Pet Sematary: Sometimes Dead is Better

I’m going to do something with this post that I have never done before, which is that I’m going to start with a disclaimer. Pet Sematary deals with some very intense and sensitive topics, so if you have trouble with discussion of pets and/or children dying, or if you’ve maybe lost a loved one recently, you might not want to read this. If you do decide to read this, strap in: things are going to get dark.

I’m going to be looking at the book itself and both of its film adaptations, and there will be spoilers for all three. Dark, gruesome stuff lies ahead. You have been warned.

Pet Sematary is the book that Stephen King, the Master of Horror himself, thought was too dark and disturbing to publish. He has stated that of all the books he’s written, Pet Sematary is the one that scared him the most. King put it away in a drawer after he finished it, thinking he had gone too far with the subject matter. The only reason King published it was because he switched publishers at one point, but he still owed a book to his previous publisher and Pet Sematary was the book he had.

The plot itself is straightforward. Louis Creed is a doctor from Chicago who has accepted a job at the University of Maine as the director of campus health service. His family consists of his wife Rachel, daughter Ellie, and son Gage, along with Ellie’s cat Church. Ellie is eight or nine, Gage is around two. Upon their arrival in the small town of Ludlow, Maine, they meet their new neighbor, elderly Jud Crandall. Jud warns the Creeds to be careful around the highway that runs past their house, since it is regularly used by speeding semi-trucks.

Jud shows them a pet cemetery in the woods behind their house (the sign is misspelled because it was written by children) where the town’s children bury their deceased animals, many of whom fall victim to the semi-trucks. There is a large pile of dead and broken tree trunks and limbs nearby, which Jud is reluctant to discuss. The pet cemetery leads to an argument between Louis and Rachel on the subject of how to discuss death with their children. Louis favors a practical approach, whereas Rachel doesn’t want to acknowledge the topic of death at all. This is because she is deeply traumatized by the death of her sister Zelda, who suffered from spinal meningitis that twisted and contorted her body. When Zelda died, young Rachel was alone in the house with her, so she holds herself partly responsible for her sister’s death.

Later, Louis is by himself during Thanksgiving (Rachel and the kids are spending the holiday with Rachel’s parents, who have never liked Louis) when Jud tells Louis some bad news: Ellie’s cat Church has been hit and killed by a semi-truck. Louis knows that Ellie will be heartbroken and struggles with how to break the news to her. Since Louis and Jud have become good friends, Jud offers to accompany Lewis to the pet cemetery to bury Church. But once they get there, Jud leads Louis over the deadfall behind the cemetery, and they go to an ancient Indian burial ground, where he instructs Louis to bury Church.

Louis thinks that’s the end of it…until the next day, when Church comes back. Louis tries to rationalize this, thinking that Church wasn’t actually dead, but it’s apparent that Church is not the same. He’s aggressive and mean, he hunts animals more frequently and tears them apart without eating them, his fur is matted and filthy, and he stinks so badly that Ellie doesn’t want him in her room anymore.

A few months later, every parent’s nightmare happens: 2-year-old Gage is killed by one of the speeding trucks. Torn apart by grief, and despite Jud’s dire warnings that “Sometimes dead is better” (the book and film’s most famous line), Louis does the unthinkable: he exhumes the body of his dead son and buries him in the Indian burial ground.

Inevitably, Gage returns. He is demonic and vicious, and brutally murders Jud and Rachel with one of his father’s surgical scalpels. Louis puts him down for good with an injection of chemicals. Desperately thinking that the results will be different if he doesn’t wait as long to bury her, Louis buries Rachel in the cursed burial ground.

At the end of the novel, Louis sits in his home, a broken man. As he glumly plays solitaire and waits, a cold hand drops on his shoulder and his wife’s voice rasps a single word: “Darling.”

Chilling.

Reading the book is like being in a roller coaster heading into a pit full of spikes. You know something terrible is going to happen at the end, but you are powerless to do anything about it. Perhaps more than any book I’ve ever read, Pet Sematary has this incredible sense of irresistible forward momentum. You know Louis is making a terrible mistake, and you get the sense he knows it too. The rational part of you wants to start yelling at the book to make the character stop what he’s doing because it’s all going to end tragically…

…but at the same time, the emotional part of you understands.

Of course this man wants to see his son again.

Of course he wants to heal his family.

Two years old is far too early for a person to die.

This is the unanswerable dilemma posed by Pet Sematary. Does Louis do the wrong thing for the right reasons? Does he think he’s doing the right thing? Does he deserve what happens to him and his family as a result of his decision to resurrect Gage? What would be worse: losing someone you love, or losing someone you love only for them to come back and not be the same? And perhaps the most haunting question of all, what would you do in his situation? Even knowing what you’re doing is wrong, would you be able to stop yourself?

The true horror of Pet Sematary isn’t the resurrected, murderous toddler, which doesn’t even happen until the last fifty or so pages of the book. That would be horrific enough on its own, but what’s far more disturbing about Pet Sematary is its ruminations on the subject of death, and why people are so afraid of it. Losing a loved one is terrible, but having them come back and not be the same would be even worse. Pet Sematary is more about dealing with loss and tragedy and learning how to move on with your life than it is about defending yourself from a murderous toddler. Stephen King paints a compelling and deeply harrowing portrait of a family enduring a terrible loss, only to have something even worse happen as a result.

It’s easy to hate Louis Creed, but there is no real villain in this story. Or, conversely, a compelling argument could be made that everyone is a villain. Jud shows Louis the burial ground and plants the idea of resurrecting Gage in his head. Rachel’s inability to talk about death leads to Louis burying Church in the cursed burial ground. Louis exhumes his dead son and reburies him, knowing what will probably happen. And of course Gage, brought back from the dead only to brutally murder a nice old man and his own mother.

Who’s the villain here?

Everyone, and no one.

Pet Sematary was initially brought to the screen in 1989, six years after the book was first published. The movie is very faithful to the novel, which could partly be because Stephen King himself wrote the screenplay. The movie was directed by Mary Lambert and starred Dale Midkiff as Louis, Denise Crosby as Rachel, and Fred Gwynne as Jud.

Images: Paramount Pictures

Gwynne, known as Herman Munster from The Munsters, easily gives the movie’s best performance. In his books, King is (at times overly) fond of writing dialogue in regional dialects. One of his favorite expressions is “Ayuh,” and there are “Ayuh”s aplenty both in the book and in the 1989 film. I won’t lie, King’s frequent use of dialect in his books is one of my least favorite things about him as a writer, I love his books but the parts written in dialect can be tiresome.

This actually translates well to the screen. I didn’t mind it so much because it felt more natural coming from an actual person than it did reading it on the page. Gwynne was in his 50’s when the movie was released, but he looks much older. I was surprised to discover that he was only 66 when he died in 1993. He gives a tremendously convincing performance as Jud, and his grisly death at the hands of the undead Gage is, for me, the movie’s most horrific scene.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie’s acting isn’t as good. Dale Midkiff as Louis gives one of the flattest performances I’ve ever seen in a movie, he has no charisma at all. His portrayal of Louis is as flat as a pancake. You know it’s not a great sign when a movie’s lead actor gets out-acted by a three-year-old, as Midkiff does here. Gage was played by Miko Hughes, who was pretty much the cutest kid you’ve ever seen, making his murder spree all the more disturbing.

