Thursday, January 21, 2010

Characters of the Decade: Part 3

Let's keep this crazy train a-rolling. A couple video game characters break through this time.

Scott Pilgrim
Scott Pilgrim

"The future? Like... with jetpacks?"

What's great about Scott is how awesome and totally not awesome he is at the same time. I mean, he's mostly an idiot. He's a bit inconsiderate sometimes about others' feelings and doesn't actually talk to girls that well. They like that though, so it works out for him. Just like most things seem to in the wacky version of Canada they all live in. Despite his faults, there's nothing malicious about him. He just wants to have a good time with his girl, and if that means battling seven evil exes to do it, he's up to the challenge. His combination of genuine skill and dimwitted resourcefulness is endearing, and he's well on his way to being the best 24-year-old ever.

John Locke
Terry O'Quinn - Lost

"Don't tell me what I can't do."

Locke is something of an enigma, but part of what makes the show consistently compelling. If there's anyone who likes the show and wasn't totally convinced by the pilot, then the reveal at the end of his first flashback episode is what hooked them for good. He's one of the more frustrating characters on this list, with his motivations and actions frequently in question. But that's par for the course with Lost characters, and Locke is still always among the most interesting. The last season finale really turned what we should be expecting from O'Quinn on its head, and seeing how the rest of his role plays out will be intriguing for sure.

Carl "CJ" Johnson
Young Maylay - Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

"What can I say? I'm a bad man."

Ever since Grand Theft Auto: Vice City the GTA series has had good protagonists, but so far I've liked CJ the most. One of the good things about him is that your version of him might look nothing at all like the one pictured above. They took out a lot of the customization stuff when they jumped to current gen consoles, but making CJ whatever you wanted him to be was a lot of fun. And he's an interesting, sympathetic person as well, with a really good performance from Young Maylay. There's always a bit of a disconnect when you're doing these action games, with the player guilty of usually hundreds of homicides by the end of the story despite its attempts to make you like them. But if you can just accept it for what it is, they did a really nice job with it.

Alyx Vance
Merle Dandridge - Half-Life series

"Dr. Freeman, I presume?"

There's a difficult balance with Half-Life 2. In the first game, the only characters besides the voiceless protagonist were interchangeable, disposable scientists and security guards. It was very much a game. But with the sequel, they tried to sell you real people that you should be interested in and care about, despite Gordon Freeman's continuing non-functional vocal chords. Alyx was introduced as a frequent companion and possible love interest for Gordon, and despite the odds, it works. Part because of Dandridge's great voice work, and part because of the impressive skill with which the character is written and integrated into the world. There are moments where you wish Gordon wasn't so constricted, but for the most part you forget the limitations and just exist in the game's world with Alyx by your side. Maybe my favorite character in all of gaming.

Dwight Schrute
Rainn Wilson - The Office (US)

"If I were buying my coffin, I would get one with thicker walls so you couldn’t hear the other dead people."

Dwight works in two different ways. The first is bringing a character to the US version that's as suitably nuts as Gareth from the UK show without just copying him, and making him uniquely American. The other, as developing into an actual person over the course of the series' much longer run time. For the most part, Dwight is totally ridiculous. But he has enough scenes that could feature a real human that ingratiate you to him and prevent him from being too over the top. Yeah, right now he has a "diabolical plan" to get Jim fired, but it's all based in genuine desires someone might have. It's a fine line to walk, but I think Wilson and the writers do a good job.

The Doctor
Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant - Doctor Who

"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect... but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly... timey-wimey... stuff."

I generally preferred Tennant's portrayal of the venerable time lord, but Eccleston did a good job too. The Doctor is one of Great Britain's most beloved characters, and his revival a few years ago seemed to go off without a hitch. It's the mix of good humor and pathos that make him work, as he puts on a happy face when dealing with new situations and foes, but it's really just hiding more demons than any soul should bear. He's a bit of an enigma, because you wonder if the moments where the world is weighing on his shoulders are just moments here and there, or a constant hindrance that he only occasionally lets show. Either way, he's usually a lot of fun to watch, and I look forward to seeing what a new actor can do with the character.

