Thursday, August 14, 2008

Favorite Movie Villains #10 - 1

10. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)

"Do you expect me to talk?"
"No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"
~ James Bond & Auric Goldfinger

Bond villain alert! A villain so badass he has a whole song to himself, many claim that Auric Goldfinger "loves only gold." But I see him as a man of eclectic tastes, and in addition to gold his interests include cheating at Gin Rummy, cheating at golf, killing girls by coating them in gold or having Oddjob decapitate them, unleashing fatal nerve gas over Fort Knox, and (perhaps most famously) threatening to sever people lengthwise with lasers. Okay, all of those except the first tie directly back into getting more gold; maybe Goldfinger loves only gold.

He plans on setting off a dirty bomb inside Fort Knox's vault, irradiating and rendering useless the United States' gold supply thus increasing the value of his gold ten times. And in truth he's the only villain the entire series who completely and totally beat Bond. In the end, 007 was helpless, captured, and at Goldfinger's mercy, and it was Pussy Galore who's act of last-minute defection from Goldfinger involved switching out the fatal nerve gas and alerting the CIA of Goldfinger's plan. Sure, it was Bond who killed Oddjob and Felix Leiter who disarmed the bomb, but as far as I'm concerned, Auric Goldfinger was defeated by Pussy Galore. Congrats, Goldfinger, on being the only villain to best Agent 007; just try to keep your bitch on a leash next time.

9. Ivan Korshunov (Air Force One)

"Your National Security Advisor has just been executed. He's a very good negotiator. He bought you another half hour."

Imagine a world where Harrison Ford is the President of the United States. He is a Medal of Honor winner and, being Harrison Ford, can obviously kick your ass. No man would dare hijack Air Force One and hold the President's wife and daughter hostage, right? WRONG.

Ivan Korshunov will not only do that, he'll execute the National Security Advisor and White House Press Secretary with the cabin speakers on, forcing everyone to listen. He'll threaten children at gunpoint. He'll whisper an evil-drenched, near-lustful monologue about the glory of "mother Russia" and make good on his promise to execute a hostage every half-hour until the evil Russian tyrant General Radek is released from prison. He will do all this because he is insane and awesome, but in the end he's still trying to best Harrison Ford, who will inevitably tell him to "get off my plane." And it will be glorious, and you will need a cigarette afterward.

8. Johnny Lawrence (The Karate Kid)

"How about you, hero? Had enough?!"

Look at that face. For the nerdy junior high / high school student, the face of Johnny Lawrence is nothing less than the grim, spectral, unforgiving visage of undiluted horror, a ruthless bully who drinks deep from the pain and humiliation of the weakest and most helpless of his peers. From the moment he meets the new kid in town, Daniel LaRusso, he decides that his primary goal in life will be making a living hell of Daniel's, whether that means humiliating him in front of a crowd, driving Daniel's bike off the road into a steep and deep ditch, or just plain using his black belt-level Kobra Kai karate to beat Daniel until he can no longer stand or see through his own mingling blood and sweat.

Thus a legendary cinematic rivalry is formed, and Daniel begins training under Mr. Miyagi with the intent of beating Johnny at the All Valley Karate Tournament. And while I love a good cinematic techno-terrorist or sci-fi supervillain, is there truly anyone we can root against from a more impassioned and heartfelt place than Johnny Lawrence? I daresay not.

7. Alec Trevelyan (GoldenEye)

"For England, James."

Bond villain alert! Although Alec Trevelyan worked for the British government as Agent 006, he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. His parents were Lienz Cossacks, you see, Nazi sympathizers who defected to the British at the end of WWII but were instead sent to Russia. Although Alec's parents escaped Stalin's execution squads, his father couldn't live with the shame and killed himself and Alec's mother, for which Alec grew to blame England.

