2017: The Year in Villainy

It’s time once again for the annual roundup of cinematic scumbaggery. Strap yourself in for a whirlwind tour of the best the year had to offer in sheer evil. Beware of spoilers.

The Skullcrawlers in Kong: Skull Island

The Skullcrawlers are basically giant snakes with arms sticking out the front of their bodies. They’re hideous, and provide a fearsome enemy for Kong to battle. You could also argue that Kong himself is the villain, since he does kill quite a few people, or that Samuel L. Jackson’s increasingly-deranged Colonel Preston Packard shows that MAN is the real villain. But in my opinion, the Skullcrawlers are the most straightforward antagonist of the film, so we’re going to go with them.

Image: Warner Bros.

Gaston in Beauty and the Beast

Gaston was always one of my favorite classic Disney villains, and Luke Evans did a wonderful job of bringing him to life. Everything you remember from the animated version of Gaston is present and accounted for in the live-action version. The massive ego, the determination to marry Belle, and the bloodlust that reveals itself when he sets out to kill the beast. Bravo to Disney and Luke Evans for such a faithful recreation of an iconic villain.

Image: Disney

The Joker etc. in The Lego Batman Movie

The Joker was the main villain in the extremely fun Lego Batman Movie, but I have to give a shoutout to the many other villains packed in to the movie, not all of them Batman villains. From Egghead, King Tut and Condiment King to Sauron, King Kong, and Voldemort, the gang’s all here. Zach Galifianakis did great work voicing the Joker and giving him a mix of scary and funny that was just right for the film’s tone. I didn’t get around to writing about Lego Batman last year, but it was a ton of fun and the filmmakers did an amazing job of packing it full of Easter eggs and references that are fun to look for on repeat viewings. It’s the kind of kids movie that both kids and adults can enjoy.

Image:Warner Bros.

Donald Pierce in Logan

Logan was my favorite film of the year and an emotional rollercoaster that I still don’t think I’ve quite recovered from. It also featured some of the most despicable villains, led by jackass-in-chief Donald Pierce and his robotic hand. Pierce and his cronies are not only responsible for ending the mutant gene, but they also created their own pet mutants using DNA from various X-Men, and raised the mutant kids in captivity and trained them to be weapons. Dastardly. Pierce’s comeuppance at the hands of the mutant children he helped create was one of the most satisfying and appropriate villain deaths of 2017.

Image: 20th Century Fox

The Assassins in John Wick: Chapter 2

The most accurate way to describe the villains of the sequel to John Wick is “everyone other than John Wick.” It seems like everyone and their mother is out to kill this guy, from the woman playing the violin in the subway to the bodyguards of one of the targets he assassinates. By the end of the film, John is more alone than ever, with the implication that basically the entire world is out to get him, so he’ll have his hands full (and then some) in John Wick 3, which I hope comes soon. The picture I included with this entry does not depict any particular one of these assassins, but is still very representative of the crap John has to put up with throughout the film. His exasperated face says it all.

Image: Lionsgate

Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been criticized for having somewhat weak villains (aside from standouts like Loki and the Red Skull). But 2017 was a strong year for MCU villains, getting off to a good start with Kurt Russell’s Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Ego is a central character to the film’s plot and an important part of the main character’s identity, so he doesn’t feel like a villain who’s there simply because the film needs a villain. His plan for galactic domination is thoroughly evil and even though he’s a bit too talky during the middle portion of the film, it’s still quite satisfying to see Peter Quill overcome his evil father’s influence and realize that his true family was right in front of him all along.

Image: Marvel/Disney

Vortigern in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Guy Ritchie’s utterly insane King Arthur romp is not what I would call a good movie, but it’s a movie I kind of like simply because of how deranged it is. Given the insanity of the rest of the film, Jude Law’s commitment to his role as the evil king Vortigern is admirable. Vortigern is power-crazed and willing to sacrifice anything to maintain his power, including the lives of his own family. Despite the film’s weirdness, there’s a surprising sense of poignancy when Arthur defeats his evil uncle Vortigern and the look on Law’s face as Vortigern dies conveys the sense that he realizes all his actions, including sacrificing his own wife and daughter, have been for nothing.

Image: Warner Bros.

