Critics everywhere are applauding Nicholas Cage for "Joe," the indie movie out this week where he plays the rough, wild protector of a young boy in trouble. The role is being heralded as a return to the quirky but serious films that first made him famous – "Leaving Las Vegas," "Raising Arizona" – and an important turning away from the cheesy, big-budget roles he's been occupying himself with for the last several years.
Some critics are even discussing it in the same breath as Matthew McConaughey's career rehabilitation, where he found the courage to move away from the formulaic romances that made his career and ended up with an Oscar for his efforts. We movie fans love redemptive arcs, and Nicholas Cage fans everywhere are telling themselves that "Joe" is a sign of hope that he's left such obvious money-grabbing roles behind. He's remembered what he's supposed to be doing, and giving them back the Nicholas Cage they love so much.
What everyone seems to be forgetting is that Nicholas Cage loved "Ghost Rider."
No, it wasn't a very good movie, and that's the polite way of describing it. But Cage has a fierce, extremely public love of comic books – he named his son Kal-El, in case you needed any more proof – and has made it clear over the years that he wanted to be in a superhero movie badly enough that he might have even paid for the privilege. The fact that it was a terrible superhero movie didn't matter to him, enough that he went out and made a sequel just because he could.
Movies like "Drive Angry" and "Bangkok Dangerous," though not specifically comic book movies, are very much in the same spirit. Action movies are the spiritual cousins to comic books, and Cage's IMDB page makes it clear he has several planned over the next few years. His next one, "Tokarev," even includes the words "his own brand of justice" in the summary. The man's already won an Oscar, and has enough pull in Hollywood that he could putter around with directing instead of constantly making movies like this.
He doesn't, though, and the only reason that would make any sense is that he enjoys it. Audiences love "Joe," but Cage himself probably had a lot more fun on "Ghost Rider" and "Drive Angry." Yes, they were both critically panned, but enough people bought tickets that directors keep hiring Cage to do these kind of roles. He may occasionally do the roles we want him to, but as long as the market supports him he has every right to keep returning to the action roles he loves as well.
Liam Neeson is another example. Critics may shake our heads sadly that a once serious, distinguished actor has suddenly become a classier (but still very old) Bruce Willis, but the man has enough money to never work again if he wanted to. Despite this, he continues to take them – his next is "A Walk Among the Tombstones," out later this year, and he's got another one lined up for 2015. He's also moving into comedy, doing a voice in "The Lego Movie" and a role in Seth McFarlane's upcoming "A Million Ways to Die in the West." After a lifetime of serious, often sad roles, he sounds like he might actually be having a little fun.
Yes, actors need to please us. It's their job. But can we really begrudge them the opportunity to please themselves as well?
To read Dan Metcalf's review of Joe, click here.