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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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!

Even More Really Bad Movies

Another birthday, another bad movie roundup! Let’s get started!


beowulf psotre

As an English major, I felt it was my sworn duty to see this movie. Boy, did I regret it. True story: when I was a sophomore at Seattle Pacific University, we read Beowulf in one of my British Lit. classes, because of course we did. I knew that this movie had been around for a while, but I had never seen it, so one day I hopped on a bus to downtown Seattle and bought the DVD from Borders (back before Borders went out of business. RIP Borders). I brought it back to my dorm room on the sixth floor of Hill Hall, and when I tried to watch it THE DVD FREAKING FROZE right when Beowulf’s mother (who, you might recall, was played by naked animated Angelina Jolie) emerged from the water. Try as I might, I could not get the stupid DVD to work.

So a few days later, I hopped on another bus, went back to downtown Seattle, and exchanged my faulty DVD for a new one. This one worked, miraculously…or perhaps not so miraculously, since I hated the movie. That DVD I worked so hard for contained a movie that totally sucked, and that DVD has sat on a shelf in my bedroom unwatched ever since.


gamer psotre

I’m pretty sure I bought this DVD from that same Borders in downtown Seattle (I bought a lot of DVDs in college, probably due to my complete absence of a social life) and yeah, this movie also sucked. I do like the premise, though: In the not-too-distant future, there are these real-life video games where players control actual people in kill-or-be-killed deathmatches. Picture Call of Duty, but with real people instead of virtual avatars. It’s an agreeably wacky premise and there are some fun, crazy action sequences to go along with it, but the movie ends up being just too weird and unnecessarily convoluted for its own good, and it ends up being pretty hard to care about as a result. The movie was made by the same guys who made the completely-bonkers Crank movies, and includes all the over-the-top action but none of the momentum of those ludicrous ficks.

Ghost Rider

ghost rider psotre

Here’s an infamous stinker that gave me a title for a couple posts I did a while back, about Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap. This movie is a mess: the villains are lame, the plot is boring, Nic Cage is…well, Nic Cage. What else needs to be said? At least the special effects are decent, but as anyone who watched the last Transformers movie will tell you, special effects can’t always save a movie. Bafflingly, this movie got a sequel a few years ago from the guys who made Crank and Gamer, which by most accounts was even worse than the original. I haven’t seen it and have no desire to. I guess not every Marvel character is a guaranteed recipe for success, after all.

Godzilla (1998)


I liked this movie when I was a kid, but I have since seen the error of my ways. This movie was so bad that Toho, the Japanese production company that has made all the Japanese Godzilla movies, bought the rights to the appearance of the character as he looks in this movie, renamed him Zilla, and proceeded to ruthlessly mock him in their own Godzilla movies. Do yourself a favor and watch the epic Japanese film Godzilla Final Wars, which includes the priceless line “I knew that fish-eating monster was useless,” spoken after this much-hated version of Godzilla gets his ass handed to him.

The Matrix Revolutions

matrix3 psotre

Continuing from my previous bad-movie installment, here’s another epically bad trilogy-capper. Between this and the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, you could write a book called “How not to end a movie trilogy.” Overlong and utterly incomprehensible, this movie was enough to make most people wish the Matrix series had ended after just one movie. The only part of this movie that was even remotely memorable was the part where Keanu Reeves punches Hugo Weaving in the face in super slow-mo.

Terminator Salvation


For some reason that I now find utterly incomprehensible, I used to like this movie. Having rewatched it recently, I have now scientifically determined that this movie is awful. It’s boring as hell, there’s not much action, not many Terminator robots, and no reason to care about any of the characters. For all of its flaws, at least Terminator 3 had a strong sense of purpose. This fourth Terminator movie has no driving force behind it at all, it just spins its wheels for two hours and ends anticlimactically without any sense of having accomplished anything. Even poor old Christian Bale couldn’t save this movie from becoming a generic and quickly-forgotten action flick.


parker psotre

I feel a bit bad including this one here, since I am a big fan of Jason Statham, but this movie is just boring. The action sequences are admittedly pretty good, but the characters are so thinly-drawn and the plot so dull that it basically sinks the entire movie.

So there you have it, seven more lousy movies. On another note, this is my 100th post! When I first started blogging a few years ago, I never thought I would someday reach 100 posts, and I want to offer my sincere thanks to anyone who has ever taken time out of their busy lives to read something I wrote. I can’t tell you how much that means to me, so thank you all very, very much.

Here’s to the next 100!

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!

The Return of the King

Confession time: when I was a kid, I loved Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla movie. Please don’t judge me too harshly, I was only ten when it came out and that movie was pretty much geared toward 10-12-year-old boys.

Sure, now that I’m older and (hopefully) wiser, I realize that the movie was pretty lousy. It didn’t really feel like a Godzilla movie, it just took a giant lizard monster and stuck it in New York to cause mayhem and destruction. If it hadn’t been called Godzilla, it could have been just about any generic movie monster. And there was that whole dumb subplot with the Godzilla babies, the less said about which the better.

