2018: The Year in Villainy

It was a cinematic year that was primarily dominated by two Marvel villains, both of whom made big splashes. It’s hard to pick just one for the coveted title of Villain Of The Year, but ultimately there was one villain who just had to be given the title, and that villain is…

Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War

It had to be Thanos as Villain Of The Year. No other villain made as much of an impact on the lives of a movie’s characters. And not only did Thanos massively change (and, at least temporarily, end) the lives of dozens of superheroes, he also hugely impacted the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has become a box-office juggernaut ever since the release of Iron Man in 2008. With Thanos, Marvel showed that it is not afraid to shake up the status quo of its hugely profitable film franchise. And really, the fact that Thanos actually succeeded in wiping out half of all life in the universe makes him Villain Of The Year pretty much automatically.

Marvel/Disney

Also, remember when he THREW A PLANET AT IRON MAN??? Holy crap that was awesome.

Josh Brolin did fantastic work bringing Thanos to life, and the writers, directors, and special-effects people created a character who was surprisingly sympathetic, instead of the two-dimensional power-hungry jerk the character could have easily been if he had not been handled so well. Infinity War was the culmination of a decade’s worth of blockbuster movies, and thanks to Thanos the Marvel Cinematic Universe will never be the same. And for the record, I am still not over that Spider-Man scene. You know the one. Sniff.

Erik Killmonger in Black Panther

Marvel/Disney

In any other year, Killmonger would have been Villain Of The Year. But thanks to Thanos, he is a very strong runner-up. Michael B. Jordan was excellent and turned Killmonger, much like Thanos, into a deeply sympathetic and even tragic figure. The viewer could understand Killmonger’s point of view, even while disagreeing with his actions. He was charismatic, intelligent and badass. He was everything a great movie villain should be. I’ve got him as a very close runner-up for VOTY, but if he’s your number one I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong.

Captain Wafner in Overlord

Paramount Pictures

In stark contrast to sympathetic villains like Thanos and Killmonger, Captain Wafner was a villain with no redeeming qualities at all. He was a sadistic Nazi captain who was irredeemably evil even before he got half his face blown off and injected himself with an experimental serum that gave him ungodly strength and turned him into even more of a monster. Overlord was one of the year’s goriest thrill rides, and its villain was one of the year’s nastiest.

The Predators in The Predator

20th Century Fox

Speaking of gory thrill rides, it’s a toss-up between Overlord and Shane Black’s much-maligned Predator reboot for the title of goriest movie of the year. The Predator had its share of flaws, but I still found it to be an enjoyable, if bumpy, ride, and probably the best thing about it was seeing the different varieties of Predator that Black and his creative team conjured up. The design of the Predator in the original 1987 Predator movie was great to begin with, so Black didn’t change it too much. But he did add a few new wrinkles that were fun to see even if the Predator dog creatures were a little goofy, complete as they were with Predator dreadlocks.

The Meg in The Meg

Warner Bros.

The Meg is the film that finally answered the age-old question, “What would happen if Jason Statham were to fight an enormous shark?” The Meg is a deeply cheesy B-movie that was nonetheless quite enjoyable, and its massive shark was its crowning achievement. Or should I say sharks, because there are actually two of the giant beasts. The toothy monstrosities are enormous and, of course, hungry for nubile human flesh. The Meg is a thoroughly preposterous movie that is certainly no masterpiece, but it is quite a bit of fun and its gargantuan shark beasts should be more than enough to satisfy any fan of aquatic monster movies.

Solomon Lane and August Walker in Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise’s latest Mission: Impossible flick was the thrill ride of the year, and it had two quality villains to give Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and the rest of his team a run for their money. Sean Harris reprises his role as the diabolical Solomon Lane from the previous M:I film, and Superman himself, Henry Cavill, played August Walker, who was more than a match for Ethan in a fight. Give Lane and Walker credit: they came this close to enacting their evil plan, only to be thwarted at literally the last possible second. Being a bad guy can be a thankless task when all your hard work comes to naught. Hopefully they’ll try again in a few years, because I want more Mission: Impossible movies. Or at least Lane can try again, Walker won’t be able to participate on account of being extremely dead.

Ghost in Ant-Man and The Wasp

Marvel/Disney

It was a year of sympathetic villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ghost was a young woman who was suffering from a unique condition that gave her the ability to phase through solid objects and teleport short distances, which made her hard to handle in a fight, though her powers are unstable. But she became more sympathetic once the viewer learned about her tragic backstory, how she lost her parents in the lab accident that gave her powers and how shady government types took advantage of her powers to turn her into a weapon. She was the main superpowered antagonist for most of Ant-Man and The Wasp, but the movie ends with her seemingly cured of her affliction so perhaps we’ll see her again down the road.

The Murdersaurus (technically the Indoraptor) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Universal

You could argue that the main villains of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom were the morons who thought it would be a good idea to auction off a bunch of dinosaurs, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But those people were all idiots and dinosaurs are much cooler, so let’s talk about the Indoraptor instead. I dubbed it the Murdersaurus because it was a genetically-engineered death lizard designed specifically for hunting and killing. It gets to do a lot of hunting and killing in the second half of Fallen Kingdom, and I was kind of sad when it died because it was my favorite character in the movie.

Lizzy and Ralph in Rampage

Warner Bros.

Speaking of monster movies where all of the human characters were pretty dumb, Rampage was another deeply silly movie that I enjoyed quite a bit, it just might have been my guilty-pleasure movie of the year. The monsters were George the albino gorilla, Ralph the wolf, and Lizzy the (I think) alligator, all of whom were mutated to enormous size and exceptional ferocity. I didn’t include George as one of the villains because he ultimately becomes a good ape again, despite causing a lot of death and destruction. The monsters are fun to watch and the special effects are top-notch, and much like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom the monsters are much more entertaining the bland human characters.

The Screenslaver in Incredibles 2

Disney/Pixar

For a kids movie, Incredibles 2 had a surprisingly sophisticated villain. Writer/director Brad Bird’s long-awaited follow-up to his 2008 original, Incredibles 2 is that rare movie that is fun for kids but also contains a lot for adults to enjoy. This is a movie that treats its viewers with respect, regardless of whether that viewer happens to be a kid or a grown-up. It’s a tricky balancing act, but Incredibles 2 makes it look easy. The Screenslaver is a villain who takes advantage of the world’s overreliance on technology, and manipulates the omnipresent screens that are all around us. That’s a scary idea. The Screenslaver is one of the most culturally-relevant cinematic villains of the year.

Dryden Vos in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Disney/Lucasfilm

Paul Bettany is one of my favorite actors. He’s the kind of actor who elevates any movie he’s in. Since he frequently plays good guys, it’s always fun to watch him cut loose as a bad guy and really chew some scenery. He chewed scenery with aplomb in the latest Star Wars spinoff as a ruthless crime lord named Dryden Vos, who was at least part alien. Dryden is the kind of villain who acts friendly one moment but can explode into murderous rage at the drop of a hat. I like villains like that because their unpredictability ensures that the viewer is always on edge whenever they are around. Bettany’s role in the film is not a huge one, which is not too surprising if you’re aware of the movie’s behind-the-scenes drama (Bettany’s role was initially played by a different actor), but he makes an impression with a limited amount of screen time, as all great actors do.

Cable in Deadpool 2

20th Century Fox

Okay, so this is another debatable one, since Cable and Deadpool end up as allies. But much like Ghost in Ant-Man and The Wasp, Cable serves as the superpowered antagonist for much of the film, so he counts. It was a big year for Josh Brolin playing Marvel comics characters, and he was perfectly cast as the gruff cyborg Cable. He looks pretty much identical to how Cable looks in the comics, and is placed front and center along with Deadpool in the movie’s biggest action scenes. Deadpool 2 was more cluttered than its predecessor, but it benefited from a more complex antagonist, even though I haven’t forgotten that Cable and Deadpool become pals by the end of the movie and have a long history of teaming up in the comics, so perhaps we’ll be seeing more of him in the future.

Mathias Vogel in Tomb Raider

Warner Bros.

