2019: The Year in Villainy

It’s that time again! Time for my favorite villains of 2019. Beware of spoilers.

Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home

Marvel/Disney

Of all the villains of 2019, Mysterio was the one that most consistently surprised me. I’ve read a lot of Spider-Man comics so I knew better than to trust him when he first appeared as an ally and sort-of father figure to Peter Parker, but the full scale and ingenuity of his evil plan was nonetheless impressive in its dastardliness. Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Holland had great chemistry and I love that both MCU Spider-Man movies have involved clever villain-based plot twists. It was also fun to finally see Gyllenhaal in a Spider-Man movie, since he almost played Spider-Man himself in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Mysterio was never one of my favorite villains in Spidey comics, but the makers of Far From Home revitalized the character into something fresh and intriguing, and given the bombshell final scene of Far From Home, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for everyone’s favorite Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. For all of that, Mysterio is my favorite villain of 2019.

Thanos in Avengers: Endgame

Marvel/Disney

Speaking of surprising, we all knew the Mad Titan Thanos would be back for Avengers: Endgame, but I don’t think many people predicted the exact method of his return. Thanos didn’t have as much of a presence in Endgame as he did in Infinity War, but his actions are still the impetus for the film’s entire story, and even when he’s not onscreen the threat of him still looms large. And of course the final epic battle between Thanos’ army and the newly-resurrected full-strength Avengers was, for me at least, the most cathartic and exhilarating sequence of any film I saw in 2019. Josh Brolin absolutely owned the role of Thanos, he was a villain for the ages.

Yon-Rogg and the Kree in Captain Marvel

Marvel/Disney

Captain Marvel also pulled off a villain-based twist, when it turned out that the shapeshifting, Orc-like Skrulls were actually the good guys, relentlessly driven into hiding by the Kree, an alien race whose comparatively-normal appearance belied their duplicitous and manipulative nature. The main villain turned out to be Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg, the mentor to the titular character, instead of Talos, the leader of the Skrulls who is set up early on to be the film’s villain until it is revealed that he’s actually the good guy. Jude Law is very good at playing gruff and grizzled, and he really sells Yon-Rogg’s betrayal of Brie Larson’s main character, making his inevitable comeuppance all the more satisfying.

Nimue the Blood Queen in Hellboy

Lionsgate

Neil Marshall’s Hellboy reboot was the bloodiest, goriest, and most utterly demented film I saw all year. It was two hours of sheer insanity, a heavy-metal album cover brought to life. I kind of enjoyed it, in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. The main villain was Nimue the Blood Queen, played by Milla Jovovich. As her name implies, Nimue the Blood Queen is an ancient evil sorceress bent on unleashing an army of monsters to destroy humanity. Jovovich clearly has fun hamming it up, and you can’t blame her. There were also some other wacky villains in Hellboy, like Gruagach the pig-man with a Cockney accent and the hideous one-eyed Baba Yaga, who infamously lives in a house that walks on giant chicken legs. Hellboy is the kind of movie I enjoy because it is so completely deranged, and for examples of its insanity you need look no further than its coterie of villains.

Brixton in Hobbs & Shaw

Universal

When the two main characters of a movie are as larger-than-life as the titular characters of Hobbs & Shaw and are played by actors as gargantuan as Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, a special kind of antagonist is required. Brixton, played by the always-great Idris Elba, is just the right kind of villain for this kind of movie. Brixton describes himself as “Black Superman”, and he’s not wrong. Not only is Idris Elba a big guy to begin with who looks like he might actually be capable of taking on Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham), but Brixton is equipped with cybernetic enhancements that enable him to make Hobbs and Shaw look like the underdogs, which is no easy feat. Brixton is my runner-up for Best Villain of 2019.

Rodan and King Ghidorah in Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Warner Bros.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters expanded on the monster mythology introduced in its predecessors, 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, by adding several more classic monsters to the mix. The giant pterodactyl-like creature Rodan and fearsome three-headed dragon King Ghidorah were the meanest, and gave Godzilla plenty of trouble (I’m not forgetting about Mothra either, but she was a good monster instead of an evil one). I love monsters and creatures in movies, and seeing these classic monsters brought to vivid life with state-of-the-art special effects was frequently thrilling, even if the human characters underwhelmed. But hey, who goes to a Godzilla movie for the human characters? The monsters are the real star of the show, and in that aspect, the movie delivered.

