Marvel’s 12 Best Casting Choices

Where once Marvel was the underdog in the world of comic books, it has become the team to beat in terms of superhero cinema. There’s much to praise in the studio’s handling of its various properties, particularly when it comes to the towering Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) — an idea that should have been an unmitigated disaster. Most Marvel films have a deft sense of humor, a strong grasp on character, eye-popping set pieces, epic action sequences, and a stunning balance of focus between multiple heroes throughout multiple films.

But I think the most important ingredient to the studio’s success is a simple one — good casting. Without likable actors to portray them, the heroes so beloved in comics would fall flat onscreen, and audiences would have no reason to care about all the villainous nonsense driving the plots. Let’s look at Marvel’s 12 best casting choices for a glimpse into how good casting helps make the movies worth watching.

1. Chris Evans

Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans in Captain America Civil War

Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans in Captain America: Civil War | Source: Marvel Studios

Selling Captain America to a jaded modern generation far removed from the rah-rah patriotism of the ’40s that spawned the character sounds hard enough. Casting an actor known primarily as the Human Torch in the widely-reviled 2000s Fantastic Four films didn’t sound like a great idea, but in spite of any initial skepticism, Chris Evans has become the MCU’s greatest asset. Evans is everything an American hero should be in the role — strong but accessible, sensible but idealistic, loyal and honest but ultimately guided by his own moral compass over the wishes of any questionable organization.

2. Robert Downey, Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man | Source: Marvel

Evans is the heart of the Avengers, but Robert Downey, Jr. is the mouth. Iron Man gave RDJ, previously considered washed up after a long public struggle with drug addiction, the chance to prove himself as a leading man without losing the lovably cocksure attitude that comes so naturally to him. Tony Stark keeps growing as a character, but RDJ keeps tackling every new development with aplomb, making Iron Man more than just a cocky genius, but also a deeply conflicted man who struggles with his interpersonal relationships and his place in the world.

3. Chris Pratt

Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy

Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy | Source: Marvel

Once upon a time, Chris Pratt was just the dumpy comic relief on Parks & Recreation, until a strict workout regiment and a starring role in Guardians of the Galaxy made him the newest Hollywood hunk. Pratt always had the comic talent and likability, but he didn’t have the chance to show off his skills as a leading man until he landed the role as Peter Quill/Star-Lord. He makes a great space rogue in the same vein as Han Solo, thanks to his handy ability to mix pathos, humor, confidence, and dopiness into every single line.

4. Tom Hiddleston

Tom Hiddleston as Loki 

Tom Hiddleston as Loki | Source: Marvel

The MCU’s only truly memorable villain originated in one of its less memorable franchises. Loki is the adopted brother of Thor, a Shakespearean figure with a vaguely tragic backstory that makes him compelling without overshadowing his power and menace. Tom Hiddleston, who oozes the fussiness and talent you’d imagine from a veteran of the British theater, makes the perfect Loki. He’s regal, aristocratic, and just condescending enough to make you want to punch him in the face, while also making his ambitions to rule over those beings he considers weaker than himself seem frighteningly true-to-life.

5. Vin Diesel

Vin Diesel voices Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy

Vin Diesel voices Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy | Source: Marvel

Why do you need to cast a big-name action star to play a sentient tree who can only say three words? It seems ridiculous, but Vin Diesel’s voicework as the gentle giant Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy helped make the character a fan favorite. Every instance of “I Am Groot” conveyed an emotion relevant to the scene that helped us to understand Groot, most memorably in one climactic tearjerker sequence.

6. Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury | Source: Marvel

Nick Fury brought the Avengers together. It takes a special kind of authority to command a team of the Earth’s mightiest heroes, but tough-talking Samuel L. Jackson has built up his authority in dozens of films, making him the perfect man for the role. Peering through a perpetual scowl and a mysterious eye-patch, Jackson helped turn a character who exists primarily to drive the plot and deliver exposition into a compelling figure of his own, technically good but just jaded and secretive enough to make the audience and the Avengers themselves worry about what he wasn’t telling them.

7. Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow | Source: Marvel

It’s easy to forget, but Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanov, is in many ways the main character of the first Avengers film, even though she was the only Avenger not seen in any previous film. The character could easily have been a one-note addition to pad out the team, but Scarlett Johansson’s restrained performance made her an oddly plausible secret agent, more than deserving of her own film — something we still aren’t getting for some reason.

8. Tom Holland

Tom Holland in Captain America: Civil War

Tom Holland in Captain America: Civil War | Source: Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios finally got the chance to do its own spin on its most iconic character with Captain America: Civil War, and it proved the character was finally in the right hands. With hardly 10 minutes of total screentime, the fresh-faced Tom Holland crammed in a lot of believable uncertainty and brilliant wisecracks, succinctly recapturing the teenage Peter Parker of the comics while making everyone excited to catch next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming on opening night.

9. Paul Bettany

Captain America Civil War

Team Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War | Source: Marvel

Paul Bettany’s calming demeanor made him a natural fit for Tony Stark’s trusty computer J.A.R.V.I.S., but it wasn’t until he was transformed into Vision that Bettany got the chance to really show off his acting chops. Vision is a unique creation who is at once all-knowing and completely naive to the ways of the world, and Bettany’s stiff and stately but still wide-eyed and inquisitive performance manages to capture the character’s many contradictions.

10. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen

Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier in X-Men

Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier | Source: 20th Century Fox

Hugh Jackman may have a more prominent role in much of the X-Men film franchise, but the story is truly built around the relationship between Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen). Both actors convey an effortless authority that make them natural figureheads for two conflicting mutant ideologies. McKellen is all calculated intensity as Magneto, and Stewart is both paternal as the head of his school for gifted while also giving the impression he knows a little something more than anyone else at any given time.

11. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender

James McAvoy as Charles Xavier

James McAvoy as Charles Xavier in X-Men: Days of Future Past | Source: 20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox worked casting magic one time with Charles Xavier and Magneto, and somehow they pulled off the same feat when they cast younger versions of the characters for the prequel X-Men: First Class. McAvoy and Fassbender are both talented actors who look the part and possess the same qualities that made McKellen and Stewart such natural fits, but they also bring a naive passion and openhearted-ness to the roles that make them truly believable as younger, fresh-faced versions of the authority figures presented in the franchise’s other films.

12. Tobey Maguire

Tobey Maguire and Alfred Molina in Spider-Man 2

Tobey Maguire and Alfred Molina in Spider-Man 2 | Source: Sony Pictures

In all the praise for Tom Holland’s performance as the new Spider-Man, it’s easy to forget the old-fashioned joys of Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy (OK, mainly just the first two). Tobey Maguire doesn’t seem as manically intelligent as Andrew Garfield and can’t pull off a quip like Tom Holland, but he possesses an earnestness and naivete that gelled with Raimi’s tone and made for a Spider-Man who was a beacon of geeky optimism and a relatable guy just struggling with extraordinary powers — even if he never really looked like a high school student.

Follow Jeff Rindskopf on Twitter @jrindskopf

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