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!

From Zero to Zombie

I did not come up with that title. I wish I did, but I didn’t. It’s from a review I read of World War Z that said something along the lines of “things go from zero to zombie in about five minutes.”

It’s a very accurate assessment of the opening few minutes of the film. The fit hits the shan (if you know what I mean) in about five minutes flat. Ominous opening credits, then we meet Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family (wife and two daughters), and then it’s zombie invasion time.

It is no secret that World War Z had a troubled production history. In many ways I’m amazed it even got made. There were many script rewrites and reshoots, the film was delayed several times and the budget, originally around $125 million, ended up ballooning to around $200 million. There is no question that World War Z is the most expensive zombie movie ever made.

This interests me because a big-budget film adaptation of Max (son of Mel) Brooks’ 2006 novel wasn’t exactly a sure thing to begin with.

WorldWarZ book cover

I love this book. I’ve read my fair share of zombie fiction, and World War Z is probably my favorite zombie novel. The main challenge of adapting it into film is its structure. As you can see from the subtitle “An Oral History of the Zombie War”, Brooks’ approach to telling the story is somewhat unconventional.

Instead of a straightforward, linear narrative, Brooks frames the novel from the point of view of an agent of the UN Postwar Commission, who is conducting a series of postwar interviews with survivors from around the world, who recount their often-harrowing encounters with the undead. Brooks paints a frighteningly convincing portrait of mankind on the brink of extinction, and he grounds the story in reality in a way many zombie stories don’t. For example, one former soldier tells how he survived the catastrophic Battle of Yonkers, and how the military’s high-tech weapons and tactics proved useless against the undead (wounding them was ineffective, various heat-seeking technologies were useless because zombies have no body heat, and zombies have no self-preservation instincts and don’t care when their fellow zombies get killed).

Brooks portrays the zombies as a truly unique enemy, and in so doing provides a vivid depiction of what an actual, global zombie pandemic would really be like. The personalities of the book’s many different narrators really shine through, some are sarcastic or bitter, others are quieter and more reserved. It really gives the book a lot of variety and sets it apart from myriad other tales of zombie apocalypse.

The movie, on the other hand, is a far more conventional one-man-saves-the-world kind of thing.

 WORLD-WAR-Z-Poster brad pitt

This doesn’t really surprise me, since the novel in its original format would be pretty close to being unfilmable. I mean, I suppose it would be possible, but telling the story in film the way Brooks does on the page would be more suited to a TV series where you can take the time to really hash out each individual story. In two-hour film format, that would be extremely difficult to achieve.

Apparently realizing this, the makers of the movie opted for the more accessible route of ONE MAN SAVES THE WORLD. It’s an understandable decision, but a little risky.

I really want to emphasize how amazed I am that this movie even got made. Zombie fans are something of a niche audience, and some of the best zombie movies ever made were made outside of Hollywood (George A. Romero’s first couple zombie flicks were mostly independently financed). Although I suppose that the success of The Walking Dead TV series has proved that there is a wider audience out there for the good old brain-munchers, but a big-budget summer blockbuster zombie film is definitely a risky proposition.

It’s even riskier when you consider how changing the book around as much as the movie does risks alienating fans of the book, who you have to figure will represent a pretty decent percentage of the target audience. And then you make the film PG-13 instead of R, which is understandable from a studio perspective (PG-13 ratings are far more commercially viable), but risks further alienating the target audience, who (reasonably) expect their zombies to be pretty R-rated (I mean, zombies DO eat people).

So what you’ve got with the film version of World War Z is a big-budget film adaptation of a book that strays heavily from its source material, that had a somewhat niche audience to begin with, and that also dumbs down the violence inherent to the subject matter (the book was frequently pretty graphic, as is customary to zombie stories).

All of this combines to make World War Z the movie a pretty tough sell in this day and age, which is why I am still a little flabbergasted that this movie exists.

Perhaps even more perplexing are the facts that the movie made $66 million its opening weekend (the best opening weekend gross of Brad Pitt’s career) and is actually pretty good.

It’s not perfect, mind you. The plot is a bit slapdash (the movie’s four credited screenwriters didn’t give it much of a coherent plot) and I kind of wished it had been more violent but it was still an entertaining and exciting film.

Is it weird that I wished for more violence? The action scenes in the film are intense and well-executed, but the film overall is almost entirely bloodless. It’s telling that the most expensive zombie movie ever made is also probably the tamest in terms of gore. There’s a scene near the end of the film where Pitt’s character is looking through a zombie-infested World Health Organization building, and the walls are squeaky-clean. I couldn’t help but think that in just about any other zombie movie, the walls would have been drenched in blood.

In an odd way, I kind of wished they were. Is that weird? I think that’s a little weird. Help me out here zombie fans, am I alone in hoping that the eventual Blu-Ray release of the movie will feature a more violent extended cut?

But like I said, it’s still an entertaining movie. Brad Pitt is likable and endearing in the lead role. I found him easy to root for, and the appealing performance of the actress who played his wife (Mireille Enos of AMC’s TV series “The Killing”) even made me care about his family.

I even liked the zombies pretty well, despite the lack of gore dripping from their eye sockets and the fact that these are FAST zombies instead of the more traditional slow, shambling, Romero-esque flesheaters of Brooks’ novel.

The film’s signature visual, the ZomPile (as I am calling it) also looked pretty cool.

 WorldWarZ-ZombiewallTrailerHelifull5

I thought it looked kind of hokey in the trailers, but for whatever reason it looked better to me in the finished film than it did in the trailers. It’s a weird portrayal of zombies but it’s certainly unique. I’m pretty sure the brain-chompers have never done anything like that in a movie before.

Again, the movie is very flawed. The plot feels pasted together and to me it didn’t have the same sense of scope as Brooks’ novel did. The origin of the zombie virus is never really explained and the film also never really bothers to explain why Brad Pitt’s character is so important to begin with.

But it is well-made and certainly never boring. I find it hard to hate a movie that launches into full-on zombie mayhem in about five minutes flat, and to its credit the movie does have a LOT of freaking zombies (see above photo). As a movie it was good fun. If you’re a fan of Brooks’ novel you should still check it out. It’s worth seeing for zombie fans and Max Brooks fans, as long as you don’t go into it expecting a completely faithful adaptation of the book. I’m amazed and actually pretty happy that it got made.

Here’s hoping for that unrated Blu-Ray.

 WorldWarZ-Poster

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