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Karl Urban is the King of Fandoms: An appreciative look at his geek-tastic career

karl urban king of fandoms
Karl Urban speaking at the 2017 San Diego Comic Con about ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ (photo: Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons)

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Karl Urban, King of Fandoms.

I dare you: name a fandom that Karl Urban hasn’t been a part of? I’m even including Westerns in that.

Seriously… take a few minutes and go through as many genres and fandoms you can think of and see what you come up with. If you can’t, I’ve got my own personal list, but I’ve also gone through this incredibly versatile actor’s filmography and it’s astonishing to any bona-fide, card-carrying geek and completely validates what should be his claim to being the “King of Fandoms”.

So right off the bat, let’s talk science fiction. The title that immediately comes to mind is The Chronicles of Riddick and then Riddick – definitely one of the trippiest sci-fi franchises out there. In these films, Urban plays the role of Vaako of the Necromongers. It’s definitely a rich, textual sci-fi with Urban as the champion of an alien race that thrives on a religion based on death. It’s also set within a gemstone studded cast that includes the likes of Vin Diesel, Thandie Newton, and Colm Feore, the latter of whom had nothing but the finest things to say about working with Karl when I had a chance to talk with Urban’s former castmate.

chronicles-of-riddick-karl-urban
(Universal Pictures)

Do I need to mention his quintessential role as Dr. Leonard McCoy in the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek? I wasn’t a fan of this reboot, but the shining moment of this franchise was Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy. Not only did he have the character perfectly down but he also had DeForest Kelley’s rendering of the character. It was as if Urban knew that he would be called to scrutiny for playing this character and, to use the vernacular, he nailed it. But from his performance, it was obvious that he knew this.

Urban also has titles like the television series Almost Human which explores the extremely realized success of artificial life. Then there’s Doom, the film based on the video game and Priest, opposite Paul Bettany, which sees him as a combination science-fiction/horror vampire nemesis to the priests who are tasked with protecting the world from his type of undead.

It’s clear he’s got the sci-fi chops. So with that out of the way, let’s look at horror. If the films Doom and Priest weren’t enough to qualify as ownership of this particular genre, he was also in Ghost Ship, a spooky tale about a derelict ship roaming the ocean cursed with the on-board ghosts of thieves, criminals and Nazi gold. Yeah, though he was a victim in that film, he still managed to evoke the right amount of fear in the audience.

Okay, what about fantasy? Well, he’s got everyone beat there being in the ultimate fantasy story of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, The Lord of the Rings. Eomer of the Rohirrim was a pivotal character in this story and who could forget Eomer’s charge in the Ride of the Rohirrim? Oh, and if that wasn’t enough fantasy for you, he also played Gavin in the whimsical remake of Pete’s Dragon.

karl urban thor ragnarok
(Marvel/Walt Disney Studios)

Spy movies, war films, oh, and comics? Yeah, he’s got that down as well. He’s been a part of the MCU with his performance as Skurge the Executioner in Thor: Ragnarok. Urban presented the portrait of an insecure Asgardian warrior who manages to find redemption in his selfless sacrifice. Then there’s my favourite comic character of all time – Judge Dredd. Urban gave us this incredibly gritty and realistic version of Mega City One’s greatest lawman. Then there’s The Boys, and that not only shows us that Karl Urban knows how to play his comic characters but that he really is the King of Fandoms.

But we need to talk about The Boys. This is Urban’s latest role and it’s nothing short of mesmerizing for new audiences and fans of the comic of the same title.

I’m a comic guy and the comic this show is based on, created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, is probably one of the best comics I’ve ever read. Its brutality, its harsh examination of the temptation of superior-abled individuals whom society is supposed to revere as their heroes puts a complete spin on the traditional way that we see four-colour comic superheroes. They have abilities beyond the scope and ken of regular people, so is it too hard to believe that they can be corrupt as well?

karl urban - the boys
(Amazon Studios)

That’s the premise. To be fair, the show is a little more… reserved in the way it presents the extent of the corruption present in the heroes known as “The Seven”, but the message is thoroughly understood and it’s the performances of actors like Jack Quaid and Karl Urban who completely understand the nature of the franchises their characters come from that give this show its authenticity.

Understanding the nature of fandom is essential to the success of this show. Karl Urban plays Billy Butcher, the ersatz leader of a group of malcontents disenfranchised with the heroes known as “The Seven”. They all have their reasons for hating their heroes, but Butcher’s is deep and visceral and if there is anything that Urban can effectively play, it’s a visceral character.

Urban evokes memories of all the characters he’s played before in The Boys. His familiarity with clandestine operations from films like The Bourne Supremacy or RED comes out in this show as he manages to get the grudging support of the CIA and other law enforcement agencies to aid him in his war against the supes. His character acts with not just motivation but also a transferred insight from playing these other roles.

the-boys-jack-quaid-karl-urban
(Amazon Studios)

It’s great to see it all come into play. One of the most striking features is how well Urban adopts the thick, guttural Cockney accent of Billy Butcher in order to give the audience a tangible appreciation for this revenge-driven character. We’ve seen Urban’s gifts with accents in LOTR with Eomer’s highborn patrician voice to the gritty and gravelly Georgian accent of Bones McCoy in Star Trek. Butcher’s voice is the one of a manipulative, deceitful grifter. He’s a primal character, dedicated to the destruction of the Homelander and his cronies. Though he can’t match them in physicality, his drive for revenge and justice multiply his improvisational skills in his pursuits. Butcher is a character based on an inexorable thirst for vengeance and Karl Urban is more than equipped to play him.

Ruthlessness and calculated odds also make up Urban’s portrayal of this character and he’s had practise with this type as well. Dredd is the best adaptation of the comic about the future lawman from Mega City One. Urban’s depiction of my favourite comic character of all time is, without a shadow of a doubt, perfect.

Dredd-Movie-Karl-Urban
(Lionsgate)

Comic co-creator, Darick Robertson has told me how much he loves the cast of this show. When you look at Urban’s performance, it’s hard to think of who else could have played Billy Butcher so perfectly. I know, firsthand, that if Urban has the approval of one of the creators of this character then he’s got to be doing something right.

But, of course he is.

The first season of The Boys is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and there are rumours of Urban’s return to the J.J. Abrams Star Trek universe. The question is: can we get enough Karl Urban? I don’t think so.

His film pedigree speaks for itself. Urban has a rich and diverse role history in that he’s been able to play characters in every genre which makes him an automatic fan delight. Urban will be appearing at Canada’s largest comic convention, Fan Expo Canada in Toronto next week where he’ll get a chance to meet folks from every fandom, his rightful followers and fans.

Hail to the King of Fandoms, baby.

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About Captain John K. Kirk

Captain John K. Kirk
John Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name "J. Kirk," it's hard for him to not inject "Star Trek" into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources.