411 Movies Top 5 5.16.14: Top 5 Comic Book Movie Villains
Posted by Shawn S. Lealos on 05.16.2014
From Heath Ledger as the Joker and Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor to Ian McKellen as Magneto, Tom Hiddleston's portrayal of Loki and more, the 411 staff counts down their top 5 comic book movie villains of all-time!
Welcome to Week 426 of the Movie Zone Top 5. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.
The 411mania writers were given the following instructions: Don't just choose a character (The Joker), choose a specific actor's portrayal of that character.
Honorable Mentions: Bane- Tom Hardy- The Dark Knight Rises, Magneto- Ian McKellan - The X-Men, The Penguin- Danny DeVito, Loki- The Avengers, Deacon Frost- Blade, The Joker- Heath Ledger, Nuclear Man- Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, William Stryker- Brian Cox- X2: X-Men United, Ma-Ma- Lena Headey- Dredd (2012), Catwoman- Michelle Pfeiffer
5. General Zod- Terence Stamp- Superman II (1980)
When I saw Superman II as a kid, General Zod scared me. His Kryptonian criminal companions scared me, too (Jack O'Halloran is scary because he's so big, and Sarah Douglas is scary because she likes to send people into space with no oxygen), but Zod was the scariest because he was so arrogant. He knew he was unstoppable, that he had Superman outnumbered and he could use the people of Earth as pawns in a game to trap Superman and destroy him. Plus, he wanted to kill Lex Luthor. Sure, Luthor is a despicable criminal, but how can you threaten to kill a man who helped you? That's just dirty pool. Michael Shannon did a good job playing the Zod character in Man of Steel, but he just isn't Terence Stamp. "Kneel before Zod!" Ha.
4. Dr. Anton Arcane- Louis Jourdan- Swamp Thing (1982)
When it comes to despicable comic book movie villains, Louis Jourdan's Dr. Anton Arcane is one of the best. He has no problem killing people when they get in the way of what he wants (I was mortified as a child that he would allow his henchmen to kill innocent people and dump their bodies in the swamp), he'll deliberately disfigure his own people in order to test new mad scientist formulas (look at what he did to Bruno and what he was willing to do to his girlfriend in The Return of Swamp Thing), and he'll chain up Adrienne Barbeau in his basement. The only sort of redeeming thing about him is, in a pinch, he'll experiment on himself. You have to sort of respect someone who is willing to turn himself into a hairy pig monster. Underrated.
3. Jigsaw- Dominic West- Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Before he gets disfigured in the glass bottle recycling thing, Jigsaw was just Billy Russoti, a successful, arrogant mob henchman and violent prick. When he loses his face and finds out that it can't be repaired he freaks out, kills his doctor, and decides to become even more violent and an even bigger prick . He breaks his disturbed brother Loony Bin Jim out of the insane asylum (he watches Jim eat a guy. Yes. Jigsaw's brother eats a guy so he can "get his applesauce back"), he terrorizes a distraught family, and then shoots helpless fat guy Microchip in the head (he probably also shot Microchip's comatose mom in the head, too. We don't know exactly who did that but it was probably him). He also recruits an army of bad guys to help him take out the Punisher. It doesn't work all that well, but the speech he gives is one for the ages:
Makes me laugh every time I hear it. I love this guy.
2. Lex Luthor- Gene Hackman- original Superman franchise
When you look at Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor, you don't necessarily see a diabolical super genius, at least at first. He's charming, kind of a prick, but he seems like the kind of guy you might want to hang out with. You don't really approve of his treatment of Ned Beatty, but, again, Luthor is so charming you overlook that part of his personality. But then, when you look at the scheme he concocts in the first Superman, what he helps make happen in Superman II (he wanted to be Zod's best buddy in the whole world, the super villain that wanted to rule the world and kill him), and then what he creates in Superman IV. Nuclear Man may be one of those most irresponsible things any movie villain, comic book and regular genre movie, has ever done. But then, hey, he wanted to destroy Superman, and what better way to do that than with a man "born" from a nuclear bomb? Kevin Spacey did a pretty good job in Superman Returns, but he's no Gene Hackman. He just isn't.
1. The Joker- Jack Nicholson- Batman (1989)
As far as I'm concerned, Jack Nicholson is the Joker. He just is. He's a complete psycho, a madman who wants to destroy Batman and has absolutely no problem gassing Gotham City in order to do it. And how about deliberately contaminating various consumer products that, when used together, contort a person's face into the "Joker smile" right before they die? That is so goddamn messed up. And I'm still trying to figure out the art museum gassing: are those people in there dead or just unconscious? Either way it's still pretty awful. If only society figured out a way to keep him in prison (he murdered at least two people in cold blood as a young man and had a substantial criminal record). But then, he did refer to himself as the world's first full functioning homicidal artist, so what can we expect?