The problem is that, while the idea of someone’s dead child coming back to murderous life is a horrifically disturbing idea that is chilling to read in a book, its translation to the screen is…a mixed bag. Watching a man battle his murderous undead offspring is horrifying, but it’s also a bit silly. Reading it may be scary but actually seeing it is equal parts scary and ridiculous. Reading the book makes it easier to suspend your disbelief.

Which brings us to the new version of the movie. The 2019 movie stars Jason Clarke as Louis, Amy Seimetz as Rachel, and John Lithgow as Jud. The new movie follows the same general plot structure with one key difference, sadly given away by the film’s trailers: in this version, it’s not Gage but Ellie who is hit by a truck and brought back to murderous life. This is a change that angered some fans of the original, but I like it. It puts a fresh spin on the material and keeps it from feeling like the exact same story. And since Ellie is older than Gage, it gives the viewer a chance to get to know her more as a person, which gives her death and resurrection more emotional weight.

Ellie is played by a young actress named Jete Laurence, and she deserves a lot of credit for what is probably the best performance in the movie. She makes Ellie inquisitive and likable, without ever being shrill or annoying. And when she later goes full psycho and begins her murder spree, Laurence’s performance is chilling and believable. Watching a 9-year-old girl repeatedly stab her mother with a kitchen knife is one of the nastier things I’ve seen on a movie screen in quite some time. An evil 9-year-old is also more plausible onscreen than an evil 3-year-old.

The movie also gets a lot of mileage out of the body horror aspects of Rachel’s sister Zelda. The Zelda scenes in the original movie were unsettling, but the Zelda scenes in the new movie are far more horrific, and provide some of the most effective scares. Old-school fans of the original movie will probably disagree, but I think the new movie is better than the original in almost every way: the acting is (mostly) better, it’s more atmospheric, it ramps up the gore, and most importantly it’s much scarier.

Which is not to say that it doesn’t have flaws. The relationship between Jud and Louis could have used a bit more detail, and there are a few intriguing ideas that don’t go anywhere. One of the scenes that featured prominently in the movie’s trailers was of a procession of children, wearing animal masks and slowly beating a drum, pushing a dead dog in a wheelbarrow in the woods towards the pet cemetery.

It’s a creepy image that presents all sorts of intriguing possibilities: do the kids know about the burial ground that will bring things back to life? How much does the rest of the town know? Could the kids themselves have been resurrected there? Unfortunately, the image is there and then gone, and ultimately only serves to provide Ellie with a creepy animal mask she wears during her murderous rampage. It’s a spooky early scene that doesn’t end up serving the plot in a meaningful way, and feels like a missed opportunity.

One thing both movies really nail is the ending. The original movie’s ending is much closer to the book’s ending, with Louis embracing his grotesquely reanimated wife before she picks up a knife off the table and the screen cuts to black as Louis screams. The new movie ends with Ellie, Rachel and Louis all being killed and resurrected as murderous versions of their former selves, with the strong implication that cute little Gage will be next. Both versions are chilling.

Pet Sematary is one of Stephen King’s darkest stories. It’s also one of my favorites of his books that I’ve read. I don’t know if I could ever read it or watch either movie again, since the experience took me to some very dark places. Pet Sematary is a story about death. It’s a story about a very nice family who has unspeakable things happen to them. It lets the reader/viewer decide for themselves who they think the villain is. It’s a story with a lot of ambiguity, it doesn’t offer any easy answers and the ending of every version of the story offers no encouragement.

It’s a difficult and astonishingly dark piece of fiction, and it’s not hard to see why Stephen King himself is a little scared of it. Pet Sematary is a story that forces you to come to the inevitable conclusion that no matter how painful it is, sometimes dead is indeed better.

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James Bond: The Roger Moore Era – The Spy Who Loved Me

Now that is what I call a Bond movie.

After the boring awfulness of Live and Let Die and the mostly-mediocre The Man with the Golden Gun, Roger Moore hit a home run with his third Bond film, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. TSWLM is classic Bond. Everything people associate with Bond movies is here: beautiful women, exotic locations, cool gadgets and vehicles, a villain with a diabolical plot for world domination…you name it, this one’s got it.

Images: MGM

The movie is an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name in name only. The Spy Who Loved Me is unique among Fleming’s novels in that it is the only one written from a first-person perspective. And you would think that would be from Bond’s perspective, but it’s not. It’s from the perspective of a young woman named Vivienne Michel, and Bond doesn’t appear in the book until it’s about two-thirds over. It’s not generally regarded as one of Fleming’s best books but for whatever reason it’s one of my personal favorites and one I find myself coming back to most often.

Fleming was never entirely happy with the book and when he sold the film rights to his work he only gave the producers permission to use the title of The Spy Who Loved Me, and none of the book’s plot. It’s still a catchy title but it doesn’t have the same literal meaning as it does in Fleming’s novel. The film uses Fleming’s title but the plot is a creation of the filmmakers. This is not, as we shall see, a bad thing.

But let’s get to the movie. Its opening sequence is a classic. It begins with something mysterious happening to a British submarine. When M, Bond’s boss, is informed that a nuclear submarine has gone missing, he immediately puts Bond on the case. Meanwhile, in Moscow, M’s opposite number General Gogol is informed that a Russian nuclear submarine has also gone missing. He promises to put his best agent, codenamed Agent Triple X, on the case.

As it turns out, both agents are rather preoccupied when they receive their instructions from headquarters. Bond, of course, is shacking up with a beautiful young lady in a cabin in the mountains. When he receives M’s summons, he puts on his hideous bright-yellow ski suit and prepares to leave.

“But James, I need you!” his paramour protests.

“So does England,” James replies stoically, and departs.

Meanwhile, Bond’s Russian counterpart, Agent Triple X, is also in bed with a lover. There’s a clever bit of misdirection here when the viewer thinks that Agent Triple X is the male half of the canoodling couple, but it turns out that Agent Triple X is in fact a woman, and a badass woman at that. This is Major Anya Amasova, played by Barbara Bach, and she is one of the best Bond Girls. Her lover is also a Russian agent, and leaves on a mission of his own.

It turns out that his mission is to kill Bond, because shortly after Bond leaves his mountainside hideaway, he is beset by several armed skiers who pursue him down the mountain. Bond kills one of them with a weaponized ski pole (provided by Q Branch, no doubt) and the camera zooms in to reveal that Bond has unknowingly killed Agent Triple X’s lover. This will be problematic later. It’s a fun chase scene (despite Bond’s hideous Ronald McDonald-colored snowsuit) that ends with an iconic stunt, where Bond ski jumps off a mountain and opens his parachute, which is emblazoned with the Union Jack. The patriotic parachute segues into the opening credits, accompanied by the song “Nobody Does It Better,” performed by Carly Simon.