Pennywise in IT: Chapter Two

Warner Bros.

This might be the first villain roundup I’ve ever done that has two villains who have made appearances on previous year’s lists. Then again, it might not be, but I’m too lazy to check. Anyway, one of Stephen King’s most terrifying creations made a triumphant return in the sequel to the smash-hit first film from 2017, and while the sequel didn’t quite live up to its predecessor, Bill Skarsgard once again knocked it out of the park as the demonic Pennywise. Pennywise is every bit as sadistic as you remember, and delights in torturing his victims both physically and psychologically. He’s also got some new tricks up his sleeve (can you say GIANT SPIDER CLOWN??) that make him as formidable and terrifying as ever.

Jafar in Aladdin

Disney

Jafar was always one of my favorite Disney villains, and for the most part I liked his portrayal in the live-action Aladdin. Jafar’s costume made him look a bit like a Middle-Eastern Power Ranger and his voice wasn’t deep enough (I love the rich baritone of the actor who voiced him in the original movie), but his constant scheming and lust for power were very much intact. I also loved his cobra staff, which is always something I really liked in the original movie – I even had the plastic toy staff when I was a kid, with light-up eyes and everything – so that made my inner kid happy. Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin wasn’t perfect and I know there are plenty of people out there who disliked it, but I don’t care because I still thought it was a lot of fun and it had a mostly-solid interpretation of one of my all-time favorite villains.

Mother Nature in Crawl

Paramount

Going out on a limb a little bit with this one, but you would be hard-pressed to find another villain in a 2019 movie that was as single-mindedly determined to kill the film’s protagonists as Mother Nature was in Crawl. Between a vicious hurricane and a group of hungry gators, Mother Nature was bound and determined to end the lives of college student Haley, her father Dave, and their dog, Sugar. She did her darnedest, but was ultimately unable to finish off the plucky trio, though certainly not from a lack of trying. Dave got an arm chomped off and Haley suffered a few gator bites, but they were ultimately able to survive Mother Nature’s relentless onslaught. And don’t worry, Sugar the dog was unharmed.

The Rev-9 in Terminator: Dark Fate

Paramount

The Terminator franchise, for all its many faults, has always been good at delivering implacable, unstoppable bad guys. The villains in the first two Terminator films, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 and Robert Patrick’s T-1000, are two of the most iconic cinematic villains of all time. The Rev-9 in the latest Terminator film is probably not destined to become as iconic as some of its predecessors, but is a fearsome foe nonetheless. Not only is the Rev-9 able to shapeshift, but it can also divide itself into two separate units, which causes all sorts of problems for the movie’s heroes. The shapeshifting has been seen before in Terminator films, but the self-duplicating is new, and all kinds of crazy action scenes ensue. Dark Fate’s story wasn’t great, but thanks to the Rev-9 it delivered on the action.

John Reid in Rocketman

Paramount

Switching gears to a much more human kind of evil, Game of Thrones alum Richard Madden’s portrayal of Elton John’s manager John Reid was one of the cruelest villains of the year on a deeply personal level for the film’s protagonist. Reid initially appears to be a friend (and more) to Elton, only to show his true colors later on when he makes it abundantly clear that he couldn’t care less about Elton as a person, only as a cash cow. Reid’s betrayal hurts Elton deeply, and it hurts the audience as well because we care so much about Elton. Of all the cinematic villainy in 2019, Reid’s was among the most vindictive. He may not be as high-profile as Thanos, but in his own way he’s every bit as villainous.

Red and the Tethered in Us

Universal

It must have been both exhilarating and exhausting to act in Us, Jordan Peele’s terrifying sophomore feature, since all of the lead actors essentially play both good and evil versions of their characters. The standout of course is Lupita Nyong’o as Red, the evil, huskily-voiced version of Adelaide, the film’s main character (also played by Nyong’o). But is it actually Red who’s the evil one? By the end of Peele’s film, you might be wondering who the real enemy is. The other doppelgangers, known as the Tethered, are equally unsettling, and every member of the film’s cast deserves a ton of credit for making their good and evil characters so distinct in terms of body language, since most of the Tethered aside from Red don’t talk much. Peele’s film was frightening and thought-provoking in equal measure, and if Lupita Nyong’o doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar, then there is truly no justice in the world.