Walton Goggins was another actor who had a busy year playing villains. In addition to playing the main villain in this year’s Tomb Raider reboot, he also played a secondary villain in Ant-Man and The Wasp. Goggins is an actor who frequently plays slimy bad guys, and he was well-suited to both of his villainous roles this year. In Tomb Raider he played Mathias Vogel, the leader of an expedition to find a hidden artifact with Great and Terrible Power. He was not a nice person, but he was at least somewhat sympathetic by virtue of the fact that he had been stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere for years and desperately wanted to return home. Still, he was a nasty fellow and his death was thematically appropriate and quite satisfying.

So there you have it, my favorite villains of 2018. Keep in mind that this was not a comprehensive list of every villain in every movie I saw this year, it was simply a list of my favorites. There were a surprising number of sympathetic villains this year, which makes me happy because if there is one thing I like it is a complex bad guy. 2019 is bringing us another full slate of bad guys, including the return of Thanos and the most dreaded evil clown of all, Pennywise. See you at the movies!

Tomb Raider 2018 is the Best VIdeo Game Movie Ever Made

The title of this post makes what might seem like a bold claim, but let’s be honest: the standards aren’t very high.

Even video game-based movies that I enjoy like the Resident Evil movies and the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movies aren’t what I would call good movies. They’re mindless fun and I enjoy them for what I feel is their considerable entertainment value, but they’re all just as stupid as hell.

2018’s Tomb Raider is more of a gritty reboot in the vein of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or the Daniel Craig Bond films. The new movie takes most of its cues from the 2013 Tomb Raider game, which itself was a gritty reboot of Lara Croft, a dark and violent tale that was one of my favorite games of that year. Its sequel, 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, was arguably even better, and the new film combines story elements from both games. So if the names Yamatai, Himiko, and Trinity mean anything to you, then you probably have a good idea of what the movie’s plot will entail.

Images: Warner Bros./Square Enix

Lara is played this time around by Alicia Vikander, an Oscar-winning Swedish actress. We first meet Lara as she’s getting her butt kicked in an MMA match, which gives the viewer a good look at Vikander’s amazing abs. She got in incredible shape for the movie, and she gets plenty of opportunities to show off her toned physique. I hope I don’t sound like a pig for saying this, but sex appeal has always been a big part of the appeal of Tomb Raider, and Vikander is very sexy.

She’s also a damn good actress and gives a performance that gives Lara a lot of empathy and personality. In the games, she’s not just a sex symbol anymore, and this applies to the movie as well. At the beginning of the film, she’s making a meager living in London as a bike courier. She’s the heir to a large corporation, but she refuses to accept her inheritance because that would require her to declare her father legally dead, which she is not prepared to do. Her father disappeared years ago and she is determined to find out what happened to him, which is her main motivation throughout the film.

Her search lead her to discover her father’s hidden research into Himiko, a mythical Japanese queen who was said to have power over life and death. She finds a recording left by her father in which he instructs her to destroy his research, but of course she doesn’t, and follows his trail to Hong Kong. There she meets Lu Ren, a ship captain she convinces to take her to an island she believes to be the island her father was searching for. They are promptly shipwrecked and wind up in the clutches of Mathias Vogel, the leader of an expedition on the island to unearth Himiko’s tomb. It turns out Mathias knew Lara’s father, and his research was the final piece of the puzzle required to locate Himiko.

Lara has just brought him exactly what he needed. Remember in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, where Indy’s dad gets mad at him for bringing the Grail diary with him when the Nazis capture them? It’s like that. Tomb Raider may not be the most original movie. It’s a bit derivative, and much of the film’s final act is very reminiscent of the Last Crusade’s final act, where the bad guys force Indy to go on ahead and solve the puzzles leading to the Grail. Pretty much the exact same thing happens in Tomb Raider. But hey, if you’re going to steal from another movie, at least steal from a good movie.

I liked this new Tomb Raider quite a bit. The acting is solid, with Alicia Vikander making Lara into a likable and vulnerable character who is also a force to be reckoned with in the action scenes. Tomb Raider is one of the most visually faithful video game adaptations. Vikander looks almost exactly like the Lara of the recent games, and the clothes she wears and the weapons she uses (like the bow and the climbing axe) look like they came directly from the games.