It’s a fantastic opening: it’s fun and exciting, it establishes the plot, and it sets up things that will be important later. The ski jump is also very impressive, considering that an actual stuntman named Rick Sylvester risked life and limb by jumping off a dang mountain, an action that most human beings would never dream of attempting. Sylvester was paid $30,000 for the stunt, and it was money well-spent.

Bond and Anya are instructed by their respective bosses to go to Egypt to retrieve microfilm plans for a highly advanced submarine tracking system. They inevitably encounter one another and sparks fly in more ways than one. The relationship between Bond and Anya is one of my favorite things about the movie. Anya is as much of a badass as Bond his, and when he pitches her grief, she pitches it right back. This is in stark contrast to female characters in previous Moore Bond movies, who were pretty one-note. There is also the looming question of what will happen once Anya inevitably discovers that Bond killed her boyfriend, which provides tension to the relationship.

Anya one-ups Bond and delivers the microfilm to her boss, and Bond discovers that the British and the Russians have temporarily decided to set aside their differences and join forces, since they have determined that neither is responsible for the missing submarines and they therefore share a common enemy. “We have entered a new era of Anglo-Soviet cooperation,” General Gogol says. Inspecting the microfilm leads Bond and Anya to a man named Karl Stromberg.

Stromberg is the film’s primary villain, and he has a whopper of an evil plan. He built a massive oil tanker in order to capture and house nuclear submarines. He then plans to use these submarines to launch missiles which will destroy New York City and Moscow, thus triggering nuclear war which Stromberg will survive in his evil lair, called (rather uncreatively) Atlantis, and subsequently establish a new civilization underwater.
Heck yes! All of that is thoroughly ludicrous, and I love it. Classic Bond villain stuff.

All of this is complicated once Bond and Anya start to, you know, hook up, and Anya discovers that Bond killed her boyfriend. She declares that she will kill Bond after they complete their mission. Bond defends himself by saying “When someone’s behind you on skis at 40 miles per hour trying to put a bullet in your back, you don’t always have time to remember a face. In our business, Anya, people get killed. We both know that. So did he. It was either him or me. The answer to the question is yes. I did kill him.”

That’s…actually pretty good writing. The Spy Who Loved Me does not repeat the mistakes made by Moore’s previous films, in that it doesn’t feel the need to undercut everything with crappy attempts at humor. The film’s plot may be far-fetched, but the relationship between Bond and Anya is complex and given room to develop. When Stromberg captures Anya later in the movie, Bond risks his life to rescue her even though he knows she might kill him for having killed her boyfriend.

But lest you think the film skimps when it comes to delivering the action set-pieces Bond films are known for, think again. The Spy Who Loved Me is full of slam-bang action sequences, some of the best of the Roger Moore era. Who can forget the moment Bond drives his car off a dock into the water to escape a pursuing helicopter, only for his car to transform into a submarine and shoot the helicopter with a missile? That’s awesome stuff. Bond’s submarine car is subsequently attacked by divers and mini-submarines, which Anya helps destroy by dropping mines. When Bond asks her how she knew how to do that, she informs him that she stole the blueprints for the car two years ago, which is a nice reminder of how badass she is.

This movie also has one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history. No, I’m not talking about Stromberg. I’m talking about JAWS, played by the late Richard Kiel.

Standing at more than seven feet tall and sporting a mouth full of deadly metal teeth, Jaws is a fearsome adversary. It’s telling that when he and Bond fight on a train, Bond actually looks kind of scared. 2015’s Spectre would later pay homage to this film’s train fight by having Bond engage in a massive brawl with a hefty henchman played by Dave “Drax the Destroyer” Bautista.

Jaws is also the source of the movie’s funniest running joke, in which something happens to him that would kill any normal man (part of a building falls on him, he gets thrown out of a train, he’s in a car that goes off a cliff), only for him to emerge from the wreckage unscathed, dust himself off, straighten his tie, and continue on his way. Jaws proved so popular that he returned for the next Bond movie, 1979’s Moonraker. Jaws kicks ass, and is one of the most instantly-recognizable cinematic villains of all time.

The Spy Who Loved Me is one of my favorite Bond films. It strikes the perfect balance between campy and serious. Its plot is over-the-top and ridiculous but it’s treated with gravity and it feels like there is a tangible threat that needs to be stopped. The central relationship between Bond and Anya is complex and intriguing. The humor actually works and the film doesn’t feel the need to undercut every cool thing that happens with a silly sound effect.

As a Bond nerd, there are also quite a few things that happen in this movie that rarely happen in Bond movies. Bond wears his full dress uniform. The British and the Russians work together. M is addressed by his first name (Miles). Q, the long-suffering gadget master, is called Major Boothroyd. M calls Bond by his first name. And there is even a mention of Bond’s late wife. These are all rare occurrences in Bond movies, and the fact that they’re all in this one movie is nothing short of remarkable.

It’s not perfect, of course. Barbara Bach as Anya is beautiful and badass, but her line readings are a bit flat. Main villain Stromberg is overshadowed by his henchman, Jaws. And the pacing can be a bit sluggish at times. But overall, the pros far outweigh the cons, and I think this is Roger Moore’s best Bond movie. If you haven’t seen it or if it’s been a while, skip Moore’s first two Bond movies and watch this one instead.

At the end of the movie, the end credits inform the viewer that “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only.” But this turned out not to be the case, since there was a little movie that also came out in 1977 that changed everything. It was a movie you might have heard of called Star Wars, and it led to the Bond producers sending Bond to space in Moonraker, one of the Bond series’ most outlandish entries. We’ll take a look at that one next time.

James Bond: The Roger Moore Era – The Man With the Golden Gun

The Man with the Golden Gun is better than Live and Let Die.

But that’s not saying much.

Images: MGM

Roger Moore’s second Bond adventure does actually have a few things to recommend it, even if it suffers from the same problematic racial and sexual aspects of its predecessor. For one thing, it’s got an excellent villain, Francisco Scaramanga, the titular Man with the Golden Gun, played by the late, great Christopher Lee. Lee and Ian Fleming were actually step-cousins and Lee almost played Dr. No in the first James Bond film.

Lee is fantastic as the title character, who is portrayed as Bond’s equal in many ways. He’s the world’s most deadly assassin, a crack shot with a pistol, who charges one million dollars per hit. He uses a gun that is assembled from different parts: a fountain pen, a cigarette case, a cigarette lighter, and a cufflink. And his next target is 007. There’s a great scene where a gangster yells at Scaramanga, while Scaramanga sits at a desk and nonchalantly assembles his weapon, with the gangster being none the wiser. When the gangster finishes ranting, Scaramanga calmly shoots him.

The golden gun itself is extremely cool, one of the coolest weapons wielded by any of Bond’s numerous villains. And of course it will be remembered by anyone who played GoldenEye007 on the Nintendo 64, where its one-shot-kill ability was loved and loathed in equal measure. The weapon is iconic in movie history, as is the man who wielded it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is kind of a mess. It’s a more entertaining mess than Live and Let Die, but given how boring that movie was it’s a low bar to clear.

