Over his career, Nicolas Cage has been almost undefinable. He’s both a revered Oscar winner and a firm regular in the “what the f*** is this?” category of Netflix. From Vampire’s Kiss to Mandy, he’s crafted a career full of cult classics whilst also starring in huge blockbusters like Con Air and Face/Off. In the brilliantÂ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, he offers up a spellbinding voice acting performance as Spidey Noir, the perfect cumulation of his strange and wonderful transformation into this generation’s Adam West.Cage’s metamorphosis into a contemporary camp comics icon shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as the actor is a huge comic book fan. He’s often spoken about how his professional moniker derives from one of his favorite Marvel characters, Luke Cage: Hero For Hire. He named his son after Krypton’s most famous export, Kal-El. And he’s one of the few people on Earth in the last 50 years who’s owned a copy Action Comics #1, which introduced Superman and is the most expensive single issue of all time.His career has reflected those loves, notably in the form of his brush with playing his own son’s namesake in Tim Burton’s never finished Superman Returns (he did finally take on the role in 2018’s brilliant Teen Titans Go to the Movies). The first official super-mantle he ever took on was Ghost Rider, which leaned into his potential for strangeness with quirks he added to the hell-bound hero, like his penchant for eating jelly beans out of a martini glass. In the sequel to the Fox film, he literally peed fire whilst his skull flamed. It was a very Nic Cage kind of superhero movie.Kick-Ass saw Cage embrace and foreshadow his future with an interpretation of the vigilante Big Daddy, which could only be described as the bastard lovechild of Adam West and William Shatner. It elevated the rote role into something strange and enticing, showcasing Cage’s willingness to craft characters and experiment with them. It would be something that would define the later part of his career as he lost his fortune and began to take on more and more roles in attempt to keep the wolves at bay. But this only made his catalogue more experimental.Embracing the weirdness and the fact he was a household name due to his massive blockbuster career and Hollywood lineage (he’s the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, and the cousin of Sofia and Roman and of Jason Schwartzman), Cage created a space for himself as a sort of weird and experimental uncle, just like West before him. In later years, West took on multiple meta roles that played into his camp legacy, and with his unique line delivery and ever kookier appearances, Cage was doing a great job at following in his footprints. Cage’s choices have also consistently made him one of the most exciting and incendiary actors in Hollywood, and you just need to watch this year’s surreal, brutal, and brilliant Mandy to see why.
And then we get to Spider-Verse. The vibrant, refreshing film is incredible on many levels, and Cage’s performance is just one of them. But his take on Spider-Man Noir is the perfect cumulation of the last decade plus of Cage’s career and his ever growing homage to Adam West. Spider-Noir is a caricature of what we expect from the grim and gritty genre, his hyperbolic phrases channeling a more surreal Humphrey Bogart as he describes how he allows matches to burn all the way down to his fingers just so he can feel something. It’s a humorous performance that leans into Cage’s over-the-top persona, but it’s balanced with a sweetness and sincerity that’s all of its own.
The film highlights one of Cage’s strengths: no matter how much he embraces his iconic cult camp side he can still deliver a solid, meaningful performance. Only a handful of actors have been able to embrace their own ridiculousness whilst still exploring themselves and experimenting with new projects. And 2018 has been a year that has undoubtedly solidified Nic Cage as one of those icons.
Images: Sony, Marvel