2013: The Year in Villainy

2014 is almost here, and with it, the yearly “Best-of” lists from all corners of the Interwebs. Best movies, best books, best TV shows, best Tuesdays, you name it. But we don’t really go for that sort of thing here at thezombieroom. Instead, we prefer to reflect on the year in all of its evil cinematic glory. Here then, in no particular order aside from the first two, are my favorite movie villains from 2013.

NOTE: This is not a comprehensive list of ALL movie villains from 2013, just my favorites. Not included are any villains from movies I haven’t seen yet. Also, there may be SPOILERS.

Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness

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My favorite villain of the year was Khan, played so wonderfully by Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness. He was everything a classic movie villain should be: a smooth, suave, super-smart, creepy badass. It was a very good year for the Batch of Cumbers. He gave a great performance as Khan, and made him into a character you could feel sympathy for instead of just a two-dimensional bad guy. Even though it’s a character who’s appeared in other versions of Star Trek, Cumberbatch put his own spin on Khan, turning him into a guy you kind of felt sorry for (sort of), even as he was committing horrible acts of evil. It just didn’t get any better for cinematic villainy in 2013.

Kruger in Elysium

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Coming in at a very close second is Kruger, played by the wonderful Sharlto Copley. In addition to having an awesome name, Copley is fast becoming one of my favorite actors. I’ve only seen him in three films (District 9, The A-Team, and Elysium), but in those three films he’s shown he has a lot of range as an actor. The characters he plays in all three of those movies are completely different, but he makes all of them work. The character of Kruger in Elysium isn’t as multilayered as Khan in Star Trek, which is a little unfortunate. Not much explanation is given for his psychotic evil badness, so he is admittedly a bit two-dimensional in that respect. You could also argue that the lack of backstory for him makes him even creepier, but what is never in doubt is that holy crap is he scary. Copley turns him into the kind of character who scares the crap out of you, but at the same time his performance is so magnetic he steals every scene he’s in.

General Zod in Man of Steel

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Zod is a classic example of a bad guy who is 100% convinced that what he’s doing is right. He’s motivated, and he’s committed, and that makes him scary. Man of Steel was a controversial movie among superhero fans, I still stand behind it as a good movie, although some of its flaws have become more apparent to me. Michael Shannon’s performance as Zod, however, is not one of those flaws. Shannon gives an intense, crazy-eyed performance that makes Zod a formidable enemy for the Man of Steel. One of the problems I’ve had with Superman as a character is that it’s hard to be concerned about him when his survival is never in doubt because he’s so much more powerful than everyone else, but Zod turns that into a moot point. When the hero is as powerful as Superman, you need a villain who is just as powerful, and Zod fits that description nicely.

Viper and Silver Samurai in The Wolverine

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I really like The Wolverine. It got a mixed reception, but the more I watch it the more I like it. When I first saw the movie, I didn’t really like the character of Viper, I guess I didn’t get what her purpose was in the story. But on subsequent viewings, something clicked for me. She’s extremely creepy, especially in the face-peeling scene above. I also understood more how she fit into the story, so that helped.

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I am also a big fan of the Silver Samurai. He’s so fricking cool. There’s a plot twist involving him that I know turned some people off, which I can understand. But for me it worked. Two memorable villains in a movie that was, for me, the best X-Men related movie since X2, all the way back in 2003.

The Kaiju in Pacific Rim

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Guillermo Del Toro loves monsters. The monsters in Pacific Rim are of both the mechanical and biological kind, and they are all badass. They’re big, scary, and extremely powerful. The kaiju are the towering Godzilla-esque monstrosities that emerge from the sea to destroy us. Just look at that big dude up there. You don’t need me to tell you why he’s awesome. Del Toro’s monsters speak for themselves.

The Mandarin (sort of) in Iron Man 3

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Ok, so, everyone knows by now that Ben Kingsley’s character wasn’t actually the Mandarin, right? He was just a decoy and Guy Pearce was the real villain. It’s a weird plot twist, and (as with much of the plot of Iron Man 3) I’m not entirely sure where it came from. The reveal that Kingsley’s character was just a drunk, washed-up stage actor was kind of funny, even if it didn’t make much sense. Guy Pearce is a great actor who plays a great bad guy, even if his character’s motivation in Iron Man 3 also didn’t make much sense.

