EXTREME SPOILERS AHEAD FOR AVENGERS, DARK KNIGHT RISES, AND SKYFALL.
Possible SPOILERS for any other films referenced.
We’ve finally reached 2012, a year full of great villains! Perhaps the best year for antagonists in this modern age!
All of 2012’s “Terrible 3” fit the mold I discussed in previous posts of “A Better Class of Criminal” (Part II, Part III). All 3 deserve to be on the list of 100 greatest villains ever; any other year, each would be the highlight due to less steep competition from the other 2.
Loki (Tom Hiddleson), THE AVENGERS
Loki is the weakest of the 2012 “Terrible 3,” yet he is still fan-diddily-tastic and miles above most antagonists on the silver screen (technically, billions of miles above, since he is from Asgard…).
Let’s tick the boxes off for the traits we’ve already covered ad nauseum…
1) Loki has a mastermind of a plan. The demi-God is always on step ahead of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, and even his own brother, Thor. More specific, like great villains past (think the Joker), his plan involves being captured in order to destroy the Avengers from the inside. In his case, he wants a shot at the monster S.H.I.E.L.D. brought on their own Hellicarrier, Bruce Banner aka the Hulk.
Even past his capture and escape, Loki is a step ahead of Captain America and team, setting up at Stark Tower before even Tony Stark realizes it.
2) Loki loves his work. He smiles so often, with such evil and glee, even when things look there worst for him. My personal favorite is the smile Loki pops off while “removing” a man’s eyeball before he first encounters Captain America in Germany.
He smiles when he arrives on our planet, as Thor threatens him, as he watches Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America clash, as he passes Banner’s lab in cuffs, as he threatens Black Widow, and even when Tony Stark taunts him in the third act. Loki’s having so much fun he can’t contain himself.
As a result, so do we! A lot of credit has to go to the actor, Tom Hiddleson, on this one. As written, Loki could be played more seriously, but Hiddleson nails Loki’s playfulness.
3) Speech! Speech! – Loki may not have a unique voice like his predecessor, The Joker, or his successor, Bane, but he can still deliver quite the evil speech.
To the people of Germany:
“Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”
To Black Widow:
“I won’t touch Barton. Not until I make him kill you! Slowly, intimately, in every way he knows you fear! And then he’ll wake just long enough to see his good work, and when he screams, I’ll split his skull! This is my bargain, you mewling quim!”
“Enough! You are, all of you are beneath me! I am a god, you dull creature, and I shall not be bullied by…”
4) Loki is unique. Sure, we’ve seen many super-villains over the years, but Loki is a God/Alien. He considers himself a fallen king, driven mad by the power of the Tesseract and envy of Thor. He sees the human race as ants, something very few to no villains mentioned previously feel. After all, even those like Norman Osbourne aka the Green Goblin, who sees himself as above regular people, was human himself before experimentation.
5) Loki makes it personal. He attacks the Avengers “where they live” (according to Tony Stark), killing friend of the team Agent Phil Coulson.
Bane (Tom Hardy) , THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
I argue that Bane is an even stronger Nolan Batman baddie than Joker… and most people call me a fool.
Joker may have tested Batman’s one rule… and corrupted Gotham’s White Knight, Harvey Dent… but BANE BROKE THE BAT! And held Gotham hostage for months, keeping the entire US government at bay.
My favorite scene in Nolan’s entire DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY is Bane and Batman’s initial fight in the sewers. Not only is the action perfectly brutal, leading to the destruction of Batman – the final moment true to the exact panel from the comic – but every line Bane utters during the fight is gold; instantly classic. Both the writing, and the all important delivery by the extraordinary Tom Hardy make the scene the best of the comic-book-movie crop:
“Not as serious as [your mistake], I fear…
Peace has cost you your strength. Victory has defeated you!
Theatricality and deception. Powerful agents to the uninitiated. But we are initiated, aren’t we Bruce? Members of the League of Shadows. And you betrayed us!…
You fight like a younger man with nothing held back. Admirable, but mistaken.
Oh, you think the darkness is your ally. But you merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man. By then it was nothing to me but blinding!
I will show you where I have made my home whilst preparing to bring justice to Gotham… Then I will break you.
