Does recasting a famous role work?

Bourne

Bourne

Liz Braun, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:20 AM ET

Even as a new Spiderman and the current incarnation of Batman continue to fill theatres this summer, fans are about to find out if Jeremy Renner has what it takes to breathe new life into the Bourne universe. This sequel introduces an entirely new character into a familiar espionage landscape.

Why not just recast Bourne? It's a tricky business, that.

Recasting may have given viewers the best Batman ever and one of the top James Bonds, but people have long memories and are deeply invested in these larger-than-life characters.

There were 50,000 letters of protest, for example, when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman in the 1989 movie -- because fans were so worried that the caped crusader's story would not be taken seriously. Turns out Keaton was a great Batman, but the role went next to Val Kilmer and then to George Clooney, so the fans had good reason to fear change. Only after Christian Bale took over did things improve.

The announcement that Daniel Craig would become James Bond likewise led to fan hysteria: He's too blond, he's too old, he's not an action star, he's too this, he's not that.

Craig has since completely revitalized the Bond franchise and gets favourably compared to Sean Connery, the gold standard in Bond actors. Of course, years ago there was a furor when Roger Moore took the role from Connery, a further furor when Moore handed the baton to Timothy Dalton, and just as much hysteria after that when Pierce Brosnan was anointed 007. It's easy to say they all worked out in the end, but only if you can forget the fiasco of George Lazenby in the role.

And Bond fans can't forget.

When recasting works, viewers are happy and the box-office is healthy.

When it doesn't work, well -- anyone who had to suffer through Halle Berry as Catwoman, after the brilliance of Michelle Pfeiffer, knows the downside of recasting. Good thing Anne Hathaway has restored much of the lustre to the role through her work in The Dark Knight Rises. As for the other women surrounding Bruce Wayne, it didn't hurt when Maggie Gyllenhaal took over the role of Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes.

Outside of necessity -- as when Richard Harris' death meant that Albus Dumbledore had to be replaced and Michael Gambon stepped in -- the rules of successful recasting run to tale and talent. It may have been disconcerting when Terrence Howard was replaced as Col. James Rhodes in the Iron Man movies, for instance, but it was reassuring that his replacement was a talent as established as Don Cheadle.

The fan boys may have gone berserk over the casting of Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, but anyone who knows Ruffalo's work knew that his Hulk would make Edward Norton's look green. Er, pale. Talent will out.

But the tale is also crucial. Iron Man 2 and The Avengers are terrific stories. A weak story is one reason why Julianne Moore didn't fare too well when she took over from Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in Hannibal. Moore is a big enough talent that she should have had no problem being convincing as Agent Starling, but the Hannibal story simply wasn't as interesting as The Silence Of The Lambs.

Neither tale nor talent is a sure thing with Alex Cross, an upcoming film that sees Tyler Perry take on the role held by Morgan Freeman in Kiss The Girls and Along Came A Spider. Idris Elba was originally scheduled to take over the role but it somehow fell to, you know, Madea.

Guess we'll find out how the story ends when Alex Cross opens in October.


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