5. The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), Captain America
Weaving does exactly what should be done for the most famous Nazi in comics, go totally over the top with it. Cool most of the time, his rage is terrifying, especially given his horrifying face and willingness to eradicate those who fail him. A man willing to double-cross Hitler and establish his own Reich should not be taken lightly and his great strength is a benefit as well. That he carries himself as some sort of gentleman despite being a total monster makes it more amazing to watch.
4. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), The Avengers
While the Thor movie established the character, it was the follow-up film that boosted him to new heights. Yes, he's swaggering and arrogant with moments like telling a crowd "you were meant to be ruled." But you can also see the tragic side to him, a boy convinced he's meant to be a king and discovering his true origins causes him to break away. The talk between him and Thor is great, Loki's long held jealousy coming loose as he makes it clear if he can't have Earth, he'll gladly see it torn apart just to get back at his "family." Yet, he has an amazing charm as shown when, having been crushed to a pulp by the Hulk and surrounded by the Avengers, he calmly asks for a drink. Better yet is his return in The Dark World, aiding Thor but also pulling a scheme that ends up getting him his dream at last, a chilling view of a bad guy actually winning in the end and in style.
3. General Zod (Terrance Stamp), Superman II
The problem with Superman is finding someone who can give him a truly tough time. For the sequel, the producers decided to go for brawn over brains with a trio of Kryptonian criminals out for blood. Zod is the best, once a trusted general who tried to become Krypton's dictator, imprisoned for decades and now thirsting for conquest. What makes this so brilliant is Stamp's performance, so cool and calm in battle, treating attacking soldiers as nothing more than annoyances, humans are just ants to him. It's briliant when he takes over the White House but is bored out of his mind without anything more to conquer. But he sells those beautiful angry moments ("KNEEL before ZOD!") with glorious conviction that you just have to love. This is a man you truly believe can be a ruler and makes the conflict with Superman all the better, elevating one of the best superhero movies ever.
2. Magneto (Ian McKellan), X-Men
What makes Magneto so compelling is the fact that you can actually see he has a point. A survivor of the Holocaust, he knows first-hand how humans can turn on those who are different and is determined not to see it happen to mutants. His methods may be extreme but he thinks it a necessary evil and that, combined with his compelling stature on screen, makes him fascinating to watch. Nothing sums up McKellan's performance better than the scene in X2 where Magneto breaks out of jail, floating across a chasm, arms crossed, a truly regal bearing. Few things are scarier than a bad guy who believes he's fighting for good...and when you see the anti-mutant forces out there, you have to wonder if maybe he's not right.
1. The Joker (Heath Ledger), The Dark Knight
Really no hard choice here. Mark Hamil may nail the Clown Prince of Crime on the animated series but Ledger brought the character to a terrifying new life in his Oscar-winning performance. He makes the Joker a twisted madman but always with a plan, despite his constant talk on how he doesn't have one. He's smooth, cunning and while you get the idea that some of his madness is feigned, he's clearly completely insane. He truly believes life is nothing but a joke, that all it takes is a push to make any person a killer and his battle with Batman is nothing but a grand game. Ledger just eats up the screen, you can't take your eyes off him and he makes the Joker fantastic, not just because of his actions but also because of the scary idea that someone like him can truly exist in today's world.
Honorable Mentions: So many mentions, so little time... I like the majority of Batman's rogue gallery on screen. There is a nice end of scale balance between the level of over the topness in Tim Burton's take on Danny Devito's Penguin & Michelle Pfeiffer taking the sexiness of Catwoman to new levels, in comparison to Nolan's realistic depictions with Tom Hardy's Bane & Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow. Brian Cox is a great bad guy actor in general but does a lot with bringing X-Men 2's William Stryker to life, from rather one dimensional comic book villain roots.
I like Christoper Mintz-Plasse as the bitch heel The Motherfucker in Kick-Ass 2 and Chris Evans is perfect as Lucas Lee in his awesome 5 minutes in Scott Pilgrim. Michael Wincott as Top Dollar is nothing amazing but his legendary line in The Crow of "Caw! Caw! Bang! Fuck I'm Dead!" has a special place in my heart. Despite it's notoriety, I quite like Daredevil and for me, there's so many more worst villain performances than Colin Farrell as Bullseye. Mickey Rourke as Whiplash is fun but not really as a good adaptation of the villain from the comics.
Most recently, The Winter Soldier's tragedy and badassery is captured by Sebastian Stan so well. I don't really have time for the earlier Superman installments' villains but Kevin Spacey makes the best of a bad situation as Lex Luthor and Michael Shannon shouting his way through Man Of Steel as General Zod is engrossingly scary. Finally, after a tough deliberation, Jack Nicholson's Joker from Batman is very hard done by to miss out. Consider him 6th.
