British Invasion: Outsourcing The American Superhero

Wednesday, 02 February 2011 15:59 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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British Invasion: Outsourcing The American Superhero

Comic books are a particularly American medium, and their principle icons, spandex clad superheroes, are beloved figures in American pop culture.  With the fresh casting of Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel in Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot, a lot of people noticed that arguably the three most popular and recognizable superheroes – Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man – are all being played by Brits.  The casting of a whole mess of major superheroes with foreign actors has a lot of fanboy patriots panicked, thinking the British have loaded up their tall ships and landed on American soil, heading for Hollywood with their muskets at the ready.  This, of course, is a bunch of hogwash.

Welshman Christian Bale is about to put on the pointy ears for his third turn as Christopher Nolan’s gravelly-voiced Batman, and British actor Andrew Garfield is currently playing Peter Parker in the Spider-Man franchise reboot.  That’s not all, though. Canuck Ryan Reynolds is sporting the power ring in this summer’s Green Lantern, while Australian Chris Hemsworth is wilding a thunderous hammer in Thor. And remember that Wolverine is brought to the screen by Australian Hugh Jackman. 

Cavill, Bale, and Garfield are definitely the most high profile, though.  The popularity of their respective characters and the shared British origins have caused the most discussion.

Prolific Scottish comic writer and press magnet Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Wanted, Superman: Red Son) commented on the coincidental casting to The Daily Record, saying,

"You always define superheroes with America but something weird is happening with this generation. It just feels like suddenly there's an opportunity for anyone. Having the three is a bizarre coincidence.”

He continues by bringing up a question I’ve seen a lot of variations on in the last few days:

"One of my friends who works in the industry asked, 'Can you really have someone who is English playing the part of America's greatest icon?'”

This sentiment has a hyperbolic, imbecilic counterpart in a post on Cavill’s casting from the Ain’t It Cool talkbacks, found by THR’s Heat Vision blog:

“This casting is fundamentally anti-American. It's disgusting casting to the highest degree, and I will never ever see a movie with a Brit as Superman.”

Millar’s response is, “you've got to remember Superman is Kryptonian. He's not really American. You guys just adopted him."  It’s a good point, and I’d actually take it further, pointing out that technically, the Last Son of Krypton is an illegal alien, and fundamentally a refugee. His adoption and upbringing in the States speaks to an essential part of the American mythology: our collective outcast ancestry, and our willingness to embrace, in the words of Emma Lazarus, “your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” 

That’s the thing about all these characters, whether it’s the self-actualization of Batman or the outcast struggles of Spider-Man; they are American creations, but the archetypal wellspring from which they come is not exclusively American.  They express universally identifiable human ideals.  Superman may fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, but his perspective isn’t nationalistic, it’s humanistic.  Homeboy isn’t just an immigrant adopted by Uncle Sam, but an orphaned alien adopted by Earth.

All this pretentious subtextual stuff is beside the point, anyways.  Cavill, Bale, Garfield, and the rest are actors.  It’s their job to pretend to be other people.  No, they are not American.  They’re also none of them orphans, despite each of them playing orphaned characters.  Arguing that Henry Cavill can’t play Supes because he’s not American is sort of like arguing that Harrison Ford can’t play Indiana Jones because he’s not an archeologist. 

Let’s all just try to keep this in perspective.  It’s just not worth getting too upset about.

What do you think, though?  Am I way off here?  Is it somehow a national disgrace that comic book heroes are frequently played by foreign actors?

Sources: THR, DailyRecord

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