Your precious armory, gratefully accepted. We will need it.
Ah yes, I was wondering what would break first… your spirit… or your body?!?!”
CLICK “READ MORE” BELOW FOR MORE BANE GOODNESS! NOW WITH SILVA FROM SKYFALL!
The preceding speech, and all speeches that follow, are all delivered with such joy from Bane with incredible talent on chameleon Tom Hardy’s part. You can tell when Bane is having fun; he plays with his pronunciation and voice. When he is angry, his voice simply goes deep and gruff; more traditional, less original. Thankfully, Bane spends more time having fun than not. This is one of the reasons I prefer him to the Joker.
Having broken the Bat, Bane has the most sinister of master plans, far darker and more twisted than anything Ra’s Al Ghul or Joker cooked up.
In a very familiar fashion, his plan starts with being captured by the CIA. In this case, getting captured serves to help him fake a nuclear scientist’s death and find out what Pavel (the scientist) has told the CIA about the League of Shadows’ plot.
This is the first step in taking Gotham hostage. Again, like his great predecessors, he is one-step ahead of Batman and the Gotham City Police Department. Foley sends all GCPD underground to capture Bane, taking the bait and allowing Bane to trap them all under the city, simultaneously blowing up nearly every bridge into Gotham (as well as the Mayor). Explosions are followed by Bane’s announcement that he will use a fully primed neutron bomb with a blast radius of 6 miles to keep the “world’s greatest city” hostage. (Though he calls it ‘liberated…’)
Having given a hell of a speech in the middle of a fight to the death, you’d be right to imagine Bane is an even better speaker when he is not distracted. He announces to Gotham’s media:
“Behind you stands a symbol of oppression; Blackgate Prison, where a thousand men have languished under the name of this man: Harvey Dent, who has been held up to you as the shining example of justice.
You have been supplied with a false idol to stop you from tearing down this corrupt city. Let me tell you the truth about Harvey Dent from the words of Gotham’s police commissioner, James Gordon. ‘The Batman didn’t murder Harvey Dent, he saved my boy then took the blame for Harvey’s appalling crimes so that I could, to my shame, build a lie around this fallen idol. I praised the mad man who tried to murder my own child but I can no longer live with my lie. It is time to trust the people of Gotham with the truth and it is time for me to resign.’ And do you accept this man’s resignation? Do you accept the resignation of all these liars? Of all the corrupt?
We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you… the people. Gotham is yours. None shall interfere. Do as you please. Start by storming Blackgate, and freeing the oppressed! Step forward those who would serve. For and army will be raised. The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests, and cast out into the cold world that we know and endure. Courts will be convened. Spoils will be enjoyed. Blood will be shed. The police will survive, as they learn to serve true justice. This great city… it will endure. Gotham will survive!”
Of course, the real brilliance of Bane’s plan is that he is going to blow everyone to hell in several months, regardless of his announced terms. He has given everyone false hope, hope that will both “poison” them and torture Batman’s soul as he lies broken in his pit of a prison on the opposite side of the globe.
“[You are] Home, where I learned the truth about despair, as will you. There’s a reason why this prison is the worst hell on earth… Hope. Every man who has ventured here over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing to freedom. So easy… So simple… And like shipwrecked men turning to sea water from uncontrollable thirst, many have died trying. I learned here that there can be no true despair without hope.
So, as I terrorize Gotham, I will feed its people hope to poison their souls. I will let them believe they can survive so that you can watch them clamoring over each other to stay in the sun. You can watch me torture an entire city and when you have truly understood the depth of your failure, we will fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny… We will destroy Gotham and then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die.”
The most diabolical master-plan (involving the annihilation of a city and another intentional capture), great speeches, a very unique and controversial voice to deliver those powerful words of evil, a personal vendetta against our hero, mastermind level genius involving an incredible understanding of fear and despair, and one hell of a mask. And Bane has fun!
Tom Hardy truly deserves a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination like his predecessors, as he is quite possibly my favorite villain of 2012.
