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With the recent influx of major superhero franchises, whether they’ve just been hitting theaters for the first time or have been rebooted several times over, one key aspect of the archetypal superhero experience has largely been missing: sidekicks. Although a superhero has long been considered incomplete without a wise-cracking boy wonder by his side, the recent Hero Renaissance has all but left lackeys behind altogether.
Take, for example, Batman and Robin, possibly the most iconic superhero/sidekick pairing of all time. Despite being a major part of the comics for over 50 years, Robin has only appeared in three live-action films, the most recent of which was 1997’s Batman and Robin. Although Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John Blake character in The Dark Knight Rises was revealed, in the film's final moments, to be a nod to Robin, this was hardly a bona fide appearance for the character.
Then there’s Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s loyal sidekick, who didn’t get much to do in Captain America: The First Avenger before he disappeared and resurfaced as the Winter Soldier. This time around, Cap’s partners-in-crime are Black Widow and Falcon, both of whom are heroes in their own right.
Batgirl, meanwhile, has only made it into one live-action film – again, Batman and Robin – despite being a major character with her own long-standing comic tradition. Jubilee is often a sidekick to Wolverine in the X-Men comics, but she has never received more than a cameo appearance in any of the films, and none of that screen time would give new audiences the impression that the two characters had any sort of relationship. Both Batgirl and Jubilee have strong fan bases who would likely love to see their favorite characters make it to the big screen. Yet despite having interesting and important storylines in the books, they can’t seem to cross over.
Why, if these characters are so important and popular, are the sidekicks getting cut out of these films? Well, for a start, sidekicks are often portrayed as ridiculous characters, designed for comic relief and to occasionally bail the hero our of whatever trouble he’s gotten into. Although the books give them interesting, compelling backstories and plots that help turn them into a three-dimensional character, their appearances in live-action works haven’t been as layered. It's hard to take Robin seriously as a character when the prevailing image of him featured goofy tights and and eager-to-please attitude. With the trend of superhero films leaning towards the gritty these past few years, there’s no longer a place for the goofy sidekick.
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Warning: The following contains spoilers regarding the identity of the Winter Soldier in the upcoming Captain America film.
Even if the film isn’t aiming for dark realism, it’s hard to translate many sidekick characteristics without the coming across as grating or annoying. When Iron Man 3 added Harley to the film, many audiences were divided over the character. Some found him to be annoying and unnecessary, whereas others thought he added a much-needed venue to explore different elements of Tony Stark’s personality. Comic book sidekicks can suffer from this as well, which likely makes filmmakers reluctant to put them in the movies.. For every X-Men fan who loves Jubilee, there’s one who finds her mall-girl persona insufferable.
Instead, the sidekicks are replaced by other heroes. When Wolverine isn’t being a “lone wolf,” he’s surrounded by major X-Men characters; whoever is closest to him in that film depends on what story the filmmakers are trying to tell. Nolan’s Batman got backup form Catwoman in the most recent film, and even though Falcon’s role in The Winter Soldier fits the idea of what a sidekick would be, the character will likely play a major role in upcoming films. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe decides to stick with the comic book plots, he will become a full-fledged member of the Avengers, and so even now he is treated like a full-fledged hero. If the Winter Soldier ever returns to his old identity as Bucky Barnes, it’s likely that instead of falling back into his old sidekick role, he will be given a larger, more vital part, especially if rumors about Sebastian Stan taking over as Captain America are true.
It’s easier to have your hero supported by other heroes because they have backstories and layers of their own, which usually makes for a better character onscreen, and therefore, a better film. There’s more to work with and more to explore, which allows filmmakers more freedom with the kind of stories that they want to tell. Plus, with regular heroes, audiences don’t have to sit through the annoying puppy-dog stage that all sidekicks seem to go through. Instead, all of the characters are on equal footing, all of them are interesting to watch, and all of them are just as capable of taking down the villain. Besides, more heroes makes for more films, and it's easier to launch a new franchise when you already know how audiences are going to respond to a major character.
However, it is possible to put a sidekick onscreen and not have the film devolve into pure camp. The Iron Man films have allowed Rhodey to be both a traditional sidekick to Tony Stark as well as a funny, interesting, fan favorite. Part of this is due to the fact that the films tend to lean more heavily towards comedy than the rest of the universe, which allows them to explore the idea of a goofy, ridiculous sidekick. When Rhodey cracks jokes, it works because Tony is doing the exact same thing, so there’s no tonal dissonance. But Rhodey also takes part in some of the films’ more serious elements as well. When the films delve more deeply into what’s going on in Tony’s head, his friendship with Rhodey is given a greater weight, and that friendship gives the audience a better insight into Tony as a character. And, of course, he’s around for the major battle sequences, where he does just as much fighting and is just as vital to the villain’s defeat, even though it’s clear that Tony is the one in command.