Zero in John Wick: Chapter 3

Lionsgate

Once again, the villains in the latest John Wick flick could perhaps be most accurately described as “almost everyone other than John Wick”. John fights assassins, ninjas, bikers, and heavily-armed elite enforcers in his latest outing, but his main antagonist is Zero, a Japanese assassin played by veteran actor and martial artist Mark Dacascos. Zero is a big fan of John Wick, and doesn’t want to defeat John becomes he hates him, he wants to defeat John to show he’s better than him. Despite his lofty ambitions, Zero is not above dispatching a small army of ninjas to soften John up a little beforehand. There were countless thrilling action sequences in John Wick 3, and the final confrontation between John and Zero was probably the best one-on-one fight scene of 2019.

Palpatine and Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Disney

I have mixed feelings about the return of Emperor Palpatine in the latest Star Wars movie. On the one hand, he’s a classic villain. On the other hand, his defeat at the end of Return of the Jedi seemed pretty conclusive. Palpatine’s inclusion in Rise of Skywalker seemed like JJ Abrams and company needed a villain after Supreme Leader Snoke was abruptly killed in the previous movie, so they brought ol’ Palpy out of retirement, so to speak. Ian McDiarmid has as much cackling fun as ever playing basically the ultimate bad guy, so even if the Palpster’s presence in the movie is a mixed blessing, at least the actor playing him didn’t phone it in. And Adam Driver is once again in full Brooding Mode as the tormented Kylo Ren, whose story arc reaches a pretty definitive conclusion. Of course, I thought the same thing about Palpatine too, so who knows?

SPOILER in Knives Out

I know I already put a spoiler warning at the beginning of this post, but if you haven’t seen Rian Johnson’s diabolically clever whodunit yet, do yourself a favor and go see it ASAP. It demands to be seen unspoiled. So, how about Chris Evans, right? In a year in which he played the almost-impossibly heroic Captain America for seemingly the final time, he also played an absolute cad named Hugh Ransom Drysdale. Ransom, as he’s called, is every rich entitled jackass you could imagine, all rolled into one. He’s an absolutely awful person, but then again, so is the rest of his family. But Ransom proves himself to be the worst of a bad bunch, as selfish and craven as Captain America is selfless and noble. Like John Reid, Ransom is proof that you don’t need superpowers, robots, magic or an army of ninjas to be a memorable bad guy.

Lionsgate

So that’s it, my favorite bad guys of 2019. This was not a comprehensive list of every bad guy in every movie I saw this year, but it does represent my favorites, or at least the ones I considered most noteworthy. We’ll do this again in a year or so, with another new slate of bad guys to talk about. Happy (slightly belated) new year!

Capsule Reviews: John Wick 3, Aladdin, Godzilla: King of the Monsters

I’ve seen some fun movies over the last couple weeks and haven’t had time to write about them until now, so let’s talk about ‘em. First up is John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. I’m a big fan of the John Wick series, and my expectations going into the third movie were pretty high.

Fortunately, director Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves didn’t let me down. John Wick 3 is every bit as kinetic and badass as the previous films in the series. The John Wick movies continue to be an absolute dream come true for action junkies such as myself, and the action sequences in this movie are nothing less than poetry in motion.

Brutally violent poetry, but hey.

Image: Lionsgate

The third movie does have some pacing issues and is maybe a bit overlong, and the plot can be kinda confusing. I’m still not sure who that guy John meets in the desert was supposed to be. But it doesn’t matter, because the movie delivers where it counts: ACTION. Keanu Reeves is such a badass that you’d never guess he’s 54 years old. The dude puts actors half his age to absolute shame.

I could go into more detail about the extent of this movie’s awesomeness, but it’s been a few weeks since I saw it so I don’t think I could really do it justice. It has some flaws but they are more than overcome by the ferocious intensity of its action. Keanu is one of our best action stars and seems like a genuinely cool guy in real life. How much ass does this movie kick? All of it.

Next up is Aladdin. The original Aladdin is one of my favorite classic Disney movies, and it’s one of the first movies that I clearly remember seeing in a theater (I must have been around five), so it holds a very special place in my heart. I was cautiously optimistic about the new live-action version of the movie, since I genuinely love Aladdin but the new movie was directed by Guy Ritchie, a filmmaker that I have a…complicated relationship with. The movie got mixed reviews and plenty of people didn’t seem to like it, so I was prepared for potential disappointment.

Fortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The new version of Aladdin is an absolute joy and I enjoyed the heck out of it. It delivers everything you want from Aladdin: all the characters, all the songs, the great story, all of it. The production design, sets, special effects and costumes are excellent across the board, the songs are vibrant and catchy, and the movie is, above all, fun.

Image: Disney

Will Smith also deserves a lot of credit for taking over the role of the Genie and making it his own. He did a great job with it, it must have been hard taking over from a performance as iconic as Robin Williams was in the original version, but I was very impressed with Smith’s work in the film. I don’t know what more you could ask for from a live-action version of Aladdin. It has some flaws, sure, but much like John Wick the overall experience is so enjoyable that its flaws are easy to overlook.

Guy Ritchie toned down the aggressive stylization that characterizes much of his work and made a movie that honestly far exceeded my expectations. The critics were very mean to it but don’t listen to them. See the movie and decide for yourself. The movie is “Rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes, but I have become increasingly jaded with Rotten Tomatoes ratings and don’t put much stock in them. The popularity of Rotten Tomatoes is something that I think has really hurt the movie industry in a lot of ways, and its ratings hold far too much sway over whether audiences see a movie or not.

This is a discussion for another time, but it boils down to this: if a movie you’re interested in gets a bad Rotten Tomatoes score or whatever, who cares? See the movie for yourself and make up your own mind. Your opinion is every bit as valid as those of so-called “professional critics.” Who needs ‘em?

Speaking of fun movies with mediocre Rotten Tomatoes scores, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is another one. For the last Godzilla movie, which came out in 2014, everyone was like, “there’s not enough Godzilla.” Godzilla appears early and often in the new movie and there’s all the monster-smashing action you could wish for. So what does everyone say? “There’s too much Godzilla.” MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MINDS PEOPLE!!!

I hear people say that the plot of this movie is ridiculous. Of course it is! Have y’all never seen a Godzilla movie before, or any monster movie at all for that matter? They’re all ridiculous, across the board. It’s part of what makes them fun. If you’re complaining about the plausibility of a monster movie, you’re completely missing the point. This is something that should not require explanation.

Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

King of the Monsters was directed by Michael Dougherty, and it’s his first foray into big-budget blockbuster filmmaking. His previous movies included the cult classics Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus, and he’s clearly a guy who loves monster movies. His film brings together some of the most classic monsters from the long-running series of Japanese Godzilla films (there are seriously like 30 Godzilla movies). There’s Mothra (a giant moth, obviously), Rodan (basically a humongous pterodactyl), and King Ghidorah, a massive three-headed dragon who is the movie’s main antagonist.

I don’t know if you knew this, but it’s actually been scientifically-proven that nothing on earth is cooler and more badass than a three-headed dragon, except for maybe John Wick. You can’t argue with this, it’s science.

Again, I’m not saying this movie is perfect by any means. The plot is a bit hard to follow and there are a lot of great actors in this movie who get almost nothing to do. Poor Charles Dance, for example, does almost nothing but glower in the background of a few scenes. So yes, the characters in the movie are not very memorable, despite being played by capable actors such as Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins (the latter two reprising their roles from the 2014 Godzilla film). But it’s no slight against these very good actors to say that they’re not the real stars of the movie.

The stars of a movie subtitled “King of the Monsters” are the damn monsters, and they are AWESOME. They look great, they sound great, they smash stuff real good. A lot of care and attention clearly went into the design and creation of these mighty beasts, and the action sequences in the movie are thrilling and fun. There were multiple times during the movie where I thought to myself, “now THIS is the stuff I pay to see!” and that’s pretty much the highest compliment I can give. I came for fun monster action, and fun monster action was what I got, so I left the theater happy. Bring on Godzilla Vs. Kong, which is set for release next year.

So there you go, three movies that weren’t perfect but hey, what movie is? Other than Die Hard, anyway. John Wick 3, Aladdin and the new Godzilla film are excellent summer entertainment, critics be damned. If you want to see a movie, go see it. If you pick one of these you’ll have a good time. Next up is X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Elton John biopic Rocketman, which came out this weekend but I haven’t seen yet. Next weekend, hopefully! Go have fun at the movies!