Movie villains have a tough lot in life. No matter how evil or smart or ruthless or weapon-happy they may be, the truth is that they’re going to fail. The hero will rise up and do some smiting. Or load a virus into the OS of the alien ship. When the laser beam is crawling towards James Bond’s junk and we’re gripping our armrests with tension, we do so with the knowledge – which we suppress for the sake of pleasure – that the hero will prevail, victorious and full of junk.
This formulation suggests something pretty terrible about us, actually: that our notions of heroism are based primarily on the efficacy and success rate of the characters. A villain who succeeds? That’s an antihero. A villain who gets away? That’s a nemesis. So we all know that the villain has to fail in order to earn the title. It’s all about the journey. And in these examples, the journey is totally lame.
Let’s get the painful and painfully obvious out of the way first. Nuclear Man was the most appallingly lame villain ever to besmirch the Superman franchise. Every last detail in this film is lame, from the terrible special effects to the nonsensical plot. But Nuclear Man – oy. From the blonde mullet to his great weakness (the dark), he just sucked.
9. Sauron from Lord of the Rings
One of my favourite things about the Lord of the Rings novels was the weird omnipresence of the villain. Even though he was nowhere in particular and never had any kind of shape, he was sunk into every fibre of Middle Earth, an ineradicable stain. He and the world had grown up together, weaved into each other, until he was this free-floating evil presence. In the movies, he’s a giant vagina that’s on fire. Anything on fire is pretty scary, and we’re not used to seeing detached vaginas controlling armies of Orcs, but still. And don’t explain to me how he shows up briefly as a guy in a suit or armor, or I will start pretending that you’re a grocery store candy machine and put quarters in your mouth while you talk.
8. Jareth the Goblin King from Labyrinth
Goblins are cool. Kings are cool. David Bowie is the archetype of cool. But you cannot combine these three things together in a movie and expect coolness.
7. Brad Wesley from Road House
Let’s imagine a fight between a non-dead version of Patrick Swayze and Ben Gazzara. Let’s picture it as a round of Mortal Kombat. You know damn well that Swayze would dance over to Gazzara’s sweaty, puffing body and rip his throat out before your quarter hit the bottom of the machine. Yet Road House wants us to believe that Gazzara as small-town businessthug Brad Wesley poses some kind of threat to Dalton The Zen Death Machine. All he can do is throw minions at him.
6. Terl from Battlefield Earth
Ah god. Have you seen this movie? Battlefield Earth is what happens when a crappy sci-fi novel becomes a vanity movie project for a guy whose stacks of money and fame can’t ward off fake religions. John Travolta and his troupe of Psychlos (from the planet Psychlo, which makes sense, because we’re humans and we live on the planet Human) look like Kiss from an alternate dimension, except… agh, never mind.
5. Venom from Spiderman 3
In Spiderman 3, Topher Grace plays a whiny, talentless journalist who becomes a whiny, talentless villain. This is precisely how I picture Topher Grace in real life.
4. Xerxes from 300
I have never been less scared of a movie villain in my entire life. Giant drag queens whose most fearsome act is to walk up slowly behind the hero do not frighten me. In real life, Xerxes was the baddest of all bad asses, with a giant empire at his command. Sure, Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans resisted bravely and ferociously at Thermopylae. Didn’t work.
3. Deacon Frost from Blade
Blade! The story of a human/vampire hybrid cursed and blessed with the bloodlust of a vampire and the conscience of a human. Played by the terminally badass Wesley Snipes, he faces off against… Stephen Dorff? That’s like General Patton marshalling his forces against some random Bavarian with a whiffle bat.
2. Eliot Carver from Tomorrow Never Dies
The secret formula behind a good James Bond villain usually involves lots of camp. We love the absurdity of a Bond meanie, even when they’re deadly serious about lowering him into a pool of sharks or whatever. The last twenty years of Bond villains, though, have been pretty rocky. I can’t say that the recent trend of humanising the bad guys has been very successful (Robert Carlyle’s Renard, The Man Who Feels No Pain But Seems Pretty Depressed, springs to mind), but nothing was quite as crappy as Jonathan Pryce’s take on evil in Tomorrow Never Dies. He plays a Bill-Gates-meets-Ted-Turner billionaire who wants to kickstart a global war in order to get great media coverage. The flaws in the plan are so immediately apparent that I can’t believe the first script note wasn’t “This sucks”.
1. Anakin Skywalker
Darth Vader is the villainest of all the villains out there. He’s the Ur-villain: the walking corpse, the living death, the unreasoning mask. He looked like an evil vending machine. Somehow, George Lucas even managed to make him sympathetic, by ratcheting up his evil, slowly connecting him with Luke until we believed that he even cared for the guy in a really twisted away, and finally stripping away the mask to reveal a fragile, infant-pale human being. Redemption, artfully and succinctly delivered. Genius.
But all that was Before. Before the prequels and their computer-generated world, as sleek and dead as Vader’s black armor. Before we discovered that the human inside Vader didn’t deserve our sympathy in the first place. The Star Wars movies are full of lame villains – and what can you say about a military force that can destroy a planet but finds itself helpless against a bunch of midget bears whose main weapon is logs? – but Anakin Skywalker’s transition from irritating kid to irritating teen to irritating villain is – well, you see where I’m going with this sentence.
Got any lame villains to contribute? Any comments that start with “What, no ?” or “I can’t believe this list doesn’t have . FAIL”? Hit the comments below.TOP POSTS