David and the Xenomorphs in Alien: Covenant

Xenomorphs have been scary ever since they first appeared on cinema screens in 1979, and after nearly four decades they are still every bit as scary. Some fans had issues with Covenant’s Xenomorph origin story, since apparently the slithery monstrosities were created by David, the wayward android from 2013’s Prometheus. Story issues aside, Michael Fassbender is terrific in a dual role and it’s a testament to the strength of the original Xenomorph design by H.R. Giger that the slimy creatures are as scary now as they were at the beginning, despite their appearance and behavior having changed very little over the years.

Image: 20th Century Fox

Cypher in The Fate of the Furious

I had a lot of issues with the plot of the massively-successful eighth film in the Fast and Furious franchise, so much so that I dedicated an entire post to it a couple of months ago. But I still give a lot of credit to Charlize Theron, who clearly has a lot of fun playing the blond-dreadlocked superhacker Cypher. Despite her generic name, Cypher is a cunning adversary who creates all kinds of trouble for Dom Toretto and his crew. She survives the movie and, given the series’ tendency to turn former adversaries into allies, it wouldn’t surprise me if she joined Dom’s team in future installments. But seeing how much fun Theron has in the role, it wouldn’t bother me too much if that turned out to be the case.

Image: Universal

Capitan Salazar and the Ghost Pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I liked the most recent Pirates adventure a lot more than apparently everyone else who saw it. A big part of my enjoyment of the film was due to its excellent villains, the leader of which is played by the always-scary Javier Bardem. The special effects that created Bardem’s Capitan Salazar and his ghostly crew of undead marauders were fantastic. I loved the designs of the ghost pirates, some of them were missing body parts and their hair and clothing were always floating, as if they were constantly suspended underwater. The movie had plenty of flaws, but the badass villains were not one of them. Also, zombie sharks.

Image: Disney

Ahmanet in The Mummy

The Mummy was not a good film, but by far the best thing about it was the performance of Sofia Boutella as the titular antagonist, Ahmanet. I like the idea of a female antagonist in a Mummy movie, and Boutella did great work bringing Ahmanet to undead life. It’s too bad that the rest of the film couldn’t live up to the standard of Boutella’s performance, and flopped so hard it may have torpedoed Universal’s hopes to build an interconnected universe of monster movies. The film may have been a failure, but its lack of success can’t be placed at the feet of the actress who was easily the movie’s biggest strong suit.

Image: Universal

Ares, General Ludendorff and Dr. Maru in Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman’s trifecta of villains was probably the weakest aspect of an otherwise excellent film. They weren’t terrible, just kind of generic. But it speaks to the awesomeness of the film’s heroine that an evil German scientist, an evil German general, and the God of War himself never stood a chance against Diana of Themyscira (I keep wanting to call the scientist and the general Nazis but they weren’t Nazis because the film takes place during World War I). They’re fun villains in a 1940’s movie serial way, even if they lack the heroine’s three-dimensional personality.

Image: Warner Bros.

The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming

Michael Keaton was excellent as Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture, in Spider-Man’s first solo entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The reveal of Toomes as the father of Peter Parker’s high school crush and homecoming date Liz was extremely well done, and the subsequent scene of Peter, Liz, and Toomes in the car on the way to the homecoming dance dripped with tension. The Vulture is one of the MCU’s best villains, and the filmmakers did a great job of making him somewhat sympathetic, as well as connecting his origin to the larger cinematic universe of which he is a part. Bravo, Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Image: Marvel/Disney

Bats, Buddy and Doc in Baby Driver

The titular character of Edgar Wright’s hugely entertaining Baby Driver lives a life surrounded by dangerous and unpredictable people. Doc is the mastermind of the heist crew, and Jon Hamm’s Buddy and Jamie Foxx’s Bats are the muscle. Buddy appears to be the more mentally stable of the two, while Bats is a lunatic who can barely control his lust for mayhem. Wright does a brilliant turnaround by killing off Bats during the climactic failed heist and making Buddy the last antagonist Ansel Elgort’s Baby must overcome before being able to be with Lily James’ Debora, the waitress he’s fallen in love with. Buddy proves to be quite tenacious, and Jon Hamm is menacing as hell. I loved Baby Driver, and can’t wait to see what Edgar Wright does next.

