5. Eric Bana: Bruce Banner/Hulk, Hulk
Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk is widely hated on by fans of all stripes, primarily on the grounds of being just so fucking boring. It’s really hard to make a movie about an emotionally damaged genius scientist and his giant green rage monster alter ego that dull, but somehow, Hulk is nothing short of the ultimate snooze-fest among super hero movies.
And that dubious distinction starts with its star, Eric Bana. Bana has always had a reputation of being a bit of a wet blanket as an actor, and man does he earn it in this one. Not to say he isn’t a talented actor, but the lead in a super hero film is clearly far outside of his wheelhouse.
Had this just been a film about a scientist dealing with severe emotional trauma, Bana’s performance wouldn’t have raised so many eyebrows. But this isn’t just any scientist we’re talking about here, its the one and only Bruce Banner.
And while Bana does deserve commendation for exploring the emotional scars that Banner bares from his childhood better than any other live action adaptation of the character, but it completely ignores Banner’s struggles with containing the monster inside of him. Bruce Banner and the Hulk are the modern day Jekyll and Hyde, and to ignore that key component of the character is to fail it, no matter how well an actor explores its other sides. And in that all important litmus test of a good Bruce Banner, Bana comes up woefully short.
4. Brandon Routh: Clark Kent/Superman, Superman Returns
When it comes to live action adaptation, no character has been more of a mixed bag than Superman. His films stretch back decades and have run the gauntlet when it comes to critical and commercial reception. And while Superman Returns usually sits in the middle of that spectrum, Brandon Routh’s performance stands out for some particularly negative reasons.
More so than any other entry on this list, Routh doesn’t exactly look the part, especially when it comes to his physique. Usually an actor will undergo an intense exercise regiment to bulk up when taking on an action-heavy part. But Routh seems to have missed that memo, since he hardly looks worthy of the title “Man of Steel” int the film.
But the greatest failing of Routh’s Superman is that it is too emotionally invested. This might seem like an odd complaint, but you must consider the source material. Superman is essentially an infallible, God-like figure. And a perfect character doesn’t exactly make for compelling story. So writers have made Superman seem more vulnerable by burdening him with the weight of his power and his relationship with Lois Lane.
But in Superman Returns, Routh is more lovesick puppy than mortal burdened with titanic responsibility. And nobody goes to a Superman movie to see him mope around about how his girlfriend moved on without him. It truly is a shame that Routh’s performance was so sub-par, since Kevin Spacey gave him a great Lex Luthor to play off of. The same however, cannot be said of a later entry on this list.
3. Ray Stevenson: Frank Castle/Punisher, Punisher: War Zone
Say what you will about 2004’s The Punisher, but it featured a Frank Castle in Thomas Jane that was as true to the comics as you’d find in an early 2000’s superhero film. Unfortunately, the exact opposite can be said for its 2008 follow-up, Punisher: War Zone.
Rather than bringing back Jane, the role was given to Ray Stevenson, and based on his performance, it is fair to wonder whether he, or the directors for that matter, had ever even read a Punisher comic book. In fact, it seems like their knowledge of the character was limited to “he’s angry and blows shit up”.
Rather than viewing death and destruction as a necessary end to his quest for retribution against the most vile scum of the criminal underworld, Stevenson’s Punisher seems to revel in causing destruction purely for its own sake. And while it is visually impressive, it is hardly becoming of Frank Castle. Stevenson in this film is less damaged, ruthless vigilante and more reject from The Expendables with how he dispatches his enemies.
For Frank Castle, violence and carnage is work, but for Ray Stevenson’s version of the character, it seems to be more of a leisure activity. And it is this total disregard for what makes the character tick that lands his Punisher on this list.
2. Topher Grace: Eddie Brock/Venom, Spider-Man 3
Quick, raise your hand if you ever thought that the scrawny kid who starred in That 70’s Show was a dead ringer for the jacked, pissed-off, vengeful Eddie Brock. Apparently that’s what some casting executive at Sony thought in 2007, and if there’s any justice in the world, the guy who made that call is begging for change on Sunset Blvd today.
