2017 Villains: Best of the Rest

I saw a lot of movies in 2017, and there were so many quality villains that I had to leave some of them out of my year-end villains roundup, or that post would have been way too long. Here are the remainder of the bad guys of 2017, with a few dishonorable mentions at the end. Beware of spoilers.

The Germans in Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan’s brilliant World War II film keeps the enemy off the screen for almost the entire movie. The Germans only appear in one scene near the end, and Nolan never shows us their faces. They became almost a horror-movie villain, an unseen presence that lurks offscreen, ready to emerge at the worst possible moment and make life hell for the characters we follow throughout the film. By keeping them offscreen, Nolan makes the enemy forces closing in on the trapped British and French soldiers much more existentially frightening, and gives the film a sense of rapidly-approaching doom that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. It’s masterfully done.

Dr. Vollmer in A Cure for Wellness

Jason Isaacs’ Dr. Vollmer was one of the most twisted villains of the year. I wrote a long post about this thoroughly demented movie a few months ago, so refer to that for more details. But in case you missed it, here’s a quick rundown: Dr. Vollmer is hundreds of years old, he’s so obsessed with keeping his bloodline pure that he married his own sister, he brainwashes people at his so-called wellness center and uses them to make a serum that prolongs his life, and in the climax of the film he sexually assaults his own daughter. If all of that doesn’t make him worthy of a mention on a list like this, then I don’t know what does.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Ghost in American Assassin

The adaptation of the series of novels by the late, great Vince Flynn pulls off a clever turnaround early in the film. After his fiancé is killed by terrorists, protagonist Mitch Rapp is determined to track down the man responsible for her death. He does so, only for the man to be killed by someone else moments later. This subverts the audience’s expectations of the movie as being a straightforward revenge thriller and gives Mitch a different motivation. He still hates terrorists and seeks to make them pay, and also maybe get the payback he was denied for his fiancé’s death. The man who fills that gap is the uninspiringly-named Ghost, a mercenary played by Taylor Kitsch. Ghost is basically what Mitch would be if Mitch ever went rogue, since Ghost was also trained by Mitch’s mentor Stan Hurley. It’s not dissimilar to Batman Begins, in which Bruce Wayne is trained by the League of Shadows and ultimately has to stop their plot to destroy Gotham. It’s a story that’s been done before, but American Assassin still does it pretty well, and Kitsch gives Ghost an air of menace tinged with regret, and you might find yourself feeling just a little bit sorry for him. He’s still evil, though.

Image: Lionsgate

Liam Hennessy in The Foreigner

It could be argued that Pierce Brosnan’s Liam Hennessy isn’t the main villain of The Foreigner, since he’s not the guy who’s directly responsible for the terrorist attack that kills Jackie Chan’s character’s daughter in the beginning of the film. But he’s still heavily involved in a lot of shady activity and is the focal point of much of the film’s conflict. He’s also a jerk who cheats on his wife and later has her assassinated (his wife is cheating on him too, but still). Brosnan does great work in the role, and even though calling him the film’s main villain may be a bit of a stretch, his scummy behavior and lack of morals make him worthy of inclusion on this list, and his comeuppance at the end of the film is deeply satisfying. He doesn’t get killed, but his scumbaggery is exposed to the public so he will have to live with the whole world knowing what an asshole he is.

Image: Universal

Luv and Niander Wallace in Blade Runner 2049

The disarmingly-named Luv is a replicant who relentlessly pursues Ryan Gosling’s character K at the behest of her boss, the uber-creepy industrialist Niander Wallace played by Jared Leto. Wallace is determined to discover the secret to making replicants capable of reproducing, because he can’t meet the demand for replicants as slave labor in off-world colonies. Wallace is the guy whose synthetic crops ended food shortages and his new breed of completely obedient replicants are more in-demand that ever. Some people in the world of Blade Runner 2049 might even call him a humanitarian, but whatever his motives are his methods are highly questionable. He doesn’t hesitate to send the fiercely loyal Luv to track down K and kill whoever gets in her way. The two of them are a frightening duo, and the performances by Leto as Wallace and Sylvia Hoeks as Luv are excellent, and prevent either character from becoming cliched or cartoonish. They’re scary because of how plausible they are.