The movie was released in 1974, only a year after Live and Let Die. That movie drew from the Blaxploitation films that were popular at the time, and The Man with the Golden Gun (which I’m going to abbreviate as TMWTGG because I don’t want to type that long title over and over) draws from kung fu films that were also in vogue (Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee’s most iconic film, was released in 1973).

TMWTGG was very loosely based on Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name, which was released in 1965, eight months after Ian Fleming’s death in 1964. It’s not one of Fleming’s better novels, he was in poor health when he was writing it and it showed. I haven’t read it in some time, but I remember thinking it was pretty lackluster and unfortunate that it was Fleming’s last, it’s too bad he couldn’t have gone out on a higher note.

The film’s version of Scaramanga is much more interesting that the book’s version. In the book Scaramanga is basically a crook who’s a really good shot, but in the movie he’s suave, sophisticated, and calculating. He’s really the only villain in the movie, aside from his diminutive henchman Nick Nack and a gangster named Hai Fat, who’s not very important in the overall scheme of things. I really like the idea of a Bond movie being structured as a one-on-one duel between Bond and a man who is very much his equal.

But there is more going on in the movie than just the standoff between Bond and Scaramanga. The film was made during the 1973 energy crisis and as such there is a MacGuffin called the Solex Agitator, a component of a solar power station that Britain needs to help solve the energy crisis…or something. The Solex Agitator is a classic MacGuffin, a device that drives the plot forward. It’s not particularly interesting in and of itself. Basically, Scaramanga wants to sell it to the highest bidder and Bond’s superiors don’t want that.

As part of the film’s incorporation of kung fu movies, much of the film takes place in Thailand, Hong Kong and Macau. There are some great locations, such as Scaramanga’s secret island, but there are also some…problems. For example, at one point Bond gets captured by the gangster Hai Fat and sent to Fat’s martial arts academy, where the students are instructed to kill him. Bond escapes and runs into Lieutenant Hip, his contact in Hong Kong, who just sorta happened to be there at the time I guess. Ludicrously, Hip and his two teenage nieces proceed to thrash the entire martial arts school, while Bond stands by and does nothing.

Hip and his nieces pile into their car and Hip moronically drives away before Bond gets in the car. Bond is still being chased and tries to escape in a boat down a canal (AGAIN WITH THE BOATS), and at one point the camera pans over to reveal…

…SHERIFF J.W. PEPPER?!?!?!

Yes, they brought this racist caricature back for a second movie.

This is absolutely inexplicable. Why would a racist hick sheriff from the bayou in Louisiana be on vacation in Thailand, of all places??? AND WHO THOUGHT IT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA TO BRING HIM BACK?!?! He might even be worse in this movie, since he refers to Asian people as…sigh… “pointy-heads.”

I’m assuming this is some kind of a racial slur, and if it is I deeply apologize. I could Google it but I don’t want to. Even just typing it made me uncomfortable. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

Fuck J.W. Pepper.

Seriously.

And then he shows up AGAIN later in the movie when Bond steals a car from a showroom to chase after Scaramanga. Why the hell was J.W. looking at cars in Thailand? Who buys a car on vacation in a foreign country? WTF? So then there’s an otherwise pretty good car chase that features some great stunt driving, but it’s nearly ruined by the fact that J.W. fucking Pepper is sitting in the car next to Bond the entire time, spewing his usual stream of unfunny bullshit. Talk about killing the tension.

There’s also an amazing car stunt in this scene, when Bond does an incredible corkscrew jump over a river, doing a 360-degree midair twist. It’s an awesome stunt that is still impressive by today’s standards, but for some incomprehensible reason it too is nearly ruined by the inclusion of a goofy-ass whistling sound as the car spins in midair. Why would you nearly ruin such a great stunt by adding a comedic sound effect?! It’s so stupid, and shortly afterwards, SCARAMANGA’S CAR GROWS WINGS AND TURNS INTO A PLANE AND FLIES OFF!!

God, that’s stupid.

The film’s treatment of women is also problematic. The first time Bond encounters Scaramanga’s mistress Andrea Anders he hits her and threatens to break her arm if she doesn’t tell him where Scaramanga is. She later sleeps with Bond anyway, which is another embarrassing anecdote that we’ll get to in a bit. Interestingly, Andrea was played by Maud Adams, who I think is the only actress to play different Bond girls in two Bond movies. Nearly a decade later, she would play the titular character in 1983’s Octopussy, and yes, I did enjoy writing that sentence.

The film’s other Bond Girl is Mary Goodnight, played by the very beautiful Britt Ekland. Goodnight may very well be one of the sexiest Bond girls, but unfortunately she’s also one of the dumbest. In Fleming’s novels Goodnight is one of Bond’s secretaries, and Bond trusts her because she is smart and capable. In the movie she is reduced to a blonde bimbo in constant need of rescuing. She admittedly looks spectacular, especially in the bikini she wears for most of the film’s climax, but as far as personality goes she is a total bore.

But you have to feel sorry for her because of one scene. In it, Bond and Goodnight are in Bond’s hotel room having a hot-and-heavy makeout sesh when the hotel room’s door slowly begins to open. Bond hides Goodnight under the covers and prepares for action, only to discover that his visitor is Andrea Anders, who wants Bond to kill Scaramanga. You can probably guess what else she wants, so when she goes into the bathroom to, uh, slip into something more comfortable, Bond hauls poor Goodnight out from under the covers and shoves her in the closet, where she is forced to stay while Bond hooks up with Andrea.

Is this worse than Bond tricking Solitaire into sleeping with him in Live and Let Die? It might very well be, but the fact that I even have to ask this question is clearly problematic in and of itself. It makes Bond look like an absolute cad, and yes, Goodnight later sleeps with Bond anyway, despite being unceremoniously shoved in a closet while Bond hooks up with another woman. Goodnight may be a ditz but she seems like a sweetheart, she didn’t deserve such treatment.

There’s also Scaramanga’s henchman Nick Nack, played by Herve Villechaize, a four-foot-tall actor. To be honest, I kind of liked Nick Nack, even if watching he and Bond try to kill each other is a bit…weird. And Nick Nack speaks with such a strong French accent that I had to keep turning on subtitles to understand what he said. Still, he’s certainly unique among Bond henchmen, even if Bond eventually defeats him by, er, stuffing him in a suitcase.

The film also has a fun final confrontation, with Bond and Scaramanga squaring off in a one-on-one showdown on Scaramanga’s private island. Bond’s Walther PPK against Scaramanga’s golden gun. Since Scaramanga’s weapon only fires one bullet, Bond comments that six bullets in his PPK versus Scaramanga’s single bullet doesn’t sound like fair odds.

“I only need one,” Scaramanga replies, and thanks to the awesomeness of Christopher Lee, you believe him.

