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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Logan: A Brutal and Epic Sendoff

For the longest time, I had a list of my top five favorite movies. They were Die Hard, The Dark Knight, Hot Fuzz, Casino Royale, and Gladiator. Then in 2015 Mad Max Fury Road was released, and my top five became a top six.

Well, now it might have to become a top seven.

James Mangold’s Logan is a deeply moving film, and I left the theater with tears in my eyes. I was saddened by the end of the film. Saddened by the end of a story I love, and by the fact that one of my favorite fictional characters will not be seen again onscreen the same way. But at the same time, it was a good sort of sadness, the kind of sadness that you feel when a story you love is over, but you feel that it couldn’t have ended any other way.

Logan is an aptly named film. In many ways, this is not a superhero movie. It’s not a story about Wolverine, the superhero. It’s a story about Logan, the man.

It’s also a story about the toll that all the years of fighting and world-saving can take on a person, even one with superhuman regenerating powers. This movie takes beloved and iconic characters and brings them lower than they’ve ever been before, and the results are breathtaking.

Unlike its predecessors, this is a not a family-friendly movie. Seriously, leave the kids at home for this one. The success of Deadpool last year paved the way for R-rated superhero movies, and Logan takes full advantage of the freedom provided by the R rating. This is a far more violent film than Deadpool, much more realistic and less exaggerated. There are buckets of blood and gore. Limbs and heads are severed, bodies and craniums are slashed and impaled in gruesome detail.

But the film isn’t violent just for the sake of being violent. The violence in the film comes from a place of character, and all of it has meaning. Fans have long wanted a Wolverine movie that lets him really cut loose with his claws, and this is that movie. One review I read described the movie like this: the language is blue and the violence is red. It’s a completely accurate description.

In the movie, which takes place in 2029, mutants are a dying breed. We’re told that no mutants have been born in 25 years. Logan makes a meager living as a limo driver, and hides out in a compound on the Mexican border, where he cares for an ailing Charles Xavier.

Logan and Charles have both seen better days, to say the least. Logan’s healing factor isn’t as potent as it once was, and his body has started to betray him in other ways. He wears reading glasses because his eyesight is starting to go, and when he pops his claws early in the film, one of them only comes out halfway, prompting him to look at it in bewilderment.

Charles is in arguably worse shape. He’s now in his nineties and is starting to become senile. He takes medication to suppress his seizures, and what happens when the world’s most powerful telepath has seizures? Nothing good. The first time we see Charles, he’s rambling incoherently and refusing to take his meds. He’s belligerent and uncooperative, and tells Logan how much of a disappointment he is, and accuses Logan of wishing he would just die so that he wouldn’t have to take care of him anymore. As a person with a grandparent with Alzheimer’s, all of this cut me right to the bone.

But even if you don’t know someone with a degenerative brain disease, it’s not hard to sympathize with Charles. This is a character who in his previous appearances has been the embodiment of civility and intelligence, a bastion of order in the chaos. To see him brought down so low is upsetting. It hurts.

This is a film that deals with things no other superhero or comic book movie ever has. It’s about getting old. It’s about the inevitability of death and the unstoppable current of time. It’s part western, part road-trip movie, part passing the torch to the next generation.

That next generation arrives in the form of Laura, an 11-year-old girl with the same powers as Wolverine, right down to the claws that come out from between her knuckles, who is being pursued by sinister forces. Logan reluctantly agrees to take her north to the Canadian border, to a safe haven for mutants that may or may not even exist, with the bad guys in hot pursuit. Along the way we find out more about Laura, where she came from and what she has already gone through, and the three of them, Logan, Charles, and Laura, start to become a family.

Laura is played by a young actress named Dafne Keen, making her big-screen debut. And she knocks it out of the park. Laura is silent and unexpressive for much of the movie, and when her ferocity is unleashed it’s truly frightening. The mystery of Laura’s origin is compelling and provides a strong driving force for the movie’s plot.

And it conveys so much about the personalities of Logan and Charles. Logan doesn’t want to help Laura at first. He doesn’t do that kind of thing anymore. But in the end, he can’t help it. He simply has no other choice. Charles does want to help her, perhaps feeling the same kind of motivations that led him to open his school for mutants all those years ago. Maybe he just wants some purpose to his life, some light in the darkness that the last years of his life have become.