You know what? Let’s just move on.

The Zombies in World War Z

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This movie caused a bit of a furor among fans of the book when the first trailer was released, showing the movie’s unconventional take on the undead. This is another movie I like more with repeat viewings, and I think the filmmakers deserve credit for putting a new twist on the zombie-apocalypse subgenre, even though the movie’s zombies are pretty much the polar opposite of the book’s zombies. The movie and the book may share the same title, but I think they should each be taken on their own terms.

Space in Gravity

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This one is a bit existential, since the villain of this film wasn’t an actual physical entity. But was any other villain as relentlessly committed to killing its film’s protagonist as outer space was? Seriously, space really, REALLY wanted Sandra Bullock dead. Gravity is a harrowing 90 minutes, and makes you grateful to be standing on solid ground.

Owen Shaw in Fast and Furious 6

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Fast Five was a fun movie, but its villains were a bit boring. Drug cartel bosses and corrupt cops are boring. With Fast Six, they fixed that problem with Owen Shaw, a thoroughly dastardly fellow played by an actor I like named Luke Evans who always kinda reminds me of Orlando Bloom only, you know, manlier. He kidnaps the wife of one of the protagonists and runs over a bunch of civilians in a tank, so you know he’s not messing around. When you can hold your own in a fight with Vin Diesel and Dwayne “Samoan Thor” Johnson, your bad guy cred is pretty high in my opinion.

The Blanks in The World’s End

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The World’s End was my favorite movie of 2013, and its glowy-eyed robots were both funny and creepy, much like the villains in the previous two films of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright’s epic Cornetto Trilogy.

Butch Cavendish in The Lone Ranger

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The Lone Ranger was the weirdest movie I saw in 2013. The WTF factor of this movie was higher than both Iron Man 3 AND G.I. Joe Retaliation, which for me is really saying something. I still don’t know what to make of this movie, but one thing I do know is that William Fichtner gave a great performance as Butch Cavendish, the cannibalistic outlaw whose gruesome visage is way too scary for a kid’s movie.

Loki and Malekith in Thor: The Dark World

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Loki is a great character, he’s got to be one of the most charming villains around. He’s so popular that fans want him to get his own movie. Who knows if it’ll ever happen, but it would be fun to see. You can tell that Tom Hiddleston has a blast playing this character, and it’s not hard to see why. He has so much personality and is always fun to watch. You’re never quite sure what’s going on in that scheming head of his, and an unpredictable character is an interesting character.

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Malekith doesn’t have as much personality as Loki, but he’s still a badass villain with plenty of equally-badass henchmen, and he proves to be a formidable opponent for The Mighty Thor. You probably wouldn’t guess that he’s played by former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, which is also pretty cool.

So there you have it, thezombieroom’s annual roundup of the cream of the crop in cinematic villainy. Who knows what dastardly evil awaits us in 2014?

Happy New Year, everyone!

It’s Better Up There

I’ve been looking forward to Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” pretty much ever since it was first announced. Back in 2009, Blomkamp’s debut feature District 9 became one of my surprise favorite films of the year. It kind of came out of nowhere for me, and I didn’t really have much interest in it until it came out and got really good reviews, so I decided to check it out and was very pleasantly surprised.

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I watched it again last week and it still holds up really well. The effects are top-notch (which is especially impressive given the movie’s relatively small budget), the acting is solid, the action is intense, and the story is original. And yes, there are certainly allegorical ties to Apartheid, but if you want to you can ignore the allegorical aspects of the film and simply enjoy it for the smart, original science fiction film that it is. I could go into the symbolism and such, but that’s a discussion for another time. I actually wrote a paper about District 9 in college, which is kind of cool I guess.

But anyway, on to Elysium.

