It’s hard to be a villain. A villain has to accomplish a lot of things: he has to be a plausible threat for a hero, he has to create a conflict for the hero to resolve, and he has to be evil enough that you root for the hero to beat him (though it is fun to root for the bad guys sometimes). Frequently, villains are underdeveloped, which can make a story seem unsatisfying if the hero does not have to overcome a plausible threat. There is a lot riding on a villain. Here, then, are my picks for the best television and video game villains of 2012 (movie villains coming soon).
Vaas and Hoyt in Far Cry 3
In the game Far Cry 3, you play as Jason Brody, a regular Joe on a tropical vacation with his pals, when, wouldn’t you know it, you end up captured by a terrifying pirate named Vaas. Vaas kind of reminded me of the Joker in The Dark Knight, he’s terrifying but you kind of miss him when he’s not around. Vaas captures your friends and intends to sell them into slavery, so you spend the first half of the game rescuing them. I was kind of sad in a twisted sort of way when you kill Vaas halfway through the game, the story doesn’t have as much energy without him. But in the second half of the game, you go after Hoyt, Vaas’ boss, a psychotic drug runner and human trafficker, who forces civilians to run through minefields and later cuts off one of Jason Brody’s fingers. The storyline in Far Cry 3 was a little wonky overall, but Vaas and Hoyt were two of the more memorably nasty video game villains of 2012.
The Didact in Halo 4
The Didact is a classic example of how the threat of the villain needs to match the strength of the hero. The Master Chief is a genetically-enhanced supersoldier in a totally sweet suit of armor who has slaughtered aliens across the galaxy, so it takes a sizable bad guy to pose a threat to him. The Didact fits this description. He’s some sort of evil alien who’s been imprisoned for a really long time, and when those silly humans manage to awaken him, wouldn’t you know he’s got all kinds of evil plans. The story of Halo 4 was a bit muddled in my opinion, I had a hard time figuring it out, but I knew I had to stop the Didact from digitizing the entire human race (which would be bad). When your evil plans involve the destruction (or something) of nothing less than the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE, you know you’ve got a very evil villain on your hands.
Raul Menendez in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Menendez is the most well-developed video game villain of the year. He’s extremely evil, but he manages to come off as a human being instead of a cardboard cutout. He does some horrible things, but knowing about his backstory makes you sympathize with him to some degree, which is impressive. There are even a few parts of the story where you play as him, which is a first for the Call of Duty series. He’s much more interesting than the villains from the first Black Ops game, Dragovich and Kravchenko, who were certainly evil but not much more than stereotypical Russian Cold War bad guys in the vein of early James Bond flicks. At the end of Black Ops 2 you can choose to either kill or capture Menendez, and it is a legitimately tough choice to make, which really speaks to how well his character is developed.
Handsome Jack in Borderlands 2
The wonderfully-named Handsome Jack is one of those sarcastic, snide, taunting bad guys that really makes you hate him. He calls you periodically throughout the game to taunt you, and his taunts are well-written and well-delivered. Whoever voiced him really did a great job. The first Borderlands game lacked a central villain which made it feel unfocused sometimes, but the addition of Handsome Jack to Borderlands 2 added a clear sense of meaning to your actions, and it upped the stakes considerably. He’s a bit cartoonish which is in keeping with the rest of the game, but his taunting gives the player a strong motivation to get rid of him.
Derek C. Simmons in Resident Evil 6
Wait, what? Simmons? If you’re like me, you think that Simmons is the absolute lamest name for a villain in the history of the universe (though there was villain named Irving in Resident Evil 5, which is also pretty lame). This freaking guy looks like Colonel Sanders and is about as threatening as a pile of used Kleenexes. Sure, he’s evil, unleashing zombie viruses and whatnot, but the plot of RE6 made no sense whatsoever, and Simmons never emerges as anything more than a moustache-twirling villain, who’s evil just for the sake of being evil. I’m half-surprised he never tied someone to railroad tracks and cackled with glee. So why am I including him? Well, he is memorable in the sense of being a complete joke, though not in the sense of being memorably evil. I mean seriously, Simmons? Worst. Villain name. Ever.
The Governor in The Walking Dead
Ah, the Governor. The most infamous villain from the comics, he finally made his debut in the third season of the hit TV series. He seems okay at first, offering a safe haven to some of our main characters. But he is soon revealed to be pure evil, keeping severed zombie heads in fish tanks and brutally interrogating two of the most likable protagonists. He took a shard of glass to the eye in the midseason finale a few weeks ago, and I am looking forward to finding out what kind of brutal vengeance he has in store in the second half of the season, which I think starts in February. The first two seasons of The Walking Dead also lacked a central villain (other than, you know, the zombies) and the addition of the Governor to the show has given it a boost it sorely needed after the slow-moving second season. Much of the credit goes to actor David Morrissey for giving him the right balance of likability on the surface and dangerous insanity within. The third season of the show has been, in my opinion, the best so far, and the Governor has a lot to do with that.
Glaber and Ashur in Spartacus: Vengeance
I love Spartacus. To the uninitiated it is little more than a delivery vehicle for copious amounts of gore and nudity, and while there are indeed plenty of both of those, there is also a surprisingly deep and resonant story, populated by a cast of memorable characters. That many of these memorable characters also happen to be evil as sin works out pretty well for my current purposes. Gaius Claudius Glaber is the main villain, at whom much of the titular vengeance is aimed. He is the man responsible for selling Spartacus and his wife into slavery, and Spartacus holds him responsible for the death of his beloved wife Sura. Glaber is another one of those sneering villains who is just utterly detestable. Ashur, the treacherous Syrian, who survived the massacre that ended the show’s first season, also returns to cause all kinds of trouble. I might write more about these two at some point in the future, since I love this show and have been wanting to write about it for a while, but for now let’s just say that the final season of Spartacus, subtitled War of the Damned, is one of my most-anticipated entertainments of 2013.
COMING SOON: My favorite movie villains of 2012, and a nice cheery New Year’s movie.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.