Normally, these hypothetical comic book movie casting sessions are focused on actors who have not yet starred in a comic book adaptation - or, at least, not in a prominent, live-action superhero movie role. However, Paul Dano has already made his sleep-deprived comic book movie debut, and spectacularly so, as the main antagonist of Matt Reeves’ The Batman. So, while it is probably not likely, I would still love to see him bring the energy of his performance as The Riddler to something in a few new Marvel movies, too.
It is the same level of energy that he would also bring to some of the best movies of his career so far, such as There Will Be Blood in 2007 or 2013’s Prisoners - both of which I think were key to him winning the part of the puzzling foe opposite Robert Pattinson’s Dark Knight. I think that if we take a look at some more of the greatest hits from Paul Dano’s filmography, we can determine what Marvel characters he might be the perfect choice to play. We shall start with one who already has a few things in common with his most recent role.
By making him a cunning, vengeful, and disturbingly unhinged serial killer, I believe that Paul Dano has given us one of the greatest Riddler depictions of all time in The Batman. That being said, who else would be a better choice to play a character who is often referred to as the Marvel equivalent of the DC supervillain?
Arcade, whose real name has never been revealed, is a hitman who does not carry out his assassination in traditional ways but, instead, by setting elaborate, deadly traps he dubs “Murderworlds.” If Marvel Studios, which has embraced darker properties such as Blade lately, was ever interested in doing something along the lines of Saw, this would be a great route go down and Dano would make it something truly haunting.
Another spooky sort of character that I think would be fun to see brought to life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Carter Slade, who was a school teacher in 1800s Ohio before a Native American resurrected him from being shot in cold blood, and he became the Phantom Rider. Mind you, this champion of justice on horseback should not be confused with Ghost Rider, even though he has crossed paths with the motorcycle-riding demon hunter on a few occasions.
While a team-up between those characters would be a fun way to introduce him to the big screen (or even the small screen), I think this character opens up a great opportunity for the MCU to try out an old school Western story. Not to mention, it would also give Paul Dano an opportunity to make up for his brief role as Harrison Ford’s troublemaking son in Cowboys and Aliens, which could have been something really memorable if the otherwise conceptually intriguing film had been a success when it came out in 2011.
Another brief role that Paul Dano did manage to make into something memorable was Seth - a fellow hitman and friend to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe in 2012’s Looper. It is through him that we learn that telekinesis exists in the futuristic world of Rian Johnson’s brilliant time travel noir. So, why not cast him as someone with the same gift (and with a better chance of survival) in a Marvel movie?
Now, there are a healthy amount of telekinetic mutants in the Marvel Universe, some of which have already had their big screen moment. One who has yet to translate to cinema is Vulcan - the alter ego of Cyclops’ brother, Gabe Summers. This Omega-level mutant can also absorb and manipulate energy and even siphon other people’s abilities.
On second thought, if we are going to put Paul Dano in Marvel Studios’ upcoming X-Men movies reboot, I believe the actor deserves a more high-profile and challenging role to tackle. The first character to come to my mind happened to be Dr. Hank McCoy - otherwise known as Beast - who was previously portrayed by Kelsey Grammer in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand and a later by Nicolas Hoult as his younger self.
The reason I thought of Beast as the perfect role for Dano is because he has the kind of versatile talent that allows him the ability to play both soft-spoken intellectuals and more aggressive characters, as well. He could utilize both ends of his impressive acting range to bring the blue, burly, and brilliant mutant to life, perhaps, more accurately than ever. All it will take is a little makeup.
A classic Paul Dano character who also bears shades of both his more soft-spoken side and his more aggressive side (and especially the aggressive side) is Eli Sunday from There Will Be Blood in 2007. For some reason, I cannot help but want to see the actor channel the same kind of energy he put into his performance as the self-righteous, fanatical preacher in one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s best movies into Marvel’s interpretation of Satan.
Fans have been praying to see the cross-dimensional demon, Mephisto, finally make his MCU debut for so long that they have already prematurely anticipated his involvement in several installments of the franchise, including WandaVision most famously. I think it goes without saying that, once he finally does show up, they will have to get an actor who can really get under the audience’s skin with a positively manic and haunting portrayal, and Dano has that sort of skill in the bag already.
You know, Paul Dano has already shared the screen with a few Marvel movie actors before, including his Escape at Dannemora co-star Benicio Del Toro, who has made several appearances as Taneleer Tivan, better known as The Collector. I have a fun idea that would allow these two Emmy nominees to have a little reunion in the MCU.
In the comics, The Collector is actually the father-in-law of Michael Korvac - a former, cross-dimensional computer technician who was made into a half-man, half-machine hybrid with a digital database of every superpower imaginable. This gave him a bit of a superiority complex and made him one of the Avengers’ most challenging threats, which is another reason why I think he deserves to be adapted in the MCU. A performance by Dano would make it especially chilling.
Even if the MCU is not in Paul Dano’s future, at least we can expect to see him pop up in more upcoming DC movies as the Riddler.
Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.
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