#TBT Review: Scene-stealing side characters in comic book film adaptations

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IMG_3100When you think “superhero movie,” of course, nowadays you think of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and for good reason. With the release of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, the Disney-owned studio has made a masterpiece. That’s right. A masterpiece.

There was a time when the most life-like costumed heroes we got were in an after school cartoons like X:MEN, SPIDER-MAN, and who could forget BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES? But now these heroes are everywhere and sometimes they don’t come with a cape and cowl. They have the tendency to be just your average Joe.

Most superhero films don’t achieve the level of CIVIL WAR— maybe the only one to come close was Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT. But times have changed and now audiences are looking for fun and spectacle, rather than brooding.

This week, we decided to mix it up a bit and not focus on the big names of recent memory. Instead, here are a few characters that operate on the fringe of some of our favorite characters based on comics and graphic novels.

“The Penguin,” Oswald Cobblepot in BATMAN RETURNS (1992)

The rotund little menace Oswald Cobblepot (Danny Devito) made a massive impact on the quality and tone of Tim Burton’s BATMAN RETURNS. It’s not widely-regarded as a great film, but it’s undoubtedly strange based upon Devito’s madcap turn as The Penguin. The performance is off the rails– this little humanoid bites the nose off somebody in a public setting for god’s sake.

Cobblepot is a high-society man with a penchant for being disgusting. He lives among the infinitely adorable, yet atrocious smelling penguins; he eats raw fish – and not the kind you get at Nobu; and has a stained white onesie he walks around in from time-to-time.

It’s a super funny performance from Devito that has all the bravado that Nicholson brought to his Joker from the previous film, but there’s something about the look on Devito’s face that can and will come unglued at any moment. It’s a stroke of brilliance.
– James Cole Clay

“Lucas Lee” in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)

With starring roles in CIVIL WAR and THE AVENGERS films, as well as a few non-superhero flicks like SNOWPIERCER, it’s quite clear Chris Evans can carry a movie. And while we love to see him don red, white and blue and spit phrases like, “I can do this all day,” one of Evan’s most memorable and gloriously self-aware roles comes from Edgar Wright’s SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD.

As Lucas Lee, Evans is an A-list action movie star (like he is in real-life), but has a certain sense of douchiness and braggadocio that really makes him stand out. He’s the type of movie star who uses a skateboard to get just 5-feet from his trailer to a movie set. He even calls out “action!” himself, because the film starts when he says so.

Captain America is a pretty straitlaced character, so it’s great to see Evans ham it up to the sky as Lucas Lee. “Prepare to feel the wrath of the League of the Evil Exes.”
Preston Barta

“Big Daddy,” Damon Macready in KICK-ASS (2010)

Figuring out Nicolas Cage is like figuring the fight pattern of Floyd Mayweather Jr.– it’s impossible. The actor’s performances go off the reservation nearly every-time. We recommend having some fun and giving some of his weirdest moments a watch on YouTube sometime. This is an Academy Award-winning actor we’re talking about here.

Sometimes he knows how to nail the tone perfectly, which he did as the vigilante “Big Daddy” in Matthew Vaughn’s 2010 film KICK-ASS. He’s an ex-cop who trains his adolescent daughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) the art of killing (if that’s a thing), just think of the squareness of Ned Flanders mixed with the THE PUNISHER. Cage brings the comedic timing and has the physicality to pull off the action, all without messing up those awful 1980s dad glasses he so proudly wears.
– J.C.C

“Kevin” in SIN CITY (2005)

“He never screams. Even after the dog has its fill and his guts are hanging out, he never screams.”

This was the movie that infinitely made Elijah Wood a creepy dude. Before this, he was that happy-go-lucky young chap in THE LORD OF THE RINGS and FLIPPER. But Robert Rodriguez (and Quentin Tarantino and Frank Miller, too, I guess) showcased how scary Wood can be in SIN CITY. Like the movie THE WITCH states, “There is evil in the [Wood].”

With Rodriguez’ monochromatic screen with a few splashes of random enhanced colors, SIN CITY put the magnifying glass on Wood’s blue eyes and chilling smile. Trust me, if you haven’t seen it before, when you do, you will forever never be able to shake that image of him in any other role.
– P.B.

“Carl Fogarty” in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005)

People often forget that David Cronenberg’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is based on a 1997 comic of the same name. But something you probably didn’t forget is Ed Harris’ menacing performance as Carl Fogarty.

Harris can be quite intense. Have you ever seen his press conference meltdown for this very film? It’s scary. But he’s even more scary in the film. With his scarred face and disturbing dialogue, he knifes his way into your memory.
– P.B.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR opens nationwide tomorrow.
Read our full review here.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.