Thursday, August 7, 2008

Favorite Movie Villains #50 - 41

50. The Operative (Serenity)

"I don't murder children."
"I do. If I have to."
~ Capt. Malcolm Reynolds & The Operative

There's something intimidating about a villain who doesn't even have the decency to have a name. It's like, what's this fucking guy hiding? And since Chiwetel Ejiofor is pretty much the sweetest actor ever (although I honestly doubt his own mother can pronounce his name), he backs that up with plenty of hardcore badassery. He packs a huge samurai sword and basically kills everyone who looks at him funny with it.

He's pretty neat because unlike many other villains The Operative genuinely reckons himself the good guy and the crew of Serenity the bad guys, while freely admitting his actions are evil and he has no place in the perfect and just world he is trying to create. Acting as the all-purging deathly scourge of society's undesirables, he's interesting, threatening, and entertaining all at once.

49. Ivan Drago (Rocky IV)

"I must break you."

For a series that started out a fairly unassuming character study of a determined working-class amateur boxer, it sure didn't take the Rocky flicks long to descend into the absurdity of Rocky fighting for the pride of America with all eyes of the world on him against a hulking, steroid-jacked Soviet supervillain. And thank god for that, because without Ivan Drago we wouldn't have lines like the above one, "If he dies, he dies," and my personal favorite, "I defeat all man."

But I must comment that Rocky beating Drago doesn't really make any logical sense. We know that Rocky is about equal in skill to Apollo Creed, just a notch or two above. And Drago literally beat Apollo to death in sixty seconds; it wasn't even CLOSE to a fight, he didn't even break his stride, let alone a sweat. Rocky shouldn't stand a goddamn chance. So how does Rocky beat Drago? The answer is because God Bless America.

48. Saruman (The Lord of the Rings)

"There will be no dawn for Men."

The Lord of the Rings may just go down in history as THE cinematic achievement of the 00s, but the one area it's not quite up snuff with sagas like Star Wars, Batman, or James Bond in is its central villain. The orcs and trolls and Balrog and Ringwraiths provide a plethora of cool evil soldiers, but let's face it, the main bad guy is a big red spotlight on a stick.

But far cooler than Sauron (onscreen, at least) is his top lieutenant, the evil wizard Saruman, who acts as the central villain for Aragorn's half of The Two Towers. It helps that Christopher Lee in appearance, performance, and especially voice is flat-out awesome at evil, but when we first see Saruman's thousands-strong orc army unfolding beneath him, well, in 2002, that shit was staggering on a biblical scale. It's just a shame about his one weakness: trees.

47. Bennett (Commando)

"I'm not gonna shoot you between the eyes - I'm gonna shoot you between the balls!"

You see, the thing about Bennett is that

46. Hector Barbossa (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)

"Ya best start believin' in ghost stories, Miss Turner. You're in one."

Johnny Depp's turn as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean was rightly hailed one of the most confident, creative, and entertaining performances in years, but it wasn't until the series moved on to Dead Man's Chest that I realized how integral Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa also was to the equation and how much I missed him. He wasn't precisely innovative in the same way as Jack Sparrow but he played the traditional "ARRRGH!!"-style pirate with such balls out enthusiasm that it was difficult not to the share in the fun he was obviously having with the role. He has just enough backstory in his relationship with Jack, funny little quirks (i.e. his fixation on apples), and honestly has more entertaining screen chemistry with Keira Knightley than Orlando Bloom did. If Barbossa kidnapped me it would be all I could do to not join the fuck up; he makes villainous cinematic piracy about as fun as it ever needs to be.  