Several of the action set pieces come directly from the games as well, like when Lara finds herself in a rusted-out old airplane dangling precariously over the edge of a waterfall. There is plenty of fan service for fans of the games such as myself, and the film’s ending shows Lara with her hair in its trademark braid and acquiring her famous dual pistols, as well as setting itself up for a sequel. Vikander wouldn’t have been my first choice for the role of Lara but she nails it, and if there are any sequels she’s the right woman for the job.

The rest of supporting cast is also good. The villainous Mathias is played by Walton Goggins (I love that name) who is good at playing slimy sleazeballs. Lara’s father Lord Richard Croft is played by Dominic West (I love that name too), an actor with a voice I could listen to all day. Lu Ren the ship captain is played by Daniel Wu, from the badass AMC TV series Into the Badlands, which is a show loaded with top-notch kung fu action.

It is, of course, not a perfect movie. The first act is a bit sluggish, since it takes about 45 minutes for Lara to reach the island, and the pacing lags a bit in the early going. There are some underused characters too. Lu Ren seems like a cool guy and Daniel Wu is a good actor but once when they reach the island he doesn’t get much to do, and Kristin Scott Thomas is a very capable actress who is barely in the movie, which is too bad. But there are a couple of fun cameos from Nick Frost and Sir Derek Jacobi of all people, which helps make up for it.

The movie was directed by a Norwegian director named Roar Uthaug (another great name) who does good work with the material. It’s not perfect and has gotten a mixed critical reception, but I feel it’s a genuinely good movie despite its flaws and I had a lot of fun with it. If you’re a fan of the games you’ll find a lot to like here and will appreciate the various callbacks to the games, but even if you’ve never picked up a controller you’ll still find a fun adventure movie, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

GIRL POWER: Tomb Raider

Some movies can enlighten you, teach you something, make you feel deeply, and teach you something about the human condition.

Other movies don’t do any of that, and that’s fine.

Angelina Jolie’s two Tomb Raider movies from 2001 and 2003 are perfect examples of that. The plots of both movies are forgettable, they frequently don’t make much sense, they’re unrealistic blah blah blah who cares.

I love both movies, for one very simple reason: they’re FUN.

Seriously. They’re both really, really fun. If you haven’t seen 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider or 2003’s Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, you really should. Get them on Netflix or whatever, pop some popcorn, sit back, and have a blast.

Most people are probably familiar with the name Lara Croft, even if they haven’t seen the movies or played any of the video games. Everyone knows this character, right?

Lara_croft

And okay, I get that some people aren’t that big a fan of this character, but I don’t care because I love her and I have no problem saying that on the internet where anyone can read it.

But the reason I love her isn’t just because of her prodigious assets. I love her because she is, wait for it, a FUN character. Who doesn’t love a badass treasure hunter? She fights bad guys, she goes to exotic locations around the world and finds cool stuff. Who doesn’t want to live that life? The character of Lara Croft is wish fulfillment to be sure, but in case you hadn’t figured it out by now, I am totally okay with that. The recent video games have shown there’s maybe more to the character than just wish fulfillment, but I’ll get to that in more detail later.

First, the movies. They’re guilty pleasures. A while ago, when I wrote about the Mission: Impossible movies, I called them Popcorn Perfection. The same could be said of the Tomb Raider movies. They’re popcorn escapism at its finest.

tomb raider psotre1

The first movie involves Lara’s quest to locate a mystical triangle which grants its user the power to control time. Of course, this ancient artifact was split into two pieces that are located on opposite corners of the globe, and both must be found in order to wield the great and terrible power. Also, Lara is facing off against the Illuminati, who also seek the triangle.

If at any pointed during that plot description you yawned, or perhaps snorted derisively, it’s okay, I forgive you. This is a safe place, and there is no judgment here. Like I said, the plots of these movies are nothing special.

But what the plot does allow for is exotic locations and lots of hugely enjoyable over-the-top action scenes. One particular highlight takes place in a tomb (of course) where a bunch of statues come to life and start attacking people. It’s cheesy and wonderful, and features some less-than-convincing early-2000’s CGI.