Though Rhodey has proven that the new generation of superhero films can find room in their lineup for an old-fashioned sidekick, it still doesn't seem likely that other franchises are will be bringing the sidekick back to theaters. For one, the serious, gritty superhero film doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon, with The Winter Soldier exploring the political thriller genre and Batman Vs. Superman planning to bring back the dark, jaded hero. Those films just don't allow for a wise-cracking, tights-wearing sidekick. Even if they did, it's still more likely that a hero who could play a major role in future films will play that part instead. As the superhero universes continue to expand and intercept, sidekicks will continue to be lost in the shuffle, since big-names heroes are always a bigger audience draw than a sidekick, no matter how well-loved they are by fans.
Which means that in the end, the best way for a sidekick to make it to the big screen is for them to embrace their own heroic destiny, and anchor a franchise of their own. After all, Bucky Barnes didn't become a major character in the Marvel Universe until he was brainwashed and turned into a vigilante, and and knowing that Falcon will eventually join the Avengers makes up for the little he gets to do in The Winter Soldier. If studios are afraid of bringing sidekicks, in all of their dumb, tights-clad glory to the big screen, then it might make more sense for them to skip past the awkward stages and bring their own heroic adventures to life. Because in the end, wouldn't we all prefer to watch a Nightwing movie than to sit through Robin tagging along on whatever Batman's doing?
Stephen King's The Stand needs to be made into a big-budget film. There was a decently made mini-series that included some notable actors. That version was even produced by King himself. However, the television medium doesn't allow the story to explore the haunting parts of King's vision of the end of the world. The mini-series also felt a little bland at times. The film may have lost Ben Affleck to his infamous run as Batman and may end up casting Christian Bale, but here's our fantasy casting for the film series.
Johnny Depp as Randall Flagg
Randall Flagg is charming, attractive, and can seduce people out of their souls. Yet, in the next moment beat them mercilessly to death or make them go mad with just a look. Depp has the good looks and the convincing darkness to portray an agent of the devil. His roles in films like Dark Shadows and Sweeney Todd show he can be dark and twisted while still maintaining his charm, humor, and sex appeal. He also created the definitive anti-hero in Jack Sparrow.
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Cicely Tyson as Mother Abigail
Mother Abigail is a 108-year-old woman, the oldest living human being, and a prophet of God. She becomes a lightning rod for all the good people left in the world to gather together. At 80 years old, Tyson just won a Tony for her role in The Trip to Bountiful. She is an amazing actress and her recent role in The Help has proven that nothing can stop her.
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Emma Stone as Frances Goldsmith
Frannie is pregnant and in her early twenties. As the flu strikes, she questions if she should keep the baby. She’s smart, funny, and attractive enough to get a bit of a love triangle going. Stone is attractive, quirky, and has already seen the apocalypse starring in Zombieland. While most of her films have been comedies, she did show her dramatic muscles in The Help. She also has shown she has the edge to potentially kick ass and it would be great to see her actually do it on screen.
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Matthew McConaughey as Stu Redman
Stu is affectionately known as East Texas. He is one of the first known survivors of the super flu. He plays a major part in the story and the survival of Mother Abigail's followers. When you think of Texas you think of McConaughey. His recent success and Oscar buzz with Dallas Buyer's Club show that the dramatic actor is back along with the comedian we remember from movies like Magic Mike. He has the right level of folksy charm that would encourage a community of survivors to rally behind him.
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Ryan Gosling as Larry Underwood
Larry Underwood is a sexy rockstar. He spends the bulk of the story with multiple women who want the best for him but sadly he disappoints them. Tons of women in America would love to see Gosling in this role. He has the huge fan following to be believable as a rock star. His role as a ne'er do well stunt driver in Drive and as a lothario in Crazy Stupid Love make him well suited for this role.
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Taylor Schilling as Nadine Cross
Nadine Cross is a former school teacher that meets Larry on the road. They connect and bond but she's a virgin and can't be with him. Who is she saving herself for ... who do you think? Randall Flagg. Schilling is huge right now given the success of Orange is the New Black. In the show, she's able to play a virginal innocence while still maintaining a slightly dark and twisted edge. After all, how pure can you be in prison?
