really see you wielding the shield, but you might be the biggest franchise hog of them all! Some of us are trying to forget the Fantastic Four movies, but we still remember you as the Human Torch. How are you supposed to play two characters in the Marvel universe? How does that work?
Why should we care about franchise hogs? Why does any of this matter? Because movies matter. There will always be a little kid in me that goes to the theatre to experience things far greater than I could ever experience in my own life. I want to live out dreams. These actors are our guides, and we look to them with trust and adoration. They shouldn’t mislead us. They shouldn’t confuse us. They should do right by the stories that they help to tell.