Key Characters · Movies

Key Character: Captain America (MCU)

We all have favorite fictional characters. They can be inspirational, sagacious, heroic… or they can be relentless villains who are just so damn charismatic. In this feature I celebrate fictional characters who make their worlds much fuller.

All due respect to Iron Man and Thor, but I’m a Captain America guy. Some people consider the character bland or old-fashioned. Chris Evans himself felt reluctant about picking up the shield and representing an original American icon. I’m sure glad he took the role, though. Evans’s version of Cap is humble, empathetic, tough as nails, and a leader through and through. The other Avengers are cool and all, but Cap is the one guy I’d want backing me up in a fight.

Before beefing up with the super soldier serum, Steve Rogers felt the call of duty. He tried his best to sneak into the military during WWII despite his status as a “90 pound asthmatic.” In basic training Rogers showed his intelligence (why climb a slick flag pole when you can just unbolt it?) and an undeniable mettle. Most recruits leapt away from what they thought was a live grenade. Rogers covered the grenade with his small body and warned everyone away. Rogers has an innate desire to protect others, and he’s willing to sacrifice himself to do so. He’s special with or without a serum.

It says a lot about Cap that his weapon of choice is a shield. He’s a defender, and he stands up for what’s right even when it creates powerful enemies (including half the Avengers and the US Government). It’s easy to start a fight against someone you know you can beat. It’s much more difficult to take on an opponent who could beat you into oblivion. But I get the sense Captain America prefers to fight those out of his weight class. He spent most of his life being outmatched, so that’s where he’s most comfortable. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Cap is his moral compass. Power has a corrupting effect on humans; that’s beyond debate. But Cap never abuses the power of the serum. He has the same good heart he always did – the serum just gives him better odds in a brawl.

There are so many awesome Captain America moments to gush over. He broke up a fight between a metal man and demigod using only his shield. He went hand-to-hand against the Winter Soldier in a superbly choreographed battle straight out of a Bourne movie. He perplexed Thanos by holding back the fabled Infinity Gauntlet, if only for a moment. Then there’s the big one. Captain America saving Thor and becoming a thunder god is an unforgettable cinema moment, right up there with the emergence of the T-rex in Jurassic Park. I watched The Avengers: Endgame with a smaller theater audience, but when Cap proved his worthiness and picked up Mojiner, the room erupted with cheers and applause. We all knew we’d witnessed something special. Captain America called down the lightning and paid off decades of comic book history while simultaneously making movie history.

Captain America creates the perfect bridge between grounded hand-to-hand combat and galactic throw downs. And at the end of the day he’s just a kid from Brooklyn doing his best (and saving the universe). He may be old fashioned, but pushing back against bullies is never out of style. That sounds like a lame PSA, doesn’t it? That’s alright; I think Cap would appreciate it.

Key Characters

Key Character: Hunter

We all have favorite fictional characters. They can be inspirational, sagacious, heroic… or they can be relentless villains who are just so damn charismatic. In this feature I celebrate fictional characters who make their worlds much fuller.

The original Resident Evil is amusing by today’s horror standards. The characters are visibly blocky, and the game features some of the best worst voice acting in video game history. But for a kid playing back in 1996 it was a different story. The voice acting remained laughable, but the infested mansion held its share of scares. Chief among the frightful creatures is the hunter.

The zombies are the goombas of Resident Evil, common and easy enough to deal with. But during a certain mission the lead character is taken away from the mansion only to return to a surprise. The control is ripped away from the player and the camera shifts to a first-person view. A creature follows the player’s path, speeding toward the mansion and leaping past a ladder. A scaly hand opens the final door and the creature enters the same hallway as the player.

A hulking, reptilian-humanoid then stalks toward the player with razor-sharp claws clicking on the hardwood floor. Yeah, this was the scary stuff. My friend would hand me the controller when it became time to take down a hunter, because he regularly found himself insta-killed (beheaded, no less) by a slashing hunter. Even in death hunters are unsettling. Their screams before falling over sound like cats being put through a shredder.

One of the more interesting things about the hunters is they aren’t bosses or minibosses. After their great introduction hunters replace zombies in some areas that had been relatively safe. They are an unnatural disaster the player has to deal with until the end of the game. Sometimes when facing them it’s a smarter decision to flee to the next room. Even when the player is loaded down with weapons, hunters help keep the “survival” in the survival horror game.

The lickers replace the hunters in Resident Evil 2, and they are cool monsters, but they’re also a definite downgrade. There’s something about the deliberate walk of the hunter, its sounds, its hearty build and instant quickness. Nowadays there exist multiple variations on the hunter (I like the frogman that swallows the player in one gulp), but the original screeching killer is an undeniable classic.

Key Characters · Movies

Key Character: Jack Wilson

We all have favorite fictional characters. They can be inspirational, sagacious, heroic… or they can be relentless villains who are just so damn charismatic. In this feature I celebrate fictional characters who make their worlds much fuller.

Shane is a classic of western cinema. Its titular hero is a quiet and highly skilled gunfighter who finds a new home with the Starrett family. But this article isn’t about Shane. It’s about his dark reflection, the sinister Jack Wilson of Cheyenne.

Wilson isn’t the main antagonist of the film. Rather, he’s a hired gun recruited by the powerful cattleman Rufus Ryker. In some ways Wilson and Shane are quite similar. They’re both highly trained, stoic, and they carry dangerous reputations. But Shane has heart and a desire to become a better man. Wilson is an unscrupulous mercenary working for a tyrant.

