2014: The Year in Villainy

Another year, another roundup of cinematic evil. Join me, won’t you, on this delightful whirlwind of dastardly deeds, evil acts, and cinematic scumbaggery.

Artemisia in 300: Rise of an Empire

2014 villains artemisia

One of my two favorite villains of the year, Artemisia was smart, tough, and determined. Hell hath no fury, as they say, like a woman scorned, and Artemisia is ample proof of that. Eva Green played her with ferocity and more than a little charm, which made her somewhat likable in spite of being evil. She’s the kind of villain you love to hate, and she’s my pick for best villainess of the year. It was a good year for Eva Green playing sultry comic-book villainesses, she was also deliciously evil in the new Sin City movie, so give her an honorable mention for that one too.

The Winter Soldier in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2014 villains winter soldier

Few movie characters in 2014, good or evil, were as straight-up BAD ASS as this sonuvagun. Holy CRAP he was cool. A kind of Darth Vader to Captain America’s Luke Skywalker, he’s a cybernetically-enhanced super assassin who’s skilled, fast, and lethal. The fights between him and Chris Evans’ Cap were some of the best cinematic fights of 2014. Actor Sebastian Stan is under contract for (I think) nine films with Marvel, so you can be almost sure that he’ll show up at some point in the future. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing him again.

Jeanine Matthews in Divergent

2014 villains jeanine

You don’t usually see Kate Winslet being evil, but I thought she was pretty good at being bad in Divergent. You knew she would turn out to be evil (especially if you read the books), but she didn’t overdo it, which I thought worked to the film’s advantage. Expect to see her again soon, since the film did well enough at the box office that the sequel was fast-tracked to March of 2015.

Electro, Rhino and the Green Goblin in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

2014 villains spiderman

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffered from a bit of Spider-Man 3 syndrome, in that it had maybe one too many bad guys. Although only two of them had character arcs, since Paul Giamatti’s Rhino was basically a glorified henchman, but still, the film as a whole was definitely a bit overcrowded. And I guess that some of their motivations for being evil were maybe a bit thin, but…oh, well. At least Electro’s flashy blue-white bolts of electricity were cool to look at. Sony is planning on making a whole movie devoted to Spider-Man baddies, so who knows what we’ll see from Spidey’s colorful rogues gallery in the future.

The MUTOs in Godzilla

2014 villains muto

I didn’t think of Godzilla as the bad guy in the latest movie that bears his name, he’s more of an antihero. The real villains were the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, otherwise known as MUTOs. Godzilla stops them from mating and making horrible horrible MUTO babies, which is something I think we can all be thankful for this holiday season. Thanks, Godzilla!

The Sentinels in X-Men: Days of Future Past

2014 villains sentinel

I debated with myself a bit over who the real villain was in the latest X-Men flick. Was it Magneto? Mystique? Bolivar Trask? You could make a case for any of them, but for my money the only indisputably evil characters in the film were the Sentinels, which were so badass and so good at their job of mutant-killing that they pretty much ended the world, and it doesn’t get much more evil than that.

The Mimics in Edge of Tomorrow

2014 villains mimic

How do you defeat an enemy who can simply reset the day to prevent itself from being defeated in the first place? That’s the question posed by Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi epic. The Mimics in Edge of Tomorrow were frightening and very, very original in appearance and design. Kind of like giant, robotic-looking, time-manipulating squid-creatures. I thought they were very cool, and they had a lot to do with making Edge of Tomorrow one of my favorite movies of 2014.

Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy

2014 villains ronan

Ronan the Accuser is an evil blue space warlord. Even if I had left out the word “evil” in that description and juts said that he was a blue space warlord, I’m sure you would have been able to fill in the “evil” part on your own. One of the things I liked most about Ronan was his Alan Rickman-esque way of saying things…very…slowly. I guess he’s not really all that much different from other cosmic warlords you may have seen in other sci-fi movies, but if you’re evil enough that it takes five protagonists to bring you down, then you’re doing something right. I mean, you know, from an evil perspective.

Conrad Stonebanks in The Expendables 3

2014 villains gibson

Say what you will about Mel Gibson as a person, I still think he’s a damn fine actor, and he looked like he was having a great time being evil in the third Expendables movie. I thought the movie as a whole was a bit dull to be honest, but Gibson was easily the best part of the movie for me. With a name like Conrad Stonebanks, your career options are pretty much limited to either professional wrestler or professional supervillain. Conrad Stonebanks made the right choice in Expendables 3, and we connoisseurs of cinematic villainy can be grateful for that.

President Snow in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One

2014 villains snow

Donald Sutherland’s President Snow deserves a shout-out for being reliably evil for three movies now. He seems to delight in inflicting psychological torture not just on the heroine of the movies, but on the nation he lords over as a whole. I always think he looks like a white-haired Satan, I mean just look at those arched eyebrows!! Downright devilish.

Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

2014 villains shredder

The Michael Bay-produced 2014 version of TMNT was certainly no masterpiece, but to be honest I still thought it was pretty damn entertaining, and I really liked the knife-shooting shredder. There was some evil plot to disperse some kind of chemical weapon over New York which was pretty inconsequential, I watched the movie yesterday and I’ve already forgotten the details, but hey, I can appreciate a cool character design when I see one, and I thought that Shredder was really fricking cool.

So there you have it, the cream of the crop of cinematic skullduggery in 2014. There are a lot of big-franchise movies due out next year, so we aficionados of evil have a lot to look forward to.

See you then!

