Nic Cage: Featured Cage Rage

Nicolas Cage has done voice work before this year. He has lent his distinctive pipes to five animated features, in fact, since 2001 including THE CROODS and THE ANT BULLY. He has also played comic book characters like Big Daddy in KICK-ASS and Ghost Rider twice. However, 2018 marked the first time Nic Cage has used his voice to bring iconic superheroes from the Big Two to life.

In TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES, Cage fulfilled his seeming lifelong quest to play the Man of Steel. Then, just last week, he slipped into webs, of a sort, to give life to Spider-Man Noir in SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. Cage has long proven a divisive actor. Some, like this viewer, recognize he is excellent and, while his choice in projects might sometimes be lacking, he nonetheless delivers far more than he does not.

Others, well…they don’t necessarily feel his vibes. Let’s just leave it at that. Regardless of one’s feelings on his previous work, however, I argue that Cage did a near perfect job with both of his comic book voice performances this year. Don’t believe me? First, that hurts. Second, let’s peak the evidence.

Nic Cage Shakes Hollywood to Find the Farm

Nic Cage’s Superman in TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES sounds less like the iconic Man of Steel voice we know from the likes of Christopher Reeve, Tim Daly, or Henry Cavill. Instead, he sounds, well, quite a bit like Nic Cage actually.

However, once you get past the initial surprise of “wow, I’m finally seeing Nic Cage as Superman, sort of,” you can hear the notes in the voice performance. There is a warmer quality to his Superman that you tend to hear in most Nic Cage performances. You can detect a bit of the Kansas farm boy in his cadence, in his choice of phrasing, and his speed of delivery.

He does not try on an accent or reach for blatant farm aphorisms. Instead, he tweaks his voice in small ways to find a way in that does not dominate the screen. That’s very important when you are voicing arguably most recognizable comic book character in the world in a movie that very much is not about you.

Nic Cage: Supes!
Superman, paragon of justice, speaks with the voice of Nic Cage in TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

Superman as Disappointed Father Figure

Another key aspect of the Cage performance is whose eyes we are essentially seeing it through. Most of the film unfolds from the Titans point of view. That’s why when we first listen to them sing their own theme, the look of it is incredible. Then, shortly after the POV shifts to either an emotionally detached third party or the Justice League perspective — depending on your own opinion.

In either case, the result is the same. The Titans now appear small and silly. The hugeness of their performance, the pyrotechnics, the skill of their dancing, all of it is now shrunk. Even if this new view of their activities is not entirely accurate, it does reveal that how they view themselves is at least flawed.

With that established, we know that the Superman we see is the Superman the Titans perceive. As a result, Cage’s slightly frustrated, tired delivery makes sense. He’s a dad or a teacher who sees the potential of the kids in front of him. However, try as he might, he cannot get them to be serious long enough to realize that potential. In the typical comic book, Superman’s speech would be inspiring. Here, heard through the ears of teens, though, it just sounds disenchanted and dismissive.

Cage’s Superman here is the best as a scold. He is the guy who is always demanding you be more like your older brother now even though your older brother has 8 years, 6 inches, and 29 pounds of muscle on you.

Nic Cage: Superman loves tube meat
Superman, as voiced by Nic Cage, enjoys a hot dog and the company of Green Lantern in a scene from TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

Superman as Figure of Fun

The Superman of TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES is also, ultimately, a bit of a fool, as are all the adult heroes and Robin. They have been so swept up by the instant gratification of the movie making a cycle that they no longer do super heroics, they only perform them on backlots against green screens.

Again, this fits with the teen perspective. All adults have a bit, to steal from CATCHER IN THE RYE, of phony in them when seen through the eyes of the next generation coming up. A Superman duped by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood might make an adult uneasy or depressed. For teens though, it just makes him look ridiculous. Look at this joke of a guy reaching so hard for relevance he’s willing to cry on cue and pretend to fight with his best friend Batman. By not reaching for a vocal tone that commands attention, Cage ensures Superman’s “subjugation” by the forces of entertainment remains comedy, not a tragedy.

Nic Cage: Voice acting
In a screenshot from the released b-roll of SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, Nic Cage gives life to Spider-Man Noir. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Nic Cage: Born In the 60s but Still Has Some 20s in Him

There are two immediate challenges to voicing Spider-Man Noir in SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE. The first is he comes from a universe where, regardless of the actual year, society remains fairly mired somewhere between the Gilded Age and the years just prior to World War II. Therefore, he has to convincingly sound like he is of that era.

Second, his world is decidedly more down-to-earth violent and rough ‘n tumble than most Spider-folks’ native dimensions. Sure, they need fear a villain who looks like an always-on fire green gargoyle or a best friend who is now a lizard man. However, they are rarely carrying a gun into a dark warehouse to face off against the snarling forces of a city so dark with corruption that even when it is daytime the shadows make it feel like midnight.

To solve those problems, Cage uses a voice that is tinged with bits of Humphrey Bogart and, I insist, Peter Lorre. It is not an imitation or impression, to be sure, but the actor finds certain words to spin or swallow. As a result, you get lines that recall the kings of noir films without ever just coming across as a bland simulacrum. In that way, he evokes both the era and the kind of violence his version of Spidey would find himself up against.

Nic Cage: Respect
Spider-Man Noir, as voiced by Nic Cage, pays respect in a scene from SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Slinging Silly Slang

One of the most enjoyable things about Noir Spidey is the words he uses. In particular, how he spews nonsense slang that might sound era-appropriate to the 30s but is decidedly not. The filmmakers admit that they just fed Cage a series of mix and match expressions and let him throw them out to see what worked and what did not. Things were so loose, in fact, they ended up feeding him an apparent actual slang term for a sexual act that, thankfully, someone caught before it became part of the actual film.

If Cage delivered any of the expressions with a wink, however, it would not have worked. The key to Noir’s use of slang is that he is 100 percent earnest in its use. Whatever ridiculous lines he is delivering, he means them. He says them with the kind of matter-of-factness one would call something “cool” now. They don’t feel forced thus making their strangeness so much more charming.

Nic Cage Keeps It Dry

In fact, in general, Cage makes Noir a dry sort of guy. His burgeoning obsession with the Rubik’s cube — which reaches its apex in a very funny credits sequence — pops in part because he is such an even keel figure. That any object not related to crime can spark interest in this figure is surprising. That it is a multi-colored puzzle game is sweet icing.

The dryness also lets him nail more downcast emotional beats. At one point, the team of Spider-folk feels like they may need to leave Miles behind. Quietly, Cage’s Noir mumbles, partially to himself, partially to Spider-Ham, “Poor little guy”. It is simple and quick, but it stings. Earlier in the movie, Noir trumpeted his own origin with a kind of “only the facts, ma’am,” rapid fire. Now, in the wake of all the pain Miles has endured, Noir is quiet, cowed, and empathetic. No easy switch, especially with a single line, but Cage’s voice sells it.

Nic Cage: Noir on a rope
Spider-Man Noir bids you adieu. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Where Should We Go From Here?

Hopefully, for all manner of reasons, SPIDER-VERSE will get a sequel sooner rather than later. Bringing back Cage as Noir once would be glorious. Beyond that though, let’s start giving Cage all kinds of superhero voicework. Batman? That’d be a great fit! The Vic Sage Question? EVEN BETTER.

How about on the Marvel side of things? Well, Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, obviously. But who else? D-Man? Sleepwalker? I bet Cage could give us an awesome animated villain. Maybe the Owl? Or not. Not every great performance demands an encore in the same genre. Either way, we have TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES and SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE whenever we want to hear some strong Nic Cage superhero voicework.

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