So yeah, in retrospect, it was a pretty bad movie. But I was still cautiously optimistic about the idea of a new Godzilla movie. The first teaser trailer got me genuinely excited. I loved the vibe of apocalyptic doom the trailer had going on, and how it teased the big guy himself without showing too much.

Godzilla teaser poster

It also had a good cast and an intriguing director. The movie was directed by a fellow named Gareth Edwards, whose only previous directing credit was a low-budget indie called Monsters, and I’m always intrigued when Hollywood gives a big franchise to a relatively new director.

I was excited about Godzilla all last week, and when I finally saw the movie in 3D on Friday, I am happy to say that I came away happy.

Pacific Rim was one of my favorite movies last year, and it helped me realize just how much I enjoy the sight of giant monsters and/or robots duking it out amongst crumbling cities.

Pacific Rim was one of the most purely entertaining movies I saw in 2013, and the new Godzilla isn’t quite as much fun.

This is not to say that it’s a bad movie, however. The best way I can think to describe it is that, if Pacific Rim was The Avengers of monster movies, then Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is the Batman Begins of monster movies: darker, grittier, more intense, maybe not quite as much fun, but still really good in its own right.


Edwards takes a Spielberg-esque approach to the film, in that, much as Spielberg did in Jaws, he keeps the titular beastie off-screen for much of the film, to the point where the big guy almost seems like a supporting character in his own movie.

This is a little frustrating at times, since there were a few moments when the camera pulled away and I thought “No! I want to see that!” But limiting the title character’s screen time has the effect of making every one of his appearances have a lot more impact. Every time the G-unit shows up, his appearance feels like it has weight and significance, and isn’t just an opportunity to indulge in state-of-the-art special effects.

And the effects are awesome. Godzilla himself looks fantastic, and I never had a problem suspending disbelief whenever he appeared.

He’s also a hell of a lot bigger than in previous incarnations, which leads to city-leveling destruction (Honolulu, Las Vegas, and San Francisco are all thoroughly owned. The poor old Golden Gate Bridge seems to be a frequent casualty in monster and disaster movies. I’m pretty sure it bit the dust in Pacific Rim too).

Godzilla size

It’s also no great spoiler (since it was in the trailers) that Godzilla battles a few other massive beasties in the movie. These are called MUTOs, which stands for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism. I won’t spoil too much about what they are or what they’re up to, except to say that the movie spends almost as much time developing their story as it does Godzilla’s.

And it’s a good story, too. It incorporates a lot of the nuclear fears that were a big part of Godzilla’s origin story and which were largely glossed over in the 1998 version. It pays tribute to 1954’s classic original Godzilla while still putting its own spin on it.

The human characters, unfortunately, aren’t quite as captivating as the giant monsters. They’re not unlikable or anything and I generally didn’t have a problem rooting for them, they’re just kind of bland. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) and Elizabeth Olsen do what they can, but their characters are kind of thinly written (Coincidentally, both actors will be in Avengers 2 next year, playing brother and sister instead of husband and wife).

The supporting cast fares better, with Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as the tormented father of Taylor-Johnson’s character, whose wife was killed in a nuclear reactor meltdown under mysterious circumstances. Also present is the great Japanese actor Ken Watanabe (Inception) as a scientist tracking Godzilla and his ilk. I would have liked to have seen more of him and of Monarch, the mysterious organization he works for, but there was plenty of other stuff going on in the movie so I didn’t mind too much.

Godzilla bridge

And, despite Godzilla himself being kept in the shadows for much of the film, the movie is action-packed. There are numerous close calls and tense encounters, all of which are characterized by palpable suspense and top-notch effects work. The HALO jump sequence showcased in the trailer I linked to above was a definite highlight, and probably my favorite scene in the movie.

It’s a harrowing, heart-pounding sequence, and it puts the viewer right there in the middle of the action. The incredibly ominous soundtrack and striking visuals make the scene feel like something out of Dante’s Inferno, a descent into a creature-filled hell. It’s one of the most intense and memorable scenes I’ve seen in 2014 so far.

Godzilla jump

The movie did a really great job of capturing what it would actually feel like to be a tiny, puny human in the middle of a giant monster attack. The sense of scale of the monsters is really impressive. Humans are used to being the most dominant species on the planet, and this movie did an incredibly convincing job of turning that on its head.

The epic final monster battle, while it takes a while to arrive, is well worth it. Edwards clearly understands the need to reward viewers’ patience, and he does so in spectacular fashion with a city-demolishing final battle that showcases the big G in all of his immense, terrifying, fire-breathing glory. It’s a great sequence, and it really differentiates itself from other, similar movies.

In Pacific Rim, for example, the biggest action sequence takes place in the middle of a brightly-lit, rain-drenched city, full of vivid neon colors. By contrast, Godzilla’s final battle takes place in a city darkened by EMP blasts, and much of the light comes from the fires raging throughout the city. Again, think of the bright colors of The Avengers versus the darker color palette of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films.

Godzilla is the granddaddy of giant monsters, and Gareth Edwards’ film pays fitting tribute to his legacy. At the end of the movie, as the great beast returns to the briny deep from whence he came, I found myself itching for more.