It’s hard to tell exactly where this film fits in to the X-Men series’ cinematic continuity. The series has gone through several reboots over the years so it’s not clear what is canon and what isn’t. But that doesn’t bother me with this movie. I prefer to think of the X-Men films like I think about comics. They’re different interpretations of the same characters, and maybe they’re not meant to take place in the same universe. The point is that the fractured continuity of the X-Men film series doesn’t effect one’s enjoyment of this film. I don’t care if it takes place in the same universe or not, it’s still a superb movie.

And let’s talk for a second about Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. The first X-Men movie came out in 2000. Jackman and Stewart have been playing Logan and Charles for nearly two decades. When we see them in such dire straits, part of the reason it’s so affecting is that we’ve never seen them this way before, and we have memories of them in better days. Seeing them brought so low would have been moving anyway, but the fact that the movie carries nearly twenty years’ worth of previous movies behind it lends it even more weight. Needless to say, both actors are magnificent in this film, in what both have said will be their final appearances as these beloved and iconic characters.

There is a lot of action in this movie, and all of it is thrilling, but not necessarily what I would call “fun.” The action is well-filmed and choreographed, and it is easy to tell what is going on. But again, this is not a fun movie in the way that, say, an Avengers movie is fun. I would equate the experience of watching it to something like watching Gladiator. Spectacular action scenes, but hard to watch because of the brutality and the sheer emotional weight. The movie is beautifully directed by James Mangold, who also co-wrote the screenplay. He also directed Logan’s previous solo movie, 2013’s The Wolverine, and has a strong understanding of what makes Logan a compelling character. He directs the film with skill and grace, and it really feels like he cares about the characters. He has created a riveting film, from its startling opening scene to its haunting final image.

The movie’s first trailer was accompanied by a Johnny Cash song, “Hurt.” The trailer was one of those rare movie trailers that turned out to perfectly encapsulate the feel of the film it was promoting. It captured the movie’s melancholy tone, while conveying the emotional strain of the pain these characters experience. The song includes the line “I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.” Logan and Charles live in a world of pain of all kinds: physical, mental, emotional. But the movie is about them realizing that there’s more to life than pain. There are things like love and family, and those things are what matter, those things are what last. It’s a lesson Logan and Charles have to learn the hard way, but it resonates throughout the film and beyond.

What to Expect From Wolverine 3

Wolverine 3 Trailer Speculation

Last week, two trailers dropped for big Marvel movies coming out next year. The first was for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, James Gunn’s hotly-anticipated sequel to the hit 2014 movie. The teaser for Guardians 2 reveals next to nothing in terms of plot, but serves its purpose in whetting the audience’s appetite. It shows the zany humor that made the first film such a hit, and prominently features the same song, “Hooked on a Feeling,” that helped make the first movie’s trailers so memorable.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-movie-poster-2017

But what I’m here to talk about in more detail today is the second trailer. The second trailer was for the third solo Wolverine movie, simply titled “Logan.” The movie is directed by James Mangold, who also helmed The Wolverine in 2013. The filmmakers have said that the film’s storyline will be partly inspired by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan storyline, and there are strong whiffs of that story in the trailer.

logan-wolverine-3-movie-poster-2017

But just in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a little background. Millar’s story takes place in what you might call a dystopian or maybe even post-apocalyptic world, where the United States have been conquered and subsequently divided up by supervillains. The heroes are all either dead or in hiding, with Logan living a quiet life with his wife and two kids. Of course, Logan’s quiet life does not last long and he is pulled into a cross-country journey with Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, who is now blind. The story is kind of like Mad Max with Wolverine.

old-man-logan-comic-cover

The trailer for the movie really sells the grim nature of the story. It features a Johnny Cash song for crying out loud, so you know they’re serious about the pain and suffering. I’m sure the movie won’t follow the Old Man Logan comic 100%, but there are hints of it in the trailer. The big twist in the comic is that (spoiler alert) Logan was tricked by the villains into killing all of the X-Men, which is part of what enabled the villains to take over in the first place. And while that sounds way too extreme for a movie, there is a possible allusion to it in the trailer.

At the beginning of the trailer, Professor X is heard saying, “Logan…what did you do?”

