In Netflix’s new family-friendly blockbuster Slumberland, a loose adaptation of Winsor McCay’s early-20th-century comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, dreams exist in a space where the only limits are one’s imagination. A little boy, for instance, finds himself behind the wheel of a big-rig truck tearing through an empty city that is as structurally sound as a Lego set; in another dream, a cloistered nun lives out her fantasy as a sensuous salsa dancer. But amid the limitless possibilities of this cinematic dreamworld, it’s telling that Jason Momoa still sticks out like a sore thumb. As Flip, who’s essentially an outlaw jumping between other people’s dreams, Momoa sports fangs, fawn ears, furry feet, and ram horns—all while donning an outfit that looks like it was discarded from the set of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I mean, just look at this guy:
There’s no such thing as understated roles for an actor who’s built like a linebacker, but Flip is certainly an outlier in Momoa’s filmography, which has been defined by badass warriors stretching from Westeros to Atlantis. It’s not that Momoa hasn’t had moments of absurdity on-screen—he emerged from the ocean in Aquaman to the tune of Pitbull’s cover of Toto’s “Africa,” which remains the greatest thing I’ve ever seen—but there’s never been a performance so reliant on the actor’s comedic chops. The good news is that, while Slumberland is yet another addition to Netflix’s forgettable collection of big-budget original movies, Momoa holds up his end of the bargain.
Flip is an absolute hoot—one moment he’s salsa dancing with the dreaming nun, the next he’s grabbing flies out of the air with chopsticks because, apparently, he smells like shit. (Can dreams smell? I guess not enough people are fantasizing about spa days for someone who exists only in this subconscious realm.) The character itself isn’t particularly groundbreaking as written on the page—instead, Momoa’s larger-than-life charisma does most of the heavy lifting. If going on adventures with Flip were actually feasible when we fell asleep, I would be popping melatonin gummies every night like they were Skittles. It’s a perfect extension of this viral tweet, which sums up Momoa’s enduring appeal in fewer than 280 characters.
jason momoa rules because most of his roles are just like “what if there was a dude who was fucking rad as hell” and you don’t really need range when you do that better than anyone— massage gun kelly (@treswritesstuff) October 26, 2021
Long gone are the days when Momoa, fresh off a memorable run as the Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones, struggled to find work because decision-makers in Hollywood didn’t think he spoke English. But after landing plenty of roles over the past decade playing likable dude-bros—there’s no one else I’d rather hang with in the world of Dune than Duncan Idaho—it appears that Momoa wants to expand his repertoire. “It’s been hard because people always think I’m just this dude who plays [macho characters],” Momoa told GQ in August. “But I want to be moved, I want something new.”
It’s hard to imagine Momoa completely abandoning his macho wheelhouse—for one, an Aquaman sequel is coming next year—but perhaps Slumberland will be more indicative of the kind of projects that will fall on his radar. (Of the many crowd-pleasing movies he’s starred in, few have been explicitly aimed at kids.) At the same time, audiences shouldn’t expect a massive pivot from Momoa: In the same breath as telling GQ he’s looking for a more diverse array of projects, he points to his upcoming role in the 10th Fast & Furious movie—Fast X—as one such example. What makes Fast X so different from the other blockbusters he’s pursued in the past decade? Well, he’s going to play the villain.
It’s true that Momoa’s most notable roles have been characters you can root for: Even Drogo, for all his moments of gory barbarism, probably made you hoot and holler when he poured boiling gold on Viserys Targaryen for repeatedly threatening his beloved Khaleesi. But because the Fast franchise has made a habit of reforming its villains to later join Dominic Toretto’s ever-growing [Vin Diesel mumble-growl] family, Momoa’s heel turn should be taken with a grain of salt. Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be intrigued by the thought of Momoa breaking bad: As he teased to Variety over the summer, his Fast X character is “very sadistic and androgynous and he’s a bit of a peacock.” (Is he … stealing Flip’s wardrobe?)
But even if Momoa isn’t going to do a complete 180 from what audiences have come to expect out of him—to be clear, I would watch him in a costume drama—it’s nevertheless encouraging that he isn’t just content playing the same macho archetypes. (Based on how Momoa has recently described the litany of on-set injuries that have taken a toll on his body, this phase of his career might not have the longest shelf life to begin with.) More importantly, Momoa is now leveraging his stardom to tell the types of stories that don’t usually make it through the industry pipeline. After three seasons as the lead of AppleTV+’s postapocalyptic drama See, the actor is reuniting with the streamer for Chief of War, a series that tells the story of Hawaii’s colonization from the perspective of Indigenous people, which Momoa will star in, write, and executive-produce. (Momoa’s father is of Native Hawaiian ancestry.)
Again, I’m not sure how much a series that literally has “war” in its title will differentiate itself from Momoa’s previous slate of action-oriented projects. But between roles where he plays a hilarious outlaw in Slumberland, a self-described androgynous peacock in Fast X, and soon (presumably) a Native Hawaiian warrior in Chief of War, Momoa continues filling out his résumé as one of the raddest on-screen presences in Hollywood. And that’s pretty rad in and of itself.