You might think that a trained professional killer could strike a blow of revenge against England by assassinating a government leader or something, but you'd be thinking hilariously small. Agent 006 fakes his own death in the Soviet Union in 1986 (in front of James Bond), waits a few years for the Soviet Union to collapse, becomes a Russian mob boss, eventually becomes rich and builds a villainous lair with lots of henchmen in Cuba, buys off a Russian General, and hijacks some EMP space satellites, with the eventual culmination of his plan being an EMP blast that will destroy London! Booyah! Told you you were thinking small!

Alec is unique among Bond villains in that he and James Bond were initially genuine friends, but plotting the destruction of your buddy's hometown usually has a way of putting a damper on any friendship. So James Bond drops an antenna on him. Cold, James... cold.

6. Shredder (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

"You fight well... in the old style. But you've caused me enough trouble. Now you face the Shredder."

The 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie rocks my face into pieces. This is partially because of the dark, dirty Manhattan setting, partially because the costume work on the turtles is sweet, partially because Raphael says "damn," and partially because of the goddamn Shredder (true identity Oroku Saki). Saki murdered his ninja rival Hamato Yoshi, but he failed to kill Yoshi's pet rat Splinter, who had learned the art of ninja through imitation. Splinter then came into contact with four baby turtles and some discarded Ooze in the sewers of New York, and trained the turtles in ninjutsu as they grew into teenagers. They are the only ones who can stand against Shredder's Foot Clan, and you'd better believe he wants them dead. And he can outfight all four Turtles at once! Holy shit!

5. Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars series)

"And now, young Skywalker... you will die."

There are a fuckton of Star Wars villains spread across the six films, but Palpatine is the true, final Big Bad who rules over them all from before Episode I to his death at the end of Episode VI. His Return of the Jedi visage of ghastly white, cragged old man under a sheer black hood is a bold, strong, primal image of evil that has permeated pop culture in the decades since and is worthy of the ancient myths George Lucas initially drew Star Wars from.

His appearance in Jedi is brief but powerful, and when he starts frying Luke with lightning at the end - holy shit, what a shocking (pun?) moment! But Palpatine also stands proud as perhaps the only original trilogy Star Wars character to successfully be enhanced and made cooler in the prequel trilogy. Vader, Yoda, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, Boba Fett, and Owen & Beru all became less cool (Obi-Wan debatably came out roughly even), but Lucas did a good job probing the depths of Palpatine's epic game of intergalactic deception and power-grabbing, killing billions in a war he was manipulating both sides of for years until he managed to become the unchecked tyrant of the galaxy, without Lucas giving his background the Hannibal Rising treatment and robbing him of his fundamental mystery. To this day we know jack shit about Palpatine's background, but we know that he's a positively Satanic figure and a worthy antagonist for cinema's most legendary saga.

4. T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)

"Say... that's a nice bike."

The Terminator's T-800 (#58 on this list) was already a grim and terrifying vision of a killer who feels no pain, no fear, no mercy, no exhaustion, doesn't miss, doesn't care, and knows nothing except his target, so when it came time for the sequel, one might have thought the only way to out-Terminator the Terminator would be to out-Arnold Arnold, but no - they took it in another direction.

The T-1000 is relatively small and lithe. His "social skills" and ability to blend into society far exceed that of the clunky T-800. He's smarter, faster, more advanced, and cannot be hurt by bullets, stabbing, or crushing, because he's not a plain old android - the T-1000 is a "mimetic poly-alloy," an intelligent liquid metal, who can turn to ooze and slide through a crack in the wall, hide flat on the floor, turn his arms into giant spears and stab you through the skull, reform himself in seconds even if he's literally blown into a hundred pieces, and most notably change his appearance, shape, and voice to that of any human he sees. He could be anywhere, and all he really has in common with the vastly inferior T-800 is that "it can't be bargained with! It can't be reasoned with! It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear! And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!" As heartless, deadly, and dogged a killer as cinema has ever given us.

3. The Joker (The Dark Knight)

"How 'bout a magic trick?"

