Of all the people you were expecting to turn up in the next Marvel film, Christian Bale would be some way down the list. And yet here he is: he's going to be the Big Bad in Taika Waititi's follow-up to Thor: Ragnarok.
"Christian Bale is going to play our villain, which is going to be fantastic," Thor star Tessa Thompson told Entertainment Tonight. "I've read the script. I can't tell you much. Lots of exciting text messages exchanged between Natalie [Portman] and I. We're going to have fun. Taika is writing [and] directing. Some familiar faces. Some new people coming into the mix."
Obviously Bale got in at the ground floor of the Golden Age of comic book films in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, but it still feels slightly mad that he's involved. He's got an Oscar, for one thing. He's a Proper Film Star. He's not Leo or Brad, but he's only a rung or so below them on the great Hollywood ladder. Granted, Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Michael Keaton, Ben Kingsley, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kurt Russell, Jeff Bridges and Mads Mikkelsen were all pretty good gets, but they also seem like a bit of a laugh if you catch them in the right mood. Bale just seems so far from being in any way bothered with Marvel.
But that's a fundamental misreading of Bale. He's always been a vampy comic book villain. You might not have noticed, but he has. There's always been something of Alan Rickman's gleeful chewiness about his evil roles. Look at the Dick Cheney biopic Vice, for which he got an Oscar nom for Best Actor. Comically chubbed-up, like a malevolent Nutty Professor, his Cheney is as cruel, pompous, omnipotent and bombastic as Hans Gruber or the Sheriff of Nottingham.
As much as Marvel has changed the business of films, its villains tend to be cut from the same cloth: aside from Thanos, Killmonger and Loki, they're an interchangeable mixture of common-or-garden megalomaniacs, spurned protegées and vengeful family members, and there's no reason to think Bale's going to change anything there. Waititi will presumably use his glowering intensity as a contrast with larks elsewhere like he did Cate Blanchett's willowy goth vibe in Thor: Ragnarok. In fact, it might end up accidentally legitimising Exodus: Gods and Kings, in which Bale first wandered around intensely glowering on a Biblical scale.
It's one of Bale's great talents that he can make big characters with at least one noticeably peculiar quirk – Michael Burry in The Big Short and his glass eye, American Hustle's Irving Rosenfeld and his dodgy combover, Ken Miles' slippery Brummish accent and jutting chin in Ford Vs Ferrari – feel like they could actually exist in the world. This might well be the first time he'll be able to cut loose and devour the scenery whole, though. It might feel like a surprise, but Bale's been winding himself for something like this for years.
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