Ten Deep 6.26.14: Top 10 Unlikely Movie Heroes
Posted by Mike Gorman on 06.26.2014
From Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and Ash in the Evil Dead films to Alice in Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and more, 411's Mike Gorman counts down the top 10 unlikely movie heroes!
"Top Ten Unlikely Movie Heroes"
This past weekend I saw Edge of Tomorrow and was actually more impressed by the movie than I intended to be. Summer is the season of the fluff movie that asks you to often suspend your disbelief and this sci-fi Groundhog's Day certainly fits that bill. What stood out to me though, were Tom Cruise's character and his evolution from slimy PR guy to true hero. Keeping that theme going I decided to dedicate this week's Ten Deep to the characters who might not seem like hero material in the beginning but end up kicking butt and taking names.
10. Alice in Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
In the third Elm Street film, the franchise's creators set some pretty strict rules for how the dream world worked and how Freddy could interact with people there. He could not just jump from dream to dream unless they were the dreams of the Elm Street children or Kristen used her powers to pull someone into the dreams. In the fourth film, they had to figure out a way to keep the stakes high then without giving Kristen the eternal "Get out of the Nightmare" free pass so that she could keep bringing Freddy victims. They did this by bringing us Alice, sweet mousey Alice, who spent more time day dreaming than facing reality. In the film her friends start dying around her but it is not until Freddy makes a final attack on Kristen that Alice's role comes into focus. A dying Kristen transfers her abilities to Alice, who soon finds herself being manipulated into leading her remaining friends to the slaughter by the dream demon, Freddy. It isn't until Alice realizes that she is stronger than she thinks and makes a stand, that her heroic nature stands revealed. In the end we are left with a heroine on par with Freddy's first adversary, who will lead us into the series next chapter.
9. Ash in the Evil Dead films
There often seems to be a pattern when it comes to the story of an unlikely hero. We are introduced to a timid character who may seem immediately destined for me whether they like it or not, or they are initially held in the background until their defining moment comes into play. With Ash in the Evil Dead films, his path to heroism was not so much about timidness as it was about reluctance and circumstance. Ash is the reluctant hero archetype who just wants to be left alone to live a life of normalcy, but evil just won't seem to give him a break. I'd call him the "You got be kidding me!" hero as it seems that as soon as he appears to attain a victory, the villains return with an even more over the top attack. At first Ash is the hero that has no choice but he eventual evolves into a hero destined for greatness on any battlefield, and in any time period.
8. Wikus Van De Merwe in District 9
I selected Wikus from District 9 as I think his journey to heroic actions is one of the most twisted and challenging of all the characters I gathered when preparing this column. He begins the film as an administrator whose purpose is mundane and rather boring, against the backdrop of the alien encampments. He is not striving to change the world, just to safely complete his paperwork and execute the mandates given to him by the government. He is the quintessential pencil pusher until he becomes thrust into the action of the film and his role changes, but it is not yet that of hero. Wikus spends most of the film trying to protect himself and extricate himself from the gruesome circumstance that is changing his own body before his eyes. Even up until the film's penultimate scenes he is still more of a selfish character than hero. Then, in the film's final moments he is faced with a choice that could brand him a hero, and he makes it. I think that Wikus himself was as surprised by his heroism as the audience was at that point, and in this case it was a good thing.
7. Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
1992's Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a textbook study in the introduction of an unlikely hero. Buffy is a typical ditzy blond cheerleader when we first meet her. We knew from the film's title that she would be crossing paths with some bloodsuckers eventually but from the get go there was no clear path to get her there. She initially is caring more about her wardrobe and the prom than fulfilling some ordained destiny. She is the hero who must be convinced that there is more inside of her than even she realizes. Donald Sutherland's Watcher role swoops in and expects her to immediately fall in line with his expectations of what a slayer should be but it takes a series of trial and error moments, combined with some deadly encounters with the supernatural for Buffy to begin to open herself to her new role. By the film's end she has started to master her new abilities and realizes that she is going to have stand in evil's path so that her friends can survive. What I think the Buffy story, on film and television, does really well when it comes to her heroic evolution is detail the costs to the audience. Becoming a "super hero" is not always the easiest most glamorous of experiences, and Buffy learns that it will require to give up her sense of normalcy to do so.
6. Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode IV
For the sake of this article, let's look at Luke Skywalker when he first is introduced to us in Star Wars: Episode IV. We will ignore for the moment where he ends up as the two following films progress. In his first appearance, Skywalker seems more the part of the whining teenager who feels trapped by his circumstances instead of a skilled space knight swinging a light saber. He's actually kind of annoying to be truthful. Slowly though we discover that Skywalker has a much bigger role to play in this grand story. He has a destiny at hand, much like Buffy, that he will need to work hard to achieve. Luckily he had Obi Wan Kenobi to lay his path out before him and give him more than a subtle push in the right direction. Don't get me wrong, I am a big Skywalker fan and was quote obsessed with him when I was a kid, but I can look at the character now and see that he did make a true journey. His anxious and fiery nature became tempered by his training eventually, leading him to become one of the film series more serene characters. By the end of the first film, we see that Skywalker does have more substance to him and is willing to risk himself to save others. The man in the fighter who destroys the Death Star is very different from the kid we first meet at his Aunt & Uncle's sandy homestead.
