Marvel recently announced that Spider-Man would be receiving a sidekick for his 50th birthday, prompting some speculation over what, exactly, being a sidekick entailed. Is a sidekick a friend? A servant? How do you tell when you’ve got a sidekick and when you’ve got a buddy? And why is this important?
Most protagonists have some sort of companion – the companion provides advice, a sounding board, and of course exchanges witty banter. This is partially so the audience can see the main character as a real person; most folks don’t live in a void, segregated from others. You can also tell a lot about a person – even a fictional one – by how they interact with their friends.
The buddy character tends to stand as an equal to the main character, in terms of personhood and not actual importance to the plot. The main character can ask the buddy to get him a drink, and the buddy can do that…but he’s not obligated to do so.
What’s a main character to do when he wants his friend to act in a serving capacity? Why, go out and grab a sidekick.
Sidekicks can serve all of the functions of a best buddy, and in fact do tend to step into that role quite often. But they also have a secondary role: they tend to be subordinates. Often they look up to the main character as a mentor; sometimes the sidekick in question is much younger, and the main character acts as both protector and buddy. However you shake it, the sidekick ends up working for him as much as hanging out with him. They get the coffee and do the menial tasks…even if they don’t know they’re doing menial tasks.
Famous examples include Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Chewbacca from Star Wars, and yes, Robin from the original Batman series. Yes, they may have been real friends and companions to the lead characters, but they also followed orders, even if said orders had disastrous consequences (poor Short Round in that creepy temple hallway).
The sidekick may also appear as a sharp-mouthed subordinate (think Margaret Cho’s character Teri in Drop Dead Diva) or even a witty grandmother (can we get Betty White, please?).
The role a sidekick performs outside his usual duties is to signal to the audience that the main character is someone of some stature. He’s obviously high enough in the food chain to actually warrant someone following him around, completing his busywork and occasionally looking at him adoringly. It’s a quick way to show the audience that this dude is important, or at least thinks he is.
What’s your favorite movie sidekick?