2014's supporting characters that deserve their own spin-off
James Clayton argues the case for spending more time with some supporting characters, crying out for a movie of their own...
Moviemakers and film studios produce movies. Said movies are then shipped to theatres around the globe. Paying audiences then turn up to watch these movies and some of them are very popular and take in a lot of money at the box office. Some of them, in fact, take in obscene amounts of money at the box office.
Moviemakers and film studios like it when the pictures they've produced turn out to be box office hits and bring in obscene amounts of money. The next natural step is obvious - milk the cult cashcow for all its worth to give cinemagoers more of what they like and simultaneously yield the inevitable enormous profits.
Sequels - and threequels and prequels and obliquels - are the standard, most obvious means of achieving this. Yet there are other ways to expand a franchise besides simply pumping out straightforward chronological narrative follow-ups to a successful movie. One way would be to produce a spin-off, and that's an excellent idea if production on the main film series has hit some problems. (For instance, the story's stagnant and has hit a wall, there are difficulties with key members of the creative team, the required budget is too big, etc.)
It's true that spin-offs are more common in the world of television than in film. For examples, look to how Doctor Who has spun-off several programmes such as Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, how Frasier gave a character from Cheers his own starring show and how, likewise, Joey experienced the same thing following the finale of Friends. ("How you doin'" Erm, apparently not well in the ratings, Joey.)
There are far fewer spin-offs when you survey the moviescene and only a few like Wolverine's solo outings in the X-Men franchise, The Bourne Legacy and Shrek's Puss In Boots really stand out. We know that Star Wars legend spin-offs are in the pipeline, so expect to see a Boba Fett flick and Han Solo going solo in the future. Chris Hemsworth's The Huntsman (of Snow White And The Huntsman) will similarly be stepping into the limelight to lead his own film in 2016 and Sony is currently spawning several Amazing Spider-Man side-projects.
In spite of those promises, though, cinematic spin-offs are a pretty rare phenomenon. That strikes me as something of a shame because I seem to have many moments where I emerge from a cinema thinking "Awww, it'd be so awesome if that character had their own feature length solo movie! I would watch that and would save up to buy merchandise and would write glowing articles for Den of Geek celebrating just how awesome and essential that character's solo movie is!"
I've been thinking that a lot this year. Looking over the big releases of 2014 so far, I'm amazed at how many opportunities there are just waiting to be exploited. There are a multitude of great characters - some of them only incidental, peripheral characters - who deserve more screentime. Audiences also deserve more time with them, so I would urge the producers of the following features to consider giving the listed sub-stars their own solo feature.
For your consideration, here are the movie protagonists of film year 2014 who should have their own spin-off...
Sam Wilson (a.k.a. Falcon)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The second stand-alone Captain America flick is satisfying on so many levels but I can't help but feel bad for one particular character in the ensemble. Played by the immensely likable Anthony Mackie, Sam Wilson enters the Marvelverse, sets up a good buddy relationship with Steve Rogers ("On your left!") and acquits himself excellently in a one-on-one rumble while SHIELD's Triskelion HQ crumbles around him. But that's about it, and once our new hero's tech-wings get clipped he's grounded and undermined.
Falcon doesn't even get a suit or a spot on the poster so he feels like a peripheral minor superhero in the grand Marvel Cinematic Universe scheme of things. We know that he's not going to be in Avengers: Age Of Ultron which means we probably won't be seeing Sam Wilson again on screens until Captain America 3. That's a shame, so I propose a Falcon solo vehicle where we get to hang around with Wilson again at his Veterans Association group. It'd be an unusual, especially poignant MCU instalment in which PTSD-affected former soldiers talk about their difficulties re-adjusting to civilian life. Then a HYDRA squadron rudely interrupts the meeting (they want the free biscuits and orange squash) and Falcon and friends bust those despicable goons in style, our main man wearing both his wings and a suit. Kevin Feige, this thing could fly.
