With the litany of comic book characters now living second lives as movie characters, we nerds now have an ability to truly start compiling the bests and worsts translated from pulp to digitally projected bric-à-brac. This week, I’d like to do what all great bloggers of the day do: make a top ten list to anger my readers.
So, here is my definitive (for now) list of The Absolute Worst Portrayals of Super-Villains in Movies.
The rules: We’re going to set the line at all comic book movies debuting after Superman (1978). We’re judging the main antagonists in the film (Lucky for you, Eddie Izzard in Mystery Men). My criteria takes into account the overall quality of the film, the on-screen portrayal, the distance between the on-page characteristics of the baddie, as well as how they matched against their nemesis throughout their on-screen performance. Sound good? I don’t care. My list, my rules.
- John Travolta, Howard Saint — The Punisher
Let’s kick it off with one that breaks my own rules (which is why I’m slotting here at 10). Travolta’s phoned-in generic gangster #4 wasn’t actually a comic book character to begin with. And while The Punisher wasn’t ever going to take home any awards from comic fans to begin with… the adaptation (errrrr….loose adaptation) of “Welcome Back Frank” saw Ma Gnucci as the big baddie to defeat. Which Frank does, in homage first to the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and then to The Hunted… but I digress. Travolta — who can play low-key gangsters wonderfully — can’t decide whether he’d like to chew the scenery, or nibble on some sleeping pills. He never poses any threat to Thomas Jane’s Frank Castle, and as such, here our Saint sits at the start of this list.
- Christopher Eccleston / Malekith the Accursed — Thor: The Dark World
If you’d told me a former Doctor was to be a villain, I’d perk up immediately. David Tennant’s Purple Man in Jessica Jones remains one my all-time favorite portrayals in any comic book adaptation. But Malekith the Accursed is not Killgrave. Under the pounds of leather, makeup, and CGI, Christopher Eccleston is immediately forgettable, playing a snarling generic evil in a largely forgettable film. Whereas Tom Hiddleston wrapped every nerd around his finger as Loki in the first installment in the Thor franchise, Eccleston is mired both by a terribly bland script, and enough CG smoke, fire, and energy beams to choke any actor’s portrayal. But, Lee Pace basically did the exact same thing as Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy, and somehow sold the scowls and growls. Sorry, Doctor. EXTERMINATE all of Thor 2.
- Jim Carrey, The Riddler / Tommy Lee Jones, Two-Face — Batman Forever
I wasn’t about to split up the bromance here. Let’s clarify though: There were moments of actual brilliance in both Carrey and Jones’ baddie performances. As Harvey Two-Face (ugh) paced back and forth, decrying the fate of chaos with his bespectacled prey in the opening moments of Batman Forever, I was sold. Aside from the nausea induced by Joel Schumacher’s boner for Dutch Angles, Edward Nygama’s heartbreak over Bruce Wayne’s dismissal of his invention was actually palpable. But then everything went neon and gay — and not in any awesome way. Tommy Lee Jones turned off subtlety after the cold open, if only to try to not be out-over-acted by Carrey’s homage to Frank Gorshin on quaaludes. What we’re left with are one-liners ping-ponging until Kissy-Face Nipples-Out Batman drags each fight scene to a screeching halt. Oh, and Jim Carrey grabs his nut sack.
- Peter Sarsgaard / Hector Hammond — Green Lantern
What happens when you take a serious actor with serious indie cred, and cast him as a psychotic creep? Well, you get a performance that attempts to place gravitas with a whole daddy-issues subplot that is forgotten as quickly as a black cloud of CGI smoke rams it’s way into Hector Hammond’s ass. Oh, but that’s luckily after over an hour of him skulking around like a hurt puppy. While the portrayal itself isn’t too far flung from the source per say… the contrived possession of the Parallax spirit combined with Sarsgaard’s mealy-mouthed whines and screams throughout the dog of the film did nothing to elevate a single frame of overly CG’ed dreck that was Green Lantern. We would have been better off with Stellan Skarsgård instead. Natch.
- Dominic Purcell / Drake, Parker Posey / Danica Talos — Blade: Trinity
I have a soft spot for Purcell — as his Heatwave in the Arrowverse is a hilarious light in an otherwise murky mess. But presented here the reanimated original vampire (ahem, Dracula), we’re treated to a performance so clunky, one might think he was supposed to just be the stunt double. I place Purcell here for checking off all the bad boxes: his wooden performance fights against a script that paints him as a timeless demi-god, his costuming and just off the set of Prison Break Season 12 haircut looks god awful, and the entirety of the character shares only a name with the Marvel comic counterpart.
Pair this with Parker Posey’s portrayal of Danica Talos — who was also not a comic-cannon-baddie — and Blade: Trinity earns it’s stripes as one of the dumbest comic book movies in the last couple decades. But let’s not let Posey off too quickly. If Purcell was wooden, Posey attempts to balance the ledger with an equal amount of over-acting. If you took the manic scene-gnawing of Colin Farrell’s Bullseye (in the awful Daredevil) but strapped some boobs and fangs on him, you might come close to whatever Posey is doing throughout the film. With a serious speech impediment each time she mumble-seethes through dialogue, paired with her see how sexy I am physicality throughout, and somehow we wind up with a worse duo than Riddler / Two-Face.
Stay turned next week when I count off my top 5!