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‘You look…different’: Recasting a Character – The Pain and the Pleasure

Written by Robb Sheppard

Plot holes, cheap CGI, Adam Sandler. All film fans have their pet hates: that one thing that sticks in their craw and gets their goats, amongst other idioms.

However, there’s a certain charm to a nonsensical narrative that can be discussed and theorised upon, ad nauseam. Shoddy special effects hark back to a simpler time before everybody was a critic. Hell, even Adam Sandler had ‘The Wedding Singer’. But there’s a bigger villain at play here; a man behind the curtain and its name…is recasting.

Film studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars assuring that the audiences’ sense of disbelief is forever suspended. That is, that the audience is able to believe in what’s occurring onscreen. Sure, it may be whimsical or over-exaggerated (see, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’) or a little too light-hearted to take completely seriously (‘Thor: Ragnarok ‘again), but the audience won’t care if they’re treated respectfully. Infact, they’ll lap it up (yep, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’).

But one thing sure to tear straight through this sense of disbelief is seeing that the re-casting of a character has been swept under the carpet. Sure, the show must go on, but isn’t a lack of acknowledgment highly insulting to the audiences’ intelligence? This is never more prevalent in an age of cinematic/expanded/extended universes where a sense of continuity, alongside confident forward planning and an oft-convoluted chronology are commonplace. Unless we’re talking about the DCEU of course. Boom!

For the record, reboots are an entirely different kettle of fish about which, before we can discuss the characters and the actors portraying them, we should be asking; “should they have happened at all?” And that’s a whole different article (surely no one really believes Brian Cox is a better Hannibal Lector than Hopkins?). So for now, let’s channel our collective frustration and furore for the ultimate Hollywood hoodwink.

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It took an MCU collage, those collective cast shots and people asking “where’s Edward Norton?” to drag a repressed memory back to the surface: ‘The Incredible Hulk’, starring Ed Norton as Bruce Banner was the second movie in Marvel’s first phase. But shush! It’s hardly a revelation, but as a result of the recast and Ruffalo’s Hulk being right up there with Lou Ferrigno’s (See:Thor: Ragnarok’) it’s largely a forgotten film and a major misstep in Marvel’s meticulous planning. Call it OCD, call it trivial but it’s jarring on every watch of what should be the ultimate movie marathon. As for War Machine? Just keep his mask on. Please.

While we’re on a superhero tip, let’s talk The Dark Knight Trilogy. Arguably the greatest modern trilogy (alongside Planet of the Apes, obvs), its faults are few and far between. Sure, there’s some abrupt and jolty editing, especially during the Bruce Wayne and Ducard training scenes in ‘Batman Begin’s, and the less said, the better, about the nuclear weapon truck that is the Snake to the Nokia 3310 of Gotham’s streets in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.

But even worse than that (and that retro metaphor), is the fact that the audience had to stomach Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, only to then have to readjust to Maggie Gyllenhaal taking over without as much as a “new haircut?” comment from the Dark Knight himself. And he calls himself a detective! Was the Rachel/Bruce romance that integral to the trilogy that Rachel Dawes still had to be a thing in the second instalment, even though Katie Holmes ‘wasn’t available’? Was Dawes Bruce Wayne’s one and only sweetheart? Because he didn’t seem that hung up on her when the Swedish Supermodels rocked up. Oh yeah, sorry; it’s a front! Come on, Goyer and the Nolans: three lines of dialogue and a new name and it’s done.

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With all that being said, even the much-maligned ‘Matrix’ sequels had enough sense (not to mention respect for the audience) to reference the fact that the Oracle had refashioned her fizog. Between wrapping ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ and shooting ‘The Matrix Revolutions’, the unfortunate death of OG Oracle Gloria Foster saw her replaced with the more timid Mary Alice: an incongruous edit which even Ne-WOAH couldn’t help but notice. The Oracle addressed the change with “Some bits you lose, some bits you keep” and alluded to something about the Tube Station of Tranquillity or some such.   The point is, it still made more sense than anything The Architect ended up spouting and allowed the recasting to be looked past so the audience could focus on the film’s other numerous shortcomings. Considerate eh?

Speaking of being considerate, one of the few (ok, only) improvements made after George Lucas’ persistent fiddling with the Original ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy was the retrospective recasting of the role of the Emperor in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Here, Ian McDiarmid took over scenery-chewing duties from Clive Revill and neatly drew the entire saga together, fleshing out what was once a thinly-sketched idea of the Emperor in the process. Likewise, the retrospective recasting of Boba Fett with the voice of New Zealander Tem….nah…sorry. It can’t even be joked about. It still hurts.

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What hopefully won’t hurt is the recasting of the titular nerfherder in ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’. Filmmakers are aware of how it takes the audience out of the moment, otherwise they might have given a clear shot of Alden Ehrenreich’s face in that ‘Big Game’ TV spot trailer. Unfortunately, the message it sends is that, in ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’, Solo himself is secondary. “But look…the Millennium Falcon’s clean as a whistle and Chewie’s still 7ft something. Now here, have some blue milk and hush now.”

Overall, when you buy a series of Blu-Rays and you stand up them in sequence, you want the titles to line up don’t you? You want the logo in the same place? Of course you do. Inevitably, it can’t always be the same with the characters. But at least something could be done to soften the blow. These things matter.

Anyway, time to go and reorganise the kitchen cupboards. Alphabetical, stock rotated, labels out.

Which recastings made you want to reach for the remote? Which were a sweet relief? Let us know in the comments below.

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