Batman The LEGO Movie
The eternal debate over the best screen portrayal of DC Comics' iconic Dark Knight - Bale? Keaton? West? Could it be Affleck? Erm, Kilmer? - was effectively ended this year when the world's first animated brickbuster movie dropped into cinemas to give us the Batman we needed and deserved. Voiced by Will Arnett, The LEGO Movie's Batman is easily the Batman to end all Batmans. Phil Lord and Chris Miller's masterpiece-of-many-little-plastic-pieces absolutely nailed the costume, nailed the personality and nailed the psychological nuances of the dark, brooding vigilante (by spoofing them and totally ignoring any of the icon's nuances. "Why so serious?" indeed).
Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is intriguing but in all honesty I'm more psyched about the idea of following the Caped Crusader - and possibly the Superman voiced by Channing Tatum - back into LEGO-lands and loopy meta-madness. Yes, Master Wayne, let's re-do the whole overfamiliar Dark Knight origins story with Lego because when it's made out of LEGO, "Everything is Awesome". (Even Batman's tragic boo-hoo orphan backstory, made fresh and thumping in Arnett's comedy rap 'Untitled Self Portrait').
Roland Turner (and Johnny Five) Inside Llewyn Davis
Most people say that Llewyn Davis is an extremely unlikable guy. I actually find the title character of the Coen Brothers' bleak folk chronicle to be an incredibly empathetic character whose misfortunes are made worse by the fact that he's surrounded by awful assholes. Of all Inside Llewyn Davis' many musical jerks, John Goodman's Roland Turner is the most awful and awfully fascinating. Where does this jazz-hole get off? Well, technically he doesn't get off - he just stays there, left behind in a car out in the cold middle-of nowhere after a heroin overdose. I'm not happy leaving Roland like that, though, and I find myself wishing I could get more of a handle on the repugnant trumpet bore's history.
There's a great prequel movie to be made about the Turner's road trips across America. I'm seeing scene-after-scene of Roland insulting everyone he comes across, discussing his bowel movements in detail, threatening music scene schlubs with voodoo hoodoo and passing out in drive-by diner bathroom stalls. Of course, he's accompanied on his bogus journeys by his driver, the laconic amateur actor and beat poet Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund) who's also a mystery himself. Directed by the Coens, 'Outside Roland Turner feat. Johnny Five' would be the weirdest musical American road movie since O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Edge Of Tomorrow
Lt. Col. Bill Cage (cowardly Tom Cruise) is stuck in a timeloop and is living (erm, dying?) the hostile alien-infested version of the D-Day Landings over and over again. This premise is made even more fun by virtue of the fact that he's doing it in the company of J-Squad - the United Defence Force's most inglorious bastards, overseen and disciplined by Bill Paxton's Master Sergeant Farrell. (Cue another repeat of his "Battle is the Great Redeemer" speech.)
Griff, Skinner, Kuntz, Nance, Ford and Kimmel (the big guy who goes into combat naked) are a classic band of roguish military misfits and it'd be nice to see the unit. It'd be nice to spend more time with this band of roguish misfits and see the unit come together in a 'J Squad: Origins' prequel. More trash talk and barracks banter, more insufferable PT sessions, more blasting wildly at Mimics and more running away in oversized exoskeletons. Oh, and more sharp dressings down from Bill Paxton because I want to hear his "Battle is the Great Redeemer" skit again. Edge Of Tomorrow really made me appreciate the joys of repetition.
Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man
The Raid 2: Berandal
With Berandal, Gareth Evans expanded the world of The Raid to produce a grand crime opera with shades of Shakespearean family drama. Still, the pencak silat-packed sequel didn't lose the smashtastic action satisfaction factor of the first film - in fact, it probably eclipsed it thanks to its surfeit of eye-popping fight sequences. Some of the film's best beat-'em-up moments are provided by this iconic pair and the (under)world is crying out for another sock-'em-buster that brings the deadly duo back to screens to pulp legions of victims in appealingly ultraviolent fashion.
I can picture the lethal twosome taking a world tour where, over the course of a three-hour anthology film, they do nothing but fight opponents who boast similarly suitable monikers in landmark sites around the globe. Be ready for the arrival of 'Swingers' (working title) at your local cinema and brace yourself for epically brutal, very bloody engagements with London's Meat Cleaver Kid, Rio's Chainsaw Child and Hong Kong's Nunchuk Nan.
