Monday, September 22, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Superheroes And The Silver Screen - Part Two - Superheroes And The People Who Play Them

I’d like to thank everyone who sent me thoughtful replies in response to last week’s column. Both of you.

I’d also like to thank everyone who sent a flame-filled letter accusing me of gross stupidity (144 times worse than the regular kind) in the fact that I didn’t mention either of the X-Men movies. I should not however that most of those people later apologized when I explained that I did in fact enjoy both movies and that some of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie were in X2. That said, those good performances couldn’t make up for some piss poor performances from the rest of the cast that couldn’t be explained away by a script that gave them not-much to do.

Still, that realization and a few thoughtful remarks from others made me think; there are a lot of superhero movies and TV shows that had good performances but the overall product itself wasn’t quite up to speed.

For those fine actors who did an amazing job under trying circumstances as well as the ones who literally made a movie single-handed, this new Top Nine list (with one Honorable Mention added in) has been made.

Honorable Mention: Mark Hamill, for too much to list, but mostly The Joker.

In all honesty, he’d probably get more than one spot on this list if I didn’t just give him one spot for everything. Most famous for playing Luke Bloody Skywalker, Mark Hamill has become one of the most active and popular voice-over artists in the business, lending his voice to hundreds of animated series and video games. A quick glance at his page on The Internet Movie Database is very revealing, showing that he voiced Wolverine in the most recent X-Men video game, Gargoyle in The 1990’s Hobgoblin in the 1990’s Spider-Man cartoon, The Trickster in The Flash TV series… and of course, has given voice to The Joker through a wide series of Batman related series and video games. In fact, he has become so synonymous with the role that the live action Birds of Prey dubbed his voice in over a different actor who played the live Joker. Truly a great actor and a fan favorite on the con circuit, nobody had to “use the Force” on me to put him on this list.

9. Lori Petty, for Tank Girl

A silly movie adapted from a strange comic with some admittedly low-level production values. That said, Lori Petty plays the title role perfectly in this film about a girl, her vehicle and the post-apocalyptic world she lives in. One of the most unappreciated comic adaptions of all time, it recently became available on DVD. I recommend it highly.

8. Patrick Stewart, for Professor Charles Xavier (X-Men 2)

Arguably born to play the part and a fan favorite for the role long before the first movie was ever released, Mr. Stewart was one of the few actors who made every moment count in X2. Well matched by the equally talented (but I fear not quite as close to the mark in this showing) Ian McKellen, Patrick captured the loving heart, powerful presence and even the dry wit of everyone’s favorite Professor. And nowhere is this better shown in a scene, which I will describe later in number 5.

7. Lynda Carter, for Wonder Woman

One of my favorite shows in reruns when I was a boy (and yes, I was just discovering girls), it’s a wonder this classic show isn’t in reruns somewhere. While the show lacked a lot of the more traditional superhero show heroics like costumed villains, there’s no denying that Lynda Carter made a mark with her performance. A fan favorite even today, she still garners votes whenever polls are taken as to who should be cast in another Wonder Woman movie proving that even twenty five years later she is still a Wonder Woman.

6. Michael Gough, for Alfred Pennyworth (Batman 1-4)

One of the two actors who maintained the same role throughout the last four Batman movies, Michael Gough maintained a strong stability throughout the series that was matched only by the same stability Alfred provides Bruce Wayne in the comics. For a more twisted take on the same character, I recommend the 1999 film version of Anton Checkov’s The Cherry Orchard, in which Gough plays an equally loyal but much more senile and comical butler.

5. Hugh Jackman, for Wolverine (X-Men 2)

Jackman brought a depth of character and soul to a creation whom has too-often been portrayed with little of either. Cast in the role after the injury of the original actor from a career chiefly in Australian musical theater, Hugh Jackman faced some initial hostility from fans who were concerned about a “music” man playing the biggest badass on the X-Men. Of course such worried proved unfounded and Jackman found a well-deserved stardom thanks to his role in the first X-Men movie. But good as he was there, he absolutely shined in X2 and was able to play the tough guy in the action scenes and the “cool uncle/older brother” that Logan often is during his time off.

My favorite scene in the whole movie and the one where I knew the movie was going to be good was when Logan walks in on Professor X using Cerebro while smoking a cigar. Professor X calmly asks him to stop or “you’ll spend the rest of your life believing you are a six year old girl. Without blinking, Logan asks if he could really do it. Xavier smiles and says “I’d have Jean braid your hair.” Without a word, Logan puts the cigar out on his own hand, wincing a bit even as the burn heals within a few seconds.

4. Adam West, for Batman (1960’s Batman)

I got a lot of flack for naming the 1960’s Batman movie as my favorite last week. I don’t care. For that time and place, Adam West was the perfect Batman. And you cannot deny that silly as he may have been, Adam West was a great actor.

I realized this when I was a young boy; old enough to appreciate good acting but young enough to still find a silly action show dramatic. I remembered an episode where Batman has to go into a nightclub alone to get information. He walks in and the headwaiter approaches and asks if he would like a table or to just take a seat at the bar.

With a straight face, Batman nods politely and says “I’ll sit at the bar. I don’t want to attract any attention.”

Now how can you tell me that any man who can say a line like that… in a costume like that… and not burst out laughing ISN’T a great actor?

3. Dina Meyer, for Oracle (Birds of Prey)

Birds of Prey was a horrible TV series that managed the neat feat of taking a very simple concept (buddy comedy about two female vigilantes) and complicated it with some convoluted and unnecessary science regarding superpowers. Shift the focus to an alternate version of a character not a regular part of the comic series, change one of the characters personality, powers and age completely and base the whole thing around the concept that Batman would ever “just quit” his war on crime, and you have a series that kept away newbies confused by the overly complex concept and drove away fans of the comics.

And yet, in this rough mess there was one diamond; an actress who managed to make much more out of the role she was given than what she ever got from the writers on the series. An actress who read the comics involving her character to get a feel for things. An actress who reportedly took martial arts classes and began training so she could, like the character in the comics, be able to do fight scenes in a wheelchair. An actress, who after being told that most of the scripts involved her just sitting behind a computer and emoting and not doing any actual fighting, bucked up and did the best she could with that limited material. That actress is Dina Meyer, who was a better Barbara Gordon than Birds of Prey ever deserved.

2. Julie Newmar, for Catwoman (1960’s Batman)

Defining the character for years, to the point of becoming a major sex symbol of the 60’s, Julie Newmar was the first actress to play Catwoman and the most influential. From her shape-hugging costume to her purr-fect cat puns, there is no doubt that the actresses to handle the part after her and indeed all future actresses to handle the part (NOT Halle Berry, please?) had to struggle to fill her catsuit.

1. Christopher Reeve, for Superman

The man who was picked from obscurity as the perfect man to bring The Man of Steel to the screen, Christopher Reeve has been forever marked by his most famous role. Now an activist for the handicapped as well as numerous other charities and noble causes, he has proven to be every bit the Superman in real life as on the screen.

Tune in next week. Same Matt Time. Same Matt Website.

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