Sometimes the villains can outshine the heroes – or even just be the most interesting aspect of something. This month continues with the look at villains from TV. Some are terrifying, some are charming, but all are deadly…
As far as superhero films go, Pixar’s Incredibles is funny, intelligent and very, very super.
In a world where superheroes are hiding, the Power family face all the problems of a young family, and then some: their angsty teenage daughter hides herself from the world, and their son speeds around, constantly hyper. Their powers reflect their personalities, and as you can imagine, this collides with the ‘normal’ life they are trying to lead.
Mr Incredible – Robert Power – misses the glory days, when superheroes were appreciated. They had fans. Fans that would dress themselves up as their idols.
Buddy, a fan of Mr Incredible, put on cape and mask and called himself Incredi-Boy, generally getting in the way. Mr Incredible rejects his ‘help’ and Buddy grows up with a grudge – he can’t help, because he and most of the population are just ‘normal’.
He renames himself Syndrome and gets a funky haircut. He is incredibly clever – his natural abilities lie in the manipulation of technology. He builds himself robots and even has dreams to sell his creations and become even more rich. He’s a villain driven by childish desires and dreams.
Initially, he seems quite ridiculous. It’s when Mr Incredible infiltrates his base that we see Syndrome’s dark side. Superheroes have been disappearing, and it probably won’t take you a moment to guess who has been causing those disappearances.
There’s a particularly chilling part in the film where Mr Incredible cycles through what is effectively a hit list of old superheroes. It’s a scary scene, and incredibly dark – this is villainous personified.
I won’t spoil too much. All you need to know is that Syndrome plays the part of the villain very well in a movie about superheroes: arguably, he is better than Ledger’s Joker.
Picture it. You’re sitting down for the first time to watch the new sequel to Terminator. You saw the first film and loved it, so you know what to expect. Sure enough, there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger reprising his role as the unstoppable killer robot from the future (or rather, another robot of the same design). And sure enough, there’s another weak fleshy human sent back to try and stop him. It’s more of the same, but that’s basically what you expected.
But then things turn strange. Arnie’s hulking, emotionless brute turns out to be protecting people. And the weak fleshy human turns out to be, well, neither weak, fleshy, nor human. It’s a clever reversal of the first film, but on its own that might not have been enough. In fact it might not have worked at all were it not for Terminator 2’s secret weapon: Robert Patrick.
The T-1000, on paper, is a thankless role. For the above twist to work, he needs to appear physically weaker and less threatening than Schwarzenegger (which isn’t difficult) but also needs to be more dangerous and frightening than Arnie ever was (which really is). But Patrick pulls it off, proving to be not just a credible threat, but a genuinely terrifying villain. He’s obviously not as imposing as his predecessor, but his smaller size and more natural movements actually make his cold, emotionless performance that much scarier. Also, unlike the first Terminator, you can see this new version thinking and planning – often just by the way he turns his head – and it’s totally unnerving.
The T-1000 will always be remembered for its special-effects – melting and reforming and morphing into knives – but that would all feel hollow and meaningless if not for the amazing performance behind it. Robert Patrick is such a chilling presence in the film, even before his arms become blades, that we never once doubt he could take down Arnie. That’s no mean feat for such a weak, fleshy, normal-looking guy.
When I look at villains portrayed in films, very few spring instantly to mind. There is however one performance, which for me trumps them all.
A devious and frightening performance that really made one of my favourite comic villains spring to life. I am of course talking about the great Heath Ledgers take on the Joker. A performance, which kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the whole film.
I was hoping for a darker, more chaotic showing of my favourite villain and Heath delivered this plus more. Showing a great understanding of the character, keeping a fine line between chaotic brilliance and true madness – making every line he uttered – impact me with a great vengeance. He shone as the Joker and delivered a truly mesmerising incarnation of the comic book favourite.
This is a recent film, so I don’t want to spoil it for you so [blackout]… Amy Dunne in Gone Girl is perhaps one of the most villainous characters I’ve encountered in a recent film. She’s not showy or flashy, most of the time, like what you’ll find in the average comic book movie. No, instead she is a quiet, unassuming presence, drinking in her surroundings and manipulating everything and everyone around her. Amy comes across, at first, as an utter darling and you suspect Nick Dunne is fully capable of horrible, horrible things.[/blackout]
[blackout]But when you, the viewer, are finally let on to the evil that Amy is capable of, during a pivotal moment about halfway through Gone Girl, you realise how Nick is a victim beyond anything you could possibly imagine. Like, he’s done some bad things, but what Amy draws out through the course of the film is chilling and calculated. From false forensics, to the death of Desi: it’s all the more creepy than the original Silence of the Lambs or even The Shining. And by the end of the film, you’re petrified for the characters left behind.[/blackout]
[blackout]Amy Dunne – the face of pure, calculating villainy.[/blackout]
By now, you should have figured out what makes a good villain – a likeable villain. It’s not their motivations (although they can be pretty good to watch the heroes trying to figure them out). It’s about villains that make you laugh. It’s about villains you can kind of see a twisted logic of. It’s villains that have a tragedy – a back story. A villain that has just as much purpose and grandeur as the hero. A proper equal. A proper counterpart.
Which is why I feel that Loki worked so well. He had a level of warmth, a level of twisted logic, one that could make you laugh. He also has a bit of a tragic back story and he certainly has as much grandeur as any one of the heroes fighting him.
But what really makes it stand out is that he reasonably holds his own. He plots and schemes as well as uses physical trickery. Much like the Joker, you’re left wondering who is in control – the heroes or the villain. And in the end, as long as it’s not the hero, there’s actual risk and excitement.
I think the final thing about a good villain, is that they have a lasting effect on the heroes – whether psychologically or physically. With the Avengers, they learn to work together – but more importantly, they learn that they cannot fight everything. Not alone.