The Man with the Golden Gun is a decidedly mixed bag. This is still a marked improvement over Live and Let Die, which was a bag filled with pure crap. TMWTGG boasts one of the Bond series’ best villains, and there is a good movie to be made here, but the movie we got is really not it. It comes close at times but the filmmakers apparently couldn’t resist the urge to insert “comedy” when there didn’t need to be any.

I didn’t even mention the scene where Bond gets attacked by a sumo wrestler and attempts to escape from the wrestler’s crushing grip by grabbing a big ol’ fistful of sumo ass cheek in each hand and twisting them around a bit. When that doesn’t work, he gives the wrestler’s jockstrap a good yank and this eventually forces the wrestler to release Bond.

I also didn’t mention that Scaramanga’s unusual physical feature is that he has three nipples, and Bond impersonates him by, um, wearing a fake third nipple and bluffing his way into Hai Fat’s estate. “He must have found me quite titillating,” Bond later quips. This also results in several close-up shots of men’s nipples, which it’s safe to say are things that most people do not want to look at.

I love the idea of a Bond movie where there is only one villain for Bond to fight, and this movie provides the occasional glimpse of what that might be like, but sadly is mostly overcome by a tidal wave of goofy bullshit that didn’t need to be there at all. At least it’s better than Live and Let Die, and thank God this is the last time we’d see the horrendous J.W. Pepper. Good riddance, you racist asshole.

Fortunately, Moore’s next Bond outing was one that many consider to be his best. It’s The Spy Who Loved Me, and it’s a doozy.

James Bond: The Roger Moore Era – Live and Let Die

I love James Bond. Books, movies, games, you name it. Bond is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. Recently I’ve been watching the Roger Moore Bond films that were released in the 70’s and 80’s. Moore made seven Bond films from 1973 to 1985, the most of any Bond actor. Technically Sean Connery also made seven, but his last one, 1983’s Never Say Never Again, was produced by a different studio and is not considered an official entry in the Bond series, so it doesn’t count.

Why am I writing about the Moore films instead of going to back to where it all began with Connery? I dunno. Because I’ve been watching the Moore movies lately for whatever reason. I’ll get to Connery eventually. Moore is probably not many people’s favorite 007, but since he played Bond seven times there had to have been at least a couple good movies in there somewhere, right?

Well, yes. But his first one was not one of them. 1973’s Live and Let Die is a dreadful movie that has not aged well at all. It draws from the Blaxploitation films that were popular at the time, and its attitudes towards race and sexuality are uncomfortable at best, and at times deeply problematic. Live and Let Die was the eighth Bond film, and was loosely based on Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name, which was published in 1954. It was Fleming’s second Bond novel, following Casino Royale which had been published in 1953.

I haven’t read the book in quite some time, but I remember liking it quite a bit. The movie, however, is flat-out terrible. Moore was in his mid-40’s when he made the movie (he was born in 1927), and he certainly looks the part. Bond is tasked with investigating the deaths of three British agents, one who was killed in New York, one in New Orleans and one in the fictional Caribbean nation of San Monique, which is run by a dictator named Dr. Kananga. Live and Let Die is unique among Bond films in that it takes place mostly in America, although as we shall see that is not necessarily a good thing.

Images: MGM
Bond’s investigation leads him to a ruthless gangster named Mr. Big, who runs a chain of restaurants called Fillet of Soul throughout the United States. Bond ends up in Harlem, and is conspicuously the only white person there. When his cab driver, who is black, warns Bond that they’re headed to Harlem, Bond offers him an extra twenty dollars to continue on their current path. “Hey man,” the driver responds, “for twenty bucks I’d take you to a Ku Klux Klan cookout!”

Bond soon encounters Mr. Big, played by Yaphet Kotto, and his assistant Solitaire, played by the transcendently beautiful Jane Seymour. Seymour was 22 when this movie came out, literally half Roger Moore’s age, and the age gap between the two of them will become extremely problematic later on, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Solitaire is a tarot card reader who Mr. Big uses to predict the future. Big promptly orders his men to kill Bond, first proclaiming when Bond tries to introduce himself that “Names is for tombstones, baby!” before instructing his henchmen to “take this honky out and waste him.”

Bond escapes said wasting and travels to San Monique, since there appears to be a connection between Mr. Big and Dr. Kananga, the island’s dictator. There, he discovers expansive poppy fields, and also encounters Solitaire again. It should come as no surprise that Bond and Solitaire end up in bed, but the method Bond uses to seduce her is…troubling.

He sneaks into her house on the island and somehow replaces every card in her tarot deck with The Lovers card, so when he tells her to draw a card from the deck, she inevitably draws The Lovers card which convinces her that she and Bond are meant to, you know, be together. Aside from the fact that this doesn’t make sense logistically (how did Bond find like 50 of these cards?), this is one of the skeeviest things Bond has ever done. Basically it amounts to a man in his mid-forties tricking a naïve young woman half his age into sleeping with him.

I don’t need to explain the problems with this. Just…ick. Let’s move on.

Once Bond and Solitaire have, you know, hooked up, Solitaire loses her ability to “see,” and is worried that Kananga will kill her. They escape to New Orleans and are promptly captured by Mr. Big, where it is revealed that Mr. Big and Dr. Kananga are, to no one’s great surprise, one and the same. The movie seems to think that this is a brilliant twist but it doesn’t make much difference in the overall scheme of things. Like seriously, who cares?

Big/Kananga’s plan is to produce heroin from the poppy fields on San Monique and basically get rich off it and create a bunch of addicts. It’s one of the more low-key Bond villain schemes, honestly. No world domination here. Kananga hands Bond off to his henchman whose name is Tee Hee, who sports a metallic prosthetic arm with a pincer on the end. Tee Hee takes Bond to an alligator farm in the backwoods of Louisiana and leaves him to be consumed by the gators. Bond escapes and the most interminable boat chase in cinematic history begins. Seriously, the boat sequence feels like it goes on forever, and is one of the most boring action scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s just a bunch of boats driving around endlessly.

But it’s made excruciating by the addition of one of the most appallingly horrendous characters in cinematic history.

Say hello to Sheriff J.W. Pepper.

This guy is a tobacco-spittin’, word-slurrin’, stubborn, racist, redneck sumbitch.
He. Is. The. WORST.

When he encounters one of Kananga’s henchmen (who is black), he calls him “boy” and implies that his car is stolen and that it’s not the first time the henchmen has been arrested. Again, I don’t need to explain the problems with this. It’s not funny, like, AT ALL, and it goes on for WAY too long, making the endless boat chase even more interminable. The inclusion of this wretched character is absolutely inexplicable. I try to avoid using this kind of language in my blog posts, but in this case it can’t be helped:

Fuck J.W. Pepper.

Seriously.

Anyway, Bond eventually (finally!) escapes and heads back to San Monique to destroy Kananga’s poppy fields and, um, rescue Solitaire from a voodoo ritual. I forgot to mention that there’s a voodoo aspect to this movie. Kananga basically uses voodoo to scare the locals away from his poppy fields, in a move that can only be described as being worthy of a Scooby-Doo villain. The whole voodoo ritual scene is just painful to watch.

