Who Played It Better: Comic Book Movie Edition

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The Amazing Spider-Man, the inexplicable remake of a 10-year-old movie (don’t get us started on this) is out today, prompting another edition of one of our favorite parlor games: Who Played It Better? The rampant rebooting and reimagining of comic book-based superhero movies makes them particularly susceptible to the whims of recasting so we’ve picked eight of our favorite comic book characters that have been played by multiple actors on film (to keep it simple, we’re sticking with feature films), and have made carefully considered judgment calls on who did them best. Check out our picks after the jump, and air your grievances in the comments.

ROLE: Spider-Man WHO PLAYED IT: Toby Maguire (Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3); Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) WHO PLAYED IT BETTER: It’s not Garfield’s fault that The Amazing Spider-Man is such weak sauce, a thoroughly unnecessary retread of a slightly altered origin story (ugh, are we tired of origin stories) — he’s actually pretty good in it, and his chemistry with Emma Stone is off the charts. He is, however, stuck with far too much flying dialogue of the “Yipeee!” and “Wahooo!” school, pushing too hard to put across a boyish enthusiasm that was second nature to likable Maguire.

ROLE: Batman WHO PLAYED IT: Adam West (Batman: The Movie); Michael Keaton (Batman, Batman Returns); Val Kilmer (Batman Forever); George Clooney (Batman & Robin); Christian Bale (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises). WHO PLAYED IT BETTER: There’s no question (in our minds, at least) that Christopher Nolan has made the best Batman movies. But was Christian Bale the best Batman? He’s got the character’s emotional turmoil down cold, and is thoroughly credible in the action beats. But he’s also got that irritating raspy whisper-voice thing happening, which we’re not crazy about. West’s portrayal was too camp, Kilmer’s was forgettable, and while Clooney was actually pretty good in the role (it’s the movie that was swill), we still favor Michael Keaton, who nicely mixed the quiet authority of Bruce Wayne with the no-nonsense ass-kicking of the Caped Crusader.

ROLE: The Incredible Hulk WHO PLAYED IT: Eric Bana (Hulk), Edward Norton (The Incredible Hulk), Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers) WHO PLAYED IT BETTER: Common wisdom holds that Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk is far inferior to the 2007 Incredible Hulk reboot, but we share neither the general scorn towards Lee’s film nor the love for the Edward Norton-fronted version; they’re both decent films with some pacing and script difficulties. The Avengers is, of course, a far better film — and much of that picture’s success is because writer/director Joss Whedon makes so much of it about Hulk, and seems to get him in a way that the makers of his previous outings didn’t. That brief close-up of Bruce Banner’s eyes in the split-second before his first transformation shows (and tells) more about the character than the entirety of the earlier pictures, and Ruffalo’s masterful embracing of Banner’s sadness and fear of himself makes this one an easy call.

ROLE: Superman WHO PLAYED IT: Christopher Reeve (Superman, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace); Brandon Routh (Superman Returns); Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) WHO PLAYED IT BETTER: Cavill’s interpretation remains to be seen — Man of Steel won’t be out until summer of next year — though director Zack Snyder isn’t exactly renowned for getting great performances out of his actors. And though Superman Returns is another film that we like more than most, it’s abundantly clear that Routh, though talented, was cast for his resemblance (in looks and mannerisms) to Christopher Reeve, so this is a pretty obvious choice. Reeve, for a generation of moviegoers, was Superman, and even when the vehicles weren’t up to snuff, he was always a pitch-perfect Clark Kent and Kal-El.

ROLE: Magneto WHO PLAYED IT: Ian McKellan (X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand); Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) WHO PLAYED IT BETTER: This one is a tough call. McKellan had three movies to carve out his characterization of Magneto, and Fassbender’s interpretation in last year’s X-Men prequel was obviously rooted in what McKellan had already created. But our memory of McKellan’s work is sullied by the fact that he last played the character in Brett Ratner’s astonishingly bad Last Stand, and First Class gave Fassbender the opportunity to play the character at perhaps his most interesting and conflicted juncture. We’re going to make this one a toss-up; we like to think of this is as a two-part character, beautifully played by two different actors.

ROLE: The Punisher WHO PLAYED IT: Dolph Lundgren (The Punisher [1989]); Thomas Jane (The Punisher [2004]); Ray Stevenson (The Punisher: War Zone). WHO PLAYED IT BETTER: Try as they might, they just can’t get the character of veteran-turned-vigilante Frank Castle, aka “The Punisher,” right. The Marvel antihero has been the subject of three failed feature films thus far, and choosing one of them to watch is like choosing between hospital food, airline food, and public school food. Thomas Jane is pretty much good in anything, and Dolph Lundgren is, well, not, but the best Punisher of the bunch is probably Stevenson; War Zone (though not free of it entirely) has far less cheese in its dialogue and subplots, allowing Stevenson to play the character as the strong, silent type familiar from the books.

ROLE: The Crow WHO PLAYED IT: Brandon Lee (The Crow); Vincent Perez (The Crow: City of Angels); Eric Mabius (The Crow: Salvation); Edward Furlong (The Crow: Wicked Prayer). WHO PLAYED IT BETTER: The original Crow was notorious for a freak on-set accident with a dummy bullet and a blank cartridge that took the life of star Brandon Lee a week before the completion of shooting. Due in part to that tragedy (and subsequent controversy), The Crow was a big hit when it was finally released in 1994, and Dimension Films cranked out several sequels in the subsequent years — with the character of the Crow attaching itself to another slain hero, kind of like an underworld Dr. Who. Only the first of the sequels was released theatrically, and each film was worse than the last; Lee is not only the best Crow, but probably the only one most people saw.

ROLE: Catwoman WHO PLAYED IT: Michelle Pfeiffer (Batman Returns); Halle Berry (Catwoman); Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises) WHO PLAYED IT BETTER: Based on the films that we’ve seen, this is a no-brainer; Pfeiffer’s turn as the villain/love interest of Keaton’s Batman in the 1992 Batman Returns is one of the most memorable of that series, while Berry’s 2004 Catwoman is rightfully regarded as one of the worst movies of the past decade. But it’ll get complicated here in two and half weeks, when The Dark Knight Rises comes out (not that we’re counting the days or anything). Will Hathaway take the mantle of the best cinematic Catwoman from Pfeiffer? I’m afraid it’s a decision we can’t make without seeing TDKR, so if anyone at Warner Brothers would like to give us an advance peek, in order to make a more informed call, we sure would appreciate it…

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!