Possible SPOILERS follow for any movie mentioned.
Villains are no longer underwritten stereotypes to be trifiled with. They are now the stuff supporting-actor-Oscars are made of.
As discussed in Part II of “A Better Class of Criminal”, the academy award-winning-villains Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) and the Joker (Heath Ledger) were really the catalysts that transformed the average blockbuster movie villain into the eccentric, playful, oh-so-personal, well-spoken masterminds of today.
This post, we will journey up to 2012, wrapping up next time with the likes of Bane, Silvia, and future villains including IRON MAN 3’s Mandarin and STAR TREK INTO THE DARKNESS’s mysterious villain (whom I still assume is Gary Mitchell).
I’ll cover the antagonists who followed 2008’s Joker prior to the current year, including Col. Hans Landa from INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and A GAME OF SHADOWS’ Moriarty.
2009 – Captain Nero (Eric Bana), STAR TREK
Nero is not a fantastic villain; he shouldn’t necessarily be on this list. Eric Bana disappears into the role, but Nero is pretty one-dimensional, due to the filmmakers’ wise decision to focus on introducing the crew of the USS Enterprise in this origin story.
(A fairly long deleted scene features more back-story – and J.J. Abrams’ Klingons! – adding to his character.)
Still, the make-up looks badass (suck it, Darth Maul), and Bana is clearly having a great time chewing the scenery; “Hi, Chris. My name is Nero.” Nero is lots of fun, though in most other ways he is not the prime example of a 21st century antagonist. He’s not all so scary and lacks the intricate plans of most of his modern peers.
Nero isn’t the ultimate baddie, but he does indicate Abrams has the potential to do something special with Cumberbatch’s antagonist in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.
“James T. Kirk was considered to be a great man. He went on to captain the U.S.S. Enterprise… but that was another life. A life I will deprive you of just like I did your father!”
– Col Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
Another Best Supporting Academy Award win for a villain actor (following Javier Bardem and Heath Ledger)! Also like Bardem, Christoph Waltz is another foreign actor who seemed to come out of nowhere!
Waltz is simply perfect, injecting quite a bit of fun into a very serious role; after all, his nickname is “the Jew Hunter.” Again, we have a scary man who always has the time to stop and drink a cool glass of milk.
Landa is so scary because he is relaxed and matter-of-fact, hiding a very violent, short-temper underneath (as illustrated when he snaps and strangles Bridget von Hammersmark).
Waltz is the heart of many incredibly acted scenes: Landa calmly smokes from an over-sized pipe (he upstages all opponents in every way, always) as he draws information about hidden Jews from a poor, sweating farmer who doesn’t stand a chance against Landa’s charismatic/terrifying persona. Landa also has quite the chat with Brad Pitt and Ryan from THE OFFICE (B.J. Novak).
Landa is nearly always smiling, enjoying his game.
The game? Ensuring he ends up on the winning side.
Truly a slime-ball of a villain, a man that has no code except ensuring his own survival, only Waltz can pull off Hans Landa, flawlessly switching between more than a few different languages, sounding fluent and poetic in all.
Landa may just be the 2nd best villain on this modern list… behind Anton Chigurh, of course.
“That’s a bingo!”
– Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), SHERLOCK HOLMES
I have a soft spot for Mark Strong. He’s not quite Bardem or Waltz, but he’s still great in nearly everything -KICK-ASS, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, BODY OF LIES, ROCK’N’ROLLA – you name it he’s great in it. (I haven’t seen 2010’s ROBIN HOOD, smart-ass.)
In the first SHERLOCK HOLMES, Blackwood is a decent villain for Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) to cut his teeth on, though he is no Moriarty.
Blackwood ticks nearly every modern villain box; he gives great, menacing speeches, he’s got a sprawling plan that keeps him streets ahead of Holmes, and he’s even got a Bond-villain style deformity (those fucking teeth!). I just wish Blackwood took a little more joy in his scheme. Especially since his plan is great fun, involving “dark magic” and “supernatural powers,” a great challenge for even the world’s greatest detective (of the 19th century – we’ll get to Batman’s baddies again next time…)
I always love exchanges between villains and heroes, especially when the antagonist cockily taunts and foreshadows coming events that the hero cannot comprehend. The interplay between minds like Holmes and Blackwood makes you glad most of today’s villains are “master-minds.”
“Holmes, you must widen your gaze. I’m concerned you underestimate the gravity of coming events. You and I are bound together on a journey that will twist the very fabric of nature. But beneath your mask of logic I sense a fragility. That worries me. Steel your mind, Holmes. I need you.”
Holmes gets to deliver an equally astounding monologue as he “Scooby-Doo’s” Blackwood’s plan, breaking each supernatural trick down, one-by-one.