5. Chief Brody in Jaws
Selecting Chief Brody for this list was not initially an easy decision because he is a police officer. Shouldn't that automatically set him up as a hero? This is what I thought until I looked a bit deeper and saw that when Brody is first introduced his status is much more that of a reluctant hero riddled with fears than someone to which role comes with ease. Brody puts himself in harm's way because he has to but still lets us know that his fear of the water and the creature within it is every present. It was not until he was out of the ship under attack by the giant great white that he went from being reactionary in his choices to going on the offense. The man who shouts, "Smile, you son of a bitch!" is a more confident hero than the man who scrambles to close the beaches at the beginning of the film. The film certainly cements this fact at the end of Jaws when Brody and Richard Dreyfuss' Hooper must swim the miles back to shore after the shark meets it fate. There is joy in this final scene and accomplishment, not a continued sense of fear of being in that water.
4. Wall-E in Wall-E
The movie Wall-E introduces us to a tiny robot and poses the question, can we change our programming to make a difference. Wall-E is robot left behind to help clean up the Earth when humanity flees into space after making the planet uninhabitable with garbage and refuse. Wall-E's mandate is to spend his days turning the massive piles of rubble into compact cubes that will apparently make the situation better. We soon learn though that Wall-E is more than his mission and seems to have feelings, interests and even desires that exist outside the boundaries of his programming. It is these feelings that lead him from his garbage piles on a great adventure to try and save his love; An adventure that finds him in a position to help save all of humanity for the disaster that their existence has become. It is in his simplicity that Wall-E finds his bravery, and subsequently his heroism.
3. Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Ray Stantz, Dr. Egon Spengler and Winston Zeddmore in Ghostbusters
What I find truly unique about the heroes of Ghostbusters is the fact that they do officially position themselves as heroes from the get go but then must spend most of the film convincing the denizens of NYC and the audience that they deserve the title. They do not need to be pushed or prodded themselves, they just need to find chances to prove that what they are saying about the supernatural is true and they do indeed have the knowledge and skill to handle these situations. It is a different spin on the unlikely hero story to me and I think it is one of the film's more enjoyable driving elements. They have no doubts at all that they are the ones you need to call to help save the day and they are persistent about this belief until it finally begins to catch on.
2. T-800 in T2: Judgment Day
The T-800 in T2: Judgment Day stands alone on this list as a very special type of unlikely hero in that the previous film in the series spent two solid hours convincing us that he was actually a horrific, relentless villain. Then, in T2: Judgment Day, he (or a reasonable facsimile) returns to the big screen with a new mission. Like the Ghostbusters, the T-800 knows he is doing the right things to keep people safe but the survivor of the T-800's first appearance, Sarah Connor, and her son are going to take a lot of convincing to truly believe he is on the side of good. Sarah's experiences in the first film completely destroyed her life and landed her in a psychiatric facility. She was chased by a cyborg from the future and told that she was to be the mother of humanity's salvation. That burden is what develops her perceptions here and the very first moment she encounters the T-800 again her reaction is perfect and loaded with real terror. The T-800's story in this film is about redemption and trust; something that he succeeds in attaining by the end of the adventure.
1. Alex Rogan in The Last Starfighter
This film is from a time when video games where stand up machines at arcades and stores, with some home units becoming available for a price. It is from the days when getting your initial on the "High Score" list of a local game was an accomplishment and something you fought to defend once it was achieved. I don't want this to come off as a "In my day you whippersnappers…" type rant, but we looked at the games differently then, they were not omnipresent in our environments as they are now. I believe this is why the story of Alex Rogan in The Last Starfighter resonated with young audiences. The video game he played was an escape from a life that was growing more claustrophobic by the day; a life that to him seemed more like a trap with no escape every day. Alex soon discovers that the video game he excels at is really a recruitment tool for an alien alliance battling an intergalactic villain. The opportunity to escape his meager existence is laid out in front of him and Alex finds that he is not ready to make the leap, so it is reluctantly thrust upon him. Throughout the film Alex finds direction for his life and his role as a true hero in the interstellar war. If you've ever wished your life was meant to be more than it is, this film is a great escape and the birth of a true hero.
I know that some of you will be chomping at the bit to let me know who I might have missed this week because it took a lot of convincing of me to get the list down to just ten. Let me know in the comments section which heroes I left behind.
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