So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #031: The Best of the Worst!

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #031: The Best of the Worst!

What’s good about writing these listicles is that I’m able to cover a ton of ground in a short(ish) amount of time. As such, I’ve covered the worst of the worst when it comes to comic book movie villainy. It stands then, that I should swing the pendulum the other way to detail my favorite ne’er-do-wells of cinematic comic bookery, right? Well, once again, you don’t have a say.

The Rules: Much like last time, when I formed this ranking, I took into account a few criteria. I’m covering only the main antagonist of comic book films starting from 1978’s Superman. I look to the actual performance/portrayal. Did I believe I was watching a character or just a good actor chewing the scenery?  I also like to compare the on-screen portrayal against the origins of the on-paper version of the character — where I like to see a positive convergence of the tentpoles of a given wrongdoer from their pulpy origins emboldened by the advantages offered by the silver screen. Beyond those basics, I always look towards the actual fights/schemes/plans that pair the main villain against his or her nemesis (those stupid super heroes everyone loves so much). I really like to see both the savagery and the sorcery, if you will, of the baddie being bad.

Here then, are my picks. Damn the innocent.

  1. Michael Keaton / The Vulture — Spider-Man: Homecoming

Straight out of the gate, I’ll admit I wanted to put Mr. Keaton higher on the list. Spider-Man: Homecoming was really mostly a vehicle for Tom Holland’s pitch-perfect friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. But it was because of this, Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is such a delight. Choosing to lean into his lower register (but not freaky Birdman range, thankfully) and sinister sneers, Vulture in Homecoming is an understated nemesis. What earns him a spot on my list, more than anything, is the intelligent plotting and drive of Toomes. Unburdened with the whole anti-aging pseudo-science of the original source material, we get a villain who truly had proper motivation. In the wake of The Avengers here was a man screwed out of his livelihood by super-situations beyond his control. Michael Keaton delivers an intelligent and calculating villain who (versus many on this list) see his nemesis as a nuisance — meant to be dealt with, not obsessed over — with the sound mind to take what he sees as rightfully his. Even if he’s in the wrong. And simply put? The driving-to-prom scene alone was worth putting Michael Keaton on this list.

  1. Tom Hiddleston / Loki — The Avengers

I can hear several fangirls already sharpening blades over the low placing of Tom Hiddleston on my list. But I’ll say my peace and accept my fate. Specifically in The Avengers, Loki is at his most evil (saving Thor, which while good, pales in comparison to him here) — setting the Avengers up to fail at every turn. What sells Loki most to me, and what earns his spot here on my list, are his scenes opposite any Avenger, save his brother. Hiddleston’s portrayal of an Asgardian is as it should be: noble, godly, and aloof. In the face of Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Iron Man… he sees himself a god. And while yes, he gets punched, repulsor-blasted, arrow-detonated, and Hulk-smashed… he never loses his edge. As means to the ends of Thanos, Loki more than holds his weight as the singular villain (plus an army of disposable CGI) in a film choked to the edges of the screen with heroic talent. Whereas Justice League gave us disposably-generic… Avengers gave us coldly-unforgettable.

  1. Jason Lee / Syndrome — The Incredibles

I dare anyone reading this to tell me I’m not allowed to include a non-comic-canon character who is animated to boot on this list. Because they’d lose their argument when considering Jason Lee’s Incrediboy-turned-Big-Bad. From his calculated efforts to capture Mr. Incredible, to his sadistic decree to destroy a plane that had just announced it had children aboard it… Syndrome is the arcitype of villainy personified. Lee’s vocal talents perfectly paint the picture of a broken-hearted would-be sidekick who chooses a dark-path due to disappointment. And as the grown-up nemesis to the Parr family, his invention-driven path-of-destruction comes both as no surprise, and nearly flawless in execution. If he’d only chosen not to don a cape…

  1. Josh Brolin / Thanos — Avengers: Infinity War

While many will continue to meme the purple rock-collector until Endgame… few could argue that the portrayal of the Mad Titan built up over ten-plus films could have been handled much better. Brolin’s calm, weighty performance— perfectly rotoscoped into his hulking CGI frame — quickly establishes his villain we should all fear from the cold open. Without aid of even a single Infinity Stone, Thanos dispatches the Incredible Hulk with the meticulous devastation of a seasoned MMA fighter. We watch in awe and agony as Banner’s never-over-powered angry-half is pummeled into submission. And this is all before Thanos marches slowly across the cosmos to collect his shiny rocks, and snaps away half the beings of the universe. That he joins nearly no other villains in the “actually succeeded in my evil plan” club, and retires to his weird space farm to live in peace afterwards is the dusty icing on a bitter cake. As close to the source as we were ever going to get… all completed with a performance I couldn’t recast to save Peter Parker’s desperate life.

  1. Alfred Molina / Doctor Octopus — Spider-Man 2

“The power of the sun, in the palm of my hand.” So sayeth Otto Octavious. On page, Doc Oc is often a morty lame duck of a villain — save perhaps his superior run as the Spider-Man himself. But in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, he is as he should be: mild-mannered, with an undercurrent of resentment and determination. Alfred Molina disappears into the role; becoming a would-be father figure to Peter Parker, a loving husband to his wife Rosalie, and a frustrated scientist under the knuckle of a rich brat. That his over-zealous excitement to complete his project eventually causes him to abandon reason to see his work be finalized cements him as a villain whose motivations we can accept (if not agree with, obviously). The only misstep to the portrayal (and not Molina’s fault by any means) we get a bit of a worthless subplot revolving around his additional appendages perhaps being sentient. Beyond that though, Spider-Man 2 remains one of the best superhero movies of all time… because in this case our villain cements the journey our hero must make by the end of the film. And that’s far more powerful than a CGI super-nova being cradled by Larry, Harry, Flo, and Moe.