Kananga captures Bond and Solitaire (again) and, in a classic Bond villain move, is about to lower them into a shark tank but Bond escapes (again) and kills Kananga with what Wikipedia describes as “a compressed-gas pellet used in shark guns,” which causes Kananga to inflate like a balloon and fly into the ceiling before exploding. When Solitaire asks what happened to Kananga, Bond replies “He always did have an inflated opinion of himself,” which I have to admit is a pretty decent one-liner.

God, this is an awful movie. Its pacing is glacially slow, there’s very little action, the racial and sexual aspects of it are highly problematic, and it has one of the worst characters in cinematic history. But its greatest sin as a piece of entertainment is that it’s BORING. By my estimation, it takes an hour and four minutes into this two-hour movie before Bond even throws a punch. I remember renting this movie from Hollywood Video many years ago and being bored to death by it. The racial and sexual stuff didn’t bother me much then but they sure do now.

Wow, what a stinker. The only good things about it are the ethereal beauty of Jane Seymour and Paul McCartney’s very catchy theme song, as well as a good performance from a very young-looking Roger Moore. The rest of it is borderline-unwatchable. This is a movie for Bond enthusiasts only, and now that I’ve watched it I never want to experience this abomination again. Maybe the racial and sexual stuff wasn’t that weird in 1973, but watching Live and Let Die in 2019 can best be described as a profoundly uncomfortable experience.

It’s really a shame because the book is one of Fleming’s best, but man does this movie suck. For my money it’s one of the worst Bond films. The Moore movies would eventually get better, but they didn’t get off to a good start. At all.

Well, I was originally planning to cover multiple movies in one post, and I may still do that, but this post ended up being quite a bit longer than I had anticipated so I’m going to end it here. Moore’s next Bond film was The Man with the Golden Gun. Was it better than the rancid pile of crap that was Live and Let Die? It would be hard to be worse!

And just because she’s so beautiful, here’s another picture of Jane Seymour.

GIRL POWER: Captain Marvel

Of all the characters that have appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel is probably the one that I knew the least about beforehand. I’m a huge comics nerd and have read several thousand pages of Marvel comics, but I don’t think Captain Marvel appeared in any of the ones I’ve read.

The name “Captain Marvel” is also more than a little confusing. Marvel and DC both have characters named Captain Marvel. Marvel’s Captain Marvel is a woman and DC’s Captain Marvel is a man, who will be appearing in his own movie later this year. That movie is called Shazam and I wonder if they called it that to avoid confusion with Marvel’s Captain Marvel.

So yeah, it’s all pretty confusing. Fortunately, Marvel’s just-released Captain Marvel film is quite a bit of fun. It’s certainly not perfect and I wouldn’t consider it to be a top-tier Marvel movie, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

Images: Marvel/Disney

Brie Larson plays the titular character, a fighter pilot whose real name is Carol Danvers. She becomes embroiled in an intergalactic war between two alien races: the Kree and the Skrulls. Carol doesn’t remember her past or even her name (her name isn’t revealed until later in the film) and struggles to control her photon-blasting abilities. She is a member of Starforce, which as far as I could tell was sort of like Kree Special Forces.

The Skrulls are a race of shape-shifting green aliens who resemble the sort of orcs or goblins that would appear in a Lord of the Rings movie. They have the ability to camouflage themselves to look exactly like anyone they see, and part of the fun of the movie is in guessing and discovering who is a Skrull in disguise. The movie doesn’t really get into the politics of the Kree/Skrull conflict, and it was never quite clear to me why they were fighting in the first place. Ultimately it doesn’t make too much of a difference because the movie’s plot is still easy to follow, but it could have benefited from adding a bit more depth to the underlying conflict between the two alien races.

There are several surprises in the plot that I didn’t see coming, but I thought they were well-executed and made sense, and weren’t there just to mess with the viewer. If that seems vague it’s because I don’t want to spoil anything, and so I’ll just leave it at that.

Brie Larson is a very appealing and likable lead, she’s tough and badass with a somewhat wry sense of humor that I found very appealing. This is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film with a female lead, and Larson is a welcome addition to the MCU. This is also the first MCU movie to be directed (or in this case co-directed) by a woman. The film was directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, a filmmaking duo who made some very well-received indie movies that I haven’t seen but are well-regarded.

The movie is a lot of fun, and nicely balances action and spectacle with heart and a lot of very funny humor. Much of the humor comes courtesy of a cat named Goose (I suspect his name is a reference to Tom Cruise’s co-pilot in Top Gun), an adorable orange tabby who the end credits reveal was played by four feline thespians, who collectively should win an award for animal acting. And you should keep an eye on Goose, since he may or may not actually be a creature called a Flerken, which… well, I’ll let you find out for yourself. It’s amazing.

The movie is also a prequel, and takes place in the mid-90’s. As such, there are some very funny bits of 90’s nostalgia. Remember how slow computers used to be? This movie does. Some of the song choices are also quite funny, with one climactic fight scene being set to a song by No Doubt. The movie’s use of that song is very funny, but OH MY GOD I HATE THAT NO DOUBT SONG. Sorry, I just had to put that out there.

One area where the movie comes up a bit short in comparison to other MCU movies is the visuals. The special effects are fine but the movie doesn’t have the same creative visuals boasted by other MCU films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange or Thor Ragnarok. The movie doesn’t look bad, it just doesn’t look as good as its contemporaries. I found the interiors of the various spaceships in particular to be quite drab, and thought they lacked the lived-in feel of the spacecraft in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, for example.

But despite the occasional visual blandness, the movie still offers up the requisite amount of slam-bang superhero action, and Carol really gets a chance to show off how powerful she is during the film’s action-packed climax. Carol will be an important part of the next Avengers movie, and I can’t wait to see how she will fit in to the larger story.

One area in which the visuals absolutely excel are in the uncanny de-aging effects used on Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Clark Gregg as everyone’s favorite dearly-departed SHIELD field agent, Phil Coulson. Remember, this movie takes place in the 90’s so Fury and Coulson are quite a bit younger and Fury is not yet the director of SHIELD. I don’t know how they do it, but the de-aging effects on Jackson and Gregg are so good that you don’t notice them at all, which of course is exactly the point.

Marvel has succeeded yet again in taking characters with which I had little familiarity and making a fun and engaging movie with them. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, its plot isn’t terribly original and its visuals are occasionally bland, and it does feel at times like there’s some table-setting for subsequent movies. But its action sequences are fun, its performances are great (the chemistry between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson is one of the film’s best aspects) and it brings a fun character into Marvel’s box-office-dominating film series that I am looking forward to seeing in future films. Can’t ask for much more than that.

The movie also opens with a lovely tribute to the late, great Stan Lee, with the opening Marvel Studios logo set to a montage of his various MCU cameo appearances, and the words “Thank You Stan” appearing on the screen. A touching tribute to a legendary creator. In the immortal words of Stan himself…

…’Nuff said.