The Wolf Of Wall Street
It's a good thing that Martin Scorsese's shocking and obscene stockbroker portrait was three hours long. The epic runtime allowed Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill opportunity enough to claw back predominance after the movie was completely stolen by Matthew McConaughey in the first few minutes. Another potent protagonist in the proclaimed 'McConaissance', I'd say that apex Wall Street alpha beast Mark Hanna deserves an uncompromisingly provocative biopic of his own.
The short segment in which the L.F. Rothschild senior broker initiates DiCaprio's green Jordan Belfort into the debaucherous, deranged world of trading is too short indeed. A Hanna spin-off would give cinemagoers chance to see him carry out his personal success manifesto - a method which involves masturbation twice daily, cocaine, hookers and pretending to know what you're doing even though no one knows whether stock is going up, down or f-ing sideways. Cue some rhythmic chest beating and humming. Whatever McConaughey is pushing here, I'm sold.
The Replicator The Double
The dystopian world of director Richard Ayoade's Dostoyevsky adaptation is a dreary one and it bears down most heavily upon Jesse Eisenberg's Simon. Isolated, overwhelmed, frustrated with both his work and his personal life and unable to compete with his more charismatic doppelgänger James (Jesse Eisenberg), Simon finds fleeting moments of escapism in a television programme named The Replicator.
Intermittently appearing on background screens throughout The Double, Simon finds himself slightly hypnotised and I, likewise, came to find myself slightly entranced by this odd telefilm-within-a-film. Gathering together as much as we can from the few tantalising hints we see, The Replicator is a terribly fantastic/fantastically terrible sci-fi noir show that looks like a cheap, third-rate mash of '70s Doctor Who, RoboCop and Blade Runner. It has a nifty synth theme and Paddy Considine playing the eponymous lead - a man who his duplicated self. I can dig this kind of kitsch retrograde action and I'd say that a shoestring budget spin-off of The Replicator is a priority project that needs to be greenlit and turned into a mega-franchise before someone else copies the concept and makes it bad.
The Yang Twins 22 Jump Street
When doofus police officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are working undercover in the Jump Street program they have to pretend to be blood brothers. There's humour in their fake identities because they don't look that alike and 22 Jump Street really milks the gag by presenting the most identical identical twins in cinema history. They're even more unnervingly alike than the Grady daughters in The Shining (not twins, for the record), Jeremy Iron's gynaecologist brothers in Dead Ringers or Simon and his doppelganger in The Double (see above). In fact they're even more freakish than Hayley Mills x 2 or Lindsay Lohan x 2 in The Parent Trap, plus they speak most of their lines at exactly the same time.
Of course, 22 Jump Street is a comedy and the Yangs - mellow dorm-room neighbours played by Kenny and Keith Lucas - are just one (erm, two) of many hilarious highlights in the buddy cop laugh-riot. I can envisage the pair in a buddy movie all of their own and it needn't be anything more than the indistinguishable stoner dudes saying the same random words simultaneously with occasional synchronised bursts of "Jinx! Buy me a coke! Aww, man we're still saying the same thing! This is amazing. Carrots! Glowsticks! Pumpernickel! Twins!" And then they give each other a bro hug and the film runs on like this for another 90 minutes with viewers turning it into a game of 'Spot the Difference' if they tire of the uncanny telepathic link party trick.
And there are so many more superb supporting or incidental characters that could easily spawn their own sidequel or spin-off series. In an age of massive multiverse-super-franchises it feels right to ramp up efforts to give everyone chance to shine in their own solo vehicle. Democracy. Box office hits. Happy audiences. Hammer Girl. Light up those greenlights and let's look forward to some spin-offs!
James Clayton is not due to get his own spin-off series. "Budget problems, contractual disputes, licensing issues and creative differences with our star," explained an anonymous studio representative earlier this week. "James' vision of James is one which we're not comfortable with and which definitely isn't commercially viable or consistent with the wider multiverse and brands we've already built".
You can read James's last column here.
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