American Heroes and the British Men Who Play Them

Everyone’s talking about this “Asian Invasion” of basketball, but general interest due to someone of my ethnicity garnering fame aside that’s not what I want to write about today. I’m writing about a British Invasion. And no, I don’t mean the influx of musician from the UK that occurred during the mid-sixties. I mean the fact that this summer the British are coming. To the big screen. As superheroes.

There’s no solid argument when it comes down to naming the three most well-known superheroes out there. From a purely global standpoint, SupermanBatman, and Spider-Man top the list. Two have feature films that will be hitting theatres this summer, with the third being released next year. As coincidence would have it, all three films have their headlining roles cast with British actors.

Coming out this July 3rd, The Amazing Spider-Man stars Andrew Garfield in the Marc Webb-directed reboot of the franchise. Garfield made an international name for himself starring opposite Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network. In it he portrays Brazilian Harvard student Eduardo Saverin, though with a clean-cut American accent. The other side of the mask he will be putting on is Peter Parker, teenage outcast and all-around grittier-looking-than-Tobey-Maguire.

The next month brings us The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final piece in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. Christian Bale is not new to the big screen or American roles, playing one in American Psycho, The Machinist, 3:10 to Yuma, and many others. His command of his accent is such that when he freaked out while filming Terminator Salvation, he actually switched back and forth between American and British. When not growling underneath the cowl he portrays seemingly mild-mannered billionaire Bruce Wayne.


In 2013 we finally get that Superman movie we’ve been waiting for, which takes the form of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Suiting up in the red and blue tights is relative newcomer Henry Cavill, who exercised both his muscles and his British accent in Immortals, which came out last year. For the most part he hasn’t done much in the way of portraying Americans, which may be a challenge when asked to take on the mantle of a hero as American as apple pie. When not rocking the spit curl Cavill will be Kansan journalist Clark Kent, a character who may be a little more mild-mannered than Bruce.

With those summaries out of the way, what exactly does this mean? I’m no expert on the trends in Hollywood, but I can’t imagine that casting British actors in American roles is anything new or something to be strongly desired. If casting directors are doing their jobs correctly, then they’re accepting whoever is most qualified for the role, regardless of nationality. As a Canadian and someone who believes that the most talented actors deserve the spotlight this is something I cannot disagree with.

In regards to culturally American icons being portrayed by actors of other nationalities, well, why not? If they bring the energy and commitment to a role and portray it as best they can, then they will do a better job than, say, George Clooney, who portrayed the Caped Crusader as a homosexual. If any actor respects the character they’re given than they will do as much as they can to ensure that he or she is depicted well.

It is an interesting coincidence, but hopefully one that can, in its own way, push forward the idea that superheroes don’t always have to be White Americans. That if Spider-Man can be black in the comics then maybe it can happen on the big screen as well.

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