When you need to avert the world from almost certain disaster, it’s imperative that you put a team together. You need to have:
The leader who doesn’t want to lead.
The straight-laced guy.
The snooty intellectual.
The older white guy.
The punk rock computer type.
The European guy.
The crazed scientist.
And of course, they have to fight against The General — he naturally wants to engage in a terrible plan B that will instantly accelerate the earth’s destruction.
And when you put a team together, casting is everything. Because unless you are making a four-hour epic, or a season long TV show, it’s impossible to give absolutely every character a proper backstory. The ultimate cheat is just casting a familiar face.
Take Bruce Greenwood for example. If you need a president — for example, Thirteen Days (Ronald Donaldson, 2000) or National Treasure: Book Of Secrets (Jon Turteltaub, 2007)— he’s obviously your guy. One look at his face and you know exactly what he’s about.
He plays the older space commander in The Core (Jon Amiel, 2003), lending an instant credibility to the role. He is mentoring Hilary Swank’s straight-from-the-academy-with-A-grades junior astronaut Beck. But he won’t let her commandeer the space craft until the ship’s co-ordinates are blown way off location, forcing her intuitive crash landing in the L.A. river.
The Core — an $85 million wonky-CGI-spectacle that flopped with critics and made only $74 million at the box office — doesn’t really have a triple A-star actor within its entire cast. Hilary Swank did have two Oscars for more sensitive roles — which should account for something — but she lacks a certain action machismo that this genre needs. Besides she’s not even the lead. The lead is Aaron Eckhart. He plays a humble university geophysicist who suddenly gets pulled into the upper echelons of power to explain why the earth’s core isn’t spinning like it should be — leading to people with pacemakers suddenly dying and pigeons plummeting from of the sky.
The whole team has to come together on a madness mission to tunnel into the core of the earth and set off some nuclear bombs (the film finally giving us one good reason to have nuclear weapons) that will set the core spinning again and preventing the world from being fried like a chicken in a microwave.
Alongside Swank as the leader of the ship and a corny, floundering Eckhart as the straight-laced intellectual, we have Stanley Tucci as a pretentious chain-smoking professor more interested in book deals that doing the right thing, Delroy Lindo as his aggrieved former partner who designs the technology (literally called unobtanium!) that makes the mission possible, Tcheky Karyo as the obligatory French guy, Richard Jenkins as the General, and in the most dated role of all, DJ Qualls as the skinny, yet insanely smart hacker; he’s literally tasked here to censor the entire internet.
It all plays like trying to remake Armageddon with the reserve team. Say what you want about the epic Bruckheimer-Bay production, but the star power in that film could’ve got the core going again all by itself. Late 90s Ben Affleck might have been a vaping hole of charisma, but he was still, inexplicably, a movie star. Likewise, Bruce Willis was right at his apex, his no-shit, square-talking persona making him the perfect man for the job.
Even the other members of the team like Billy Bob Thornton, Keith David, Owen Wilson, and Steve Buscemi, feel and act like bigger names, working together to easily gift Armageddon its whopping $500 million box office return.
It probably helps that a fair amount of the supporting cast of Armageddon played as leading players before, unlike The Core, which was composed almost entirely of supporting actors or people with just one or two big roles. Still, there’s something very satisfying in seeing these perennially supporting group of guys all in one place. It’s the kind of absolute randomness that makes finding previously unheard-of-to-me movies online so much fun.