It could of course just be misdirection or tricky trailer editing, but that line has got me thinking. The movie’s story synopsis on the Internet Movie Database reads: “Set in the future, Logan and Professor Charles Xavier must cope with the loss of the X-Men when a corporation led by Nathaniel Essex is destroying the world. With Logan’s healing abilities slowly fading away and Xavier’s Alzheimer’s forcing him to forget, Logan must defeat Nathaniel Essex with the help of a young girl named Laura Kinney, a female clone of Wolverine.”

Well, that gives us a few more possible hints. It also ties in to the post-credits scene from this year’s X-Men Apocalypse, which featured a mysterious group of men taking Logan’s blood sample from the Weapon X program and putting it in a case marked “Essex Corp.” Nathaniel Essex just so happens to be none other than the infamous villain Mr. Sinister.

So…in the movie, it seems highly likely that Sinister is involved in whatever has happened to the world. And maybe Logan had something to do with it as well…intentionally or otherwise.

I’m excited for Wolverine 3. Since the success of Deadpool, it has been confirmed that Logan will be rated R, which will finally give us a chance to see some really brutal violence. Wolverine has been in like six movies now, but we have yet to see him lop off any limbs with those razor-sharp adamantium claws, and I for one am quite looking forward to seeing him put those claws to use.

wolverine-3-logan

But the trailer also delivers the emotional heft. Professor X is a character who has always been known for his mind (he is psychic after all) but this movie seems to be, if not taking that ability away from him entirely, then severely limiting it. Both Logan and Professor X are looking downright grizzled, and since it’s said to be the final appearance of both actors as these characters, it’s entirely possible one or both of them might die.

wolverine-3-logan-wolverine-professor-x

Man, March 3 can’t come fast enough. Given the extremely convoluted timeline of the X-Men movie universe, all of my rampant speculation here might very well turn out to be completely wrong, but we’ll all know one way or another in just a few months.

Hope… and Mutants!

In my preview of 2014 movies a few months ago, I said that X-Men: Days of Future Past was probably my most-anticipated movie of 2014. And now, having finally seen the film, I can say that it’s a hell of a movie.

A word of warning:  I’ll try to avoid spoilers for the new movie as much as I can, but there may be spoilers for earlier movies in the series. I don’t think that’s too big of a deal, since the first X-Men movie came out all the way back in 2000, but since people are super-sensitive about spoilers these days, consider yourself warned.

Days of Future Past is based on an X-Men comic series from the 80’s involving time travel and multiple timelines.

x-men dofp comic cover

Right off the bat this presents problems for any attempted adaptation. Time-travel stories are incredibly difficult to pull off convincingly, and messing around with previously-established continuity in a popular film series is an equally risky proposition (just look at Spider-Man 3. I’m still pissed about how stupid that whole “a different guy really killed Uncle Ben” thing was).

Days of Future Past (I’m going to call it DOFP from here on out) is the seventh X-Men related movie since the original was released in 2000 (by comparison, since 1978 Superman has had only six movies). There’s a lot of previously-established continuity from the previous six films that DOFP has to deal with, and one of my biggest questions going into the new movie was how well director Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men movies but hasn’t directed one since, would pull it off.

Well…he succeeded. Mostly.

x-men dofp poster

But let’s step back for a second and take a look at the plot of the new movie. In a post-apocalyptic future, mutants and humans who carry mutant genes are hunted by Sentinels, vicious mutant-exterminating robots with the ability to adapt to fight mutants with different powers. A small group of mutants is able to evade the sentinels thanks to Kitty Pryde, who is able to project a person’s consciousness back in time to deliver warnings to past versions of themselves.

They meet up with Storm, Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto and decide to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time to inhabit his body in 1973 to try to prevent the war with the Sentinels from ever happening in the first place. Wolverine is chosen because his healing factor allows him to be the only one whose mind would be able to withstand the stress of being sent back in time such a long way. Once back in 1973, he seeks out the young versions of Professor X and Magneto in order to enlist their help in preventing the apocalyptic future.

Whew. I may have left out a few details, but without giving too much away, that’s the plot setup in a nutshell. If any part of that confused you, then this movie might not be for you. DOFP is very much a comic-book movie in that it assumes a lot of familiarity with the stories that preceded it. Little time is spent setting up the plot, as the movie starts, the world is in chaos. No time is spent recapping the events of the previous movies, which ultimately works to the movie’s advantage.

