For a brief period back in the 90s and 2000s, Nicolas Cage was regarded by some as the finest actor on the planet. He won the Best Actor Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas (1995) and appeared in a number of great movies like Wild at Heart (1990), The Rock (1996), Con Air and Face/Off (1997), Bringing Out the Dead (1999), Adaptation (2002) and World Trade Center (2006).
However, since then, Cage has seemed to accept roles in movies based on the following criteria:
1) He gets paid.
2) He can have fun with it.
3) If he gets to act a little unhinged at some point, that’s a bonus.
The result has been that he’s appeared in some crazy movies and, perhaps more pertinently, some terrible ones (many of which actually went direct-to-video). Movies like The Wicker Man (2006) and Ghost Rider (2007) weren’t great, but Cage got to show off his loony side in a couple of scenes, so he was happy. Heck, even some of his better movies like Mom and Dad (2017) and Mandy (2018) saw him going batsh*t crazy on screen – Pig (2021) being a notable exception.
But 2021’s action comedy horror Willy’s Wonderland may just be his most bonkers and brilliant movie to date. Here’s why.
While you’re here, make sure you check out our piece on why Free Guy is the best PG-13 movie of 2021!
The basic premise is that when Cage’s character – a quiet drifter credited only as “The Janitor” – sees his car suffer four punctures, he gets tricked into cleaning up an abandoned family entertainment venue. As it turns out, said venue is haunted by the souls of serial killers who inhabit the bodies of its animatronic characters. Familiar with the Five Nights at Freddy’s video game franchise? Well it’s kind of like that, but in movie form and with a certifiable Nicolas Cage thrown in for good measure.
The people of the town of Hayesville, Nevada had struck a deal with the aforementioned serial killers to provide them with sacrifices in exchange for them not going on a killing spree in the town. So that whole puncture situation was engineered by them to lure Cage’s character to his death. However, they end up getting a lot more than they bargained for…
In the case of most people, should this bizarre scenario unfold, the person provided as the sacrifice for the psychotic animatronics would either do their best to get the hell out of the venue or put all of their effort into fighting them off. But not The Janitor.
Oh no, The Janitor not only continues to clean the place in between taking out giant animatronic ostriches and gorillas, he also turns down the opportunity to leave when a group of teenagers attempt to get him out – and he even insists on taking regular breaks to indulge in an unhealthy amount of soda, play pinball and let go with some extremely chaotic dancing.
In fact, one of the key messages this movie offers is the importance of taking regular breaks – in one scene, taking a break actually trumps the need to assist one of the aforementioned teenagers as she tries to fend off a murderous animatronic chameleon.
But in the midst of all that madness, do you know what the most bonkers things about this movie is? The fact that Cage’s character doesn’t utter a single word throughout the whole thing! Not one.
Sure, he grunts and lets out a satisfied “aahhhhh” whenever he takes a sip of soda, but during exchanges with the mechanic who promised to fix his car, the Sheriff of Hayesville, the owner of Willy’s Wonderland, a group of kids, and indeed the animatronics he beats the snot out of, he doesn’t speak once.
And yet he’s bloody brilliant in it! The concept of this movie is ludicrous, but Cage plays his role completely straight. From his obsessive soda swigging to his skilled use of a broom as a lethal weapon, he’s so committed to the cause – his performance is a thing of beauty.
There really is no point in going overboard with the critical assessment of this movie – at its core, it’s just Nicolas Cage versus bloodthirsty animatronic mascots, after all – but it’s undoubtedly fun, preposterous in the most wonderful way, and aided in its madness by some chaotic camerawork. It’s quite possibly the most insane thing Cage has ever appeared in, which really is saying something.
It has violence, gore, swearing and sex, so if it doesn’t sound like your thing, steer clear. However, if it does – and if you don’t take Willy’s Wonderland too seriously – you’ll have an absolute blast watching it. Be warned, however: you’ll be singing “it’s your birthday and we want you to have fun” for days after.