Image: Sony Pictures

Hela in Thor: Ragnarok

Cate Blanchett’s Hela was my favorite villain, or in this case villainess, of the year. She was absolutely kick-ass. Ragnarok was a blast from start to finish, and Hela was mesmerizing to watch. Blanchett clearly had a ton of fun playing her (how could she not?) and whenever she wasn’t on screen I wished she was. She’s a much more three-dimensional villain than the rather dull Dark Elves from Thor’s previous solo outing, and I can’t be the only person out there who thought she was, I dunno, kinda hot in a weird way (please tell me I’m not the only one). She appears to get killed at the end of the movie, which makes me sad that we probably won’t be seeing her again. One can only hope.

Image: Marvel/Disney

Steppenwolf in Justice League

A lot of people hated Justice League, but I wasn’t one of them. Sure, it had its share of issues, but I don’t think it deserved as much hate as it got. I will admit that its villain was weak, though. Steppenwolf was an intergalactic harbinger of doom that was just not very interesting. He looks like he walked off the cover of a heavy metal album (wasn’t there a band called Steppenwolf at some point?) and spouts a lot of crap about conquering the world and whatnot. Yawn. Still, give him some credit for being able to take on six superheroes and give them all a run for their money, and Ciaran Hinds does a good job voicing him.

Image: Warner Bros.

Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Oh, boy. Where to even start with The Last Jedi? The issues I had with this film could fill their own post (and they will soon), but I did like Adam Driver’s performance as the tormented Kylo Ren, formerly known as Ben Solo, and motion-capture wizard Andy Serkis was pretty great as Snoke, the Supreme Leader of the First Order. I have issues with these characters (more on that in an upcoming post), and Snoke is kind of a dumb name, but the performances were solid and I loved Snoke’s crimson-bedecked throne room.

Image: Lucasfilm

Pennywise in IT

One of horror maestro Stephen King’s most terrifying creations, Pennywise the Dancing Clown has been traumatizing readers since the book’s publication in 1986. Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise scared the pants off an entire generation in the 1990 TV movie of IT, and Bill Skarsgard’s terrifying portrayal of Pennywise in the smash-hit new movie was absolutely chilling. Skarsgard nailed the character, who basically is the ultimate embodiment of pure, unfiltered, malicious evil. Hela may have been my favorite villain of the year, but Pennywise was by far the scariest.

Image: Warner Bros.

The Man in Black in The Dark Tower

The film adaptation of another Stephen King story, The Dark Tower did not enjoy the same warm reception that IT did. I thought The Dark Tower was a fun adventure, albeit one that didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the source material. But the lead characters are played by two of my favorite actors, and it is fun to watch Idris Elba as the heroic gunslinger Roland and Matthew McConaughey as the diabolical Man in Black butt heads. McConaughey does great work bringing one of King’s most prolific villains to life (the character has appeared in multiple iterations across several of King’s books) and I’m glad that we got see these characters onscreen, even if only the one time, since the film’s underwhelming box-office performance makes a sequel unlikely.

Image: Columbia Pictures

Poppy Adams in Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Matthew Vaughn’s overstuffed Kingsman sequel may have been a mess, but at least it was a fun mess. While Pennywise was the year’s scariest villain, Julianne Moore’s Poppy was without a doubt the most cheerful. She has a radiant smile for most of the film, even when commanding one of her henchmen to toss another one of her followers into a meat grinder and making a burger out of him. She also had one of the most unique hideouts, dwelling in a 50’s-inspired utopia in the middle of the jungle in Cambodia. Or at least I think it was Cambodia. Poppy also kept Elton John captive and had robotic guard dogs named Bennie and Jet, so give her points for originality.

Image: 20th Century Fox

And there you have it! See you again in a year or so for another roundup of cinematic evil.

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Gentlemen Are Still Badasses in Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Matthew Vaughn is one of the best action directors working today. His films Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service have some of the most exciting, well-shot and well-choreographed action sequences in years. His latest film, the sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle, has all the kinetic action of his previous films, but his flaws as a storyteller have never been more apparent.