2018: The Year in Villainy

It was a cinematic year that was primarily dominated by two Marvel villains, both of whom made big splashes. It’s hard to pick just one for the coveted title of Villain Of The Year, but ultimately there was one villain who just had to be given the title, and that villain is…

Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War

It had to be Thanos as Villain Of The Year. No other villain made as much of an impact on the lives of a movie’s characters. And not only did Thanos massively change (and, at least temporarily, end) the lives of dozens of superheroes, he also hugely impacted the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has become a box-office juggernaut ever since the release of Iron Man in 2008. With Thanos, Marvel showed that it is not afraid to shake up the status quo of its hugely profitable film franchise. And really, the fact that Thanos actually succeeded in wiping out half of all life in the universe makes him Villain Of The Year pretty much automatically.

Marvel/Disney

Also, remember when he THREW A PLANET AT IRON MAN??? Holy crap that was awesome.

Josh Brolin did fantastic work bringing Thanos to life, and the writers, directors, and special-effects people created a character who was surprisingly sympathetic, instead of the two-dimensional power-hungry jerk the character could have easily been if he had not been handled so well. Infinity War was the culmination of a decade’s worth of blockbuster movies, and thanks to Thanos the Marvel Cinematic Universe will never be the same. And for the record, I am still not over that Spider-Man scene. You know the one. Sniff.

Erik Killmonger in Black Panther

Marvel/Disney

In any other year, Killmonger would have been Villain Of The Year. But thanks to Thanos, he is a very strong runner-up. Michael B. Jordan was excellent and turned Killmonger, much like Thanos, into a deeply sympathetic and even tragic figure. The viewer could understand Killmonger’s point of view, even while disagreeing with his actions. He was charismatic, intelligent and badass. He was everything a great movie villain should be. I’ve got him as a very close runner-up for VOTY, but if he’s your number one I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong.

Captain Wafner in Overlord

Paramount Pictures

In stark contrast to sympathetic villains like Thanos and Killmonger, Captain Wafner was a villain with no redeeming qualities at all. He was a sadistic Nazi captain who was irredeemably evil even before he got half his face blown off and injected himself with an experimental serum that gave him ungodly strength and turned him into even more of a monster. Overlord was one of the year’s goriest thrill rides, and its villain was one of the year’s nastiest.

The Predators in The Predator

20th Century Fox

Speaking of gory thrill rides, it’s a toss-up between Overlord and Shane Black’s much-maligned Predator reboot for the title of goriest movie of the year. The Predator had its share of flaws, but I still found it to be an enjoyable, if bumpy, ride, and probably the best thing about it was seeing the different varieties of Predator that Black and his creative team conjured up. The design of the Predator in the original 1987 Predator movie was great to begin with, so Black didn’t change it too much. But he did add a few new wrinkles that were fun to see even if the Predator dog creatures were a little goofy, complete as they were with Predator dreadlocks.

The Meg in The Meg

Warner Bros.

The Meg is the film that finally answered the age-old question, “What would happen if Jason Statham were to fight an enormous shark?” The Meg is a deeply cheesy B-movie that was nonetheless quite enjoyable, and its massive shark was its crowning achievement. Or should I say sharks, because there are actually two of the giant beasts. The toothy monstrosities are enormous and, of course, hungry for nubile human flesh. The Meg is a thoroughly preposterous movie that is certainly no masterpiece, but it is quite a bit of fun and its gargantuan shark beasts should be more than enough to satisfy any fan of aquatic monster movies.

Solomon Lane and August Walker in Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise’s latest Mission: Impossible flick was the thrill ride of the year, and it had two quality villains to give Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and the rest of his team a run for their money. Sean Harris reprises his role as the diabolical Solomon Lane from the previous M:I film, and Superman himself, Henry Cavill, played August Walker, who was more than a match for Ethan in a fight. Give Lane and Walker credit: they came this close to enacting their evil plan, only to be thwarted at literally the last possible second. Being a bad guy can be a thankless task when all your hard work comes to naught. Hopefully they’ll try again in a few years, because I want more Mission: Impossible movies. Or at least Lane can try again, Walker won’t be able to participate on account of being extremely dead.

Ghost in Ant-Man and The Wasp

Marvel/Disney

It was a year of sympathetic villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ghost was a young woman who was suffering from a unique condition that gave her the ability to phase through solid objects and teleport short distances, which made her hard to handle in a fight, though her powers are unstable. But she became more sympathetic once the viewer learned about her tragic backstory, how she lost her parents in the lab accident that gave her powers and how shady government types took advantage of her powers to turn her into a weapon. She was the main superpowered antagonist for most of Ant-Man and The Wasp, but the movie ends with her seemingly cured of her affliction so perhaps we’ll see her again down the road.

The Murdersaurus (technically the Indoraptor) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Universal

You could argue that the main villains of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom were the morons who thought it would be a good idea to auction off a bunch of dinosaurs, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But those people were all idiots and dinosaurs are much cooler, so let’s talk about the Indoraptor instead. I dubbed it the Murdersaurus because it was a genetically-engineered death lizard designed specifically for hunting and killing. It gets to do a lot of hunting and killing in the second half of Fallen Kingdom, and I was kind of sad when it died because it was my favorite character in the movie.

Lizzy and Ralph in Rampage

Warner Bros.

Speaking of monster movies where all of the human characters were pretty dumb, Rampage was another deeply silly movie that I enjoyed quite a bit, it just might have been my guilty-pleasure movie of the year. The monsters were George the albino gorilla, Ralph the wolf, and Lizzy the (I think) alligator, all of whom were mutated to enormous size and exceptional ferocity. I didn’t include George as one of the villains because he ultimately becomes a good ape again, despite causing a lot of death and destruction. The monsters are fun to watch and the special effects are top-notch, and much like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom the monsters are much more entertaining the bland human characters.

The Screenslaver in Incredibles 2

Disney/Pixar

For a kids movie, Incredibles 2 had a surprisingly sophisticated villain. Writer/director Brad Bird’s long-awaited follow-up to his 2008 original, Incredibles 2 is that rare movie that is fun for kids but also contains a lot for adults to enjoy. This is a movie that treats its viewers with respect, regardless of whether that viewer happens to be a kid or a grown-up. It’s a tricky balancing act, but Incredibles 2 makes it look easy. The Screenslaver is a villain who takes advantage of the world’s overreliance on technology, and manipulates the omnipresent screens that are all around us. That’s a scary idea. The Screenslaver is one of the most culturally-relevant cinematic villains of the year.

Dryden Vos in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Disney/Lucasfilm

Paul Bettany is one of my favorite actors. He’s the kind of actor who elevates any movie he’s in. Since he frequently plays good guys, it’s always fun to watch him cut loose as a bad guy and really chew some scenery. He chewed scenery with aplomb in the latest Star Wars spinoff as a ruthless crime lord named Dryden Vos, who was at least part alien. Dryden is the kind of villain who acts friendly one moment but can explode into murderous rage at the drop of a hat. I like villains like that because their unpredictability ensures that the viewer is always on edge whenever they are around. Bettany’s role in the film is not a huge one, which is not too surprising if you’re aware of the movie’s behind-the-scenes drama (Bettany’s role was initially played by a different actor), but he makes an impression with a limited amount of screen time, as all great actors do.