Before Wilson’s introduction halfway through the film, Shane’s dialogue foreshadows the villain’s appearance. Shane mentions men who carry two guns (like Wilson), saying, “Some like two guns. But one’s all you need if you can use it.” Shane goes on to say, “A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it.” Wilson is the bad to Shane’s good, the two guns to Shane’s one.

Wilson shows his true nature when he confronts Frank “Stonewall” Torrey and goads him into drawing his weapon. After absorbing insults, Torrey calls Wilson a “lowdown, lying Yankee.” Wilson smiles and challenges Torrey by asking him to “prove it” (a great bit of line reading from actor Jack Palance). All the while Wilson wears a sinister smile. And he continues smiling as he guns Torrey down in the mud.

We never learn much about Wilson. Like Shane, we know little to nothing of his history. He doesn’t even spend much time onscreen. And in this case, less is more. All we know is he is what Shane could have been. Or worse, he’s what Shane used to be. And by outdrawing Wilson and shooting him dead, Shane reaffirms himself as a killer who may not deserve the home he thought he’d found.

Key Characters · TV

Key Character: Dr. Peter Benton

Key Character- Dr. Peter Benton

We all have favorite fictional characters. They can be inspirational, sagacious, heroic… or they can be relentless villains who are just so damn charismatic. In this feature I celebrate fictional characters who make their worlds much fuller.

Many great doctors walked the halls of ER during its fifteen season run, and there’s none finer than Dr. Peter Benton. Benton never gains many friends amongst the hospital staff due to his stubborn, sometimes disagreeable personality, but he works extraordinarily hard to uphold the Hippocratic Oath and care for his patients.

Introduced as a hotshot, impatient surgeon, Benton constantly displays his desire to be the best doctor in the operating room. There are plenty of references to the difficulty Benton faced in becoming a doctor due to his family’s lower income status, which helps to explain his drive to succeed. He doesn’t just excel for himself, he works for the people closest to him, namely his mother and sister (and later, his son). Choosing work over personal obligations becomes a constant conflict for Benton, and he often neglects his loved ones to fulfill his surgical duties. Much to his family’s displeasure, unfortunate scheduling leads to Benton missing his elderly mother’s birthday party to save the life of a white supremacist in the season one episode “The Birthday Party.” But that’s what makes Benton unique. No matter the history/race/transgression of the patient, Benton cares for his patients equally. Well, almost. More on that in a bit.

Even with Benton’s self-discipline and extremely busy schedule, somehow medical student John Carter manages to find his way into Benton’s heart. The mentor-mentee relationship between Benton and Carter is my favorite part of a series that features many other exemplary episodes and characters. Benton regularly berates Carter and expects perfection from his student, but it all has a purpose. There is no maliciousness. Benton is demanding and uncompromising in order to make Carter a better doctor. And here’s something I noticed upon re-watching ER’s early seasons – Benton is always supportive of Carter during traumas. Traumas are fast moving environments where it’s easy for a doctor to lose his cool, but that’s when Benton encourages Carter, letting him know he can perform difficult procedures, believing in Carter even if Carter doesn’t believe in himself.

The historic episode “All in the Family” reveals just how much Carter means to Dr. Benton. After he discovers Carter has been stabbed, a panicked Benton rushes to his side and refuses to leave until he knows Carter is out of danger. Benton has full faith in his own abilities, and he won’t trust anyone else to heal his student. For Benton, Carter’s surgery isn’t just professional, it’s very much personal. And when Carter develops an addiction to narcotics, once again it’s Dr. Benton who’s by his side, chaperoning him across the country to a rehab facility.

Dr. Benton finally leaves the ER after realizing that being a father is more important than anything else, but he leaves behind a strong legacy. Dr. Carter may have filled the void left by Dr. Green, but he’s the product of his mentor, Dr. Benton. And Carter couldn’t have asked for a better teacher.

Key Characters · TV

Key Character: Leslie Knope

We all have favorite fictional characters. They can be inspirational, sagacious, heroic… or they can be relentless villains who are just so damn charismatic. In this feature I celebrate fictional characters who make their worlds much fuller.

Leslie Knope may have begun her onscreen life as a poor man’s Michael Scott, but she became so much more. She became the noble, tireless civil servant that the citizens of Pawnee, Indiana never deserved.

Leslie loves her friends, her town, and her waffles. Not necessarily in that order. One of the reasons Parks and Recreation is such a re-watchable show is it’s easy to root for Leslie to succeed. She is the rare example of a person who cares more about other people than she cares about herself. Although she makes plenty of mistakes on her path from low level government employee to federal powerhouse, she always bounces back to being her optimistic, altruistic self.

Her relationship with Ben Wyatt is one of the best you can find on TV. Leslie and Ben flip the traditional gender roles, with Leslie being more of the domineering, type-A partner, while Ben often acts as the emotional support (and eye candy) for Leslie. They’re perfect together, and the show’s writers never felt the need to create cheap drama between them.

There are plenty of examples that illustrate the kind of person Leslie is, and one of my favorites comes from the season three episode “Ron & Tammy: Part Two.” Ben and Leslie are both worried that without police officer support at the Harvest Festival, the important event will fall apart. Ben visits with Police Chief Trumple privately to ask for police officer volunteers, and Trumple immediately agrees to help. He says, “Leslie Knope gets as many favors as she needs.” When Ben asks why, Trumple pauses to think before responding, “Because she’s the kind of a person who uses favors to help other people.” That’s the kind of civil servant we’d all be lucky to have.