Top 10 outstanding characters of this year's cinematic season.
Two things you can bank on with summer movies: blockbuster spectacle and larger-than-life characters. And this summer is no different, with the return of an old-school monster, a heroic alien robot and some all-new sci-fi bad guys.
Here are 10 outstanding characters of the cinematic season for 2014.
The classic supervillain: The Green Goblin in The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Green Goblin has been hounding Spider-Man for 50 years in comic books, and Dane DeHaan was prepared to pretty much hop on a Goblin Glider and bust down doors for the role in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which is currently showing in cinemas.
“There’s not many movies where you start off as a seemingly normal guy and by the end you’re a full-blown monster,” says DeHaan, who plays Harry Osborn, the best friend of Spidey’s alter ego Peter Parker. “You get to fall in love with Harry before he becomes the villain and then you get to watch his demise.”
While other sinister dudes such as Electro (Jamie Foxx) and Rhino (Paul Giamatti) show up, it’s Harry, heir to the Oscorp empire, who has the most power and everything he’d ever want, yet through some bad decisions, ends up fighting Spidey in a spectacular climax.
Crew members had to continually pour ice water down DeHaan’s 22kg Goblin suit when temperatures reached 43˚C filming that finale, he reports. “The heat of it definitely made me feel a little crazy, which probably in the end helped out a bit.”
The creature conqueror: Godzilla in Godzilla
When starting his huge reboot of Godzilla (opening May 15), director Gareth Edwards had to figure out who the giant nuclear-fuelled monster would be if he was a real person.
His answer: The last samurai.
“He’s an ancient warrior who’s the last of his kind, and his kind has long since died out,” Edwards says of his take on the legendary creature. “He lives a very solitary lonely existence and he’s very happy to keep away from everyone, but we keep doing things to force him to return and put things right.”
Godzilla is awakened by mankind yet again, and for his city-stomping moves, Edwards and his team first watched hundreds of clips of animals fighting to understand how he’d move.
But “there’s a reason they narrate all those National Geographic shows,” the director says. “It’s very hard to follow nature when you’re just a spectator.”
To see Godzilla’s motivation and understand his reactions “when he was doing his thing,” Edwards adds, “we dialled some more personality and made him a lot more human than we thought we would.”
Mutant mentor: Charles Xavier in X-Men: Days Of Future Past
In the world of the X-Men, Charles Xavier is a powerful mutant telepath, but Scottish actor James McAvoy feels his greatest ability is his empathy.
“He’s constantly trying to connect and reach out and ease other people’s pain,” says McAvoy, who reprises his 1960s-set X-Men: First Class role in the new 1970s-era X-men: Days Of Future Past (May 22).
The fact that he understands that suffering proves to be his Achilles’ heel, as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back in time by the present-day Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) to convince their past selves – McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively – to reunite and help stop a threat that could doom the future of mankind as well as mutants.
McAvoy does get to share a “chunky” scene with Stewart in the movie. The younger actor says: “He sort of gives me a talking-to, tells me to get my (stuff) together.”
One thing McAvoy made sure to do is to keep his character different from his future self. While he’s not as glib, foolhardy and selfish as in First Class, he’s also not Stewart’s wise Professor X yet, either.
The idea was to keep so far away that “when you have our faces close together and you have us going literally nose-to-nose,” McAvoy says, “the interesting thing is to see how far apart these men actually are.”
Dragon’s best friend: Hiccup in How To Train Your Dragon 2
If How To Train Your Dragon 2 (June 12) is “an atom bomb of happiness,” as Jay Baruchel puts it, his Viking teen Hiccup, and his loyal dragon, Toothless, are ground zero for a legion of animation fans.
What makes Hiccup special is he’s wired a little differently than others his age, says Baruchel: “For me, he’s this great symbol of what it is to be somebody who marches to the beat of their own drum.”
Hiccup, voiced by Baruchel, dealt with teenage identity issues while meeting his scaly pal in the first movie.
Five years later, the Dragon follow-up is more about what people deal with as they approach 20, “finding a way to balance who he wants to be, who he needs to be and who his family expects him to be,” Baruchel says.
He befriends and has “an estranged familial connection” with Valka (Cate Blanchett), a rogue Dragon Rider out to rescue creatures from dangerous dragon hunters, and Baruchel adds that Hiccup’s own relationship with Toothless will be evolving. “By the end of it, they’re stronger and more connected than they’ve ever been.”
The rock ‘n roll god: Jimi Hendrix in Jimi: All Is
By My Side
John Ridley feels people need a different kind of Jimi Hendrix experience than simply a guy setting fire to his guitar on stage.
In the biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years A Slave aims to capture the quiet nature of Hendrix, which belied his wailing electric instrument and infamous lifestyle. And Ridley, who wrote and directed the film himself, eschewed the “cradle-to-grave” route, instead focusing on a singular, defining year in the life of the musician (played by OutKast’s Andre Benjamin).
Inspired by the Hendrix rarity Send My Love To Linda, Ridley chronicles a period between 1966 and 1967 that took Hendrix from backup guitarist in New York City to fame in the London music scene due to his friendship with Keith Richards’ girlfriend Linda Keith (Imogen Poots).