Mickey Rourke - Sin City

"Would you hurry it up? I ain't got all night."

I don't think the movie really held up that well, but Marv is still pretty great. We know Rourke has a lot of range, but I think I like him most as this sort of cocky tough guy with a good heart. He's uncompromising in his ideals and prone to lapses in judgment, leading to his ultimate doom, but hey, that's what prequels are for. His only concerns are loyalty to people who give him a chance and destroying those who go after the ones he likes. And he's pretty damn funny in a morbid sort of way. I've read all of the comics, and his first story is still the best one.

Charlie Kelly
Charlie Day - It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

"Because I cut the brakes! Wild card, bitches!"

Dennis was definitely my favorite character from the most recent season, but Charlie has been a consistent fan favorite for the show's entire run, and for good reason. He's probably the only cast member you can like as a person, because while they're all idiots, the rest are still functioning idiots who do bad things, while Charlie really is too intellectually stunted to know better. He's sort of like a live action Phillip Fry, somehow able to cobble together a working consciousness despite lacking fundamental mental faculties. He provides most of the show's most over the top moments, and is almost never not up to something funny.

Titus Pullo
Ray Stevenson - Rome

"I was only following orders. Bloody good orders, too!"

In a show filled to the brim with larger than life personalities, Pullo stands the tallest. He's more or less a psychopath, but that's acceptable when you're part of the Roman legion. It's very enjoyable watching him eviscerate an enemy, but he's a lot of fun in a normal life context too, just passing time between battles. Stevenson seems to be building a career out of being violent, but he can do subtle when he needs to, demonstrated admirably in a number of scenes. In fact, my favorite moment with the character was hardly violent at all besides a single murder. Rome thrived off the decadence of its sex and violence, and Pullo was an eager participant in both.

Harry Lockhart
Robert Downey Jr. - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

"Doesn't that suck? I just hit you for no reason. I don't even know why."

A Scanner Darkly was the first movie I saw Downey in, and I was very impressed with his work there. But this is the film that convinced me I should watch anything he's in. I could almost give the nod to Val Kilmer here because he has so many damn great lines, but Downey's is the better performance and more interesting character. As far as stars of detective stories go, he's among the most flawed, not really knowing what the hell he's doing and ending the case much worse for the wear. His ineptitude is what makes it fun, and his occasional successes make it all worthwhile. He's also probably the worst narrator in film history, and that's another part of why he's great.

Kazuma Kiryu
Takaya Kuroda - Yakuza series

"When you don't pay your debts, I'm what you get."

Other video game characters have more developed personalities or more physical prowess on an objective scale, but none of them are bigger badasses than Kazuma. He's not confrontational by nature, protective of those he knows and willing to discuss things calmly before they get out of hand. But if you insist on violence, he will utterly destroy you with his bare hands. I mean, the guy fights two tigers at once in the second game. His only weakness is an extreme sense of loyalty, which will occasionally get him in situations he can't punch his way out of. But he embodies the sense of respect and honor that makes the Yakuza seem more interesting than the standard mob.

Benjamin Linus
Michael Emerson - Lost

"You guys got any milk?"

I've avoided multiple people from the same thing, but it was too hard here. Ben was only supposed to be around for a couple episodes but he stayed on because the producers liked Emerson so much, and the show hasn't been the same since. One of the most consistently beaten up characters in history (he has to have spent at least half his scenes in bruise makeup, right?), he's still a good villain because of the respect he commands among his allies. Also, because we're never quite sure how much of a villain he really is. He's always creepy and intimidating, but does he maybe have everyone's best interests at heart? We're still not sure yet, but either way he's among the show's most consistently fascinating people.

Continued tomorrow.

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