Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Characters of the Decade: Part 2

The first list was pretty heavy on animation, but this one mixes up the media a bit more and also features humans who aren't white males.

J. Jonah Jameson
J.K. Simmons - Spider-Man series

"Meat! I'll send you a nice box of Christmas meat. It's the best I can do, get out of here."

Honestly, this was the most exciting thing to see be brought to life in the first Spider-Man movie. Has there been a better comic relief character in the last decade of action movies? I can't think of one. Simmons has a unique asshole charisma that he can make work for seemingly any character, and this was the first time a lot of the world got to see it. While I don't think they quite nailed Peter Parker's personality, the personification of his most consistent detractor went off without a hitch.

Omar Little
Michael K. Williams - The Wire

"I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It's all in the game though, right?"

I could name wonderful characters from this show all day if I wanted. Omar isn't necessarily my favorite, but he certainly tends to stick out more than the others. In the world where everyone seems to have an affiliation, he's pretty much out there on his own besides a revolving door of accomplices, playing the dangerous game of robbing criminals. A sort of perverse modern day Robin Hood who keeps it all for himself. While the majority of the show's cast is great because it seems so real, Marlo is great because he's a legend in his own time. Nothing quite clears the streets of Baltimore like hearing the call "Omar comin'!"

Yorick Brown
Y: The Last Man

"In the words of Thomas Jefferson... that's bullshit."

Being the last man on Earth is a large weight to carry, and luckily Yorick's up to the task. It's definitely an unusual situation for a person to be in, and he manages with the right combination of heroism and hopelessness to make him a definite protagonist but still very vulnerable and in need of the health. He makes his share of mistakes, but through the whole story he never loses his sense of humor or humanity. And while I wasn't a big fan of the epilogue, the conclusion of his personal journey was pretty perfect.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds
Nathan Fillion - Firefly franchise

"May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one."

Another case where I could almost name anyone in the cast and justify putting them here, but as the leader of the crew Mal always stuck out. A true outlaw smuggler with a heart of gold in the tradition of Han Solo, Mal is perhaps an even better version. He does what it takes to get by, with lethal force if necessary, but in the end has what's ultimately good always on his mind. He's a bit inconsistent, sticking with his principles in some cases but running if it makes sense in others. But that's part of what makes him likable. He's unpredictable, funny, and a pleasure to watch command a ship.

Brock Samson
Patrick Warburton - The Venture Bros.

"Hank, seriously. When I get my license back I'm allowed to kill you."

It speaks to the show's quality that the recent half season was still totally great even with Brock being elsewhere for most of the episodes, but he's definitely the most fun character to see do his thing. He's the ultimate death machine, a badass with an actual license to kill and unending willingness to use it. But even when he's not on a rampage he's a lot of fun. His familial relationship with his unorthodox family, unexpected extracurricular interests, and uncommon understanding of the insane cartoon world he lives in are all big parts to the character and how he stays interesting beyond going on murder sprees.

Nathan Fillion - Buffy the Vampire Slayer

"What can I say? I work in mysterious ways. Also some fairly straightforward ones."

And here's Fillion again already, fresh off Firefly's cancellation. I could watch him in almost anything, with his unending supply of sarcastic nice guy charisma. But this is the only time I've seen him play a true villain, and damn if he isn't good at that too. Caleb doesn't have a ton of screen time, but he's probably my favorite bad guy in a series that prided itself on strong antagonists. With a single push of a finger (well, thumb) he secured his place in infamy, and there's just something about his religious background, rampant misogyny and disarming accent that make him a lot more terrifying than any vampire or demon Joss Whedon could conjure.

George Oscar Bluth
Will Arnett - Arrested Development

"No, Michael, that's not my trick. It's my illusion!"

Arrested Development is basically the definition of a great ensemble comedy cast, but GOB was basically in a league of his own. I'm sort of getting the feeling at this point that this is the only character Arnett actually plays, but damn if it isn't an entertaining one, and it works all the better here with his unusual interests, perspective, and motives. The show was absolutely littered with transcendent moments, and GOB had more than his fair share.

Oh Dae-su
Choi Min-sik - Oldboy

"Anyone here with an AB blood type, raise your hand."

If you watch this movie again, Oh Dae-su isn't even recognizable in the first scene as some drunk at a police station. 15 years alone in a room will change anybody, but Min-sik totally sold hit in his complete transformation into who he'll be for the rest of the movie. The thing that drew me to finally seeing it was a particular action scene, but that's not really what the character's about. It's about what unbelievable circumstances can do to a man, but how at his core there's still the same guy who can still be hurt, no matter how hard his exterior's gotten. And while his final decision is somewhat mortifying, in a way I can't blame him.

Colonel Saul Tigh
Michael Hogan - Battlestar Galactica

"So take your piety and your moralizing and your high minded principles and stick them some place safe... I've got a war to fight."

Tigh is an interesting case, as a pretty good character who didn't become great until circumstances forced him to. He was always an entertaining cranky old guy with a strong sense of duty and a bit of a drinking problem, but when he's thrust into the position of leading a resistance movement by any means necessary, he really starts to shine. Ugliness is what makes pretty much any of the Battlestar characters interesting, and his decisions under stress are as hideous as they come. Of course he changes quite a bit in another way later, and it just adds to his depth as he just tries to come to grips with it all. Most of the show's cast is sort of hard to like, but Tigh was actually easy in a strange sort of way.

Amy Acker - Angel

"I wish to do more violence."

Illyria's here half because of the character, and half because it was so mind blowing to see cute, neurotic Acker transform into the embodiment of pure, sentient power. It's really a surprising amount of range, and she pulls it off without a hitch. It's definitely a good character too, one of the few in the whole setting to subvert the normal expectations for the appearance of what's basically a newly awakened, vengeful god. One of the greatest shames in the show's cancellation is not seeing more of her. I guess I could read the comics, but it won't be the same without Acker's performance.

Al Swearengen
Ian McShane - Deadwood

"I wouldn't trust a man who wouldn't try to steal a little."

If you look up "tour de force" in the dictionary, you'll see a definition that accurately describes what Ian McShane did for three years on Deadwood. The show was more theatrical than cinematic in the stateliness and brilliance of its dialogue, and nobody presented it as well as he did. I think I would watch a show that was just him giving speeches to an empty room. That wasn't all there was to the character either, as he was equal parts hilarious and terrifying as he fought for control of the town he helped build. Absolute dynamite the entire time.

Brick Tamland
Steve Carell - Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

"Yeah, there were horses, and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident."

One of the few supporting appearances in a comedy that basically stole the whole film and launched a career. Carell was funny on The Daily Show and The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The Office certainly helped, but I think Anchorman is when people everywhere thought to themselves, "Man, this guy's funny." Honestly, of all the movie's funny bits, Bricks are pretty base and low brow, but still humorous and important to the continuing development of what's considered funny in mass popular culture.

Continued tomorrow.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent selection, min. Many of my own faves there: Jamieson, Omar, Swearengen, Captain Tightpants...