Image: Warner Bros.

David Percival in Atomic Blonde

James McAvoy’s David Percival was one of the year’s more problematic villains. Problematic both in the sense that his antics cause plenty of trouble for the protagonist, and in the sense that his character is problematic from a storytelling standpoint. It’s way too obvious that he’s untrustworthy, and this takes away a lot of nuance from the story. He’s also a deeply unpleasant character who smokes and swears constantly and is an all-around douchebag. McAvoy is fine in the role, it’s not his fault the character is poorly written. And Percival deserves credit for making Atomic Blonde’s protagonist’s life extremely difficult, and isn’t that what all villains need to be good at?

Image: Universal

The Shocker, Tinkerer and Scorpion in Spider-Man: Homecoming

While the main villain of Spider-Man: Homecoming was Michael Keaton’s Vulture, the movie sneakily included three other villains from Spidey’s colorful Rogues Gallery. There were not one but two versions of The Shocker (the guy with the electric power gauntlets). The Vulture’s tech genius responsible for making most of the group’s high-tech weapons was the Terrible Tinkerer, an obscure villain from early in Spidey’s comic-book career. And finally, there was a fellow by the name of Mac Gargan, the guy Vulture meets on the ferry, who also shows up in the first post-credits scene. He’s recognizable by a scorpion tattoo on his neck. I admire the filmmakers for being able to include all these characters without making the movie feel overstuffed, and I hope we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.

Dishonorable mentions: Transformers and The Snowman

Transformers: The Last Knight and The Snowman were the two worst films of 2017 that I saw. The fifth Transformers movie was so bad that it killed the entire series for me. If there are any more Transformers movies, I’m not going to see them. It made me retroactively hate the previous movies, at least two of which I already hated to begin with. Michael Bay should be ashamed of himself for making such an appalling pile of rancid garbage. I’ve also written at length about the profound crappiness of The Snowman, which is one of the worst book-to-film adaptations ever made. The greatest villains of these two bags of cinematic excrement are the people responsible for making them.

Advertisements

Blade Runner 2049 is as Good as Belated Sequels Get

Confession time: the first time I saw Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner, I didn’t much care for it. Please don’t judge me too harshly.

This could be because I saw it on TV and it was probably edited to some extent. This could also be because the version I saw was the original theatrical version, which most fans of the film agree to be inferior to later versions. But I think the most likely reason of all was that it did not conform to my expectations. I expected a rollicking, action-packed thrill ride. What I got instead was a dark, moody, slow-burning sci-fi noir. It wasn’t what I wanted at the time, but I have a much greater appreciation for it now. Scott’s Blade Runner is a stone-cold classic and has been hugely influential on generations of filmmakers and writers.

The idea of a sequel coming out some 35 years after the release of the original film could lead to understandable skepticism. We all know what happened with that last Indiana Jones movie, after all. But I am happy to say that the new film, Blade Runner 2049, is an excellent sequel. People have called it one of the best sequels ever made, and it’s hard to disagree.

Image: Warner Bros.

The new movie was directed by the brilliant French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. I haven’t seen all of his films, but the ones I have seen (Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival) were all excellent. Villeneuve is one of the best directors working today, and he has delivered another near-masterpiece with Blade Runner 2049.

Villeneuve’s film stays true to Scott’s beloved original in tone, style, and content. The cinematographer was the great Roger Deakins, and the movie looks amazing. It brilliantly recaptures the iconic look of the original movie while also providing new environments and landscapes that fit right in with the world these films have created. If Deakins doesn’t finally win an Oscar for his work on this film, then the Academy Awards are officially Dead To Me.


