There is probably no better gauge for how the momentum of superhero stuff, particularly Marvel, has shifted in the last few years than how people react to new casting news. Yesterday, it was reported Steven Yeun has been cast in an unnamed but “significant” role in the upcoming anti-hero team-up flick Thunderbolts and everyone collectively heaved a long sigh and said, “Well, get paid, anyway.”
Ten years ago, landing a superhero gig, especially Marvel, the only studio consistently making hits out of the genre in the 2010s, was a career-defining moment for an actor. But there’s no denying Marvel has fallen off in the post-Endgame era, which maybe they can fix—slowing their output cannot hurt—but also, just like when Ben Affleck signed up to play Batman, this feels like a lateral move for Yeun. The Walking Dead already made him, if not a household name, then a That Guy for sure. He’s Glen from The Walking Dead! And since leaving TWD, Yeun earned his first Oscar nomination, and stole scenes in films like Sorry to Bother You and Nope, not to mention voice work in standout shows like Tuca & Bertie and Invincible. Steven Yeun is busy!
Maybe someone made the case that starring in a Marvel thing, especially if his role really is “significant” and he ends up in more Marvel things, will put Yeun over the top and make him a household name, not just a That Guy. But Yeun’s casting in the MCU doesn’t feel the same as, say, The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri, who joined Thunderbolts last month, and is still establishing herself with audiences. Or Jonathan Majors, who has been rising steadily since The Last Black Man in San Francisco was the best movie nobody saw in 2019. Majors is still on the come up, and Marvel, even mediocre Marvel, is a huge boost to his profile.
But again, Yeun already has an established profile. I don’t think Marvel, especially mediocre Marvel, is going to do as much for him as it will Edebiri or Majors, or other actors who are still carving out their spot in the industry. It’s the momentum shift. There’s a precise moment when a superhero thing is beneficial for an actor, and there’s everything after that moment, when it’s just a good paycheck (not to be undersold in These Trying Times). Anyway, the Thunderbolts cast is truly stacked, by the gods old and new, don’t let it go to waste.