Bane is almost more Bond villain than classic Batman baddie, between his nuclear bomb plot and his eccentricities. Which brings me to my other potential favorite villain of 2012…
Javier Bardem already won an Oscar for playing my favorite villain of the previous decade, Anton Chigurh, in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. So, when he was cast as a Bond villain in SKYFALL, I was ecstatic. Bond versus one of my favorite villain actors ever?
Nobody does it better. (I can say that for a fact after watching 007: SKYFALL seven times on IMAX.)
Like all the best modern villains on this list – Anton Chigurh, The Joker, Col. Hans Landa, Moriarty, and Bane – expertly written characters with depth and great dialog AND a one-of-a-kind performance are necessary for the perfect antagonist. SKYFALL has both, making Silva my favorite Bond villain in 50 years (sorry, 006).
Silva has all the trappings of a classic Bond villain, all the oddities one would expect, only modernized.
1) Silva has his own private island hideout. It’s not a hollowed out volcano with a secret base inside, but causing the evacuation of an entire island and setting up shop there is the modern day (read: less ridiculous) equivalent.
2) Remember Jaws? Blofeld? 006? All these characters and even CASINO ROYALE’s Le Chiffre, had some sort of sinister deformity. Le Chiffre may have looked basically normal aside from his slight scar, but he would “cry” blood (he insisted it was “nothing sinister,” but show me a good guy who weeps blood…).
Silva too has a deformity, but it’s not visible until he removes his “mouth piece.” When he does show M and Bond what his cyanide capsule did to him instead of killing him (“Life clung to me like a disease”), it is classic 007 magic.
3) He’s diabolical and has a master-plan. Same as non-Bond villains Bane and Loki.
Bringing the focus away from 007 specifics and back to the modern “better class of criminal,” Silva actually shares many traits with comic-book-adapted-villains Joker, Loki, and Bane.
(Interesting side note about Bane’s near “Bond Villain” status: he too has a deformity and secret lair: the sewer. While Bane was “Born in the shadows” that is where M says Silva comes from as well, “from the shadows.”)
Silva’s plan may be the most masterful of all modern baddies. While the other heroes like Sherlock Holmes and Batman eventually overcome and/or figure out their nemesis’ mastermind plan, Silva is so many steps ahead of 007, M, and MI6 that only after Bond uses his “super-agent” status to foil Silva’s years-in-the-planning plot does he get the “advantage” (if you can call it that) by changing the game on the rogue agent.
The plan is so intricate as it involves knowing MI6 protocol, an advantage of being a former “employee” of the British Government and M (Judi Dench).
Silva’s cyber-attack sends MI6 underground to their “new digs,” while his possession and release of a list containing the identities of NATO agents undercover across the globe brings M’s new favorite, James Bond, right to him. Though he offers Bond, the other of the two “survivors,” a chance to join him, really Silva expects to be captured so that his plan can finally come to fruition (sound familiar yet?).
Silva’s introduction to 007 and the audience is spectacular, outshining those of The Joker and Bane without the terrific special effects and action. Bardem destroys a speech about rats (a continuing theme throughout the movie), as he slowly walks from an elevator toward Bond down a loooong room, all in one take.
“Hello, James, welcome. Do you like the island? My grandmother had an island when I was a boy. Nothing to boast of. You could walk along it in an hour. But for us it was paradise. One summer, we came for a visit and discovered the whole place had become infested with rats. They came on a fishing boat and gorged on the coconut. So how do you get rats off an island? My grandmother showed me. You put an oil drum in a pit and hinge open the lid. Then you coat the lid in the coconut. The rats come for the coconut and plink, plink, plink, plink, plink, plink, plink; they fall into the trap. Then what do you do? Throw it in the ocean? Burn it? No. You just leave it. And then one by one…
They start eating each other until there are only two left. The two survivors. Then what do you do? Kill them? No. You release them into the trees. But they will not eat coconut anymore. Now they will only eat rat. You have changed their nature. The two survivors, this is what she made us.”
His entrance is all in the writing and delivery, with a speech that would make Bane envious. It really is brilliant, from his rat impression to the continuing theme of the two survivor “rats:” 007 and himself.
Again we see a villain who wants to be captured, as was the case with 2012’s other two aforementioned members of the “Terrible 3.”
