Wednesday, September 29, 2010
It's Chuck, Not Clark
There aren't many things I know about Zachary Levi. I know he was mean to Sara Rue and that Chuck is a show that, like Heroes, I watched the first season only to watch sporadically if at all, afterwards. I do like the fact that his best friend Morgan is Hispanic (and given that he's played by Joshua GOMEZ, not too much of a stretch).
In any case, I want to take advantage of Levi's birthday to address speculation that he could be the newest Superman should the franchise pick up again. He says that he isn't, but for my part, I'd be thrilled if he were...if only so that we know there will BE another Superman. Now, would he be good as the Man of Steel?
Given how he is on Chuck, Levi seems to have the Clark Kent side of the character down: that bumbling, slightly inept yet eager fellow. What about when he has to be Superman? Well, that is another matter. People must always remember that when it comes to superheroes, by and large you are playing TWO characters: Batman/Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Superman/Clark Kent. Selecting someone who can do both is the key to what will make or break the film. This is why Tobey Maguire was so good in the first two Spider-Man films (the third one, not so well): he was able to show the insecure teenager and the masked crimefighter. This is also why George Clooney was so awful in Batman & Robin: he got the Bruce Wayne part right, all smooth ladies man (for which he's still doing research on) but the Batman... Right now it's up in the air if Andrew Garfield will be able to be both Parker/Spidey, but as with any actor he/she should have the benefit of the doubt.
Levi, for the most part, has been almost exclusively comedic, and primarily on television. You have Chuck, you have Less Than Perfect (that's where Sara Rue comes in), and you have his only hit film to date, Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. To be honest, apart from a cameo in An American Carol I can't recall any movie he's been in (and even in that case, it was suppose to be a comedy). He as of yet hasn't shown either a strong dramatic turn or even the desire to do so. We should also recall that while he's been on two television shows, the name Zachary Levi isn't as big as other Zach/Zacharys (as in Quinto or Galifianakis, and even those aren't major ticket draws as of yet).
This isn't to say any comedy star couldn't be a good dramatic one. Honestly, who would have thought Michael Keaton (Mr. Mom himself), would have turned out to be the best Batman (apologies to Christian Bale, but Bale's Batman voice...). The fans were in an uproar, but Tim Burton saw something in Keaton, something that hadn't been tapped, and to the surprise of nearly all, Keaton created a brilliant interpretation of the Caped Crusader (and to be able to hold your own against Jack Nicholson is no small feat). Weren't there complaints about Elijah Wood as Frodo as well? This is certain: the fans should not have veto power over who gets cast in certain parts. Going back to Keaton, while at the time he was known primarily as a comedian (Mr. Mom, Swing Shift, Gung Ho, Beetlejuice), he also had a dramatic turn in the little-seen Clean & Sober. He was able to prove he could do drama, so in the end the first two Batman films were successful no doubt in part due to Keaton being the title character.
Who is to say Levi can't achieve the same level of success? Honestly, how many could have conceived that Ryan Reynolds, one of the two guys in Two Guys, A Girl, and A Pizza Place (a show I am adamantly unapologetic about liking), Van Wilder himself, the guy from Waiting..., would ever be heading up a major franchise like The Green Lantern? Of course, Reynolds was smart in that he didn't let himself stay with only raunchy comedies. As I've said before, while other critics trashed Smokin' Aces, I loved it, but the thing I remember the most is Ryan Reynold's performance. Among all the wild goings-on and Tarantino rip-offs of gore and murderous mayhem he managed to do an incredibly nuanced and dramatic performance. Here again, we saw a comic performer who could turn in a good drama, which is why he may yet be the ideal Hal Jordan/Green Lantern.
At the present, Zachary Levi cannot be the next Superman because he hasn't ventured into a dramatic part. Superman isn't just nifty action scenes: it's about an alien coming to a new world, a being who has lost everything and now must establish himself in his adopted home, one who is unashamed "to fight for truth, justice, and the American way". There is a certain tragedy in Kal-El, and any actor who plays him on screen MUST be able to tap into that, otherwise we won't believe it. If he were to do a drama, and if he were successful at it, the odds would certainly be in his favor. It would be the first time that a name (even a small one like Levi) would be the Man of Steel: George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, and Brandon Routh were basically unknown before donning the cape. At age 30 as of today Levi is only four and three years older than Reeve and Routh were and eight years younger than Reeves when they took their turn, so it's within his age range. For him to be Superman he would need to A.) do more dramas, and B.) build himself up physically. He would need to shed a good part of Chuck Bartowski to be convincing as the last son of Krypton. It's not impossible, but it may be difficult. Even if he decided not to pursue the role of Superman/Clark Kent, I think a drama would do him well.
I end with this. There is a certain likeability to Zachary Levi. To his credit as of today he hasn't gotten arrested, isn't a tabloid regular, doesn't have any known baby mama drama, and hasn't had any scandal attached to his name. He looks like what he appears to be: just a hard-working actor & regular guy who is also a nice Jewish boy*. Whatever the future holds for Levi (be it another season of Chuck or greater ventures in film, perhaps the stage), I wish him well. He may yet be not just an actor, but something far more rare: a star...who can actually act. With that, Happy Birthday Zachary Levi.
*Contrary to popular belief Zachary Levi is not a nice Jewish boy because he's not Jewish either by ancestry or religion, name notwithstanding. He is actually a Christian of Welsh origin with the full name of Zachary Levi Pugh.