45. Frank (Once Upon a Time in the West)

"Was it necessary that you kill all of them? I only told you scare them."
"People scare better when they're dyin'."
~ Morton & Frank

Casting against type can add an entertaining, dynamic friction to a film, and Sergio Leone's casting of Henry Fonda - at that point almost exclusively known for playing good-hearted, borderline-living-saint idealists whether of the impassioned nature (12 Angry Men) or the naive, aw-shucks variety (The Lady Eve) - as the ruthless, coldhearted frontier assassin Frank may be the best ever. Fonda reportedly turned the role down at first, so Leone personally flew to New York and cornered him with the following proposition: "Picture this; the camera shows a gunman from the waist down pulling his gun and shooting a running child. The camera tilts up to the gunman's face and... it's Henry Fonda." And damn if Frank doesn't do just that, smiling all the while! Fonda later went on to call the role his favorite of his career, and for extra credit, I also found a pretty interesting clip of him discussing it.

44. Sarris (Galaxy Quest)

"Perhaps I am not as stupid as I am ugly, Commander!"

An evil intergalactic warlord, Sarris seems a pretty hokey quasi-threat the first time we lay eyes on him, but we soon learn he's no Villain of the Week - he's committed mass genocide and exterminated almost the entire Thermian race, driving them from their planet and pursuing them across the universe in his hunt for the Omega 13. When the cast of the cancelled sci-fi show "Galaxy Quest" are drafted by the Thermians to lead their crew into the final battle with Sarris, he can only laugh, realizing that the Thermians have mistaken the fictitious crew for real commanders, and the war is on. He's like every Star Trek villain rolled into one, on crack. The only question is - why the hell does he speak fluent English?

43. The Sheriff of Nottingham (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)

"Locksley! I'm gonna cut your heart out with a spoon!"

I understand this movie has a lot of haters due to historical accuracy and English accents and other such nonsense, but all I know is that I loved it with a feverish passion as a kid; it was epic, bombastic, just bloody enough, and above all it had Alan Rickman's absurdly, unfathomably over-the-top performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham (here given the name of "George"). Effortlessly overshadowing everything and everyone else in the entire film, Rickman (who was tired of being offered villains at this point) only took the role under the agreement that he would be given carte blanche in his interpretation of the character, and thank god for that because it is so over the top and evil as to be completely brilliant.

Like Captain Hook, the Sheriff of Nottingham is one of those characters that will be reinterpreted over and over again in film, TV, and animation to the end of time, but I dare say no one will ever trump Rickman.

42. Hank Quinlan (Touch of Evil)

"You're a killer."
"Partly. I'm a cop."
~ Pete Menzies & Hank Quinlan

Discussion of the cinematic crooked cop these days seems to go straight to Alonzo Harris in Training Day, but let's not lose sight of the fact that fifty years ago Orson Welles gave us (both in performance and in directing the movie) Touch of Evil's sweaty, alcoholic, repugnant, evidence-planting, and eventually murderous police Captain Hank Quinlan, who patrols the U.S. / Mexico border and allows no crime to go unpunished - whatever legal and moral loopholes he has to go through to find someone guilty. When Charlton Heston gets wise to his evidence-planting and tries to expose him, Quinlan commits a murder and has Heston's wife kidnapped, drugged, and placed at the scene of the crime, framing her and trying to ruin Heston before he can ruin him. Unlike Alonzo Harris, Quinlan believes in the ultimate rightness of his actions, and his determination and corruption makes for a hell of a thriller villain.

41. RenĂ© Belloq (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

"What a fitting end to your life's pursuits - you're about to become a permanent addition to this archaeological find! Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something!"

Certainly the best Indy villain, the smug Belloq is the shadow version of Indiana Jones, an archeologist and treasure hunter only removed from Jones in his unscrupulous and murderous methods and his willingness to cooperate with Nazis and Hitler if it gets the job done. And although Indy manages to survive his many henchman, like any good serial adventure villain Belloq seems to one-up Indy every time they meet, sending a tribe of angry natives after him, stealing the Idol, "killing" Marion, sealing him in a tomb, attacking Indy's ship with a Nazi submarine, and so on - until their final encounter, of course. It takes a great villain to die just as memorably as they lived, but Belloq is awesomely and literally punished for his sins when God melts his face into a pool of blood and explodes his skull. Holy shit!

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