(Dark Knight spoilers, if you haven't seen it yet what the hell!) We live in an age of the origin story, and we're usually well-informed where our supervillains come from. But Christopher Nolan soundly rejects that with The Dark Knight's Joker, a murdering anarchist who Nolan himself likened to the shark from Jaws - he has no background, no origin, no motivation, no character arc, no plan, he doesn't learn anything, and in the end it's difficult to even say if he wins or loses. He survives, yes, but he is captured, although it's doubtful he cares one way or another about either. He fails to corrupt Harvey Dent in the eyes of Gotham, but he forces Batman to corrupt himself in the eyes of Gotham (at least keeping the five-hundred criminals Harvey convicted off the streets). It's either a triumphant failure or a barely-bittersweet victory.

But regardless, he steals the movie thanks both to Nolan's script / direction and Heath Ledger's incredibly mesmerizing, alternately hilarious and wicked performance, creating a cinematic demon and harbinger of woe the likes of which we're lucky to see once a decade. It is a shame that extenuating real-life circumstances will prevent us from ever seeing this version of the character again, but it does mean that Nolan's Joker will remain perfect and unblemished forever.

2. Hans Gruber (Die Hard)

"After all your posturing, all your little speeches, you're nothing but a common thief."
"I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite."

~ Holly McClane & Hans Gruber

All non-retards know that Die Hard is the greatest action movie of all time. You have Bruce Willis as New York cop John McClane, who winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time. You have a group of Eurotrash terrorists. You have the Nakatomi Plaza, an L.A. skyscraper, and the forty hostages held captive near the top floor. You have blood and gore and profanity and air ducts and machine guns and Christmas songs and explosions and helicopters and C-4. And perhaps above all you have Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, the uniquely erudite, educated, cool, collected, and just plain badass leader of the terrorist outfit.

Hans' plan is perfect. The police who try to stop him from outside the building can only end up dead. The FBI can't stop him. Mr. Nakatomi refuses to give Hans the code to the vault, but Hans shrugs it off and in return casually relocates Nakatomi's brain to the wall, because Hans has a vault cracker along with his small army of terrorists, rocket launchers, and explosives. Hans is set to end the day $640 million ahead. But there's one teeny, tiny, seemingly insignificant flaw he missed - John McClane. Has there ever been a better pairing of hero and villain than John McClane and Hans Gruber in cinematic history? Rhetorical question, obviously, the answer is no. Yippie-kay-yay, motherfucker.

1. Darth Vader (Star Wars series)

"The Force is with you, young Skywalker. But you are not a Jedi yet."

Was there ever any doubt? Darth Vader has admittedly taken a few hits to his coolness in the last decade, but all you have to do is pop in and rewatch The Empire Strikes Back and you're forced to sit back and say, "Holy shit! This is the best villain ever!" From behind his legendary black skeletal mask and mechanical breathing bellows forth the voice of James Earl Jones, and whether he's having a lightsaber duel, Force choking his Imperial underlings, hunting down Han Solo, blocking blaster bolts with his goddamn hand, or telling Luke that "I am your father," he does it with a resounding, overpowering presence.

Darth Vader's entrance onto the Tantive IV in A New Hope and immediate windpipe-crushing murder of Captain Antilles establish his screen villainy as strongly as any entrance in history, and from that point on until near the end of Return of the Jedi, every scene he sets foot in emanates palpable tension, danger, and dread, especially in Empire Strikes Back. He dominates the screen completely. If Darth Vader is a bit unstable he balances it out with incredible power and ruthlessness.

As I admitted, yes, seeing him as Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen does scathe his legacy, but even in the prequel trilogy he does murder a bunch of Jedi and "younglings," so that was an interesting tidbit about where he came from. But it's the original trilogy that will endure and, for me, Darth Vader is still cinema's ultimate villain.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you know they have actually just fleshed out paply's backstory (Sort of) in the plagueis novel. It's actually good.