And more is coming, because the G-unit stomped the competition on his opening weekend, proving that people still like giant monster movies, and that the name Godzilla still carries weight. Hopefully Edwards will be involved in the sequels, since the guy clearly knows what he’s doing.

One of my first posts was about the original Godzilla, which is a movie that still retains much of its original power, so check that out if you’re interested. The Criterion Collection edition is well worth picking up, it even has cool packaging that unfolds into a little pop-up Godzilla.

Godzilla criterion

On an unrelated note, yesterday, May 18, marked the two-year anniversary of my first blog post. Since that first post I’ve gotten more than 2,500 total views, which to me is mind-blowing. It still kind of amazes me to think that there might be people out there who are actually interested in what I write, so to each and every one of you I just want to say thank you very, very much.

Here’s to two more years! Thanks so much everybody!!

King of the Monsters

I like foreign films. Some people don’t like reading subtitles. They prefer to watch and listen, not read dialogue. This is certainly a fair point, but subtitles have never really bothered me. Sure, I generally prefer to not have to read subtitles when I watch a movie, but every once in a while I kind of enjoy it. It’s fun to step away from big-budget Hollywood films every once in a while to see what other talented filmmakers around the world are up to, and I have found the results to be frequently rewarding. John Woo’s “Red Cliff” and Takashi Miike’s “13 Assassins” are both extremely epic and badass, and could easily rival most American summer blockbusters. And the Swedish version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was so good that many people wondered, myself included, if it was necessary to remake it at all (though for the record, I thought that David Fincher’s version was also quite good).

All of this is to say that when I was at Barnes and Noble last week and saw the Criterion Collection DVD of “Godzilla,” the original Japanese classic from 1954, I knew I had to pick it up. This was something of a stretch for me, since I don’t generally watch a lot of older black and white films (although “The Mark of Zorro” with Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone was a favorite of mine when I was a kid). I wondered what the viewing experience would be like, nearly sixty years after the film was originally released.

And I have to say, it was a lot of fun. There’s something charmingly old-school about the kinds of practical effects used in older films like “Godzilla.” The big lizard was actually played by a guy wearing a suit, and while it does look somewhat cheesy by today’s standards, it is also oddly convincing, since you know that there was a real person in there, as opposed to a mass of computer-generated pixels. I don’t mean to knock modern special effects, it’s just that watching a movie like “Godzilla” really helps you see how far technology has advanced.

And like I said, there’s something oddly convincing about old-school special effects. It feels genuine in a way that modern effects don’t always. I really don’t have a problem with modern CGI effects, but filmmakers these days tend to use them as a crutch. Take Michael Bay, for example, who throws as much flashy-looking action at the screen as he can in an attempt to cover up the fact that there’s nothing really going on in terms of a plot that actually resonates or characters you actually give a damn about. I enjoyed the robot-fighting action sequences in Bay’s “Transformers” movies in a popcorn-munching sort of way, but it’s kind of hard to care sometimes since it all-too-often feels like there’s nothing  at stake if you don’t care about the plot or the characters.

That’s not the case with Godzilla. The story still really resonates in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. I knew that the idea behind Godzilla was partly a response to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II, as well as continued nuclear testing in the 50’s. This context gives “Godzilla” a lot of emotional heft, since the situation the characters find themselves in manages to feel really genuine, despite the fact that there’s a giant monster wandering around smashing things.

There are a lot of images in the film that are very striking: a post-attack view of a destroyed and burning city is chilling, and it’s hard not to be affected by the sight of a child wailing hysterically as a parent is carried away on a stretcher. There’s one scene in particular during one of the big Godzilla-attack sequences, that shows a mother cowering in fear, holding her three children and saying, “We’re going to see Daddy now! We’ll be with him soon!” that’s heartbreaking. Scenes and images such as these give the film a sense of poignancy that I honestly hadn’t been expecting.

“Godzilla” is a true classic. The big lizard is surprisingly relevant, and it’s really no wonder that the original film has spawned dozens of sequels. Godzilla is memorable in a way that Michael Bay’s Transformers are not. There are things that stick with you from “Godzilla.” After you’ve watched “Transformers” the whole thing is kind of a blur, nothing specific really stands out as worthy of being remembered, which is not the case with Godzilla.

I don’t want to seem like I’m picking on Transformers in particular, like I said I enjoyed them for the most part. They’re good, mindless popcorn entertainment, which I really don’t have a problem with, but they’re also one of the best examples of the kind of style-over-substance filmmaking that seems so prevalent these days. Popcorn entertainment is great, but every once in a while you just want something more substantial. That’s part of why Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, for example, have become so popular: they combine blockbuster action and spectacle with genuine heart and intelligence in a way that many other blockbusters do not. That’s another reason why I liked “John Carter” so much, since I felt that it was able to achieve that same balance.

So if you’re looking for a fun old-school sci-fi flick that just might make you think a little, check out “Godzilla.” It’s still a great movie, and it makes me feel obliged to end this post with a giant monster sound, so here goes:


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