The 8 Ball 11.05.13: The Top 8 Comic Book Movie Enemies
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 11.05.2013
From Thor and Loki and Superman's rivalry with Lex Luthor to Charles Xavier & Magneto, Batman vs. The Joker and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 comic book movie enemies of all time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Comic Book Movie Enemies
Welcome back to the 8 Ball, ladies and gentlemen! Horror month is beyond us at 8 Ball headquarters and this week we're moving on to look at something new. And for that newness we go to the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe entry. Thor: The Dark World hits theaters this week in the U.S. and with the antagonistic dynamic between the titular character and his brother Loki being a major driving force of the MCU I thought this week we would look at enemies. Comic book films thrive on the juxtaposition between hero and enemy; that dynamic is what gives comic books and their films a truly mythic scope that works well on the big screen. There is no shortage of great sets of enemies so let's get right to it!
Caveat: The only real caveat I have here is that, as usual with my lists, I tried to keep my list focused on one per character. Note I said "character" and not "franchise," as there are a few franchises which are more ensemble in nature and in some of those multiple enemy sets stood out. Also, by "enemy" I am referring to an antagonistic relationship. Not every set of enemies is built off "I hate you and I'm going to kill you"; some are more rivalries than that purely violence-oriented approach and so I looked at all aspects of the enemy dynamic.
• Hellboy vs. Prince Nuada (Hellboy II: The Golden Army)
• Jay & Kay vs. "Edgar" (Men in Black)
• Scott Pilgrim vs. League of Evil Exes (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World)
• V vs. The Sutler Regime (V For Vendetta)
• Oh Dae-su vs. Lee Woo-jin (Oldboy)
#8: Frank Castle vs. Jigsaw (Punisher: War Zone)
First up on our list is the main conflict at the core of the underrated Punisher: War Zone. Previous live-action adaptations of Frank Castle's story had been unsatisfying to say the least; the 1989 Dolph Lundgren story was low-rent and cheesy while the 2004 take with Thomas Jane in the main role had a disappointing villain in John Travolta's Howard Saint and far too much focus on Castle's tenement building friends. When Lexi Alexander was placed in charge of the second reboot, she took a distinctly different and more satisfying tone that was exemplified by the bloody war between Ray Stevenson's Frank and Dominic West's manic Jigsaw. The film holds nothing back in terms of the violent content which was exactly what a Punisher film needed and Jigsaw provided the memorable villain that both of the previous entries lacked. Alexander faced a lot of conflict with Lionsgate over the tone of the film but says she is "extremely happy" with the final film, and she should be. Jigsaw is the kind of take-no-prisoners brutal villain that is needed to give the right antagonist to the similarly take-no-prisoners Castle; he allows us to identify with Castle without needing to soften the character. The war between them is unrelenting and it made for a far better film than it might have otherwise been.
#7: Marv vs. Kevin (Sin City)
Frank Miller's noir comic book Sin City has a lot of great sets of enemies. The juxtaposition of heroes on the fringe against villains in power are a major theme of the comic series, and the film adaptation did such a great job with the characterizations that it was tough to narrow down to just one. You have Hartigan vs. the Yellow Bastard, Dwight against Jackie Boy, Gail vs. Manute and more. Even Marv has multiple enemies but for me, the highlight of the good guys against the bad guys was Marv's battle with the sociopathic Kevin. Kevin's slaying of Goldie sets Marv's tale of bloody vengeance in motion and while Marv has no problem murdering his way through hit men and armed guards, it is the slight-yet-creepy young man who takes Marv down most definitively. I'll be honest; I raised an eyebrow when I first heard that Elijah Wood had been cast as Kevin. Not because I don't like Wood as an actor, but because I just didn't see him as able to play someone that formidable. Wood pulled it off with aplomb though and he was perfectly matched against Mickey Rourke's Marv both in Wood's infinitely disturbing silent portrayal and in Robert Rodriguez's filming of the scenes. It takes Marv a lot of preparation and tools before he can finally take Kevin down and while that death is satisfying, it's also incredibly disturbing in the way it played out. In a film full of great enemy pairings, this is definitely the most memorable for me.
#6: Wolverine vs. Sabretooth (X-Men Franchise)
Wolverine and Sabretooth make up one of the great sets of enemies in comic book history. You know you have a great rivalry when it is difficult to think of one without thinking of the other and they got off to a good enough start in the first X-Men in 2000. Tyler Mane embodied the physicality of the character very impressively and he made for a fantastic presence to pit Hugh Jackman's Logan against. Of course, Mane was not given an opportunity to stretch his dramatic weight, and disappointingly Sabretooth was not brought back for X2. However, when it became time for Wolverine to get his own film, Fox decided to bring the character back and cast Liev Schreiber in the role. This is one where, like Elijah Wood as Kevin, I had some reservations about the casting. Schreiber is a great actor but would he be able to embody the physicality right? As it turned out, Schreiber and his arc as Sabretooth were among the few bright spots about the film. He did what any great actor would; he allowed his presence and the way he moved to embody the same sort of physicality that the more physically-impressive Mane was able to do. Again, I have a lot of problems with X-Men Origins: Wolverine but the relationship between Victor and Logan is one of those things they nailed perfectly; the hatred between them is given very real reasons for existing and yet you know how and why they're connected the way they are and it all makes perfect sense. My hope is that before Wolverine eventually rides off into the cinematic sunset, Schreiber is given the opportunity to come back and play Victor one more time, this time in a film that is worthy of his performance.