The first Kingsman movie introduced the titular spy agency, a clandestine group of gentlemen badasses who wore finely-tailored suits and also just so happened to be lethal killing machines. The first film showed the training of Eggsy, a Kingsman recruit with a lot of potential. Eggsy eventually became a full-fledged Kingsman agent and helped save the world from a megalomaniac bent on cleansing the world by killing most of its population.

It was a very fun movie that was a big hit when it was released in 2014. Now the sequel is here, and it’s a mess. Mind you, it’s a fun mess. But it is still a mess.


Image: 20th Century Fox

Let’s start with the characters. There are too many of them, and the movie has no idea what to do with most of them. There are returning characters from the movie. The movie doesn’t know what to do with them, and promptly kills many of them off. There are new characters. The movie doesn’t know what to do with them, and promptly shunts many of them off to the side for most of the overlong 141-minute running time.

Colin Firth was the star of the first Kingsman movie, and watching the debonair, Oscar-winning English actor kick ass was an unexpected joy. Sadly, his character was killed off. But what do you know, he’s back for the sequel! This isn’t a spoiler, he’s in all the trailers. How did he survive? I won’t spoil it, but I found the method of his survival to be awfully…well…convenient. My guess is that the filmmakers weren’t expecting Firth’s character to be such a hit, so they scrambled for a way to resurrect him in the sequel. It’s great to see Firth again, he’s great, but the new movie’s writing is sloppy.

Director Matthew Vaughn has no one but himself to blame for the movie’s sloppiness, since he co-wrote the screenplay. The movie’s marketing made a big deal out of the new characters, played by well-known actors such as Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, and Halle Berry. But these characters have very little to do. Tatum in particular is barely in the movie. He has one big scene, then disappears until the end. I wondered if his role was supposed to be bigger but there were scheduling issues or something which prevented it. The movie initially positions him as an American version of hero Eggsy, then promptly drops him for most of the movie. Tatum’s character, heavily featured in the film’s marketing, is an afterthought.

As for the plot, it’s far-fetched to say the least. If the first Kingsman movie strained the limits of credibility, the second one obliterates them and it is impossible to take anything in the movie seriously. Case in point: the villain, Poppy Adams, played by Julianne Moore. Poppy easily takes home the title of “Most Cheerful Villain of the Year.” She has her own plan for world domination, which involves contaminating recreational drugs such as marijuana and heroin so that they paralyze and eventually kill people who use them. She’s obsessed with the 1950’s and lives in a 50’s-inspired utopia in the middle of the jungle in Cambodia. She’s completely ridiculous. She’s quirky but not scary, no offense to Julianne Moore, who does what she can with a weirdly-written role. Poppy spends literally the entire movie in her jungle utopia, and never registers as a credible threat. Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the first Kingsman movie was much more intimidating and memorable.


Image: 20th Century Fox

Still, early in the movie Poppy does manage to obliterate most of the Kingsman organization in one fell swoop. Surviving members Eggsy (played by Taron Egerton) and Merlin (played by Mark Strong) realize that they need help, and this leads them to the discovery of the Statesmen, the American cousins of the Kingsmen. Where the Kingsmen are exaggerated versions of everything British, with their finely-tailored suits and impeccable manners, the Statesmen are exaggerated versions of all things ‘Murican.

You know, ‘Murican, like “American” with a thick southern drawl? The Statesmen are headquartered in Kentucky and are fond of lassos, revolvers, and cowboy hats and boots. Most of them have southern accents and all their agents are named after alcoholic beverages. Channing Tatum is Tequila, Halle Berry is Ginger Ale, and Jeff Bridges, the boss, is Champagne, or just Champ for short. There’s also Agent Whiskey, played by Pedro Pascal, a Game of Thrones alumnus whose character only lasted for one season before being killed in one of the most infamously gruesome deaths on a show known for killing main characters in grisly ways.

This movie is insane. It’s hard to put into words the sheer insanity that this movie puts on the screen. It has to be seen to be believed. The movie has an all-star cast, but there is one man who steals the entire movie. This is a bit of a spoiler, since this person’s involvement was kept pretty minimal in the film’s marketing.

Two words:

Elton.

John.

Yes, Sir Elton steals the movie. It turns out that Poppy has kidnapped him and forces him to perform songs for her at her jungle lair. He’s not very happy about it and yells a lot of f-words. Also, Poppy’s hideout is guarded by two robotic dogs named Bennie and Jet, who are programmed not to kill Elton John.