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Nick Andros
Nick Andros is a deaf-mute that is introduced to the audience when he is savagely beaten. He becomes a major player in Mother Abigail's society despite being only able to communicate by writing notes. Levitt has the acting chops to breathe life into this challenging role. He has played off-beat characters in films like Hesher and Don John.
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Helen Mirren as Glen Bateman
Glen Bateman is a retired sociology professor that loves painting and Kojack the dog. In the book, Bateman is a man. However, given her success in the Red films, Mirren proves she is part of the boy's club. Also, the book is a little light on female characters so it would be great to have such a dynamic actor as Mirren in such a pivotal role. Bateman helps re-establish society in the post-flu community. Plus, in an alternate life, couldn't you imagine Mirren as a ballsy sociology professor. We can pretend Teaching Mrs. Tingle never happened.
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Jonah Hill as Harold Lauder
Harold Lauder is a chubby, know-it-all teenager with some pretty dark thoughts. Now, Hill isn't that chubby anymore, however he is really stretching into dramas. He also proved in 21 Jump Street that he can play a believable teenager, even if its a grown man playing a grown man pretending to be a teenager. He'd be great as this slightly homicidal genius that becomes obsessed with Frannie.
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John Cho as Lloyd Henreid
Lloyd Henreid is a petty criminal that gets caught in a murder spree right before the flu breaks. Flagg rescues him from prison and makes Lloyd his right-hand man. Given his recent run as a villain in Sleepy Hollow, Cho clearly can play bad. Also, it would be great if the film adaptation could not only break convention by having a male character played by an actress like Mirren but also to have a criminal played by an Asian-American actor. Stereotypes have to be broken somewhere.
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When crafting a follow-up to the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time it’s understandable that one might be reticent to mess with a winning formula. But director Todd Phillips and writers Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong seem to have confused revisiting with recycling: The Hangover Part II so closely mirrors its blockbuster predecessor in every vital aspect that it can scarcely claim the right to call itself a sequel.
The only significant new wrinkle introduced in Part II is its setting: Bangkok Thailand a location that at least theoretically augurs well for a second helping of inspired lunacy. The story structure of the first film has been copied wholesale a game of Mad Libs played with its script. The action is again set around a bachelor party this time in honor of buttoned-down dentist Stu (Ed Helms). Again the boys (Stu Bradley Cooper’s boorish frat boy Phil and Zach Galifianakis’ moronic man-child Alan) awaken the next day in a hideously debauched hotel room with little memory of the previous night’s revelry. And again there is a missing companion: Teddy (Mason Lee son of Ang) the brother-in-law to be. (Poor Justin Bartha is once again relegated to the sidelines popping up now and then to push the plot forward via cell phone.)
The amnesiac/investigative angle of the first Hangover made for a refreshing twist on the contemporary men-behaving-badly comedy. Repeated here its effect is arguably the opposite: Too often the action feels rote and formulaic. Gone is any hint of surprise an aspect so crucial to good comedy and a huge part of the first film’s appeal. Key comic set pieces – a tussle with monks at a Buddhist temple a visit to a transsexual brothel a car chase involving a drug-dealing monkey – reveal themselves to be merely variations of memorable bits from the first film.
Tonally Part II is darker cruder and a bit nastier than its predecessor. Female characters never a priority in the first film are further marginalized in the sequel. (The only woman with significant dialogue a Bangkok prostitute also happens to have a penis. I’ll let you ponder the implications of that one.) The three leads Helms Cooper and Galifianakis still work well together and despite the inferior material enough of their chemistry remains to make the proceedings bearable – and occasionally funny. But their characters feel somehow degraded reduced to coarse caricatures of their former selves. Speaking of caricature Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) the fey faux-gangsta villain of the first film returns in an expanded capacity in the sequel his garbled hip-hop slang more gratuitous – and more grating – than before.
I can’t help but wonder what might have been if a planned cameo by Mel Gibson playing a tattoo artist hadn’t been scrapped reportedly due to objections by Galifianakis. Liam Neeson Gibson’s replacement apparently proved ineffectual in his first go-round and when he wasn't available for re-shoots his scene was eventually shot with Nick Cassavetes in the role. In its existing incarnation the scene is purely functional a chunk of forgettable exposition. The presence of Gibson an actor of not inconsiderable comic talent would have at least added an air of unpredictability something the scene – and indeed the movie – sorely lacks.