Cable in Deadpool 2

20th Century Fox

Okay, so this is another debatable one, since Cable and Deadpool end up as allies. But much like Ghost in Ant-Man and The Wasp, Cable serves as the superpowered antagonist for much of the film, so he counts. It was a big year for Josh Brolin playing Marvel comics characters, and he was perfectly cast as the gruff cyborg Cable. He looks pretty much identical to how Cable looks in the comics, and is placed front and center along with Deadpool in the movie’s biggest action scenes. Deadpool 2 was more cluttered than its predecessor, but it benefited from a more complex antagonist, even though I haven’t forgotten that Cable and Deadpool become pals by the end of the movie and have a long history of teaming up in the comics, so perhaps we’ll be seeing more of him in the future.

Mathias Vogel in Tomb Raider

Warner Bros.

Walton Goggins was another actor who had a busy year playing villains. In addition to playing the main villain in this year’s Tomb Raider reboot, he also played a secondary villain in Ant-Man and The Wasp. Goggins is an actor who frequently plays slimy bad guys, and he was well-suited to both of his villainous roles this year. In Tomb Raider he played Mathias Vogel, the leader of an expedition to find a hidden artifact with Great and Terrible Power. He was not a nice person, but he was at least somewhat sympathetic by virtue of the fact that he had been stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere for years and desperately wanted to return home. Still, he was a nasty fellow and his death was thematically appropriate and quite satisfying.

So there you have it, my favorite villains of 2018. Keep in mind that this was not a comprehensive list of every villain in every movie I saw this year, it was simply a list of my favorites. There were a surprising number of sympathetic villains this year, which makes me happy because if there is one thing I like it is a complex bad guy. 2019 is bringing us another full slate of bad guys, including the return of Thanos and the most dreaded evil clown of all, Pennywise. See you at the movies!

Overlord: Hell’s Bells

I was excited about Overlord as soon as I saw the first trailer. The trailer looks at first like a Dirty Dozen-style World War II movie about American parachutists on a mission behind enemy lines in the hours leading up to the D-Day invasion of Normandy. But then Hell’s Bells by AC/DC starts playing, and the trailer takes a dramatic left turn into horror-movie territory.

Images: Paramount

It turns out that Overlord is more reminiscent of Wolfenstein than Saving Private Ryan, and is the closest thing to a live-action Wolfenstein movie we’re likely to get. The Nazis committed so many horrible deeds that it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that they would have tried something along the lines of what they’re up to in Overlord.

The main character of Overlord is Private Boyce, played by an English actor named Jovan Adepo. He’s a paratrooper dropped into France on the eve of the Normandy invasion. He and his squad are tasked with destroying a German radio tower in an old church in order to allow air support for the beach landings. The movie starts out with a bang as the mission goes to hell before it even has a chance to get started and Boyce’s plane is shot down.

The plane sequence is extremely intense, and takes place almost entirely inside the plane itself, which increases the suspense because the viewer has no more idea of what’s coming than the plane’s occupants do. It ends with Boyce being thrown out of the plane and the camera follows him in a single shot as he struggles to open his parachute and lands in the water. It’s a great way to start a movie.

Fortunately, the rest of the movie lives up to that ferocious opening sequence. It would have been a huge bummer if the remainder of the movie hadn’t been able to live up to the high standard set by that thrilling opening, but it does.

Following his narrow survival, Boyce attempts to regroup with his fellow paratroopers, and is able to meet up with four survivors, one of whom is promptly killed by a landmine. Boyce and his three remaining compatriots take shelter in the village with a young Frenchwoman named Chloe, who is living with her brother Paul and their aunt, who is suffering from a mysterious and gruesome ailment after returning from the church that houses the radio tower that Boyce and his squad must destroy.

I don’t want to give too much away, but if you’ve seen the trailer you’ll know that the Nazis are up to some very bad things in the secret lab below the church. Overlord is not a movie for the faint of heart, and the horrors Boyce encounters when he infiltrates the lab are grisly and horrific, but also kind of awesome, like a severed head still attached to a spinal cord that begs Boyce in French to end its suffering. Boyce also discovers a mysterious red serum that lies at the heart of these nasty experiments, which is very important later in the movie.

The main villain is a sadistic Nazi Captain named Wafner, played by a Danish actor named Pilou Asbaek, whom you might recognize as Euron Greyjoy from Game of Thrones or last year’s adaptation of Ghost in the Shell with Scarlett Johansson. His Captain Wafner is a despicable character who is utterly unapologetic in his evil, even after being brutally beaten by one of Boyce’s squadmates and having half his face shot off, which only seems to make him worse.

That squadmate who beats up Wafner is named Corporal Ford, who is played by Wyatt Russell. If Russell seems familiar, it’s probably because he’s the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, and there were a couple of moments where he strongly reminded me of his dad. If you, like me, are a fan of Kurt Russell classics like The Thing, Escape from New York, and Tombstone, being reminded of a young Kurt Russell is not a bad thing. I like Wyatt Russell as an actor much more than Clint Eastwood’s son Scott, who has been in several high-profile movies despite not being able to act his way out of a wet paper bag.

The middle section of Overlord is fairly sedate in terms of violence. After that visceral opening sequence, the movie slows down and takes time to establish the characters and mood, as well as set up the rest of the plot. Despite the lack of action in the film’s middle section, it’s never boring, since the suspense is always high and the characters are never safe.

But lest you think the movie might come up short in the action department, rest assured that it does not. The movie’s final half-hour is a barrage of nonstop carnage and mayhem, and is more than worth the price of admission. It’s one ferocious battle and narrow escape after another, and it is vicious. Overlord pulls no punches in terms of gore. It’s a toss-up between Overlord and Shane Black’s Predator reboot for the title of Goriest Blockbuster of 2018. This is not a movie for people with weak stomachs. There’s dismemberment, disfigurement, impalement, and gallons of blood. One character even takes a meat hook to the chest in what has to be the most squirm-inducing thing I’ve seen in a movie this year.
It’s intense, gory, horrific, and absolutely thrilling. I thoroughly enjoyed Overlord, and even if it doesn’t make a ton of money at the box office, I can easily see it becoming a cult classic. It’s an over-the-top barrage of insane violence. But despite the considerable carnage, I also found myself caring about the characters. They’re not disposable slasher-movie victims, they’re actually quite likable.

The movie was directed by Julius Avery, whose only previous film was a 2014 crime thriller called Son of a Gun starring Ewan MacGregor and Alicia Vikander. Overlord is a much larger-scale production, and he handles it with aplomb. The action in Overlord is intense and well-orchestrated, and the makeup and special effects teams do great work in bringing the film’s grisly Nazi creations to vivid life.

If you’re a fan of war movies, horror movies, action movies, or the Wolfenstein series, you should definitely give Overlord a watch. It’s batshit insane in the best possible way, an ultraviolent B-movie made with skill and attention to detail, and absolute barrels of blood.

Highly recommended.