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Monday, May 2, 2016

10 DC Characters Willem Dafoe Could Play in Justice League

Edited by Robert Beach 

We are a year and a few months away from WB/DC’s latest answer to the Avengers: 2017’s Justice League movie. Your level of excitement for that fact may vary based on whether or not you saw the slow-motion train wreck that was Batman v. Superman. Yes, in the wake of WB’s blockbuster debacle, attitudes seem to be shifting around the second biggest superhero team-up ever attempted as Justice League is looking less and less like an assemblage of Earth’s greatest heroes and simply another chance for Zack Snyder and the boneheads at WB and DC entertainment to get everything wrong.

It’s hard to argue against that particular philosophy given we’ve seen this guy’s god awful handiwork twice in a row now, but a year is still a long time with plenty of chances for things to improve.  Case in point, Justice League has now officially cast Oscar-winner Willem Dafoe in a mystery role. Dafoe has stated his role’s a hero, but anything is possible this early on. With that in mind, let’s make some guesses as to who the former Green Goblin might be playing. 

This is the smart money choice for Dafoe’s part at the moment, and it’s easy to see why. For the longest time, Martian Manhunter was, at best, a no name C-list superhero that was only really beloved by hardcore comic fans. However, his appearance in the Justice League animated series introduced him to a generation of youngsters that have now grown up into 20-somethings with money and an interest in seeing the Manhunter from mars make a return.  If there was any ever doubt about this, Martian Manhunter has become a breakout supporting character on CBS’ Supergirl show more or less cements that there is a market for this character and a place for him in the 2010s overall fascination with the superhero genre. 

Dafoe would be a good fit for the Martian Manhunter overall given that he’s always been more than a little inhuman.  I think the big reason people are jumping straight for Manhunter is because it’s incredibly difficult to imagine Dafoe’s demonic, gremlin-like features plastered over a character that’s meant to be a hero in some way.  

Truth be told, a good chunk of the choices on this list are predicated on "a hero in some way," so I certainly see it. I don’t totally believe the claims because pretty much no one working on this project seems like they know enough about comics to pull the Martian Manhunter out of their hat, but it’d certainly be pretty impressive if they did. Slotting Dafoe into a voice/quasi-CGI role could certainly work, though I’m not totally convinced it’d be the best use of his intensity and emotion. You could do a lot worse. 

This one comes pretty heavily out of the speculation on Justice League’s plot, but given what we’ve already seen of the film in Batman v. Superman they’re hardly unlikely speculations.  Pretty much everyone has agreed that Justice League’s villain will most likely be Darkseid and the New Gods.  

That’s a fair theory; his iconography was featured prominently in Dawn of Justice, even appearing as a statue in a deleted scene, and he’s become the premiere “evil invasion” bad guy of the DCU.  Darkseid’s inclusion means he’s more than likely bringing his mythos with him, which does include heroic characters. Metron and Highfather seem like the best fit from that group for Willem Dafoe. 

The history and nature of the New Gods is a pretty dense mess that I’m saving for a later blog post. For now, it’s best to think of them as alien Gods on the level of Thor and friends without the human mythos. Highfather is the Zeus/Odin of the New Gods, the wise old leader complete with flowing white beard and shepherd’s staff. I don’t think this will be Dafoe’s role given he’s a character that’s meant to project strength, kindness, and wisdom, but it’s always a possibility.  

The more likely turn is that he’ll be playing Metron, the God of knowledge. Metron’s a weird subset of the New Gods, a nearly omnipotent being that travels all of reality in his super-science mobius chair and knows everything. He tends to pop up as a useful exposition point and all-purpose plot mover. Both of these roles would strand Dafoe in the realm of “low-level supporting character mainly there to give exposition,” which certainly sounds like a DC decision and would fit with Dafoe not necessarily wanting to jump into superhero action, though if he did...

Now we’re starting to move away from the “likely maybes” and moving more towards the “fun speculation” side of things. Dr. Fate is the less likely possible of these two, yet they serve such a similar purpose it’s hard not to see them as a package deal. Dr. Fate and the Spectre are essentially the mystical “big guns” of the DC universe, incredibly powerful heroes of fantasy origins. Both characters also have a history with major shake-ups: Dr. Fate being a key hero in 3 Darkseid invasions and the Spectre a major element of every one of DC’s big crisis event comics. Neither one has managed to transition to live action very well with Dr. Fate managing an extended cameo in Smallville and the Spectre appearing as a foreshadowed future character on Constantine. 

As mentioned, Dr. Fate has more history with Darkseid, but he really does seem the less likely character. His costume design would mean hiding Dafoe’s face entirely, which is either a positive or a negative depending on who you ask. What’s more, his weird history and bizarre place in the mythos would make him a difficult fit. The Spectre honestly makes a lot of sense, especially if WB’s Justice League Dark supernatural superhero flick is still in the works. The Spectre’s place as a horror-oriented magic character would fit Dafoe’s history as an actor, and his connection to ghosts and the dead would be an easy first step in resurrecting Superman for Justice League part 2 in 2019. 

This is more wishful thinking than actual speculation. The Question is actually a lot like Martian Manhunter in that they’re both relatively minor heroes whose presence in the animated universe gave them an in with modern audiences. The Question’s nowhere near as prominent in actual comics and has yet to transition to live action; however, he easily could fit in, and his connection to the Batman mythos makes this a safer bet than you’d think.  

As mentioned previously, WB seems to be hell bent on getting back to cranking out Batman movies and just giving up on all this other superhero stuff, which is why they’ve been frontloading the Batman series with Oscar winners. If that’s a pattern, Question could work as Dafoe’s casting as a way to sneak him into a future Bat film under the radar as Batman’s informant or the like. 

