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Monday, February 27, 2017

6 Actors Who Should Play Nightwing

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By now you’ve probably seen the LEGO Batman movie, especially if the box office reports are to be believed.  It’s a monster success, a second major hit for WB’s LEGO brand, and pretty much the first major win for a Batman adaptation since Arkham City back in 2011.  We’re probably going to see a ton of takeaways from this endeavor on what’s required to make a good LEGO movie, but the more important one for superhero fans is what message this flick sends about making Batman films.  The heart of LEGO Batman is to embrace the extended Batman family and a lighter, funnier take on the hero and it seems pretty clear WB has heard received that message as they’ve already tapped the director, Chris McKay, to direct a Nightwing movie. 

For those who don’t know, Nightwing was the identity adopted by an adult version of the first Robin, Dick Grayson, after he stopped being Batman’s sidekick and branched out on his own.  Given that this movie’s now entered DC’s sites I figured it’d be fun to have a look at all the interesting and compelling actors who could and should play Dick Grayson before they announce some mediocre white guy none of us have heard of. 


I’m mainly putting Driver on this list as part of a bizarre rumor that sprung up back in 2015 about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  I don’t know where this came from, but it was rumored at the time Driver was going to be in the film as Dick Grayson and would somehow be tied to a Robin costume in the Bat Cave.  

Naturally, this didn’t happen, and the Robin costume in the cave was replaced with the statue we saw in the final cut.  Still, I think Driver would actually make for a pretty decent Dick Grayson all things considered.  He’s a solid actor, and I’m glad to see him move into the blockbuster sphere, especially with what a good job he did as Kylo Ren in 2015’s Force Awakens. 

Obviously, this would be a case of whitewashing as Dick Grayson is canonically Romani but, if we're horribly honest, there’s a 99% chance this part’s getting white washed one way or another so this is making the best of a bad situation.  Most of all I think Driver would fit nicely into the more comedic aspects of Nightwing’s character while still sporting the necessary dramatic chops. 


John Cho remains the answer to all of our deepest needs and desires.  Seriously, the fact this guy isn’t a major Hollywood leading man by now is astounding- he’s charming, he’s charismatic as hell, he can be dramatic if he needs to be, and on top of it all he’s devastatingly handsome.  Cho could easily manage the blend of confidence, comedy, and commitment that really defines Dick Grayson.  More than that, Cho fills a pretty major requirement for Grayson’s character, which is that he’s a really believable romantic lead. 

That’s something that’s often overlooked about Dick Grayson but he’s primarily meant to be the RomCom version of Batman.  That’s part of why the character is so often drawn with the female gaze in mind and why he so often ends up in romantic entanglements with fellow crime fighters.  He’s got all of Batman and Daredevil’s game for the ladies but none of their gritting, psychotic hang-ups that keep them from being someone you actually want to be with. 


Another Star Wars alumni, John Boyega, would be the perfect actor to embody the more intense and dramatic aspects of Dick Grayson’s personality.  Honestly, I think he’d be better as Jason Todd, the character he was already playing in the phenomenal Attack the Block, but his turn as an ordinary person caught up in the sweep of myth and history in Force Awakens showed he has an impressive range.  

What’s more, he’s already playing a kind of Nightwing warm-up in Pacific Rim 2 as the son of Idris Elba’s character from the first film.  He’s a rock solid performer with a ton of range and still enough open ground to chisel out a character as an identity all his own. 

Boyega would be the best choice to dive into the harsher nature of Nightwing’s city, Bludhaven.  In the comics, Bludhaven is meant to be a worse version of Gotham, less inclined towards super criminals and more about political corruption and police brutality.  Casting Nightwing as a black man fighting the system from the top down would be an excellent way to politically charge and define this franchise going forward, especially given the success Netflix’ Daredevil and Luke Cage have had along similar lines. 


This one’s much more of a personal choice though it harkens back to that point I made earlier about Nightwing needing to work as a romantic character as well as a fun crime fighter.  For my money, Peter Gadiot is the most handsome and charming actor not currently being put to better use in that capacity.  

He’s popped up in the superhero genre before, in Supergirl’s Mr. Mxyzptlk episode and he absolutely stole the show there.  Granted, Supergirl is an amazing series but I’ve liked Gadiot since his role on the short-lived Once Upon A Time spin-off Once Upon A Time in Wonderland. 

I admit, he’s a TV actor more than anything else but I also hardly think that’s a knock against him at this point.  I mean, we gave Joel Kinnaman the lead as Robocop, and his big claim to fame was a terribly good cable show.  The bottom line for me is that Gadiot would be a perfect fit for the blend of fun, silly comedy with big, grand romance.  I love John Cho but he’s definitely more of a comedic straight man, Gadiot feels better inclined to taking the lead and leaping before looking as a character.  Of all these actors he feels like he’d fit Dick’s acrobatic personality best of all. 

That’s right, we’re doing gender-bent additions on this list because, really, why not?  Most of this list is blue sky thinking about what could be with the character of Nightwing if he was freed from the shackles of needing to be played by some middle tier pasty British/Australian guy so why not just go all out with it.  

What’s more, there’s really nothing about Dick Grayson that hinges entirely on him being a dude, and it’s not as if there haven’t been girl Robins before, specifically Stephanie Brown and Carrie Kelly, two justly well-liked characters.  So, if WB had the courage to let Nightwing be a woman for this adaptation I’m sure there’d be an audience for it. 

She wouldn’t even be the only gender-bent character of the DCEU as they already pulled this trick with Jimmy Olsen becoming Jenny Olsen for Man of Steel.  As for McIver, she’s already been a superhero both Power Rangers RPM and iZombie and has an extensive history with genre shows like Once Upon A Time, Xena, and Hercules.  She’s sort of like a New Zealander Melissa Benoist, which is not a bad thing to be by any metric and would fit the role of Nightwing real well.  

Something we’re all going to have to basically just get used to is Asian movie stars showing up for more prominent roles in our blockbusters.  It’s just a fact of life in the global market place that as China develops more and more power at the box office, our films will shift to fit the desires of that audience.  

In some cases that means developing clearer and simpler stories for easier translations, in some cases, it means focusing in on popular cultural artifacts, and in some cases, it means accepting Chinese or Japanese or Korean film stars playing our heroes.  Jing Tian is shaping up to be the face of this trend.  She was the central Chinese star in Great Wall and is also set to appear in Kong: Skull Island and Pacific Rim 2. 

DC would be really well served to lean into this trend and scoop her up for a leading role.  Aside from just being a good box office draw and a quality actor, Tian’s background as a dancer would also be a really interesting fit for Grayson’s circus origins.  There are plenty of Nightwing stories that also take him to China if the writers wanted to have a bigger foothold in that particular box office and that’d provide natural fodder for an emphasis on the identity struggle for an Asian-American version of Dick Grayson.  I mean, they probably won’t but just imagine if they did. 

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