Look at the calendar and you’ll see that time is marching on and moving us ever deeper into the deep, bleak midwinter. Christmas is coming and then the New Year will be hitting us, and such concurrent happenings are liable to combine and make some folk get all reflective. “‘Tis the season to be pensive,” as the old carol says.
It’s at this time of year that people start to glance in the rearview mirror and ruminate on what’s happened over the course of the past twelve months. Focusing specifically on cinema, it’s time to think on the Film Year 2014 and make some lists. Movie fans need to decide which blu-rays they want as Christmas presents so they can write it down in a list to post to Santa. Others need to scratch that compulsive itch and rank their end of year Top 10 lists and that entails hours of agonising and arguing (usually with themselves) over the best, the worst and the most bizarre of the cinematic releases of recent vintage.
In the spirit of seasonal listitis, then, I’m going to compile a list. I’m also doing it because I was asked to by a Den Of Geek reader in the comments section of an old article. That article was a column from August in which I pitched spin-off movies for some of the strongest supporting characters of the year so far.
Someone called Sten – hey, Sten! Thanks for reading! – liked my suggested solo vehicles for Hammer Girl from The Raid 2, Mark Hanna from The Wolf Of Wall Street and Falcon from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Sten was moved to comment: “Great idea, but please do that again at the end of the year. There’s more to come I guess…”
Sten guessed right, because more supreme supplementary characters came along. I’ll therefore make further suggestions in a ‘Part Two’ piece, because doing things in two parts is totally in vogue now. I’ll also do it because I was asked and I shall now give, because the Bible says “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Matthew, 7:7). The Good Book is a holy authority that approves of and blesses this exercise, so I’ll do my duty in a spirit of goodness that’s all the more suitable now that we’re in the season of giving.
Furthermore, it’s worth pointing out that one of the pitches in that earlier article was a spin-off for the Batman of The Lego Movie. After the piece was published they, of course, decided to greenlight a solo vehicle for the batcrap-ludicrous brick version of the Dark Knight voiced by Will Arnett. The film industry’s clear enthusiasm for my ideas only encourages me, so I’ll carry on with even more confidence that the powers-that-be-will listen and give me what I ask for. (They’ve read the Bible. They know how this works.)
Flicking through the flicks that have graced theatres in the final months of 2014 I find a whole host of other supporting characters worthy of their own star vehicle. Consider the following, and then brace yourself for the inevitable realisation of far-fetched film-fan fancy becoming blockbuster reality on a big screen near you next year…
Galgo – The Expendables 3
The third flick in Sly Stallone’s action vet ensemble franchise suffered because of a PG-13 certificate, an unreal absence of bloodshed and, yet again, a lack of Jet Li’s Yin Yang. Still, there were things to enjoy about The Expendables 3 – chiefly the entrance of new cast members Mel Gibson (as big bad Conrad Stonebanks), Wesley Snipes (as Doctor Death) and, most crucially, Antonio Banderas as Galgo. The garrulous Galgo is great fun and the perfect addition to the musclebound mercenary troop simply because he’s so different to the stony-faced, testosterone-loaded standard. In fact, he’s the character who most resembles a real human being in this essentially ludicrous series.
With Yin Yang constantly sidelined, Galgo stepped up straightaway to become my favourite Expendables member within seconds of his first appearance on screen. He gets right up Jason Statham’s nose (mainly because he never shuts up) but I can’t see how you can hate the hyper-energetic Spaniard. His winning enthusiasm fired me up more than all the inconsequential explosions and it’s an absolute joy – and a rarity in this genre – to watch a lost and lonely guy who’s just so damn excited to be accepted out in the field in an action movie.
The truth is, though, Galgo doesn’t need Barney Ross and the Expenda-bros. With his sharpshooting abilities, superhuman speed, Latin passion and gift-of-the-gab he’s more than capable of leading his own solo venture. While Sly Stallone is working out how to make The Expendables 4 worthwhile, a solo feature for the fastest, funniest and most flap-jawed soldier of fortune still active would be more than welcome.
Teddy – The Equalizer
Martin Csokas’ Teddy is a highly appealing idiosyncratic villain of the old-school kind – a figure who’d be right at home in a James Bond movie. He bears a slight resemblance to Kevin Spacey (perhaps the ultimate modern movie ‘bad’ guy), he wears pristine suits and he sounds like James Mason affecting an Eastern European accent. There’s a classical air to this Russian mob enforcer and his encounters with Denzel Washington’s obsessive compulsive hero crackle with electricity. Denzel in vigilante mode is always something to cheer for, but yet I simultaneously I found myself rooting for a horrible man with the subversively sweet moniker. The scene where he takes out half the Boston Irish mob without even creasing his silk tie is spectacular. He’s exactly the sort of meticulous well-dressed sociopath I always wanted to be when I grew up.