Besides the supernatural elements, Blackwood has a great plan indeed. What’s better than world domination, the old fashioned way?
“My powers and my assets were given to me for one purpose. A magnificent, but simple purpose: to create a new future. A future ruled by us. Tomorrow at noon, we take the first step towards a new chapter in our history. Magic will lead the way. Once the people of England see our newfound power they’ll bow down in fear. Across the Atlantic lies a colony that was once ours. It will be again. Their civil war has made them weak. Their government is as corrupt and as ineffective as ours… so we’ll take it back. We will remake the world. Create the future.”
2011 – Jerry (Colin Farrell), FRIGHT NIGHT
Colin Farrell just kills it in a horror/comedy with just the right vibe.
Again, smooth and charming on the surface, yet animalistic and dangerous underneath. Le package totale.
Farrell, like Waltz, has so much fun with the role, and his character takes great pleasure and malice in his work. In this case, it is almost entirely the acting that makes another one-dimensional villain (as written) an absolute joy to watch.
– Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME SHADOWS
Holmes: Are you familiar with the study of graphology?
Moriaty: I have never given it any serious thought. No.
Holmes: The psychological analysis of handwriting. The upwards strokes on the p, the j, the m indicate a genius level intellect. The flourishes on the lower zone denote a highly creative yet meticulous nature. But if one observes the overall slant and pressure of the handwriting there is a suggestion of acute narcissism, a complete lack of empathy, and pronounced inclination toward moral insanity.
Perhaps the original criminal mastermind, Sherlock Holmes has been come up against his arch-nemesis time and time again, though we had to wait for 2011’s GAME OF SHADOWS to watch Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes face off against his intellectual equal (possible better).
Having the two most brilliant men on the planet face off is a recipe for awesome, and Jared Harris’ interpretation of the rotten Professor does not disappoint one bit.
Throughout the film, the two men encounter each-other 3 times. Knowing my love of hero and villain banter, these scenes obviously strike quite a chord with me (the HOLMES franchise is quite good at this, apparently). The fact both men respect each-other’s genius while considering himself the other’s better, makes everything all the more interesting and tense. May the best man win…
Their 1st encounter comes in Professor Moriarty’s office, involving some damn-delicious dialog, introducing the fish metaphor and setting the rules of their most-dangerous “game.” Moriarty promises he won’t leave Dr. Watson out of “the equation” even though he is on honeymoon, while also revealing to Holmes that he has already murdered his love, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). If I didn’t mention it last time with the Joker (who- SPOILER – killed Bruce Wayne’s “main squeeze”), I’ll say it now; personal is always better.
Moriarty has made it very personal.
And so, the game is afoot! And what a game it is, with Moriarty appearing to always be one step ahead of Holmes in a way that would make the Joker proud.
While the Joker planned to be caught, Moriarty instead sets up a serious of false clues to lead his rival to the Opera, all while his plan is going off without a hitch across Paris.
Their second encounter gets uglier, with Holmes in Moriarty’s possession. Holmes has figured out Moriarty’s world-wide-scale mastermind plan, but the professor literally has his hook in him. Moriarty is having a great time as he tortures Holmes. And the fish metaphor continues.
“You are…familiar with Shubert’s work? The trout is perhaps my favorite. A fisherman grows weary of trying to catch an elusive fish. So he muddies the water; confuses the fish. It doesn’t realize until too late that it has swum into a trap.”
Finally, the pair play chess.
Here comes the reversal; unlike Batman, Holmes was actually one step ahead of his villain’s plot nearly the entire time. In fact, he’d been scouting Moriarty months before the two officially met.
Holmes stops the plot, but Moriarty himself is not-so-easily defeated. Just like Holmes, he sees the world a different way; he sees all possible outcomes and knows he actually has the advantage if the two are to fight to the death. Holmes sees it too, which is why he “sacrifices” his own life to defeat the most dangerous man in the world, his intellectual equal but physical superior.
What villain’s better than that? Moriarty’s personal, brilliant, and morally insane. He is Holmes’ equal so much so that Holmes need kill himself to defeat him.
“I wonder, which one of us is the fisherman and which the trout?”
In actuality, there are villains better than Moriarty.
We’ve already discussed three of my favorites thus far – Anton Chigurh, Col. Hans Landa, and Joker, yet some of the best are yet to come next time!
In 2012, we’ve watched three of the greatest villains in cinema, including the aforementioned Bane and Silva (as well as a nice surprise!). They continue the traits we’ve discussed, making them all surprisingly similar while each attempts the erase memory of the last.
Part IV will also anticipate three upcoming villains including those of IRON MAN 3 and STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, suggesting they will continue the pattern established while bringing something even newer to the table.
After all, crime never sleeps. Though masterminds might… (and I do).