Once inside the new MI6, Silva finally gets to see “mother” M again. For Silva’s plan is more personal than any Bond villain prior (to my knowledge). No world domination, start WWIII, or get-rich-now scheme here, Silva just wants to revenge for M’s betrayal of him as he reveals in another great speech:
“‘…They kept me for five months in a room with no air, they tortured me, and I protected your secrets, I protected you. But they made me suffer. And suffer. And suffer. Until I realized, it was you who betrayed me. You betrayed me. So, I had only one thing left. My cyanide capsule in my back left molar. You remember, right?
So, I broke the tooth and bit into the capsule, it…burned all my insides, but I didn’t die. Life clung to me like a disease. And then I understood why I had survived. I needed to look in your eyes one last time.”
From there, M is off to her inquiry. Just like Loki, Silva never looks worried, even when he is caged. In fact, he is having the time of his life, smiling and stretching for upcoming events (“All that physical stuff is so dull. So dull. Chasing spies. So old-fashioned.”).
Meanwhile, 007 and Q (Ben Whishaw) try to crack Silva’s computer, unleashing a virus on MI6 which opens every door, including Silva’s glass prison. Oops. Guess youth suffers from a lack of caution, in addition to ‘still having spots.’
Silva escapes into “the tube” and, dressed as a police officer, makes his way to M’s inquiry. Every last detail was planned, even the train he tries to bring down on 007. Silvia is only foiled due to Bond being unstoppable and an even faster runner than Ethan Hunt.
See what I mean when I claim Silva’s is the most intricate plan in this modern era of villains? That’s damn-well thought out. Fucking streets and streets ahead.
In addition to the great speeches and all smiles while caged, Silva constantly has fun, whether he’s taunting Bond (letting him know he was M’s original favorite), playing a game to “improve Bond’s marksmanship,” or assaulting Skyfall.
One of my favorite moments of excitement Silva expresses comes after he detonates the bomb in the tube. He follows the explosion with an enthusiastic “Whew!!!!”
In the same scene, Silva even gets to turn around Bond’s quip – “The latest thing from Q branch, called a radio” – something not many villains have the pleasure of doing (that’s normally the hero’s role).
And, of course, Silva has to make an entrance when he finally arrives at Skyfall, in an attack helicopter, blaring “Boom Boom” by The Animals. (Still a less effective entrance than the ‘rat speech.’) Reminds me of Tony Stark…
Obviously, Silva has tons of fun, until he is finally frustrated by Bond. His assault on Skyfall is this breaking point, especially after his helicopter is brought down right into Skyfall.
Likewise, Loki and Bane lose their playfulness when it becomes apparent things are no longer going according to plan. Just compare the calm Bane fighting Batman in the sewer to the savage Bane swinging wildly and nearly blindly on the steps of Gotham City Hall (destroying a good chunk of concrete in the process).
Silva also has further, unexpected eccentricities. There is ‘that one scene’ between Bond and Silva where the latter has 007 tied to a chair, only to slowly caress him and even run his hands up Bond’s thighs.
Finally, just like Loki and Bane, Silva makes it damn-personal. He’s out for revenge; in the process he does succeed in killing M, a mother figure to him and Bond alike.
So there you have it, 3 of cinema’s most effective villains, all from 2012, all sharing quite a few traits. Loki, Bane, and Silva all have master plans involving intentional capture while anticipating the protagonist’s next move and all deliver killer speeches – sometimes to the hero – other times to large groups of people (they simply need an audience…). The trio take great joy in their malice until frustration sets in, and they aim to personally ‘break’ the good guys. Each also attempts to bring to the table unique characteristics, whether it be a voice, mask, deformity, etc.
All build on what came before, from the Joker to Hans Landa. These (and Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh) proved there are Oscars to be had playing villains, and great actors are noticing. Hand in hand, talented writers are crafting incredibly well-spoken, totally diabolical baddies that we will remember for a long time.
We live in perhaps the Golden Age of the villain, and I don’t see it stopping with SKYFALL and Silva.
In the next and final (for realsies) “Better Class of Criminal,” I will look past current film releases to the villains of DJANGO UNCHAINED, IRON MAN 3, and STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. The trailers for these upcoming films suggest we may have a few more fun yet malicious masterminds on the way.
Better start practicing your menacing laugh…