Image: Warner Bros.

But aside from the eye-popping visuals, the film is rich in ideas and emotion. One of the main questions the original film presented was: what does it mean to be human? If it becomes possible to one day create synthetic beings so lifelike they’re virtually indistinguishable from real people, who’s to say those synthetic beings aren’t human? HBO’s Westworld recently pondered similar questions, and they’re as relevant and intriguing now as they were when the first movie was released in 1982.

Much has been made of Harrison Ford’s return to the world he helped create, although (this could be considered a minor spoiler) he doesn’t actually appear in the new movie until it is more than half over. Most of the movie rests on the shoulders of Ryan Gosling, and he is more than up to the task of carrying the film. Gosling’s performance here is superb and absolutely Oscar-worthy.


Image: Warner Bros.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here’s a quick recap. The original movie took place in 2019, and followed Ford’s character Rick Deckard as he attempted to track down four rogue replicants. Replicants were created by the Tyrell Corporation to serve as off-world slave labor, but after a series of violent rebellions, they became outlawed. Blade Runners such as Deckard were cops who specialized in tracking down and “retiring” replicants.

Gosling’s character, known simply as K for most of the movie, is a Blade Runner hunting down replicants in 2049, thirty years after the events of the original film. I’m not going to go into much detail about the plot, since I really want to avoid spoilers. Suffice to say that K’s background is complex and is an integral part of the film’s plot. It becomes necessary for him to track down Deckard, who hasn’t been seen for thirty years. When we do finally meet Deckard, he’s tired and worn out. It’s some of the best acting Ford has done in recent years. He does a great job capturing Deckard’s cynicism and world-weariness, and is soulful and sympathetic.


Image: Warner Bros.

In addition to Deckard and K, the rest of the characters are equally fascinating. Robin Wright plays K’s no-bullshit boss Lieutenant Joshi, Jared Leto plays a creepy evil industrialist named Niander Wallace (who now owns the company that makes replicants and has made a fortune producing a new, more obedient series of replicants), and an actress named Sylvia Hoeks plays Wallace’s main henchwoman, disarmingly named Luv. Despite her name, she is not to be messed with, and provides a fierce adversary for K as he attempts to locate Deckard.

There’s also the lovely Cuban actress Ana de Armas as a character named Joi (pronounced like the word joy), who is, for lack of a better word, K’s companion. No, not that kind of companion. She offers him support and guidance despite, let’s just say, not being entirely human. I found the relationship between K and Joi to be quite fascinating, and genuinely moving at times.

There’s a lot more I could say about the plot, but I’m not going to because this is a movie you should experience for yourself. I will say that I loved the film’s plot. The filmmakers did an incredible job of telling a story that feels like a logical evolution of the original film, instead of just a flimsy excuse to make another movie and make more money. Blade Runner 2049 is a movie made with immense care and attention to detail. It feels completely faithful to the original.

I wouldn’t call either Blade Runner movie an action movie. Both movies are deliberately paced, and while there are fights and chases, the emphasis isn’t on the action scenes. Both films have a long way to go and are in no particular hurry to get there. The new movie is nearly three hours long, but it didn’t feel that long to me. It immediately sweeps the viewer up into the vivid world it creates, and it’s the kind of world that is thrilling to explore, but you probably wouldn’t want to live in it.

Every aspect of this movie is Oscar-worthy, from the production design to the writing to the acting to the directing to the special effects to the cinematography. Every one of those things from the first movie became iconic, and it’s easy to see the same thing happening with the new movie. Denis Villeneuve and his team did an incredible job crafting this film, and they have made Blade Runner 2049 every bit as emotionally resonant and thematically rich as its esteemed predecessor, which is no small feat.

Coming up next, in The Foreigner Jackie Chan will show us that it doesn’t matter if you’re in your sixties, you can still kick ass.