Most of the movie takes place in 1973, with periodic interludes to the future. So for all of its futuristic trappings, one of the biggest movies of the year is also largely a period piece.

x-men dofp wolverine prof x

One of the most enjoyable things about 2011’s prequel X-Men: First Class was how it had fun adapting historical events to fit within its fictional universe. DOFP also has a lot of fun with this, and I’m sure there are references to historical events that a kid like me who was born in 1988 probably wouldn’t notice, but someone who grew up in the 70’s probably would.

I’m also okay with this because it lets Jennifer Lawrence wear 70’s outfits, which, as she so capably demonstrated in American Hustle, is something she does extremely well.

x-men dofp jennifer lawrence

Lawrence plays shape-shifting mutant Mystique, aka Raven Darkholme, who is crucial to the plot. Her assassination of the lead designer of the Sentinels and subsequent capture by the US government are the events that lead to the apocalyptic future, and are subsequently the events which Wolverine must enlist Professor X and Magneto to help prevent from happening in 1973. It’s fitting that Lawrence plays a shape-shifter, since she’s something of a shape-shifter herself. I mean really, is there any role this woman can’t play?

The movie is tremendously well-cast all around, which is particularly impressive considering the sheer number of characters.

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I count seventeen in the picture above, and there are even a couple who aren’t pictured there. Given the sheer number of characters and the movie’s epic scope, I think it’s really nothing short of a minor miracle that the movie works as well as it does. This could easily have been a train wreck, but for the most part it works like gangbusters.

A good part of this, I think, is due to the movie’s running time. The movie runs a brisk 131 minutes, which I think is just about perfect. It seems like a lot of blockbusters these days have bloated running times, frequently in excess of two and a half hours. And while I don’t have a problem with long movies per se, I admire the makers of DOFP for keeping the film at a reasonable length. There’s easily enough material in the story for a two and a half hour-plus movie, but Bryan Singer clearly realized the movie just didn’t need to be that long. It’s exactly as long as it needs to be to tell the story, with a minimum of excess. Everything in the movie feels like it belongs in the movie, which gives it a very streamlined sort of feel.

There are sacrifices, however. Some of the characters don’t get much to do except have cool fight scenes, and while I also don’t have a problem with cool fight scenes, it would have been nice to learn a little bit more about some of the characters, especially the ones in the future storyline who hadn’t appeared in any other X-Men films.

But at the same time, I don’t think that the lack of development of some of the supporting characters hurts the movie very much. The characters the movie spends the most time with are the characters who are most important to the story. Halle Berry’s Storm, for example, has maybe three or four lines of dialogue, but she’s not very important in the overall scheme of things, so it doesn’t really matter.

From a storytelling perspective, the whole movie is a study in what is important to the plot versus what isn’t. What I mean by that is that there are quite a few unanswered questions in this movie that frustrated me a little bit, but, as with the less-important characters, they don’t hurt the movie too much overall. Spoilers ahead.

For example: How is Professor X alive in the future when he was obliterated in X-Men: The Last Stand? How does Magneto have his powers in the future when he lost them in X-Men: The Last Stand? How does Wolverine have his metal claws back in the future when he lost them at the end of The Wolverine? No explanations are given for these questions, which I’ll admit frustrated me a little. Even just a few lines of dialogue would have sufficed. But ultimately, I was able to forgive these minor annoyances once I realized that they didn’t really matter. It’s enough that these things are the way they are, how they came to be isn’t really important.

These quibbles certainly don’t keep DOFP from being a really great movie. The acting is solid across the board, the special effects and action setpieces are exciting and look fantastic (I saw the movie in 3D, which was really fun) and the movie ends on a very hopeful and positive note. It left me with a hopeful feeling, and there’s never a bad time for that. It balances exciting action with genuine emotion and heart, although it might be a little confusing for anyone not familiar with previous X-Men movies. Still, this is easily one of the best entries in the series, and it’s that rare kind of summer blockbuster which is extremely entertaining and will also stay with you after it’s over. There are some aspects of the ending in particular (that I won’t spoil) that I am still pondering nearly a week after seeing the movie. The movie does have flaws, but they don’t prevent it from being a smart, sleek, finely-crafted piece of summer entertainment.

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!

