Sunday, August 14, 2011

Overshadowed and Overpowered: Heroes Underminded By Their Supporting Stars

Watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes last week got me thinking about a curious subset of film: Movies where, for whatever reason, the hero of the tale - or at least the 'main' character - is way overshadowed by the supporting characters. This could be because the villains are so incredibly intriguing, because the hero is so overtly bland, or just because the way the story is, the supporting stars get all the good scenes. It happens all the time in movies, and yet not all that often are they consequentially a bad film. In fact, some of the best movies ever made carry with them some of the most uninteresting stars. So, in that method I thought it would be fun to compile a list of films where the main character is arguably the least interesting one of the lot.


Don't get me wrong, the whole carving Nazi symbols into his foreheads of his enemies is a rather cool arch, but after that what are you left with? The answer - not a whole hell of a lot. Counter that with Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent throwing down the acting hammer, Michael Fassbender going super British, Eli Roth taking the ham to 400 degrees, and Diane Kruger just being herself, and you've got one heck of an overshadowed hero. Well, I say hero... that's a moral debate I'm not quite prepared to get into right now.


I'm not knocking Matthew Broderick here, it's just that with a film involving Rafiki, Timon, Pumbaa, Scar, the Hyenas, Zazu, and of course Mufasa, little ol' Simba is an afterthought when reflecting on this work of animated brilliance.It certainly doesn't help that he spends a good 80% of the film just blindly following and dealing with these far more interesting characters.


Now it's time to throw out the honorary 'most likely to be argued against in the comments section' selection! Let me say this right now - this doesn't mean Michael Corleone is a bad, or uninteresting character. I just think, in a film packed with so many memorable characters, he's just one of the least memorable. Sure, he's the glue that holds it together, but he's never going to get out from under the shadow of Vito Corleone - a fact he struggles with even in the film's second installment. I've always found myself drawn to Fredo, Sonny, and Tom Hagen more so than Michael in even his brightest moments. Also, you've got Abe Vigoda there.... that's just awesome in its own right.


I could see an argument to be made that this is the 'honorary Keanu Reeves' list. He is quite overtly the master of being overshadowed by his supporting cast. Then again, he also has a great sense for picking movies that play to his strength - he should just avoid romantic comedies (still have nightmares after Sweet November). Oh yeah, Point Break. Well this one is easy: Gary Busey + Patrick Swayze + Lori Petty + John C. McGinley = one hell of an overcast destroying any intrigue carried by our good ol' friend Johnny Utah - man, even his name is uninteresting.


Hey look, it's that Skywalker guy being vastly out awesomed by three other characters who would go on to become some of the most interesting characters ever to exist in film. Sorry Hamill, you really didn't stand a chance and 'uninteresting main character' syndrome has always been a plague on the Star Wars franchise. That's not even counting pre-prequel Darth Vader, the ever lovely Princess Leia, and the lovable robot duo of C-3PO and R2D2 just waiting in the wings to pounce on a scene when you're not looking. Wait, I forgot to mention Peter Cushing is in this too! Shit, Luke you never stood a chance.

So there you have it, my list of heroes being dramatically over shadowed by their supporting cast. Now that I've shown you mine, why don't you show me yours? What films do you think are still mint, even if their main characters are lost in the background?

9 better thoughts:

Red said...

Elijah Wood as Frodo in Lord of the Rings, particularly the second and third films.

I think that might be due to disliking Wood's acting in the series once they get to Lorien (he was money as the character before he started to show the side affects of wearing the ring), but the ensemble around him is pretty stellar as well.

Aragorn is the ultimate bad ass, Gimli and Legolas right by his side, Boromir's tragic ending. Gandalf kicking ass and taking names, all while dishing out words of wisdom that you can only get from somebody who's come back from the dead. Even Merry and Pippin outshine Frodo by the end.

And to balance all that awesomeness, the movies give you Arwen, Galadriel, and Eowyn to stare at.

Poor Frodo, he never had a chance.

Rachel said...

No list like this would be complete without mentioning the Batman franchise. Some might disagree with me, but I've yet to see a Batman film where the caped crusader wasn't completely overshadowed by his villains.

Also, I think the Harry Potter series would be an obvious choice. What chance does Daniel Radcliffe have, with what appears to be the entire acting population of Britain conspiring to steal scenes?

Colin Biggs said...

Luke Skywalker was always the least interesting character in the Star Wars series. In fact Jedi's in general got a bad rap.

Say what you will of the new trilogy, but at least some kick ass Jedi's got their time in the spotlight.

simoncolumb said...

regarding the godfather bit, i think John Cazale steals virtually every scene he is in. Such a tragic character in such an epic story.

Castor said...

And what about Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino being completely overpowered by the Hmong cast.

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Univarn said...

@Red I was tempted to include him, but I've always liked Elijah Woods and I think Sean Astin helped carry him. Though it is hard to champion him as the series goes on his character becomes less dynamic and more monotone.

@Rachel Aye, that is a universal problem for the Batman series. I don't think it helps that they often get rather statuesque stars to play the man in black either.

@Colin Very true, it is a shame they didn't spend more of the new series on the training and building of Jedi.

@Castor Somehow I think you snuck on here just to post the exact opposite of what I posted on your blog 3 hours earlier in your J. Edgar post :o

Dylan said...

I'm sorry, but Brad Pitt is far from the hero of Basterds. He's the biggest name in the cast, sure, but Laurent is unquestionably the hero(ine) of the tale - it's her story. Of course, she's overshadowed by Pitt and Waltz, so I think it's a fine selection as a film for this regardless.

Seems like you could basically pick any ensemble piece and make a decent argument. I'd throw out the Ocean's flicks, but I don't think Clooney is overshadowed in the first one. He definitely (and purposefully) takes a backseat in the latter two, though.

Paolo said...

If Diane Kruger is herself in Basterds, then Joshua Jackson is a lucky man. One of the greatest performances sitting down since Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window.

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