Teddy is also an antagonist who makes for an ideal prequel spin-off subject. There are hints of a compelling, highly-cinematic backstory built into The Equalizer and it’d be fascinating to get more of a handle on his history in the KGB and in the seamy criminal subcultures of the mother country. We could learn how this haute-couture human weapon came to be forged and understand just what it takes to make a man so brutal and efficient in a highly specialised underworld society. It’d be cool to see more of those lurid traditional tattoos and get more sadistic thrills watching Teddy torture folk and deal ruthlessly with the sloppy mob underlings making a mess of business. ‘Teddy Bears a Grudge’ is a terrible working title but we can change it in post-production, because I think this should be a project of equal priority to The Equalizer 2.
TJ – A Walk Among The Tombstones
Private detective Matthew Scudder is played by Liam Neeson. We therefore know that, whatever the target and whoever the bad guys are, he’s going to get the job done and he’s going to do it in gloriously gruff and ruthless. Still, as a shaken ex-NYPD cop and a recovering alcoholic, Scudder has demons to handle and the mean streets of New York City 1999 are dangerous. In A Walk Among The Tombstones he’s forcefully hired by drug dealer Dan Stevens and tasked to bring down some extraordinarily sadistic killers who’ve committed some horrendous acts of abduction and murder. The big man could do with some help and maybe even a buddy. Enter homeless minor TJ to lend a pair of undersized hands and some youthful perspective.
Played by Brian “Astro” Bradley, TJ is no good with firearms but has skills when it comes to using the internet and drawing superheroes, so he’s precisely the kind of hero-kid that Den of Geek can get behind. As well as offering an education in healthy eating, he schools the technologically ignorant Scudder in the art of search engines and helps progress his investigations through the internet. Given the opportunity to prove his usefulness, emphasise his strong drive to learn and showcase his sleuthing chops, the streetwise TJ becomes an exemplary archetypal ‘Neeson mentee’.
He convinces both Scudder and cinemagoers that he could make it good in the future in spite of his adverse background. But what about now, though? A sidequel series following the lone investigations of juvenile private eye TJ could be ace, especially if it helps lighten Neeson’s caseload and allows him a break from the constant bruising and brooding. (He’ll still be brooding, but maybe he won’t have to wrestle with so many rough customers if there’s another crack seamus in town.) What’s more, TJ fronting his own film would do wonders for media representation of several under-served underdog groups – namely children, black people, sickle-cell anaemics and the homeless. With regard to the last one, I’m not sure you can count Hobo With A Shotgun as a positive role model, so we’ll roll with this new kid on the block. We like TJ, and reckon that he’s got a bright (blockbuster franchise) future.
John Ruskin – Mr Turner
Mike Leigh’s immersive portrait of great, idiosyncratic artist allows audiences ample space to explore 19th century Britain and get a sense of the world in which JMW Turner existed. This means we get speculative hints at the personalities that populated the art scene and rubbed shoulders with the painter at the Royal Academy and that makes for some intriguing cameos and amusing caricatures. (See how legendary landscape specialist John Constable is sent up as an obsessive perfectionist who can’t leave his works alone and accept that they are finished.)
Rooted in real history and rendered in such fascinating fashion by Leigh, so many of these broad characters are ripe for a spin-off but the figure who most deserves his own movie is John Ruskin. Played by Joshua McGuire, the famed Victorian critic, writer, philanthropist and arts patron is imagined as an ingratiating and pretentious fey twit with a speech impediment.
It’s hilarious watching the impassioned young Ruskin bore the sideburns off the hoary old artists he obsequiously fawns over in his parents’ parlour. I’d like to see further adventures of this incarnation of Ruskin, following him and his irritating chirpy falsetto through the rise of the Pre-Raphaelites and through the radically shifting of the later 19th century, both in art and in wider society. If Mike Leigh doesn’t fancy tackling this subject period realism-stylee, maybe there’s opportunity to throw good form on the bonfire and turn Ruskin into some kind of 19th century art action hero. ‘Ruskin: Man of Feels’ leading up to an MCU-style Victorian artist shared universe, anyone?
Caligula/Master Vampire – Dracula Untold
I got really excited about Dracula Untold when I read that Charles Dance was playing Caligula. In my mind, Vampire Caligula – as in, the infamous, decadent and depraved Roman Emperor rendered as an immortal bloodsucker – was one of the most fantastic conceivable ideas you could put on a cinema screen. Sadly, in the final film it seems that Dance’s character was just an undead dude who happened to share the same name as the despicable and debaucherous tyrant of real antiquity.
Suspiciously – as another sign of this production’s messy nature and studio interference – it appears that the ‘Caligula’ moniker has been completely scratched from record as all the credits now list him as ‘Master Vampire’. Regardless, Dance still emerged from the shadows as the best thing about the action horror flick and, I’d say, deserves his own movie so he can chew more scenery and creep us out all the more.