Blood on the Claws

I liked X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Now that I have totally obliterated most of my nerd cred with that statement, let me say that XMO:W is not a perfect movie. It has many problems, the biggest being that it is simply overstuffed. It feels more like an X-Men movie than the Wolverine movie it was supposed to be.

I mean, I would’ve been fine with just Wolverine and Sabretooth. Those two characters have a lot of comic-book history together, and Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber are good actors with good chemistry. But then, for some reason, the movie had to go and add Deadpool, Cyclops, Gambit, Blob, some dude who controls electricity, a teleporting guy played by one of those jackasses from the Black Eyed Peas (I really hate the Black Eyed Peas), some other dude whose mutant power appears to be that he’s really good with guns, Wolverine’s mutant love interest (“Mutant Love Interest” would be a good name for a rock band) and probably a couple others I’m forgetting.

There’s just no real reason all of those dudes had to be in the movie. There were simply too many of them, and the film’s relatively brief 107-minute running time just couldn’t really support the balancing act of having them all in there.

wolverine characters

TOO MANY. And that’s only like half the cast that’s on this poster. There’s so damn many they couldn’t even fit ‘em all in one poster. And when you have that many characters in a fairly short film, most of them don’t get much to do and end up distracting from the main character.

But despite this rather significant flaw, I still found XMO:W to be an enjoyable filmgoing experience. There were some good fights, the acting was generally good (even though many of the actors had little to do) and overall I found it entertaining enough. It does boast a fantastic opening credits sequence, showing Wolverine and Sabretooth battling through a century of war, from the American Civil War to both World Wars, and finally Vietnam.

 X-Men Origins Wolverine movie image Hugh Jackman

I for one would totally watch a movie called “Wolverine and Sabretooth Kill Nazis for an Hour and a Half.”

The good news is that the makers of “The Wolverine,” the titular hero’s brand-new movie, have taken the criticism of the previous movie to heart and made a much more focused, coherent, and thoughtful picture, which is evident in both the film’s title and poster.

 wolverine-poster

I love this poster. Simple. Elegant. Visually striking. Uncluttered by background characters. Lets you know what the movie is about- it’s about Wolverine, and it’s set in Japan, which is reflected in the distinctive art style. A simple, memorable, effective image.

Ditto for the film’s title. The title “The Wolverine” does a good job indicating the main focus of the film, with minimal fuss. The focus this time is squarely on ol’ pointy-hands, and the only other character to appear in this film who appeared in previous X-Men movies is Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey, and she only appears in dream/fantasy sequences (since she’s, you know, dead).

Anyway, the movie starts with a prologue sequence set in Japan near the end of World War 2, where a young Logan saves a Japanese Army officer from being obliterated by the atomic bomb (“Young” is  a relative concept for Wolverine since he’s already like a hundred years old at this point, but whatever). It’s a tense, effective sequence, and it gets the film off to an exciting start. Flash forward to the present day, where Logan is living in the wilderness in Canada, tormented by his guilt over the death of his love Jean Grey, whom he was forced to kill at the end of the previous (chronological) X-Men movie.

He is eventually found by a young Japanese woman named Yukio, who represents Yashida, the Japanese army officer Logan saved from the bomb in the beginning of the film. Yashida has since become a successful businessman, but as you might expect, he is now quite old and close to death.

Yashida makes Logan an offer: he’s kept tabs on Logan over the years, and he knows that Logan considers his immortality a curse since everyone he loves dies, so he offers to transfer Logan’s healing powers into his own body, which will save Yashida and make Logan mortal (For those of you not into comic book lore, Logan’s healing powers make him basically immortal. Also, to alleviate potential confusion, Wolverine and Logan are the same person, and I’m going to use the names interchangeably).

And this leads to an interesting question, namely, the age-old question of vulnerability. If you’ve read just about anything I’ve ever posted on this blog, you’re probably aware that I’m all about vulnerable protagonists. An invincible hero is kind of hard to root for, and I praised Guillermo Del Toro a few weeks ago for figuring out how to make audiences care about the giant monster-killing deathbots in Pacific Rim.

The character of Wolverine presents an interesting question: how do you care about a guy who’s an unstoppable killing machine with unbreakable metal coated to his bones and who heals from every grievous injury in a matter of seconds? This is, after all, a guy who is capable of surviving an atomic bomb detonation.