It’s hilarious.

It’s also utterly absurd.

And did I mention Poppy’ rather bizarre way of indoctrinating new henchmen? It involves making them eat hamburgers made out of, uh, other henchmen.

So, yeah.

This movie is batshit. It’s the most batshit movie I’ve seen all year. The plot is a ridiculous mess, most of the characters are underused, and it’s a good twenty minutes too long.

But at the end of the day, I still had fun with it. Was I entertained? You bet I was. Matthew Vaughn’s screenwriting and storytelling could use some work, but his direction of the action scenes is top-notch. The first scene of the movie is a ten-minute car chase through the middle of London involving cars armed with miniguns and a bad guy with a robotic arm, and it only gets crazier from there.

The climactic battle at Poppy’s jungle hideout is one of the most joyously fun action scenes I’ve seen all year. It’s set to Elton John’s classic song Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, which has always been a favorite of mine. Watching two Englishmen in bespoke suits battling an army of henchmen in a 50’s-inspired jungle utopia while Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting plays in the background is something I didn’t know how badly I needed until I saw it. Thank you, movie, for giving me back a piece of myself that I didn’t even know I was missing.


Image: 20th Century Fox

Look, this movie is a clusterf*ck on an epic scale, but hot damn if it isn’t still fun. Its flaws are legion but I still enjoyed the hell out of it. It’s a guilty pleasure, for sure. I hope Matthew Vaughn keeps making movies this fun, although it would be nice if he sharpened up the writing a bit.

Coming up next is a movie that’s a bit obscure, but it’s one that I really like. I’m not seeing any new movies this weekend, so I’m going to take a look at a film from last year that it is an underseen gem. It’s a movie called Anthropoid. If you’ve never heard of it I’m not surprised. It’s a World War II film about the plot to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust. There’s going to be some dark stuff, but hopefully I can convince you to check out this underappreciated movie. See you next week.

2015: The Year in Villainy

Another year, another roundup of baddies. There were a lot of big-franchise movies this year, with a lot of big-name villains, as well as a couple of memorable new (evil) faces. Without further ado, let’s get to the villainy!

Richmond Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service

2015 villains valentine

Samuel L. Jackson played one of the most unique villains of the year. A billionaire who wants to destroy humanity because he believes they are a disease that must be exterminated in order to save the planet, he speaks with a lisp and grows nauseous at the sight of blood. He’s also got a first-rate evil lair hidden in the mountains, protected by surface-to-air missiles and an army of henchmen. He may not be the scariest villain of the year, given the film’s comedic tone, but certainly one of the most entertaining.

Deckard Shaw in Furious 7

2015 villains shaw

I love Jason Statham, and he doesn’t usually play bad guys, so it was really fun to watch him cut loose and turn to the dark side for a while. I’ll admit that his character didn’t have all that much personality, but every time he showed up in the movie, his appearance was accompanied by a fight, shootout, or ridiculous car chase. He kicked plenty of ass, and probably got his hands dirty more than any other villain on this list, which earns him a spot as one of my favorite villains of 2015.

Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron

2015 villains ultron

For a while, Gollum was the most realistic digital character around, but some of the recent Marvel movies have given old Smeagol a run for his money (Rocket and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy are other examples of this). But in terms of digitally-created villains, Ultron steals the show. Age of Ultron was a mixed bag, the story was a bit of a mess and the whole film felt overstuffed, but it was still plenty of fun and James Spader gave a fantastic performance as the titular villain. He gave Ultron distinctive mannerisms that made him feel like much more than just your average everyday murderous robot. When you’ve got five or six superheroes in one movie, you need a villain capable of standing up to all of them, and Ultron fit that description perfectly.

Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road

2015 villains immortan joe

I may be biased here because Mad Max: Fury Road was far and away my favorite movie of 2015, but Immortan Joe was also my favorite villain of 2015. A classic dictator and a first-class bullshit artist, Immortan Joe was the kind of villain who would scare the pants off you, but he was so magnetic you couldn’t take your eyes off that terrifying visage. He was the kind of villain you love to hate, and his was also one of the most viscerally and emotionally satisfying deaths of the year. When Charlize Theron’s equally-badass Furiosa hooked his mask to the wheel of his truck and ripped half his face off, it was enough to make you want to stand up and cheer.