The movie also features an appearance from pre-Bond Daniel Craig, speaking with a flat American accent, which is really off-putting since I’m so used to his smooth British tones. It’s always weird when you’re used to hearing someone sound a particular way, and when they sound different the whole thing just feels sort of off. Craig’s accent isn’t particularly bad, it just sounds…funny.

Speaking of accents, Angelina Jolie really nails Lara’s posh English accent. I find that American actors are usually terrible at doing English accents, while English actors are really good at American accents (you’d never know from watching the Dark Knight trilogy, for example, that Christian Bale and Gary Oldman are both Brits). Fortunately, Jolie is the exception to this.

Her English accent really works, and I think the key to it is that she doesn’t over do it. Half the time when Americans try to sound English they exaggerate it way too much and end up sounding like idiots, but Jolie’s accent is more understated in the Tomb Raider movies and it really benefits the character a lot.

And if it seems like I’m harping on the accent, it’s because it’s important to making the character of Lara Croft work, and if the main character didn’t work, then the movie wouldn’t work. It would have been easy for the producers to say, “screw it,” and have Jolie speak with her natural American accent, but they didn’t. Lara’s Englishness is an essential aspect of her character, and credit to the filmmakers for not messing with that.

Ok, rant over. The first movie is loads of fun. It’s full of goofy action and seems at least somewhat aware of how silly it is. In one scene, after an epic shootout in Lara’s stately manor, a UPS guy comes by the next morning, and finds Lara’s butler and her tech guy (both of whom are good comic relief) cleaning up the debris (which includes shoveling rubble into a wheelbarrow). As Lara signs for the package, she sees the delivery guy looking around incredulously and she says “I woke up this morning and I just hated everything.” The UPS guy gets the hell out of there in a hurry. That’s always cracked me up.

The movie even ends on this freeze frame, and there’s something awesomely cheesy about a movie ending on a badass freeze frame.

lara croft freeze frame

The movie also clocks in at a brisk 100 minutes, which is perfect because it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Unfortunately, the sequel, The Cradle of Life, is 117 minutes long, which feels a bit overlong. The sequel follows Lara as she attempts to find Pandora’s Box before an evil megalomaniac can find it and unleash it upon the world.

The sequel also features pre-300 Gerard Butler as Lara’s sidekick. They used to have a thing together, of course, which complicates their relationship. Overall the sequel doesn’t feel quite as fresh as the original and it drags near the end, but it’s still plenty entertaining, and is helped immeasurably by Jolie’s presence in the title role.

tomb raider psotre 2

Seriously, kudos to whoever had the idea to cast her as Lara, she’s great. You might say that there’s not a whole lot of depth required to make this character work on screen, and in some respect you might be right, but Jolie really is great in these movies, and I swear to God it’s not just because she looks like this:

lara-croft-cradle-of-life-movie-picture-56-01

Although of course I would be lying through my teeth if I said that had nothing to do with it. But hey, this is a judgment-free zone, remember?

And the last few years have been good for Lara. The last couple Tomb Raider games have been fantastic, and it’s my recent addiction to Rise of the Tomb Raider that helped inspire me to write this post.

Developer Crystal Dynamics has done great work with the series, and proved that there’s more to the character than just being aesthetically pleasing. The recent games have taken Lara back to the beginning and emphasized her vulnerability and her humanity. She’s also more, shall we say, realistically-proportioned than she used to be, although she remains supermodel-gorgeous.

lara-croft2013

2013’s Tomb Raider reboot was dark and gritty, and at times shockingly violent (there’s a sequence where Lara falls into a lake of blood) but it did a great job rebooting the character and showing that there’s more to Lara than just looking good. The most recent game, Rise of the Tomb Raider, which came out last year, is a tremendously fun game which offers a deep and varied gameplay experience. It’s also not as dark as its predecessor, which is a bit of a relief.

The movies and the recent games have done a superb job of capturing the appeal of Lara Croft. She’s just a fun character, and there’s more to her than meets the eye. She’s more interested in knowledge than treasure (it’s not like she needs more money, she’s already fabulously rich), which makes her a hell of a lot more interesting than someone who’s just in it for the money.

Lara Croft has come a long way, and if the next Tomb Raider games are as good as the previous ones, I’ll be more than happy.