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

 2013 villains khan

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

 2013 villains kruger

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

 2013 villains zod

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

 2013 villains viper

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.

 2013 villains silver samurai

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

 2013 villains kaiju

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

 2013 villains mandarin

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

 2013 villains zombies

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

 2013 villains space

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

 2013 villains shaw

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

2013 villains network

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

2013 villains cavendish

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

 2013 villains loki

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.

 2013 villains malekith

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!

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The Surprise of WTF: Iron Man 3

Remember the guy in Predator with the glasses? Who tells the dirty jokes and was the first of Ahnuld’s crew of badasses to be eviscerated by the Predator? I think his name was Hawkins? He was played by a fellow by the name of Shane Black, best known for writing Lethal Weapon. The story is that he was working on the script for Lethal Weapon at the time Predator was being filmed, and producer Joel Silver wanted him around so he could review the script, so I guess they just decided to give him a supporting role while they were at it.

Now, twenty-six years after the release of Predator, along comes Iron Man 3, the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was directed by none other than, you guessed it, Shane Black. Yep, that nerdy-looking dude from Predator who got eviscerated before anyone else directed and co-wrote one of the biggest films of the year (seriously, Iron Man 3 made somewhere in the neighborhood of 175 million dollars over its opening weekend, second only to The Avengers, which coincidentally was the last movie Iron Man made an appearance in).

Black was an interesting choice of director for a megabudget blockbuster like Iron Man 3, since his only previous directing credit was 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a fantastic little neo-noir (also starring Robert Downey Jr.) that flew under the radar when it was first released but has since developed something of a cult following. I love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it’s easily one of my top ten favorite movies of all time. It’s hilariously funny, has some fun action scenes, the leads have great chemistry, and it pays homage to one of my favorite authors, Raymond Chandler. I need to do a full write-up of it sometime because it’s bloody brilliant and is also a Christmas movie! I meant to write about it last Christmas but ran out of time, so maybe I’ll save it for next Christmas…or maybe I won’t.

But back to Iron Man. 2008’s original Iron Man is widely regarded as one of the best superhero movies pretty much ever made, and with good reason: it’s smart, funny, well-acted, action-packed, and has a lot of heart. 2010’s Iron Man 2, while (in my opinion) hardly being the catastrophe people sometimes make it out to be, couldn’t help but feel a bit flat in comparison. The good news is that Iron Man 3 picks up the slack and moves along at a more brisk pace than the somewhat lackadaisical second installment. The not-so-good news is that the story is, well, kind of all-over-the-place.

In the aftermath of the events of The Avengers, our hero Tony Stark has been plagued by anxiety attacks and nightmares following his near-death at the end of that film. To combat this, he has taken to holing up in his lab/workshop and building suit after suit of badass Iron Man armor. His latest creation, Mark 42, is remote-controllable and Tony is able to summon it from long distances to attach to his body piece-by-piece. This is actually a really cool idea and the movie gets a lot of mileage out of it, both in terms of gags (like various armor pieces flying towards Tony’s sensitive male areas at high speeds) and action scenes (including a standout sequence where Tony thrashes a roomful of thugs with only part of his armor).

There’s also a new terrorist threat on the loose in the form of the Mandarin, played by Sir Ben Kingsley, and a sketchy businessman named Aldrich Killian (people named Killian are Not To Be Trusted) played by Guy Pearce. For some reason that currently escapes me, the Mandarin has a serious vendetta against Tony, which leads to the spectacular destruction of Tony’s awesome mansion (this is not a spoiler, it was in all the trailers). From there, things get a bit…weird.

There’s only so much I can say about the plot without giving too much away, so all I’m going is to say is that there is a big plot twist regarding…well, I can’t say what the twist involves because to say even that would give away too much. Suffice to say that there’s a really big plot twist, and it’s a bit weird.

I’m honestly pretty torn about the big twist. Those of you who have seen the film will know which plot twist I’m referring to, and the way I see it there are two very distinct ways of viewing it.

In one sense, it’s a great twist because it is completely unexpected. It’s noteworthy that there was nothing whatsoever in the film’s extensive advertising to suggest this particular plot twist, and when it happens it is genuinely surprising. It’s impressive when the makers of one of the biggest films of the year are able to so completely pull the wool over viewers’ eyes.

On the other hand, it’s a terrible plot twist for all of the same reasons that make it a great plot twist. It’s jarring because it comes out of nowhere, and seems really out of place, and completely contrary to what the audience was expecting. Now that I’ve had a few days to think it over, I’ve decided that it is admittedly a clever and thoroughly unpredictable twist, but at the same time it’s hard not to feel a bit cheated by it.

Sigh. That’s the thing with big plot twists. They’re either brilliant or they suck. Or they’re both at the same time. It’s kind of confounding from a storytelling perspective.

So where do I go from here? Well, I’ve read some complaints of the film by people who think that there wasn’t enough actual Iron Man in the movie, since (mild spoiler alert) Tony himself doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in the Iron Man suits. This is mostly true, but I thought there was plenty of Iron Man in the movie (or Iron Men as the case may be), even if Tony himself wasn’t always wearing the suit (and if you think about it, there really wasn’t a whole lot of Batman in The Dark Knight Rises).

I think Shane Black said something about how the movie kind of pondered if there was more to Tony Stark as a person and a hero than just the suits, and I think there is something to that idea. Iron Man 3 is almost more of a Tony Stark movie than an Iron Man movie, but, you know, I’m actually pretty okay with that. There are some fun action scenes where Tony has to rely on his brains more than his metal muscle, and these scenes are a fun and important reminder of just how smart and resourceful Tony is.

Despite some of the more jarring plot elements (and there are more and more of them as the film progresses), Iron Man 3 is still a fun and enjoyable movie with lots of great moments. It’s hard not to get a kick out of Downey’s buddy-chemistry with Don Cheadle, and watching them bicker and shoot at bad guys also brings to mind a couple of famous movie cops in another Shane Black-scripted action flick. Downey is as likable and cocky as ever, and Gwyneth Paltrow gets more to do as his lady love than just get captured and look nice (both of which she does). The rest of the supporting cast is solid, the special effects are top-notch and the film moves along briskly and is certainly never boring. There is also a post-credits scene well worth sitting through the end credits for.

Iron Man 3 is a film that perplexed me a bit as I left the theater. I had a lot of mixed emotions about it at first, but now that I’ve had some time to mull it over I think it’s a better film than I initially gave it credit for. There is a certain degree of WTF that I didn’t expect, but it’s a fun, well-made film and I will see it again. If you didn’t like it the first time you saw it, I’d really encourage you to give it another try. First impressions aren’t everything.

Surprise WTF rating: 7.66666(repeating), because why not.

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