This week, after much speculation, it was announced that the new Superman would be Henry Cavill, a studly British actor probably best known for being the one on The Tudors who looks less likely to kill you in your sleep (I’m sorry, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, but you just creep me out).
I was sort of hoping it would be Joe Mangianello, the other rumored candidate, because he is just a ginormous hunk of studly, which pretty much sounds like a good choice of Superman to me, but I’m happy to go with Cavill too, who is himself easy on the eyes.
But, more importantly, this means that with Henry Cavill (from Jersey, in the Channel Islands) as the new Superman, Andrew Garfield (Epsom, in Surrey) as the new Spiderman, and Christian Bale (Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, Wales) as the new(ish) Batman, the three biggest American superheroes are now played by Brits.
Sort of interesting, right? I remember reading a great article in the New York Times a few years ago about how you could see the political friendship or animosity between the UK and the USA by looking at the Americans in the James Bond Movies throughout the years, as they go from helpful allies to slovenly idiots. So, if we are to take pop culture movements to represent larger cultural trends, this could be an interesting signifier. The way I see it, there are a few potential reasons (both culturally larger and smaller) for the Anglification of these quintessentially Yankee heroes:
1. The ‘Outsider’ Theory –
All these superheroes share one thing besides badassness; each is an outsider, whether literally from the world (Superman, from outer space), in a metaphorical high school way (Spiderman, the Nerd who must hide his secret powers), or in a rather enviable way (the incredibly wealthy Bruce Wayne, who must hide his secret identity and basement full of awesome by being a hedonistic playboy. You know, for hiding purposes). By casting three actors who are not American, hiding their accents, the studios give a little soupcon of built-in outsider to each character.
2. The ‘Brits are better Actors, therefore these movies are serious’ Theory –
Oh come on, you know this is still a thing. There is still the sense in Hollywood (and the theater world, I’d say) that American actors may be good, but if you want real, classically trained actors, you must cross the pond. Casting Brits, in some small way, sends the signal that these will be serious movies, acted by Actors, even if they are about men who wear tight magical suits with built-in nipples and scale walls.
3. The ‘Americans are sick of Americans’ Theory –
Hey, let’s be honest, we sort of suck right now. I mean, we are a nation that continues to pretend that Sarah Palin is a legitimate politician, who thinks it’s a-okay to allow almost anyone to have a gun that shoots a bajillion bullets with just one pull of the trigger, and who is still fascinated by the Kardashians, despite the fact that nobody is quite sure what any of them actually does. Maybe we, as a collective people, feel that if someone is going to swoop down and save us, it won’t be one of us.
4. The ‘revenge!!’ Theory
As my friend Jason pointed out, John Constantine, a British comic anti-hero, was played in the movie (underrated! Tilda Swinton as an archangel!) by that famous Brit… Keanu Reeves. And same goes for Bridget Jones (whom my brilliant friend Kristin says counts as a superhero in her book for being chunky and neurotic and landing both Hugh Grant and Colin Firth), whom Renee Zellweger Madonna-accented her way through. So maybe we owe the UK a few.
5. The ‘it’s just a coincidence and I should get over it’ Theory
I know Hollywood is a mysterious place, filled with devious scheming and strange inner workings. But I doubt that the heads of the respective studios got together in a dark basement and decided to cast all future superhero movies with only British people (in fact, I think it’s far more likely that the studio heads were like ‘a random British guy!?!? What about Justin Beiber! Or at least Timberlake?). Each of these actors is a talented, skilled actor, and I’m sure that there were many more people, and doubtless more famous people, on every list. So maybe I’ll just put this in the ponder pile and leave it at that, and look forward to seeing every one of these movies, which I will.
Although if they cast Maggie Smith as Paul Bunyan someday, I am getting right back on here.