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The plot of Elysium is fairly simple: in the future, Earth sucks. People on Earth basically live in a soul-sucking wasteland, and the Los Angeles of the future is half-desert. The wealthy folks, however, have it pretty good: they live on Elysium, a luxurious space station orbiting high above the Earth. They live in grandiose mansions and have these great machines that quickly heal all injuries or illnesses. Jodie Foster plays Delacourt, the station’s ambitious head of security, who just may be a bit too ambitious for her own good.

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Back on Earth, Matt Damon plays our hero Max, bald, buff, and tattooed. He’s dreamed of going to Elysium ever since he was a boy, growing up in an orphanage with his friend Frey, who is now a nurse with a daughter of her own. Frey’s daughter is in the final stages of leukemia, which will provide Max with a bit of extra motivation later on.

One fateful day, Max is inadvertently exposed to a lethal dose of radiation while working his job at the robot factory, and just like that, he only has five days to live. In a darkly funny scene, he is given painkillers by a medical robot, which tells him in its emotionless robot voice that “the pills should keep you functioning until your death.”

With no other options available to him, Max hooks up with some of his old pals who have a plan to get to Elysium, a plan that is, of course, So-Crazy-It-Just-Might-Work. In the process, Max submits himself to a gruesome operation (performed by some highly questionable surgeons) that welds a sort of robotic exoskeleton to his body, which greatly enhances his strength and endurance.

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And of course, when overly-ambitious Secretary of Defense Delacourt cottons on to their plan, she dispatches her secret weapon: Kruger.

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Kruger is played by the wonderfully-named Sharlto Copley, best known for playing Wikus, the hapless protagonist of District 9. Kruger is such a fearsome badass that he is already another one of my favorite villains of the year. He’s like the freaking Terminator: unstoppable, relentless, always showing up when you least expect him to, and when you really, REALLY don’t want him to.

He’s so tough he even survives getting his face thoroughly mangled by a grenade, and gets his face gruesomely reconstructed by one of Elysium’s healing machines in a scene that is definitely not for the squeamish, but is also undeniably impressive in terms of the special effects.

The showdowns between Max and Kruger are suitably epic, with Kruger’s ferocity and state-of-the-art exosuit pitted against Max’s black market knockoff exosuit and insatiable will to live. The two are great foils to each other, and make for a memorable pairing of hero and villain. And seriously, Sharlto Copley proves he has some serious range. His character in District 9 and his character in Elysium couldn’t be bigger opposites, and it is very much to the actor’s credit that he makes both of them work as well as he does.

 Sharlto Copley

There’s also some serious hardware for our hero Max to contend with, and it will come as no surprise to anyone who saw District 9 that director Blomkamp once again comes up with some extremely cool sci-fi weaponry, equally as capable of shredding bodies as the alien weapons were in District 9.

Elysium

That ChemRail gun in the above picture gets my vote for Most Badass Sci-fi Weapon of 2013 so far. Elysium is a violent film, definitely not for the squeamish. There aren’t quite as many of the ultra-gory corpse-splosions that splattered most of the second half of District 9, but if you don’t like watching people getting literally blown to bits then you’re probably better off not watching a Blomkamp film.

And as with District 9, Elysium does have some allegorical aspects, even if they’re not as specific as District 9 was to South African Apartheid. It’s a science-fiction parable about the haves and the have-nots, but I’m not too concerned with the politics of the film. You can find people arguing on internet message boards and such over whether or not the film is socialist or some nonsense, but I could care less.

In my opinion, if you let yourself get so wrapped up in the political undertones of the film that you forget to have fun (since it’s a MOVIE and is meant first and foremost to be ENTERTAINING) then you’re just missing the point of going to the movies in the first place. Yes, movies can inform and enlighten us. I’m not denying that. Film is an incredibly versatile medium. But I think if you go into a summer sci-fi blockbuster and get all bent out of shape over the political undertones, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.

But enough about politics. It’s been a good year for sci-fi, and Elysium continues that trend. I’m already looking forward to whatever shenanigans Blomkamp has in store for us next. District 10, anyone?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

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I’m also a big fan of these retro-style posters.