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.

Vlad and the Impalers

By most accounts, Vlad the Impaler was not a nice guy. He’s actually revered as a folk hero in Romania and other parts of Europe, even if his reputation in the rest of the world is not so hot.

Vlad_Tepes_002

Despite his rather awesome appearance, you don’t get to be the inspiration for the most famous vampire in history for no reason (Vlad’s victims are said to number in the tens of thousands). The infamous Count Dracula has appeared in all forms of media since his first appearance in Bram Stoker’s novel in 1897, and it is one of his most recent appearances that I am going to talk about today.

Last year Dracula got his very own cinematic origin story with a little movie called Dracula Untold. Response to the film was largely “Meh,” but I saw it recently and was very pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up liking it.

background-international-trailer-for-dracula-untold

The movie stars Luke Evans as Vlad, and tries to portray him as a pretty good guy who has admittedly done some horrible things, and is trying to leave his dark past behind him and move on with his life. The movie gives us some brief glimpses of impalement, which aren’t particularly graphic given the film’s PG-13 rating, but are still enough to get the point across (see what I did there?).

vlad impalement

The movie opens with Vlad and some of his pals stumbling across a vampire in a cave. Don’t you hate it when that happens? His friends are killed but Vlad escapes and makes it back to his wife Mirena and son Ingeras.

Vlad tries not to think too hard about the whole “vampire-in-a-cave” thing, but gets distracted when the Ottoman sultan Mehmed sends a messenger the next day. The messenger tells Vlad that the sultan requires 1,000 boys to be trained in his army. This is unwelcome news, so Vlad goes to Mehmed to attempt to negotiate. He offers himself instead, but Mehmed refuses and demands Vlad’s own son as well, just to add insult to injury I guess.

On the day Vlad is supposed to give his son to Mehmed’s emissaries, Vlad changes his mind and kills the emissaries. Vlad knows this will mean war, and also knows that his army is no match for Mehmed’s, so in desperation he goes to seek the Cave Vampire’s help, in order to gain the power of the vampire to defeat his enemies.

The Cave Vampire (listed in the credits as Master Vampire, which would be a good name for a rock band) is played by Charles Dance of all people, a veteran actor best known these days for playing the (recently deceased) Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones.

Master Vampire

The red-eyed Master Vamp drains some of his blood into a skull and gives it to Vlad to drink. Doing so, he says, will give Vlad the strength of 100 men, the speed of a falling star, and dominion over the night and all its creatures. He also tells Vlad that if he can resist the urge to drink blood for three days, he will become human again. If not, he will be doomed to wander the earth as a vampire.

Vlad accepts, and drinks the blood.

From this point, everyone knows what is going to happen. I really don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Vlad does not resist the urge to drink blood, because if he did resist then there would be no Dracula and the point of an origin story would be moot.

So, yeah. Things ultimately don’t end up going well for our friend Vlad. Despite the story’s predictability, I still enjoyed the journey quite a bit, and there are some very cool scenes along the way.

One of Vlad’s vampiric powers is the ability to transform himself into a swarm of bats, which makes for some cool visuals. He also gains control over swarms of bats, which he uses to devastate Mehmed’s army in another very cool scene, and his strength enables him to singlehandedly slay 1,000 of Mehmed’s soldiers in a single night. The fight scenes are well choreographed and well integrated with the special effects, and the movie overall just looks really good.

The costumes and sets are also impressive, and I really liked seeing the different kinds of armor that the Ottoman soldiers wore, which looked great and give moviegoers something to look at that isn’t seen very often in Hollywood movies. I also quite liked Vlad’s badass dragon armor, which bears a slight resemblance to the armor worn by Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of Dracula.

dragon armor

Luke Evans as Vlad is the movie’s greatest asset. He gives the character a real sense of gravitas, and I was surprised to find myself really rooting for the guy, despite being aware of the movie’s inevitable conclusion. He’s also convincing in the action scenes. The final fight between Vlad and Mehmed takes place in Mehmed’s tent, the floor of which he has covered with silver coins (since vampires don’t like silver, remember). It’s another well-choreographed fight scene that makes great use of a unique and memorable location, and is a satisfying conclusion to Vlad and Mehmed’s rivalry.

The movie does, however, have serious flaws. Apparently Vlad and Mehmed were raised together during the reign of Mehmed’s father, so there’s supposed to be some kind of brotherly-rivalry sort of thing going on, since they were once friends and are now enemies. But this aspect of their relationship is never really explored, and I was left wondering why Mehmed was such a douchebag. If they were friends while they were growing up, why does Mehmed seem to hate Vlad now? There’s no real explanation for this, aside from the obvious one that Mehmed is just another ruthless, power-hungry despot, which isn’t very satisfying from an emotional or dramatic perspective.

Mehmed is played by Dominic Cooper, who’s a really good actor but gets little screen time in Dracula Untold, and his underwritten character leaves the movie lacking a strong villain. This is really unfortunate, given that Cooper is a skilled actor and also that Vlad and his family are given pretty solid character development, so the lack of characterization for Mehmed really stands out.

Also distracting is the fact that most of the actors don’t really sound Romanian, the majority of them just sound English, which is slightly off-putting. And the movie is only 93 minutes long, so there’s definitely more that could have been done with the story. Still, the advantage of the short running time is that the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome, which helps.

dracula poster 2

There are also quite a few plot clichés. Like I said earlier, anyone with half a brain already knows where the story will end up, more or less. This is partly because it’s an origin story, and anyone familiar with the title character will know how it goes for him, which robs the movie of some of its suspense.

Still, I found it to be an enjoyable way to spend 93 minutes. If you like these kinds of movies, check it out. I lowered my expectations quite a bit before I watched it, and ended up having a pretty good time, despite the movie’s considerable flaws. Sometimes lowered expectations can be a good thing. And the movie at its core is about a guy who sacrifices his humanity in order to save his family and his homeland, and that to me is still compelling, even if it’s in a slightly cheesy B-movie.

And hey, any movie that has Tywin Lannister as “Master Vampire” can’t be all bad, right?