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Edge of Tomorrow Today!

I like Tom Cruise as an actor. I mentioned this when I wrote about Oblivion last year: the dude is a really good actor. It can be hard sometimes to separate one’s mental image of Cruise from the characters he plays. He’s one of the most famous people in the world, just say the name “Tom Cruise” and probably every single person within earshot will automatically know who you’re talking about. His reputation precedes him, which sometimes works to the disadvantage of the movies he’s in.

But with his latest movie, Edge of Tomorrow, I didn’t have much trouble separating Cruise’s public persona from the character he plays.

Tom Cruise edge1

Cruise plays Major William Cage, a military PR guy who has never seen a day of combat. Mankind is at war with a race of shape-shifting aliens called Mimics, and, as is so often the case in movies, we are losing. On the eve of a massive invasion of Mimic-controlled continental Europe (ominously called Operation Downfall), Cage is told by General Brigham (played by Brendan Gleeson, aka Mad Eye Moody), the commander of the invasion force, that he will be dispatched to the front lines on the beaches of France the next day. In his reluctance to comply with this order, Cage attempts to blackmail the general, which results in his getting busted down to Private and sent to the army base at Heathrow Airport, where he will deploy with the rest of the grunts the following day.

The next day, he is deployed on the front lines, where the invasion fails spectacularly. The mimics have somehow anticipated the attack, and annihilate the invasion force. Cage manages to kill a particularly large mimic by blowing it up with an explosive, but is doused with the creature’s blood and dies in the process.

He then wakes up the previous morning at Heathrow Airport, and meets many of the same people and hears many of the same things all over again. He becomes stuck in a time loop, repeatedly dying in the invasion and reawakening the previous day.

He tries during several of these time loops to convince people that the invasion will fail, but of course no one believes him. It isn’t until he meets Sergeant Rita Vrataski (played by Emily Blunt) on the battlefield that he gains an ally. It turns out that she too once had the time-resetting ability, and she trains him to fight the Mimics. Cage becomes more proficient in combat with each repetition and he and Rita develop a plan to destroy the Mimics. He also begins to develop feelings for the hardboiled Sergeant Vrataski, which are somewhat stymied by the fact that every time he meets her, for her it’s the first time.

The most obvious way to describe this movie is as a sci-fi version of the Bill Murray/Harold Ramis classic Groundhog Day, only with more explosions, aliens, and badass metal exosuits.

edge-of-tomorrow-cci-poster

But I think that simply dismissing Edge of Tomorrow as “Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers” is, while admittedly somewhat accurate, not really fair to the movie, since it manages to have a life and an identity of its own. Sure, there are similarities. Major William Cage is self-centered and smooth-talking at the beginning of the movie, and gradually learns to be a better person, much like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. The biggest difference is that Cage is also trying to, you know, save the world from vicious shape-shifting aliens.

The aliens themselves look really cool and original. They made me think of a number of different things, ranging from spiders and squids to the robotic Sentinels from the Matrix.

Edge-of-Tomorrow-Alpha-Mimic

You can’t really make out too many details here, but this is the best picture I could find. Suffice to say that they are some seriously mean customers. I wouldn’t want to fight them once, let alone over and over and over, as Cage does.

The exosuits, called Jackets in the movie, are also very cool. They’re kind of reminiscent of Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley’s exosuits in Elysium, but on steroids.

edge of tomorrow poster

Man, I really liked this movie. The more I think about it, the more I realize how much I liked it. The movie was directed by Doug Liman, who had a pair of hits in the early 2000’s with The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but has been in something of a rut since then. This movie should help him reestablish himself, though. He gives the movie an elegant balance of action, plot, character development, hints of romance, and a healthy amount of dark comedy.

And it is a darkly funny movie, which mines quite a bit of humor from the various ways in which Cruise’s character repeatedly meets his end. He gets shot, drowned, blown up, run over, and crushed by falling dropships. There are a couple of very funny moments in particular where he is about to succeed gloriously, only to get plastered by a truck or something and have to start over.

The film also benefits from strong performances from both of its lead actors. Cruise is a natural as a PR guy, and we all know from countless other movies that he is more than capable of kicking ass when he needs to.

Emily Blunt is also really great. She was awesome in Looper, which is one of my favorite movies, and she’s equally good here. It’s a tricky role, and Blunt really sells it. She’s completely believable as an alien-killing badass, but there’s also a strong sense that there’s a lot going on with her beneath her steely demeanor and impressive biceps that make for a continually interesting character. I read that she trained for three months for the role, and it shows.

edge-of-tomorrow-emily

She and Cruise have really great chemistry, and the movie wouldn’t work nearly as well without them.

The action scenes and special effects look great, too. I know I’ve been saying that a lot in my recent movie reviews, but it’s true. This is a really good-looking movie, and not just because of Emily Blunt.

edge-of-tomorrow-emily-blunt2

Doug Liman likes this particular shot so much that he reuses it several times throughout the movie, and I have a hard time finding fault with him for that.

The movie is about as gritty and realistic as a high-concept sci-fi movie is capable of being. The main invasion scene(s) has a sort of sci-fi Saving Private Ryan vibe (minus the gore), which contributes to the movie’s gritty feel. This is light-years away from the candy-colored visuals of Michael Bay’s Transformers films.

Edge-of-Tomorrow battle

Overall, this is a really good movie. Sure, it may be easy to find the DNA of several other films imprinted on it. But it still manages to be its own movie, and is one of the most pleasant surprises of the summer movie season for me so far.