Actors as Superheroes: Who is getting the career lift, who is giving away their best years in tights?


If I’m honest, and I strive for that in every review, I think I cut the last “Avengers” movie the same slack I cut the last “Pirates of the Caribbean” picture. The last “X-Men” outing? Maybe not as much.

I’m just grateful that the whole shooting match is over, and I summon up every good feeling I’ve had over the run — from the terrific early efforts, to the desultory, repetitive finales — for that one last review of farewell.

Those obsessed with these elaborately back-engineered universes get a lot more out of these filler-filled exercises in fan-service. Like Jon Favreau and Gwyneth Paltrow, I can get a little lost. Unlike them, I’m not inclined to blame myself for the convoluted chaos I’m having to sift through on the screen.

I never bought a superhero comic and despite liking that grand huxter, Stan Lee (interviewed him a few times, delightful), never bought into this Nobel-worthy BS hype attached to all he and his ilk hath wrought.

Honestly, if Joss Whedon and Joe Johnston weren’t involved, if there’s no empowerment messaging in Gal’s character, no convincing WWI recreation, no Kenneth Branagh flourishes in “Thor,” no Paul Rudd or Robert Downey Jr. ways with a witty line, no Jason Momoa self-mocking machismo, I’m fighting boredom in your typical digital barroom brawl from the DC or Marvel SuperheroWorks.

Favreau directed “Iron Man” and has acted in these films and hopes they push Robert Downy Jr. for a superhero movie Oscar nomination, this time out. I wouldn’t be shocked if he landed one.

But all I can think about, as the credits roll and we wait for that silly “Coming NEXT time” movie plug after them, is how I’d much rather see Downey, Don Cheadle, Rudd, Mary Elizabeth Olsen, ScarJo or virtually ANY of these actors in something else.

Chadwick Boseman was in a culture-shifting blockbuster. But has he ever been worse in a movie? Have you SEEN “42,” “Marshall,” “Get on Up?”

Downey tossed away a third of his acting prime on indulgences and drugs, and much of the rest wearing an Iron Man suit. Maybe that upping of his quote and polishing of his “brand” extended his career. Or maybe he’s wasted his leading man window on movies that aren’t fated to age well.

Chris Evans? He’s getting out just in time to remind us of the light comedian he has been and can be, a leading man who can handle romances, dramas, etc.

Nobody should worry about Scarlett Johansson. But she has burned through some good years doing these mindless glorified cameos. Olsen had a great career staked out in indieland. That’s probably gone forever.

Cobie Smulders hasn’t turned her “Avengers” fame into anything non-Marvel worth watching. Samuel L. Jackson has found some side benefits from wearing the eyepatch, but his career’s at that “Any work is worthwhile” stage. Patrick Stewart is likewise benefited greatly from his attachment to the genre, cementing his fanboy status, becoming a pop culture icon (like Jackson) in the bargain.

People know who Tom Holland, Danai Gurira and Zendaya are. Ryan Reynolds has become a household name. Nicholas Hoult may owe his “Tolkein” turn to X-Men, but one is hard-pressed to think of others who have really blown up thanks to their years of service in S.H.I.E.L.D. or Professor Xavier’s school or the “Justice League.”

Michael Fassbender doesn’t need Magneto to make the rent or make his big screen mark. Margo Robbie need never revisit “Suicide Squad.”

Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo and Don Cheadle are interesting cases — turning themselves into household names with these movies. But being in “The Avengers” for them all has been like being drafted was for the WWII generation of actors. Only back then a leading man could have a screen shelf life right up to his 60s. That’s not the case, now.

I follow these fine actors on Twitter, and watch them hustling up return viewers to “Endgame” so it can break the all time box office record. Well, not Cheadle. He’s one of Twitter’s great troll-killers. Follow @DonCheadle if you don’t already.

Renner’s finding good parts, and bad ones, trading on his man-of-action persona. More “Kill the Messenger” and less “Avengers/Mission: Impossible/Hansel & Gretel” would be nice. Instead, there’s a “Hawkeye” TV series. Ugh.

Ruffalo? Man, invest the money, but get back to making movies about something.

Have these guys gotten any sort of career bounce out of tiny parts in time-consuming superhero movies?

Hugh Jackman has made more out of his Wolverine turn than virtually anybody else in any of these movies. But at what cost? He can get a “Prisoners” or “The Front Runner” made, but how many of those did he pass on to grow the sideburns back?

I wonder if there’s a life lesson for actors and agents in these now-aged-out franchises, and the sorts of contracts the players submit to.

Maybe the next James McAvoy won’t agree to anything so open-ended, maybe the Halle Berry/Jennifer Lawrence and yes Ben Affleck model will prove more attractive.

Even the best superhero actors let on how bored they are with their franchises. Jackman, again, might be the exception.

Even if audiences have shown little sign of tiring of these pictures, surely actors who value variety, acclaim for their work above the adoring pre-pleased fanbase and challenges, will want to look at all these names and faces, all that money that changed hands and all those years that were the price of that cash and want something more.

The villains, from Keaton and McKellen all the way to Pfeiffer and Jim Carrey, always had the better deal. One movie, in and out, cash the check.

What could the great Jake Gyllenhaal be thinking?

The one person one can say, without reservations, has taken nothing but benefits from his superhero “Avengers” years is Mr. “Swingers,” Jon Favreau.

His directing career as Disney’s go-to Big Budget guy, his face on screen in most every Iron Man/Avengers movie, it’s been win-win-win for him.

Everybody else, though, might rightly wonder if these were years and movie-making windows well-spent. Is that Comic Con special guest until the day you die status worth it?


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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