There was a time after That 70’s Show ended that Hollywood was convinced that Grace could be a movie star, but I don’t know if anybody in the American viewing public saw what they did. Call it a case of being typecasted, him just not being a very talented actor, or a combination of both, but in the eyes of many, he’d never be anything other than Eric Forman, and his role in the train-wreck that was Spider-Man 3 did him no favors.
Anger and Revenge define Eddie Brock during his early incarnations as Venom, and Grace simply couldn’t sell either of those elements. Brock was also an amateur body builder before bonding with the Venom symbiote, and Grace lacks the frame necessary to put on the required muscle to pull that look off. But the worst element of his performance was how underdeveloped his grudge against Peter Parker was.
While the film version of their rivalry is the same on the surface (Parker’s exploits as Spider-Man cost Brock his career as a journalist), the after effects of this are far more devastating for Brock in the comics. Losing his job costs Brock his marriage and drive him to the brink of suicide.
But instead of playing up just how much damage Spider-Man inadvertently caused to his life, Brock was simply an unwitting victim of Peter Parker while he was under the influence of the symbiote (during that God-awful second act where he turned emo).
Had they stuck more true to Brock’s origins in the film and developed his relationship with Parker more, then its possible that Grace could have delivered a more respectable performance, but alas, we’ll never know what could have been. Instead, we’re left with a sorry adaptation of Venom with Grace baring the brunt of the blame. Hopefully Tom Hardy can do a better job with the upcoming Venom solo project.
1. Jesse Eisenberg: Lex Luthor, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Both last, and least, Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is so far removed from the character that they might as well have given him a different name. Let’s start with the physical aspects. Luthor has always been completely bald. It’s an iconic look, and you just don’t mess with the classics.
He’s also a physically imposing man, with a physique that has at times looked on par with Superman. Eisenberg forgoes all the classic elements of Luthor’s appearance. He has a full head of shoulder length hair and has all the physical intimidation factor of a theater student (apologies to you if you’re a jacked theater kid).
But the problems with his portrayal of the iconic villain mastermind go far beyond surface level. Luthor is a 12th level intellect, meaning that he is one of, if not the smartest beings in the entire DC universe, and he carries himself with every bit of the ego that you’d expect to come with that lofty distinction. Eisenberg gets that part of the character, but the way it comes across is all wrong. Luthor might have an ego so massive it would dwarf out Sun, but it is justified.
You simply never feel like Eisenberg has any right to be as cocky as he does in the film. And that leads into the next issue with his performance; his lack of charisma. In addition to sweating intelligence, Luthor practically pisses charisma. This is a guy who was elected President of the United States, despite being a well-renowned super villain. In all his roles, Eisenberg has never come across a guy who could win an election for class president, much less one for president.
And then of course, there’s the fact of the revelation that Lex is at least in communication with Steppenwolf (general of Darkseid and main antagonist of the upcoming Justice League film).
Although this scene was cut from the theatrical version of the film, it was released shortly after and appeared in the extended DVD cut. This scene implies that Luthor might be working under the orders of Steppenwolf or perhaps even Darkseid himself, and that is simply not something that Luthor would ever do. As deep as his hatred of Superman runs, Luthor wants to be the one to defeat him, and his ego would never allow him to think that anybody but him can do it.
In fact, on more than one occasion, Luthor has joined forces with Superman and the Justice League to stop the forces of Darkseid for the sole purpose of maintaining his status as top dog among Superman’s foes. Rumors are that Eisenberg will not be appearing in Justice League, hopefully this is a sign that the head honchos over at Warner Brothers are taking the character back to the drawing board.
Author Bio: Tommy Messina was born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey. He is a lover of alcohol, movies and snarky comebacks.