I’m not sure how exactly Question would fit into the Justice League movie, but he’d be a great fit for Dafoe. The version of Question most folks know is a conspiracy theorist investigator whose obsession with figuring out “the truth” borders on full-on mania.  It’s a power and intensity that Dafoe could perfectly capture, though maybe not as well as Jeffrey Combs version of the character on Justice League Unlimited. Additionally, Question’s costume design of a man with no face would be a pretty clever way around that whole “Willem Dafoe looks terrifying” issue. 

We’re getting really deep into speculation with this one. One of the major rumors currently floating around is Justice League part 1 will be set in a world where Darkseid has already taken over the Earth with the major emphasis being on the Justice League trying to send a message back in time to prevent Darkseid’s victory. That would certainly fit with the time travel stuff in Dawn of Justice where the Flash pops in from the future to ramble off some cryptic messages to Batman, though it still feels a little early to make a strong claim on this. If that is the case, I could see Willem Dafoe cast as an older, grizzled version of Green Arrow, perhaps working as an urban archer of the apocalypse in the vein of Connor Hawke on Legends of Tomorrow. 

This one feels the most unlikely as it would require the most stunt work and choreography for Defoe’s character, but I actually think it’d be a pretty substantial win. Dafoe may be creepy looking, but he can play heroic characters and slotting him into the role of a wasteland anti-hero could be a good way to balance his nobility with the unhinged intensity that punctuates a lot of his performances. Granted, if this was the case, it’d probably spell doom for CW’s Arrow. Given that the DCEU has sent down a mandate against CW using movie characters, all the CW shows are living on borrowed time these days either way. Speaking of CW characters...

  Like I said, Dafoe has stated that he’s playing a hero in Justice League, but I’m not quite ready to assume that was the truth yet.   As such, the bottom three entries on this list are going to be villains because Dafoe feels like a much better fit for bad guy roles than heroic ones. As mentioned, there’s just something about Dafoe’s creepy facial ticks and his uncomfortable intensity that makes him perfect for villain parts, so I could easily see him claiming heroism as a cover for a more evil position. What’s more, if Justice League is set in the midst of a successful Darkseid invasion, it’d make sense for super villains to be working with the heroes against the common enemy. If the goal is time travel, that’d be a perfect fit for the Reverse Flash. 

The Reverse Flash is a weird type of super villain owing to the fact that he was always pretty C-list. It was until the twin shots in the arm of Flashpoint becoming a story DC wants to market to you and Tom Cavanagh’s incredible performance as Reverse Flash on CW’s hit Flash series. All of this has left Reverse Flash in the public eye, though nowhere near as well defined as other blockbuster villains like Joker or Lex Luthor. Given this, Dafoe would be perfect casting for the part as he’s an actor who can fill in most of the character’s missing definition just by showing up on set. 

If Willem Dafoe is playing a villain in Justice League, it will be Steppenwolf, Darkseid’s uncle/major general. It’d be tempting to slot Dafoe into the spot of Darkseid himself, but I honestly don’t think he’d be a very good fit for that part. The thing about Darkseid is he’s like Thanos in that they’re both big, powerful bad guys that you can honestly slack off on when it comes to the voice casting.  

There are some great Darkseids, specifically Michael Ironside in the DC animated universe. As you’ve got a deep, booming angry voice, you’ve got your Darkseid. And yet, that particular commanding, booming, baritone voice isn’t really associated with Willem Dafoe, but Steppenwolf is an almost perfect fit.

Steppenwolf as a character is more of a menacing hunter type, usually framed as Darkseid’s key general or hit man. He’s meant to be older than Darkseid and a lot less overtly evil. Darkseid is the kind of guy who will go out of his way to be as evil as possible whenever he can whereas Steppenwolf is just evil in passing or in sporadic bursts. 

Framing Dafoe as a villainous adviser and mini-boss for the Justice League, maybe a specific antagonist for Batman or Cyborg, would be a pretty good use of his talents and honestly a part way to use Dafoe than making him Darkseid. Like I said, the big difference between Darkseid and Steppenwolf is Steppenwolf had actual character for an actor like Dafoe to hang a performance on as opposed to Darkseid’s soul full of gunk.

All right, so it’s time to get really out there with the speculation.  Something people have picked up on about Batman v. Superman is crammed to the gills with dream sequence, and that’s pretty accurate. In fact, the entire plot of the film is initiated by dream sequences in that both Lex Luthor and Batman received nightmares to turn them against Superman.  

Obviously, the dream elements have been overshadowed by stuff like the Darkseid iconography or the Justice League cameos, but so much of the film is driven by dreams could still be important as part of an elaborate misdirection. See, one of the Justice League’s core bad guys is a villain named Dr. Destiny, a freaky skeleton wizard-looking guy with the power to mind control people through their dreams. Could it be possible that Dr. Destiny is the villain of Justice League and Willem Dafoe is playing him? 

Obviously no, this is decidedly un-possible. It's nice to pretend.  Honestly, Destiny would be an absolutely great villain pick given the fact he can summon any minion he imagines and tap into character-specific fears and threats in a great way. It’d externalize the League’s interpersonal drama and identities into their enemy, and Dafoe would be the perfect casting.  

Dr. Destiny’s already pretty close to a horror character, for his creepy skeleton face would be a perfect fit for Dafoe’s natural menace. Of all the roles I’ve suggested, this one is probably the least likely. It's the one role that I think would work the best, both for the film and the actor. 

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