This ‘Master Vampire’ (yeah, I really do prefer Caligula) is a stygian husk who is genuinely frightening, and that’s a rare phenomenon in an age where vampires are an overfamiliar entity lacking bite due to overexposure. His macabre potency is amplified by Dance’s immense presence and the delivery of a spectacularly thespy performance that the great actor has admitted was filmed as something of an afterthought. Dance brings dramatic gravity, Faustian magnitude and lyrical flourishes to the affair and I kept on wanting Dracula Untold to return to him just so I could enjoy (or endure) his hermit nightmare all the more. I’d be more enthused by a standalone movie that does nothing more than sit with Master Vampire (cough, Caligula) in his hovel than a rebooted Universal Monsters shared universe. Really, who doesn’t want to see more of decrepit Charles Dance licking people’s faces, taking their blood and turning them to the dark side?
Tanner Bolt – Gone Girl
There aren’t many likable characters in Gone Girl. By the time the end credits rolled on David Fincher’s unnerving adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel I was happy to leave the whole cast behind and wash my hands of ’em. However, ruminating on the disturbing drama further I realised that there was one protagonist standing as a self-satisfied exception. That protagonist was undoubtedly an amoral, self-interested sleazeball just like the rest of the bad bunch but, still, I wanted to know more about him. That man was Tanner Bolt – played by Tyler Perry – and he is the hotshot attorney renowned for defending the indefensible, and winning.
“The Patron Saint of Wife Killers” comes to Ben Affleck’s aid (for a considerable price) when the media circus starts pointing condemnatory fingers in the wake of his spouse’s disappearance. Bolt is no righteous champion of justice, though, and that’s what makes him especially interesting as another blackly humourous facet in Fincher’s damning portrait of modern ‘humanity’ and American society. With few principles beyond his own quest for publicity and profit, Perry’s celebrity lawyer is great value and a lighter presence in a very intense film. Take the scene where he mock-questions Affleck’s Nick Dunne and throws gummy bears at his face every time he looks smug. Lines like “you two people are the most f***ed up people I’ve ever met and I deal with f***ed up people for a living” also sparkle and indicate just why we need a Tanner Bolt spin-off.
For all those people who wonder “how do they sleep at night?” such a movie would offer some insight if it followed Bolt’s daily business dealing with the scum of the Earth and subsequently saving them from the full force of the law. I’m envisioning something along the lines of The Wolf of Wall Street, except now we’re in the morally-compromised realms of the legal world and we’re dealing with media, public image and the kind of crimes that do leave puddles of blood. Oh, and Tyler Perry is throwing Haribo at people again. This is a sickeningly sweet proposition. I leave it to the jury to decide whether this spin-off gets the thumbs up…
(By the way, the answer to the question “how do they sleep at night?” is usually “very comfortably, on an extra-sized bed with a very attractive sexual partner massaging their ear lobes”. Sometimes it’s actually “tranquilisers and enough medication to put a Kaiju monster into a coma”. Either way, rest easy because all these people are going to get their comeuppance and it’s probably going to be delivered by Denzel Washington because he’s The Equalizer.)
The Ladies of Onllwyn – Pride
Ah, this’d be a right laugh, it would. In spite of its bleak setting and serious subject matter, Pride is a beautiful film packed full of so much humour and human spirit and a considerable amount of that comes from its Welsh female contingent. The striking workers and the Gays and Lesbian Support the Miners group are the driving force of the story but the women are the heart of the tale. They’re the ones supporting the despondent local menfolk (practically, emotionally and intellectually) and they’re the ones who embrace the alien homosexual activists from the capitol with the greatest warmth and friendliness. They’re also a very funny crowd, which is all the more outstanding given the circumstances. Everybody had such a nice time with those ladies that it’d be sad not to see them again.
The segment where the provincials take a trip to London to eagerly lap up the gay clubbing scene are a comic highlights and point the way for further fish-out-of-water pitches. For the sake of a string of feel-good semi-sequels we can leave realism behind and give these fictional versions of genuine people the wildest, most preposterous plots just for laughs. How about a movie where the Ladies of Onllwyn go on a package holiday to Sharm el-Sheikh? What about that time in the ’80s action heyday when the screen exploits of Stallone and Schwarzenegger inspired them to form their own mercenary troop? (This sounds better than The Expendables 3 and, in fact, The ExpendaBelles). How about the revolution that rose up from South Wales, swept across the world and ended with Imelda Staunton in the White House. ‘Mrs. Headon goes to Washington’! Ah, that’s bang tidy!
Or perhaps we could pair the ladies with robots TARS and CASE and send them into space for the epic Interstellar-Pride crossover pic you never knew you wanted. Just imagining that spirited space mission through wormholes and into black holes I feel a whole lot better about the fate of the human race. Switch TARS humour setting to 100% and commission this now – “womankind’s next step will be our greatest”.
James Clayton is all ready to star in his own R-rated spin-off from The Expendables series. He’s now just waiting to be invited to appear in an Expendables movie so that he can go and make said spin-off. You can visit his website or follow him on Twitter.
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