John Connor in Terminator Genisys

2015 villains connor

You’ve got to give the makers of Terminator Genisys some credit. It took some serious cojones to make John Connor, the savior of humanity in the previous Terminator films, the bad guy in the most recent installment. That would be like making Harry Potter a dark wizard. But what one hand gives, the other hand takes away, since the reveal of Connor as the bad guy was relentlessly spoiled in every bit of the film’s advertising. Posters, trailers, you name it, all of it gave away the big twist. It was really too bad, since it hugely undermined the film’s big reveal of the villain. Jason Clarke still did solid work in the role, but the damage was done and the twist didn’t have as much of an impact as it should have. Still, it took balls, and I do have to give the filmmakers some credit for that.

Yellowjacket in Ant-Man

2015 villains yellowjacket

Ant-Man was great fun, one of the most purely entertaining movies I saw this year. And it just makes sense that Ant-Man’s nemesis would be another insect-based character. Yellowjacket had the same shrinking abilities as Ant-Man, but of course he added more laser guns, as any self-respecting villain probably would. The climactic battle between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket is one of the most unique in all of cinema. You will not find anything else quite like it, and that alone makes the movie worth checking out.

Solomon Lane in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

2015 villains lane

The fifth installment in the venerable spy series was all about providing Tom Cruise’s superspy Ethan Hunt with equals. Newcomer Rebecca Ferguson neatly stole the movie as slinky, sexy spy Ilsa Faust, who was every bit the equal to Cruise’s character, but she’s not on this list because she was not the villain. That title belongs to Solomon Lane, the devious criminal mastermind who managed the difficult task of frequently out-maneuvering Ethan Hunt himself. He’s a shadowy figure for much of the film, speaking in a silent, raspy voice that drips with menace. The villain in the previous Mission: Impossible movie was a bit flat, but Solomon Lane more than made up for that.

Franz Oberhauser in Spectre

2015 villains oberhauser

Spectre was a bit of a comedown after the awesomeness that was Skyfall, and that included the film’s villain. Christoph Waltz is an amazing actor, and it’s always fun to watch him be evil, but his character was not quite as memorable as Javier Bardem’s was in Skyfall. Still, Waltz is more than up to the task of being a Bond villain. Few actors provide more reliable villainy than Waltz, and he does so again here. There’s nothing really wrong with his character or his performance, but it would be tough for anyone to follow up Javier Bardem’s villainous turn in Skyfall, even an actor of Waltz’s caliber. But it’s still a kick to watch Waltz do his thing, even if his character wasn’t all it could have been.

Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

2015 villains kylo ren

Don’t worry, this entry will be spoiler-free. Although, given the ridiculous amount of money Episode VII has already made, most people reading this will have probably already seen it. But on the off chance that you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t give anything major away. Suffice to say that Kylo Ren’s true identity drops a pretty big bombshell in the middle of the Star Wars mythos. He’s played by an actor named Adam Driver, who I was unfamiliar with, but I thought he did a pretty great job playing a role that he must have known would be carefully scrutinized by legions of rabid fans. The Force Awakens was a hell of a ride, and it did exactly what it was supposed to do, in that it left you wanting more, and wanting more NOW. It’ll be a few years before we get to see the continuation of the story, but I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for everyone’s new favorite dark Jedi.

So there you have it, the best of the best of 2015’s villainous vagabonds. There are plenty of big movies coming in 2016, including a whole slew of comic-book movies that feature some truly iconic baddies (does the name the Joker ring a bell?), so I’ll see you at the movie theater.

Gentlemen Can Be Badasses, Too

I am very proud to report that I did not see 50 Shades of Grey over the weekend. I have never and will never read the books, and I have never and will never see the movie. I take great pride in both of these facts. I spent my movie theater time last weekend watching Matthew Vaughn’s extremely entertaining and vastly superior Kingsman: The Secret Service.

kingsman-secret-service-most-poster

I can think of three ways to best describe Kingsman. The first is that if Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost were to make a spy movie, it would be pretty similar to Kingsman. The second is that Vaughn’s film is kind of like a Sean Connery-era Bond film on crack and/or steroids. The third is that the Kingsmen are kind of like British G.I. Joes, a secret agency of world-saving badasses.