#5: Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin (Spider-Man)
Peter Parker's cinematic presence is a matter of some contention among fanboys. Some people consider the Raimi films to be the definitive take while others point to the highly-flawed third film as a deal-breaker and instead place more credence in the new, rebooted version. Whichever the case, I think that few people can argue that the first two Raimi films had the best villains and thus the best enemy dynamics. I thought long and hard about this one and whether Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus or Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin was the best cinematic enemy for Spidey. In the end it boils down to one simple fact: the Goblin had a greater effect on Peter. With Norman Osborne you had a character who threatened Mary Jane like few others and who created another enemy down the line in James Franco's Harry Osbourne. I do think Molina gave the better performance, but the Goblin is still quite the manic force of personality and his battles with Peter take a much more personal tone that ups the stakes considerably. Both Otto and Norman were men who started out good and turned evil; Norman's connection to Peter on a personal level gave him that extra edge and the scenes between Tobey Maguire and Dafoe are just charged with energy from the moment that Norman becomes the Goblin. It really created an enemy for the ages and helped the franchise go down as one of the best comic book films of its era, at least before Spider-Man 3 came in to flail wildly and destroy much of what its predecessors had built.
#4: Superman & Lex Luthor (Superman Franchise)
Okay, so the Christopher Reeve Superman films descended into crap by the third and (especially) forth entries. There's no secret about that. But the first two films established comic book movies as viable box office properties and one of the great things about the films was the antagonism between Kal-El and Lex. With Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman, you had two actors who were very different in their attributes but who had unmistakable chemistry on the screen. Superman and Lex are the classic archetypes of two comic book enemies pitted against each other; one is brawn and the other is brains. And the way that Richard Donner guided the first films, Luthor was the classic supervillain. If there is any fault in this enemy pairing is the amount of comedy inserted into Luthor but Hackman manages to make that work with ease. The pairing was so successful that you can see very clear parallels in the way that Warner Bros. and Bryan Singer chose Brandon Routh and Kevin Spacey to embody the roles in Superman Returns, though there are differences and it was slightly less successful. Supes and Lex are one of the quintessential comic book pairings and again, their success as a pairing in the films is one of the big reasons we have comic book movies to this day.
#3: Thor & Loki (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
Not gonna lie here, people; I was kind of surprised that despite my love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, only one pairing from that made it onto this list. I'm not at all surprised though that the one was these two (and not just because they helped inspire this list via Thor: The Dark World). In the lead-up to Thor's release I had some apprehension about this one; if you will recall there had been some supposedly bad buzz around it (that turned out to be false) and Thor is far from my favorite Marvel characters anyway, nor is Loki. But with Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston in the role of the opposing brothers, Marvel struck gold. Hemsworth is that perfect mix of physicality, bombast and charisma to play the role right while Hiddleston is an absolutely gleeful delight as the god of mischief. Their relationship was the highlight of the first film and it made Loki the right choice for the villain in The Avengers, which in fact allowed Marvel to stay true to the comic books in that fashion. The complicated relationship between these two siblings demonstrates the fine line between love and hate and they've carried it off perfectly; I'm excited to see how it plays out in the Thor sequel and yes, hopeful for more Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe somewhere down the line.
#2: Batman & Joker (The Dark Knight Rises/Batman)
Okay, I cheated a little bit here because I included two, but they're two sets of the same characters. Besides, you really can't call one pairing of Batman and Joker as "better than" the other. People will debate which Batman was better until the end of time (I think it was Keaton) and which Joker was better (I vote Ledger) but the fact of the matter is that both of these antagonist sets were equally good in the overall package; the only difference comes down to whether you prefer Burton's more comic book-y take or Nolan's more realistic take. I enjoy each side equally. Batman and the Joker are two sides of the same coin; both of them are extremely damaged on an emotional level and act in an extreme manner in order to achieve their individual goals. What makes the Joker such an awesome mirror for Batman is that similarity; in the murderous clown we see what Batman could have easily been if he had only lost a bit more of his humanity. And both takes portrayed that incredibly well. Keaton and Nicholson are electric when they're on screen together; the "Do you ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight" scene is fantastic and one of my favorite comic book movie scenes of all time. And yet Bale and Ledger are also perfectly matched up; the Joker is pure evil in chaotic while Bale's Batman is a much more positive version of that chaos. Those dark reflections made these pairings just work in every way and I really can't separate one from the other in terms of quality.
#1: Charles Xavier vs. Magneto (X-Men Franchise)
This was an easy #1 for me, to be honest. The rivalry between Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr has carried through four films and seen more complexity than any of the other options on this list. One of the greatest strengths of the X-Men franchise has been the casting of these two pivotal roles and both sets of actors were pitch-perfect in their portrayals. Before X-Men was ever coming into being Patrick Stewart was the only possible choice in most fans' minds to play the good professor and he has given the role exactly what we hoped in terms of gravitas, tone and personality. He was equally matched by the inestimable Ian McKellan, who made us sympathetic to the role of Magneto even though he was the clear villain of the film. The two had an almost-unmatched chemistry and you truly believed the pair as old friends-turned-enemies. More than even Batman and the Joker these two were opposite sides of the same coin; Magneto had gone the route of vengeance while Xavier went for acceptance. And in X-Men: First Class we had an equally-impressive pairing in James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender; both of them had shades of their "future selves" and showed us exactly how these two became friends and then rivals. This is an ideological war that has echoed through the entire franchise, and what we've seen of X-Men: Days of Future Past suggests that we'll be able to see it get even better with that entry. No rivalry has been more detailed and well-visualized than these two and that puts them at the peak for me.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Five (1968) Episodes Watched: 633 Last Serial Completed:The Web of Fear - The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria return to London where they find the Great Intelligence and its robotic Yeti have overrun the London Underground railway system. With the help of a Colonel named Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, they move to stop the villain from taking over the world. Surviving Episodes Remaining: 20
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.