Wesley Emblidge ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor
Darth Vader. Hannibal Lecter. The Wicked Witch. The Terminator. HAL. Besides being great movie villains, what do these characters all have in common? They’re all from well over twenty years ago, whereas some of 2014’s movie villains included Alexander Pierce, Dr. Bolivar Trask, Ronan the Accuser, Harold Attinger…who even are these people? We’ve got a villain problem—our blockbusters are full of generic bad guys who tend to rely on being played by a good actor rather than being well-developed at the script level. With the end of summer blockbuster season upon us, we take a look at all the villains of the past few months of movie mayhem and decide who we’ve already forgotten, and who might join the above ranks of impressive names.
12. The Earthquake, San AndreasYou’ve got The Rock and you’ve got the budget, but you don’t have anyone he can punch in the face. Disaster films are, in general, a bad idea for this very reason. You can’t shoot the earthquake, you can’t blow up the tornado—all you can do is attempt to survive. And frankly, the more compelling argument for San Andreas is that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is in fact the real villain, as he does some really awful things to other people to try and survive and save his family.
11. Victor von Doom aka Doctor Doom (Toby Kebbell), Fantastic FourThe final blockbuster of the summer was also the most critically-maligned, one found by many to be mediocre and full of studio meddling, but nowhere near as awful as others proclaimed. However, the element everyone can agree was terrible was the villainous Doctor Doom, who not only has confused motives and poorly-established ability, but just looks completely ridiculous. In a film riddled with problems, nothing stuck out more than he did. That being said, none of this is the fault of Kebbell, a very talented actor who does what he can to make this character interesting pre-transformation.
10. Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), Jurassic WorldIs he even the villain? He’s really more of a plot device, an antagonist with a laughably stupid idea that nonetheless leads to the dino chaos that comes later. He’s essentially a much, much worse version of Wayne Knight’s characters from the original movie. So maybe the real villain is the dinosaur, the much-hyped genetically modified Indominus rex? Maybe, but compared to just the regular old T. rex, the creature has a pretty boring design, and nothing about its various “powers” make much sense. Look, Jurassic World is a movie that hates you, that resents that it even exists, and doesn’t even bother to think about basic logic or character motivations throughout the story. So why would it bother with crafting a good villain, when even the legitimately good movies on this list struggle with it?
9. David Nix (Hugh Laurie), TomorrowlandSpeaking of movies full of problems, Brad Bird’s well intentioned Tomorrowland is perhaps the summer’s most conflicted mess, a movie full of optimism and overly-direct messages that get lost in scenes so fast-paced you can’t stop to notice how little they make sense. As for the villain, forget about it. Nix’s motivations are really unclear (aside from maybe a sense of elitism), as is almost everything about this hidden world he runs. This pairs with Jurassic World, vastly different as they are, as the movies with the biggest logical gaps of the summer, so of course the villains don’t make all that much sense either.
8. John Connor, Robot Edition (Jason Clarke), Terminator GenisysAny points here are mainly for effort. It’s admittedly a cool idea to have one of these established characters turn into the villain, and even though the physicality of Connor makes no sense, viewers appreciate the franchise trying to again create a more advanced Terminator, much like the previously films have. Yet none of that is really exploited or used effectively at all. There’s no real emotional effect on Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), and his particle construction somehow looks worse than the CG in Terminator 2.
7. Darren Cross, aka “Yellowjacket” (Corey Stoll), Ant-ManMarvel films are the most consistent when it comes to generic bad guys, having only ever stumbled upon one compelling antagonist (Thor’s Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston) and then re-using him to death throughout multiple films. They’ve fared slightly better this year because of their casting, but that’s only half the battle. Stoll is a good actor, though, so even when delivering painfully generic dialogue, he’s able to sell it enough.
6. Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), Mission: Impossible—Rogue NationThe Mission: Impossible films will always struggle with the fact that none of their villains will be able to live up to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in the series’ third entry. Lane is at least a slight improvement over the complete nonentity that was Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) in the last film. Lane is at least strange, talking in a sort of whisper and being just a little bit too thin, if still underwhelming as this leader of a massive criminal organization.
5. Ultron (James Spader), Avengers: Age of UltronThe only one on this list who was a big enough deal to get his name in the title, Ultron is the other Marvel villain this summer and the only one who really feels like he’s being positioned as an iconic bad guy. Does he get there? No, not really. Spader’s voice definitely adds a fun sense of wit to the robot, but as with many of the characters on this list, the actor can only do so much to a pretty dully-written character.
4. Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) and Pieter (Flula Borg) of “Das Sound Machine,” Pitch Perfect 2Probably the worst movie on this list, Pitch Perfect 2 has two saving graces—those folks with the unpronounceable Danish and German names deliver almost all of the very few jokes that land in the movie, and rival the leads during the a capella-offs as well. It’s not a traditional blockbuster, admittedly, but since it made more money than all but three films on this list, we’ll let that slide.
3. Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), SpyByrne has worked in every genre imaginable, but after her turns in Get Him to the Greek, Bridesmaids, Neighbors and now this, it’s clear that she should probably be banned from any roles outside of comedy. She’s so wonderfully nasty here, the perfect foil to turn lead Melissa McCarthy into the equally foul-mouthed hero we know she can be. It’s definitely strange that three of the best movie villains of the summer come from comedies. Maybe that has a lot to do with how character-driven comedy is compared to action, where at the bare minimum, you don’t need to motivate laughs, just fights.
2. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), Furious 7Having Jason Statham goes a long way. Using him well? Even better. Now, if the latest Fast & Furious movie used him at Crank-levels of insanity, it would have easily topped this list, as coming in at number two is no small feat. From his delightfully nonsensical introduction at the start of the film to his literally earth-shattering final fight with Dom (Vin Diesel), Shaw is ultimately one of the worst-written villains when it comes to basic logic, but as a shell with room for a great action star to play, Statham (also great this summer in Spy) is clearly having just as much fun performing as we are watching him.
1. Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), Mad Max: Fury RoadIt figures that the best blockbuster of the summer would also have the best villain. Mad Max: Fury Road is incredible in countless different ways, to the point where you could almost forget about Immortan Joe because there’s so much else happening. But much like everyone and everything in the film, he’s got an original, interesting design (with a hint of Darth Vader in that mask, for sure) and even more importantly, he has this entire world built around him that gives him a sense of intimidating power. Furious 7’s Shaw is just one guy. Ultron has a bunch of generic robot minions. But Immortan Joe has an entire city of followers, his army of warboys, plus allies from The Bullet Farm and Gastown (whose leaders are also distinct). What we’re really saying is that Mad Max is the best summer movie on every level because George Miller gets it, and he’s probably as tired of dull antagonists as we are.
But here’s the thing: even as the best of the summer, he’s not really all that memorable. He’s pretty good, but he’s not even the most iconic villain of the Mad Max franchise (though arguably, he is the most interesting). So why have our summer movies struggled so much in this and past years? Where are the great villains (I would argue the true villains of the summer were the minions, but oh well)? Well, if it was a blockbuster in the traditional sense, Magic Mike XXL would place first on this list with the most original villain of them all—no one! The “conflict,” if you could even call it one, is just for the male stripper characters to make people happy and have a good time. Oddly enough, you can say the same thing about another one of the best movies of the summer, Inside Out (just change the whole “male stripper” part). So perhaps what our summer movies need to do is stop throwing in generic bad guys, and instead consider cutting them altogether. Really, it’s just about doing something different, and what’s more different than deleting the idea of an antagonist altogether? But simply coming up with new motivations (enough arms dealers or crazy scientists), or even just new characters (Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger apparently weren’t good enough, so now we need Jared Leto to play the Joker?) could help, because otherwise, it all becomes the same story, over and over again.