The main difference between the Kingsmen and G.I. Joes is that, while the American world-savers are of the more rough-and-tumble, down-and-dirty persuasion, the British world-savers are consummate gentlemen in exquisitely-tailored suits.

kingsman suits

The film’s main character is Harry Hart, code-named Galahad, played by the wonderful actor Colin Firth. Other members include Merlin, played by Mark Strong, and Arthur, the head of the organization, played by Michael Caine (because who else could it be?).

The plot concerns Eggsy, a young man recruited by Harry to join the Kingsmen. The film splits its time between Eggsy’s training and the efforts of a rich madman named Richmond Valentine (played by Samuel L. Jackson, speaking with a lisp and wearing an array of multicolored New York Yankees baseball caps) to exterminate most of mankind.

I won’t go into much more detail about the rest of the plot, but suffice to say that Valentine’s evil plan involves mind-controlling everyone on the planet to basically get them all to beat each other to death, which leads to a couple of brutally hilarious scenes late in the movie in which people on the streets of London and the beaches of Rio are all beating the absolute hell out of each other.

And speaking of beating the hell out of people, director Matthew Vaughn has a real eye for fast-paced, brutal action. His previous films include the comic-book adaptations X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass, as well as the bone-cracking crime thriller Layer Cake, which gave Daniel Craig one of his first starring roles.

With Kingsman, Vaughn perfects his particular style of hyperkinetic action, producing wickedly fast-paced, intricately-choreographed, and at times shockingly violent fight scenes. The standout fight takes place in a church where Valentine tests his mind-control apparatus, which leads to an incredibly violent sequence in which all the occupants of the church, including Harry, all go insane and murder the hell out of each other, with Harry as the only survivor due to his lethal spy skills.

kingsman church fight

The experience of watching Colin Firth kick ass is pretty awesome. Matthew Vaughn seems to specialize in making action stars out of people you would really not expect to be action stars, and watching Firth, a 54-year-old actor known mainly for romantic comedies and serious dramas, beat the hell out of a whole building full of people reminded me of watching then-13-year-old Chloe Moretz kill waves of mobsters in Kick-Ass. It also reminded me of watching Liam Neeson beating Albanian sex-traffickers to death in the original Taken.

Kingsman is heavily reminiscent of Sean Connery’s Bond films (which are directly referenced at one point in the movie), except with a much higher body count and many more f-words. I don’t know why, but hearing people with very proper-sounding English accents say f*ck and sh*t a lot is always endlessly hilarious to me.

The spy gadgets used in the film, which include such gems as cigarette lighters that double as hand grenades, bulletproof umbrellas that shoot various projectiles, pens that can be used to poison people, watches that fire sleeping darts, and knife-tipped shoes, are all the kinds of things that Q would supply Bond with back in the 60’s and 70’s (the knife-shoes, for example, are straight out of From Russia With Love). And of course, those finely-tailored suits are also bulletproof.

Don’t go into Kingsman expecting a serious spy thriller in the vein of the recent Bond films, go into it simply expecting to have a good time and you will not be disappointed. It’s based on a graphic novel by Mark Millar, who also wrote the graphic novels that were the basis for the films Wanted and Kick-Ass, and if you’ve seen either of those films you have a general idea of what kind of insanity to expect from this one.

I mean, the villain’s henchwoman has prosthetic razor-blade legs, which is every bit as insane and ridiculous as it sounds, and also allowed the marketing department for the movie to spoof the famous poster for the 1981 Roger Moore Bond film For Your Eyes Only (which, for the record, is my favorite of Moore’s Bond movies).

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See what they did there? I mean, who doesn’t remember that Bond poster? I wasn’t even alive when that movie came out and even I remember that poster.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s not perfect of course. The plot follows a lot of very familiar beats and I had issues with the unsatisfying and anticlimactic death of a major character, but as a whole the movie is still very enjoyable. It’s a whirlwind blend of hyperkinetic action, over-the-top spy shenanigans, and some really great British actors. Colin Firth in particular looks like he is having a great time, and you probably will too.