When you ask someone who their favorite James Bond is, you'll get a very personal answer—one that depends greatly on factors ranging from personal taste to how old they might have been when they first encountered the character. Or they can just say "Sean Connery;" both methods are acceptable. But for as much as Sean Connery embodied and defined the character at the outset, you won't find many people who would argue that no one else should have ever played the part.
What is it about the first actor in a beloved role that makes fans so crazy about the idea of anyone assuming the part in their wake? We're nearing the end of the dawn of superhero movies, and it's a subject that is going to come up more and more often. Take this week's X-Men: Apocalypse as an example. A decade ago, you'd have been hard-pressed to find someone that thought anyone could have filled in the shoes of Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, but now we have James McAvoy owning the part. In the previous installment of the franchise, Days of Future Past, they both inhabited the role with equal aplomb. Was it the fact that enough time had separated the ages of the characters—and that they were eventually seen side-by-side—that allowed the audience to get accustomed to another actor in the part?
Not all roles in nerddom are treated with such magnanimity, though. What will happen (in that same universe!) when Hugh Jackman makes good on his promise to retire as Wolverine? Will his replacement be met with open arms, as new actors generally are when they're cast as James Bond? Then again, that might be a bad example: Everyone always seems to hate the new James Bond, until they actually see a movie with that actor playing him.
The level of vitriol leveled at new actors assuming an iconic role can be mind boggling. I wouldn't give anything to trade places with Alden Ehrenreich right now. He's been cast as Han Solo in the second stand-alone Star Wars film, scheduled for release in 2018. He's a fantastic actor, and he stole every one of his scenes in Joel and Ethan Coen's Hail, Caesar! Yet there are vocal pockets of fandom who think that no one other than Harrison Ford could ever play the part of Han Solo.
I think Ehrenreich will be perfect for Solo. I hope this could even open the door for him to be a younger Indiana Jones as well, which is certainly something Disney will inevitably be interested in trying once Ford is done with the part. When I verbalized this, I was harangued with messages proclaiming Ford is the only person allowed to be Indiana Jones. I had to remind them about River Phoenix. And Sean Patrick Flannery. And Corey Carrier. And George Hall. None of them was instantly rejected in the role of Indiana Jones.
Why not give Ehrenreich a chance? The distance of age should make it more palatable, as with Professor Xavier. All of those versions of Indiana Jones were ages remarkably different than Ford's. Maybe that's why fans didn't revolt when Martin Freeman played young Bilbo Baggins rather than Ian Holm in The Hobbit.
It's a challenge that will be faced more and more often as the genre of superhero films gets older. Our favorite actors are going to age out of roles, and newer, younger actors will replace them. Don't think that Marvel Studios is going to stop making Marvel movies just because their original Avengers cast is getting too old. And don't think Fox is going to stop making X-Men films with Wolverine in them because Jackman has retired. It makes sense that people will approach these changes in casting with apprehension, but with vitriol? That's not rational.
It's important for us nerds to remember that we're not bankrolling these franchises, and we aren't the creative decision-makers behind them. We aren't privy to the financial considerations or the audition tapes. We have to trust that those in power know what they're doing when they cast these iconic roles. They hit far more often than they miss. I mean, look at Zack Snyder. He has no intrinsic ability to make a film, and Batman v Superman was terrible, but even he didn't screw up the casting for Batman.
Like most things in geekdom, premature meltdowns are usually a waste of emotional energy. Unless they cast another white dude in a part that could be played by anybody (like Iron Fist or Doctor Strange, etc.), in which case you can complain. But other than that, wait for an actual movie before making a judgment. That actor you're complaining about might well just define the part and become your favorite.