It’s a problem the late, great Roger Ebert had with the character too. Ebert described Wolverine as basically a vehicle for action sequences, since nothing can kill him. It’s a very valid point, and it’s one that The Wolverine’s director James Mangold cited as an influence on the new film.

How do you make him vulnerable, then? Why, you take away the healing powers. Or at least you suppress them, since Logan still gets shot quite a few times and survives, though at one point he does need a few bullets pulled out of him.

But even this is just one kind of vulnerability, and that is physical vulnerability. There’s more to the character of Wolverine than just physicality. No, really, bear with me. Yes, I am actually saying that there is more to the character of a guy with unbreakable metal claws in his hands than just physical strength. Logan is an emotionally vulnerable character. As The Wolverine opens, he’s living as a hermit in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, tormented by the knowledge of having had to kill the woman he loved, and not wanting to get close to anyone because it would be too hard to lose them again.

Wouldn’t that suck? I mean, the idea of being able to live longer than everyone else may sound kind of cool at first, but wouldn’t you eventually get tired of having everyone you’re close to die? Logan certainly is, so at the beginning of the film he’s distancing himself from the world, and is reluctant to accept Yukio’s invitation to take him to Japan to meet with Yashida.

So when the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) inevitably attack and Logan goes into hiding with Yashida’s lovely granddaughter Mariko, he’s understandably reluctant to open up to her.

The-Wolverine-Mariko-Yashida-Tao-Okamoto

Mariko is played by Tao Okamoto, a successful Japanese model making her film debut in The Wolverine. She gives a really great performance with a lot of heart, making Mariko more than just a damsel in distress. And she is in distress quite often, since various assassins are after her for a significant portion of the film. And though Logan does rescue her a couple times, she proves quite capable of taking care of herself.

I just really liked this movie. It did a great job of exploring different aspects of Wolverine’s character that hadn’t been explored in previous X-Men films. It’s the kind of film that you can enjoy if you haven’t seen any of the other X-Men films, while at the same time providing fan service to longtime X-Fans. The plot does go a bit off the rails near the end with a couple of WTF plot twists, but for the most part it’s a well thought-out, solidly entertaining movie.

This is Hugh Jackman’s fifth time playing Wolverine (sixth if you count his brilliant, three-word cameo in X-Men First Class), and he continues to demonstrate just how good he is in the role. Seriously, I hope the casting director who cast him as Wolverine for Bryan Singer’s original X-Men movie all the way back in 2000 got a nice paycheck for that one. Well done, sir or madam.

And even at 44, Jackman is as physically imposing as ever, if not more so.

 the_wolverine_20131abs

I mean seriously, look at those abs. I read an article in Entertainment Weekly where Jackman said he has to eat seven chicken breasts a day to keep up that physique. That’s some serious dedication right there, people.

The Wolverine is also a bit of a rarity in that Jackman is the only really well-known actor in the film. The rest of the supporting characters are played by mostly Japanese actors (as you might expect since the film is set in Japan) but it’s pretty rare these days to see a major summer blockbuster with only one big-name star.

The rest of the supporting cast is really great, though, don’t get me wrong. I particularly liked Tao Okamoto’s very likable performance as Wolverine’s love interest, and I also really liked Rila Fukushima’s performance as Yukio, who kind of becomes Wolverine’s sidekick.

The Wolverine

With her bright red hair and pixieish face, she kind of looks like an anime character. She’s a tough, likable, and very appealing sidekick who proves to be a surprisingly good sidekick for Wolverine.

The action setpieces in the film are also pretty great, including a creative battle atop a speeding bullet train and an epic final confrontation with the Silver Samurai, a well-known Marvel character making his first film appearance. He was pretty badass. And for the first time ever, there is a bit of red staining those razor-sharp adamantium claws after quite a few bad guys get slashed. Not a lot mind you, since the movie is PG-13, but still.

 movies-the-wolverine-silver-samurai

So by all means, go see this movie. It’s probably my favorite comic-book movie since The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers last year, which is really saying something. Also, be sure to stick around through the first part of the end credits, or you’ll miss the most exciting post-credits scene in a Marvel movie since Nick Fury first dropped by Tony Stark’s mansion to chat about the Avenger Initiative.

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

 wolverine animal

Also, this is a real Wolverine. You should read about them, these little guys are capable of taking down a moose.