“We did not want to do a Vegas lounge-act impersonation of Jimi Hendrix,” Ridley says. “He understood the beauty in being observant, and (Benjamin) actually does that – be thoughtful, be introspective, and then be an extrovert the moment he has a guitar in his hand.”
The fan-favourite robot: Optimus Prime in Transformers: Age Of Extinction
Optimus Prime has undergone quite a few vehicular makeovers in the past 30 years of Transformers projects, yet his earnest and heroic voice has never wavered, thanks to Peter Cullen.
For the big-budget Transformers: Age Of Extinction (June 26), the actor once again reprises the role he’s been playing since the 1980s Transformers cartoon. Now Prime and his Autobots have a new human ally (Mark Wahlberg) but they are in conflict with the evil Decepticons as well as the United States government.
“He is exactly who he was from the very original concept,” Cullen says of Prime. “I’ve always felt a hero should have the qualities that are inspiring and helpful and fatherly and at the same time (be) courageous. I don’t see those character traits changing at all.”
Transformers is more than a lifetime gig as a transforming big rig for Cullen. It’s also a family affair: His son Clay is a stuntman on Age Of Extinction, and Cullen’s brother Larry, a Marine who served in the Vietnam War and died in 2011, continues to be the inspirational foundation for Optimus’ steady and strong tone.
“Though Larry’s gone,” Peter Cullen says, “he lives on in my mind as Optimus Prime because he was my hero.”
The power-hungry aristocrat: Balem in Jupiter Ascending
Eddie Redmayne doesn’t usually get to play damaged, borderline-insane guys, but with Andy and Lana Wachowski’s new sci-fi movie Jupiter Ascending (July 24), he chews outer-space scenery as the villainous Balem Abrasax.
The operatic and expansive Jupiter Ascending is set in a future where families own planets for business purposes. Balem happens to own the title to Earth, and he is a Richard III type who is all about the profit margin.
Things get complicated for him, though, when Earth girl Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is revealed as a no-nonsense Cinderella figure who is actually the heir to her planet. Balem puts a bounty on her head – that’s when the heroic Caine (Channing Tatum) gets involved to keep her safe long enough to rise to her rightful place.
“It’s almost Shakespearean really, with interfamily bickering and them trying to usurp each other’s power,” Redmayne says of Balem and his siblings (Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton). “Then you throw Mila into the mix and it all becomes quite chaotic.”
The intergalactic sadist: Nebula in Guardians Of The Galaxy
Karen Gillan’s action scenes as a Doctor Who companion usually involved running from alien bad guys – the same kind of foe that Gillan is now inhabiting in the sci-fi superhero movie Guardians Of The Galaxy (July 21).
Her blue-skinned villainess Nebula is “unapologetically so mean,” Gillan says. “She gets such an enjoyment from what she does, and what she does is so bad.”
To play the comic-book character aligned with Thanos and in pursuit of the mystical orb in the possession of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his outlaw Guardians, Gillan shaved her head, worked out for two months, poured herself into a purple catsuit and endured five hours a day in a makeup chair as her team applied Nebula’s signature cybernetic eyepiece.
“It really, really helps to change so drastically physically,” Gillan says. “It did half the job for me. I feel like people were slightly more intimidated by me.”
Nebula adores being one of the galaxy’s most fearsome females, and at times Gillan feels like her lawyer. The Scottish actress says. “She completely has a reason for being a sadist, but that may not be apparent to everybody else.”
The brainy action heroine: Lucy in Lucy
“Yeah, it’s about time. I’m getting old,” the 55-year-old filmmaker says with a laugh.
Lucy (Aug 21) stars Scarlett Johansson as the title character, an ordinary woman caught in a bad situation in Taipei as a drug mule. Things go south and she ends up with the drugs released in her system, though there is an interesting side effect: Her whole body is jump-started and gradually reaches its full capacity in every way.
Besson is quick to point out that, even with extraordinary abilities in a fight, she’s not a superhero. “She’s just someone who has access to the deepest part of her cerebral capacity,” he says. “What we call humanity is like 10% of the brain, and she’s going to reach 100%. So her travel through these experiences is really something.”
However, Besson adds: “It isn’t a
documentary about the brain. It’s a lot of fun. You have food for your heart and your brain at the same time.”
The leader of men: Barney Ross in The Expendables 3
“There are no action stars anymore. That era is gone, and it just brings it back to what movies have been all about for years since the days of John Wayne,” says Terry Crews, whose character Hale Caesar again shares screen time with Stallone’s Ross in The Expendables 3 (Aug 14).
Mel Gibson plays the film’s heavy, Conrad Stonebanks, who founded the Expendables as a unit years ago with Barney but has now gone rogue and is eliminating them one by one.
Barney is the glue holding the Expendables together – not unlike Stallone and his 30-plus years in the action-movie game. “Sly is bigger than the movie,” Crews says.
“People tend to be like, ‘OK, you’ve had your fill, you’ve done your thing,’ and they want to push him out to pasture. And Sly refuses to go. That’s a beautiful thing. He’s a force of nature.” – USA Today/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services