5. Alfred Molina - Dr. Octopus (Spider-Man 2)
For my personal favourite choice, I have to go for Alfred Molina's superb job as Doctor Octopus in the second Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie. Doc Ock is not really one of my favourites from the comics so it means so much for Molina to turn my opinion of what I think of the good doctor upside down. I knew Molina was and still is simply a legendary actor of incalculable skill to any role he's given but until I saw his work in a territory I'm used to it was then I can truly appreciate him. Being honest, he may not have had enough screen time needed to make a lasting impression but there's a certain tragedy in Molina's performance when the additional mechanical arms' AI takes over and acts under a dark influence. Otto then sees the error of his ways, dying a human hero redeeming himself and his wife. With that part of Sam Raimi's remit of Spider-Man, Molina's Dr. Octopus is still a superb and memorable villain a decade on.
4. Tom Hiddleston - Loki (Thor & The Avengers)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe's premier villain... in fact, he's the only one that's still kicking around if I remember correctly that's been given a full introduction. Before they turned him into an anti-hero in the second Thor flick, Tom Hiddleston used all that theatre training to bring the Asgardian god of mischief onto a new and unexpected level of popularity. He gets the slimy aspects of Loki's trickery and constant double crossing to suit his needs spot on. His obsession of ruling Asgard and getting one over his adopted brother are his own undoing at times and the fact he's willing to take over Earth just to get back at him is wonderful stuff. Whilst the end of Thor: The Dark World sees Loki's status quo radically altered after his turn in that film, the great work that Hiddleston does in the role in his earlier appearances paid off massively in making him probably the most recognisable new villain that the MCU has given to the casual cinemagoer.
3. Willem Dafoe - The Green Goblin (Spider-Man)
Yeah yeah, Power Rangers suit and all, I LOVE Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn. There's hardly anyone else that gets over the sheer insaneness of being a super villain like him (well apart from an obvious No. 2 but more on him in a second. Hee Hee). Just the sight of Dafoe flying around on the goblin glider unmercifully offing Oscorp execs who sold him out with pumpkin bombs is a joy to behold in his own right but even the ripped off bits from Lord Of The Rings with Norman talking to his evil self in the mirror are bloody brilliant. Of all my choices here, Norman is the one that specifically chooses evil when he's given the option to redeem himself from his villainy as The Green Goblin and thus he gets killed by his own actions. Whilst keeping the theme of Sam Raimi's villains with possible redeemable qualities, Dafoe really adds to the success of the Spider-Man movies in a performance that is enough of over the top to keep it in line with comic books ludicrousness but not enough to verge on camp. In short, the correct tone.
2. Heath Ledger - The Joker (The Dark Knight)
The only nomination and winner of the Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor award for a comic book super villain. Says it all really. Tainted by the sad and tragic death of Heath Ledger, the performance he showed here in the second of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy has become iconic and deservedly so. The hypnotising yet deadly agent of chaos portrayal of The Joker with endlessly quotable dialogue and the man with a plan moments deserves to be remembered in your psyche forever. Even from the little moments - "How about a magic trick?" - up to the big grand plan with the two boats squaring off, even though he's in make up pretty much all way through, The Joker is given his proper treatment up on the big screen and he is one scary clown finally shown as Batman's equal as the chaos to Bat's order. There are places however where I'm not sure Ledger keeps to the Joker's character exactly and the portrayal goes off on his own thing which is amazing still given his deserved performance plaudits, but it's not quite what I want from a Joker. Only reason why it's not number one.
1. *TIE* Ian McKellen - Magneto (X-Men & X2) and Michael Fassbender - Magneto (X-Men: First Class)
I'm going to cheat slightly for my number one choice. Shawn set a remit of choosing a performance for each character but considering both Sir Ian McKellen & Michael Fassbender are playing the same character in the same continuity, I believe it's worthy of a pass and especially when the performances are both as great as each other. Both actors play the mutant leader with the power of magnetism down to a tee at different parts of Erik Lehnsherr's life with the aggressive stance of mutantkind rights and pride, fearing a repeat of the Holocaust which sparked his powers being the focal point of his political views. Entirely righteous yet arguably not the right way to go about it but engrossing regardless.
Let me take you back first to 2000 and the release of X-Men. It was a brave move to release a superhero film then as they were considered out of favour until Bryan Singer's first X film brought about the tidal wave of comic book adaptation we're seeing today. McKellen's portrayal of Magneto played a big part in the success of the film with him at odds with pacifist Charles Xavier. You can completely understand his view point even if the methods of getting there are a bit squiffy. Following on from that in the prequel, Fassbender stuck his flag in the ground as an A List film actor by taking on an angry young man out for revenge against the Nazis who truly birthed him as the mutant leader. Check out that scene in Argentina with the hiding Nazis and show me a more committed performance of a man bent on retribution.
Magneto I believe would be a character very easy to not get right but when you have two top and WILLING actors like McKellen & Fassbender to do a great job on a complex and engaging character, you end up with probably the best comic book villain performances we have seen on the big screen.