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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I have been following Jason Momoa’s career for almost ten years now. Getting his first big-break in the final two-seasons of the popular Baywatch (then retitled Baywatch Hawaii), Momoa’s acting was, how shall I put this, not the highlight of his career. Then again, being on Baywatch was probably more about exposure, and the people watching it were not going in for intricate storylines and nuanced performances. Baywatch was all about beefcake and boobs (with a side of cheese). Years later, even Momoa seems embarrassed by his performance on Baywatch (as suggested by his August 4, 2011 appearance on The Tonight Show).
After bumming around in some minor acting roles, Momoa first blipped on my radar when he was cast in the sci-fi show Stargate: Atlantis. A spin-off of the popular Stargate: SG-1, SGA featured an ensemble cast of talented and entertaining actors. Momoa, in particular, was really able to start showing off some of his range as he was given some deeper material to work with.
His character, Ronon Dex, was a warrior who saw his people (including his wife and child) brutally killed by a race of vampire-like creatures called the Wraith. Dex was then turned into a “runner” where he was used as sport for other Wraith to hunt him down. Eventually meeting the Atlantis crew, Dex was saved from this fate and joined them in their adventures. Basically, Dex was that “troubled loner with a heart of gold” archetype.
Stargate Atlantis was a troubled show. It never really found any lasting direction. Because of that Momoa’s character somewhat suffered. When an episode focused on him (such as “Sateda”, “Reunion”, and “Broken Ties”), it was pretty damn good. When the episode did not focus on him, Ronan came off a bit clichéd (“I’m a warrior! Me fight!”). I think the writers knew they had an interesting character in Ronon, but did not know what to do with him when the episode did not focus on him. None of this was really Momoa’s fault. He did exceptionally well, even when he was in the smaller bits, as Ronan. He was able to balance the tough warrior with a kind-hearted loyalty to his friends. He even had some nuance to the well-worn naïve fish-out-of-water trope (such as watching an episode of Battlestar Galactica and wanting to help “those people” because he thought it was really happening). He was also able to show off some nice comic timing, such as in the clip below:
After Stargate Atlantis went off the air in 2009, most of the cast were regulated to obscurity, convention appearances, or Sci-Fi Channel Original Movies. Momoa was the only one not to fall into this trap. Maybe it was luck. Perhaps fate, but in 2011, Momoa was given two fairly high-profile gigs.
The first was Conan the Barbarian. This remake/new adaptation attempted to bring back the iconic sword and sorcery character to the big screen. Unfortunately, the film was a colossal flop, both financially and critically. The problems of the film had very little to do with Momoa. While I have not seen the film myself, word on the street was that Momoa was the best thing in it. Also, something that I really appreciate seeing from an actor is that Momoa really got into the role and had a clear, set idea of what he wanted to do as Conan. Even now, he looks back and tries to analyze what exactly went wrong.
I like when an actor shows a lack of ego. To me, that reads that he or she wants to improve their craft and looks back at their failures in an objective light to see what can be bettered. Momoa fits this description.
Also in 2011, Momoa appeared in the critical darling, Game of Thrones as Khal Drogo. The popularity of the HBO series brought him back to the forefront of not only folks who remembered him from Stargate Atlantis, but also mainstream critics as well. Appearing with such actors as Sean Bean and Lena Headey, Momoa’s pedigree rose tremendously.
Not surprisingly, he was given a major role as one of the main antagonists of Sylvester Stallone’s Bullet to the Head. In Zack’s review, he praised Momoa for being “an intense and unpredictable villain”. I was personally hoping this would launch Momoa fully into the mainstream spotlight. Unfortunately, the film is flopped horribly.
But, like Ryan Reynolds, Hollywood keeps giving Momoa a chance in spite of failure. Recent reports have that Momoa is up for a leading role in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Though Guardians is a risky gamble, each of the Marvel films have been blockbusters in their own right. Also, with the possible exception of The Incredible Hulk, audiences have been overwhelmingly positive towards the Marvel films. Marketed correctly, I can easily see Guardians being successful as well (especially if, as rumored, it will lead directly into 2015’s Avengers 2).
If Momoa gets the role, will he finally make it to the A-list? He is on the cusp of greatness. He is a strong actor with seemingly little ego who takes his job seriously. I feel he has earned everything he has gotten thus far. I really want to see him make it big and become somewhat of a household name.
So, I pose the question: Is Jason Momoa the next big thing? I guess we will find out.