Sometimes getting the right guy to play the bad guy, still goes wrong...
I'm looking back on some of my favorite super villain roles in movies and wondering who might have been better, and I'm proposing that the answer might be... no one.
Case One: Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin
If I were to erase the first Raimi Spider-man movie from my memory and cast the ideal actor for Green Goblin- that actor would be Willem Dafoe. The guy has an amazing resume for the role. Did you all see him Shadow of the Vampire? I mean just paint him green and you're done. That's the perfect Goblin.
He was amazingly creepy in this role in this movie, and while it will never be as influential as the classic Nosferatu that it's based on, it might have been even more frightening. Dafoe is the supreme master of the villainous glare. I challenge you to find anyone better at that. Also, who else can pull off that nefarious voice with the credibility that Dafoe is able to pull off? I really can't think of anyone else I'd want in that role. So why did Dafoe become the cheesy, "Power Rangers" looking villain that we saw in Raimi's Spider-man?
I know it's a nitpick thing, but really... it's the costume failure that causes all the problems in Dafoe's take on the Green Goblin. It's a wardrobe malfunction that's less forgivable than Janet Jackson's tasteless Super Bowl stunt. I really loved everything else. Seriously, anytime anyone says "two weeks" around me, I launch into a Willem Dafoe impression for no reason at all. That's how much I enjoyed Dafoe as Norman Osborn. It's a performance that is burned onto the random turntable that is my mind. However, the costume is just too iconic to ignore or pass off as an insignificant mistake. When you get a costume wrong in some movies it's no big deal, but in a comic book movie it's a huge mistake. I don't know if Raimi was just over-thinking this design (since a previous costume design that was leaked out was clearly better than what we saw in the movie), or if it was something else, but it was a huge mistake and it does hamper the quality of what was otherwise a pretty great movie.
Case Two: Danny Devito as Penguin
As much as I loved Burgess Meredith as the Penguin in the 60's Batman show, to me Danny Devito has always been the guy who should play the Penguin. The very first time I watched the sitcom "Taxi," the first thought I had about Devito's character was- 'That's the Penguin.' When you say certain actors were 'born for the role' of this or that character, there's no actor and character combination that applies more to than Danny Devito and the Penguin. The fit between the two is so certain that you don't even need much of a costume. The guy already looks like the Penguin in real life, so how do you mess that up?
Enter the Burton! You mess up what should have been a perfect casting of Devito as the Penguin by devolving the villain into a Gothic, monstrous, mutant mess. What is up with Burton's love of overusing white face paint that gets caked-on to so many of his characters' faces? Is this a a zombie Penguin? He has the dead pale face and dark circled eyes that make even Herman Munster look practical in comparison. Then add the fact that this version of the Penguin seems to have no aversion to tasting raw human flesh, and I'm telling you... he's more of an Elvira marathon monster than he is an aristocratic mobster. It's just not fair that the absolute perfect person to play the Penguin wasn't allowed to play anything remotely resembling the character we know and love (well,doesn't love him, but that's another story). It's sad. Thankfully, it doesn't ruin the entire movie for me. Keaton, Pfeiffer, and Walken were all great as Batman, Catwoman, and well that creepy guy who Walken played (don't remember his character's name), and Batman Returns is still one of my favorite Batman movies.
Case Three: Thomas Haden Church as Sandman
I'll admit that when I first saw Thomas Haden Church on the TV show, "Wings," I thought this guy was a weak imitation of Bill Fagerbakke's character "Dauber" from the show "Coach." I'll also admit I was wrong. While Bill Fagerbakke is a fine actor (M-O-O-N spells a memorable role on the "Stand" TV mini-series and a career as the voice of Patrick the Starfish on Spongebob Square Pants), it's Thomas Haden Church who went on to be the more successful actor. He had some nice creepy roles in both Tombstone and Demon Knight that showcased that he could show his darker side. Then he also showed his straight ahead acting chops when he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in the movie 'Sideways' (a movie with a woody flavor and a robust characterization that left me with an intriguing aftertaste). The guy had his share of comedically bad stinkers- i.e. George of the Jungle 1 and 2, but he definitely has the range to play a variety of characters. Add to the mix that THC is a fairly stout guy who could easily play a toughie if need be, and I see an actor who is the perfect fit to play Sandman with the full range of conflicting motivations and thuggish demeanor.
So what went wrong with Spider-man 3? Well everything obviously, but that would take too long to get into, and while I'll admit that Sandman was far from being the worst thing in that movie- he certainly wasn't impressive.
Unlike the previous two examples, I really thought that this Sandman looked great on the screen. I could totally buy into the concept of the way this character transformed into this powerful, monstrous villain. It looked and felt right to me. So what felt wrong? For starters, Sandman killing uncle Ben. Say, what!? So that huge scene from the first movie where Peter confronts the killer is now confusing and meaningless? Yup! Why, oh, why...did you pull that one on us Sam Raimi? I wish I could say that it was the worst thing about Spider-man 3, because it truly is terrible, but unfortunately it isn't. Anyway, from there we get kind of a whiny version of the Sandman, who is on the wrong side of the tracks, but deep down has a heart of gold. Seriously!? Uh-huh, this film is a stinker of superlative proportions. Lastly, the CGI of the action scenes where Spidey is fighting Sandy do look cool, but they fall flat by missing the one thing the comic books usually got right- Sandman staying a "man" even when going into full beast mode. In the comics, Sandman would create all kinds of weapons and alterations to his body that would help him fight Spidey, but we'd still see the guy behind them all smirking through the haze. In the movie we see more Sand-monster than Sand-man during the climatic fight sequences. The character was lost in all the cool effects, and when that happened- the impressive CGI action sequences seemed stale. I'm not sure what they could do to fix this last problem, but I'm certain they could have done many things to make a better Sandman than what we were given with Spider-man 3.
So that's it for now. Like always, I've ran out of time to write before I've depleted my ideas of what to write about, but that's life. At any rate, hopefully you've enjoyed this short list of where they got the right guy to play the right villain, but the movie makers somehow still managed to get it wrong.