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #030: The Absolute Worst (PART 2!)

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #030: The Absolute Worst (PART 2!)

Last week, I detailed half of my “all time worst” villain portrayals in comic book movies. No one attempted to fight me… yet. So, let’s roll the dice and do it twice! Here’s my top five all time awful comic book villains as portrayed on film.

And in case you missed last week? Well, sucks to be you. Loser. Read it here. (Sorry, normally I’m a pretty happy guy. This list just frustrated the bejesus out of me. And I don’t take that lightly. Jewish dudes love Bejesus.)

5. Jamie Foxx / Electro — The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Jamie Foxx, after proving his acting chops across the board with amazing performances in flicks like Ray, Collateral, and Django: Unchained was largely met with fanboy glee at the prospect of de-morting an often mostly goofy Spider-baddie. But, by the looks of it, Foxx showed up to set having accidently time-traveled directly off the set of In Living Color. Take the nebbishy grease stain of Jim Carrey as the Riddler, combine it with the mumbling/grumbling nuance of Tyler Mane as Sabertooth, and then drown it in incoherent CGI, and poof: Blacklectro. Foxx’s take adheres closer to the Ultimate version of the villain — which is a smart choice. But his distorted digitized growl, and third-act “death by dubstep” set piece was so dreadful (especially when paired with yet-another-what-the-hell appearance by the Green Goblin) it axed the whole Sinister Six franchise. I’d be sad about it, but Tom Holland is a superior Spider-Man, and Michael Keaton’s Vulture is one of my favorite adaptations of a villain to date. So, suck on those watts, Foxxie.

 

4. Oscar Isaac / Apocalypse — X-Men: Apocalypse

Speaking of weird blue CGI-mashed up wastes of time, we land on generically brown enough to give us points in diversity, Oscar Isaaac. On loan from the Star Wars universe, to take a big azure dump on another X-villain, Isaac’s En Sabah Nur en sucks nuts. With a costume that immediately drew comparison to Power Ranger’s Ivan Ooze, and a performance that frankly makes me sleepy even thinking about it, this version of Apocalypse managed to mangle a decent follow-up franchise to the original Bryan “Now Pen Pals with Kevin Spacey” Singer directed. Isaac underplays a villain who is mostly known to only speak in yelling in the comic series. And he’s given no favors throughout the film, as his misplaced accent-by-way-of-whatever-the-fuck-sounds-ethnic-ish delivers wet-fart after wet-fart throughout the film. Whether it was a bad script, bad costume, bad effects, or a little bit of all of it… by the end of X-Men: Apocalypse all I could hope for was a quick nuclear Armageddon so-as to not tip off future aliens discovering our remains the thought that this was how we were entertained.

 

3. Arnold Schwarzenegger / Mr. Freeze — Batman & Robin

Ahhhnold’s portrayal of the ice-hearted Victor Fries is brought to us by the same team that ruined the Riddler and Two-Face… and ups the ante to go gayer. Like, To Wong Foo levels of gay. With comedic pun-powers by way of Shecky Greenberg and the Borscht Belt Review. Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze is repetitious rapscallion whose only duty on set was to don whatever BDSM costume director Joel Schumacher was jonesing to see that day, and read off 5-10 cold-based puns the writers room from the Larry Sanders Show threw out from the night before.  Then, Joel would yell “Cut!”, the production crew would spirit gum icicles from It’s a Small World’s Antarctica on to pieces of the set and extras, and they’d roll camera just in time for Mr. Olympia himself to stare directly down to lens to a pant-less Schumacher before exclaiming “Ice to see you.”

Compare this to chilling voicework of Michael Ansara, over the design work of Mike Mignola in Batman: The Animated Series and their version of the character, and you’ll wind up like me; cold to the idea that two other portrayals could possibly be worse on this list.

 

2. Wes Bentley / Blackheart — Ghost Rider

Let’s go ahead and say that no one was ever going to be able to out-act Nic Cage is a movie where he transformers into Ghost Rider by cackle-laugh-cry-screaming, bug-eyed, directly into the camera for 45 seconds. But to have cast the weird emo-d-bag from American Beauty to phone in the same performance, but with CGI fart clouds and inverted irises as the nemesis to Cage is perhaps a thing of beauty. I could envision the executives now… as Cage describes their need to spend 12 million dollars to digitally burn him alive (after they convince Cage that they can’t afford the insurance to do it method like he wanted)… “But what about the rest of the cast, Mr. Cage?” And just as he’s about to call in a favor from John Travolta, Wes Bentley comes into the room — to remove the trash from the bins and check if anyone wanted a bagel or scone from downstairs — and Nic hangs up the phone. “You there, boy. I’m going to make you a star.” And with the remaining $12.75 left in the budget for the film, good old bag-cryer Bentley snarls and mumbles his way though another forgettable villain in what could have been a decent excuse for Nic Cage to scream a lot.

 

1. Ciarán Hinds / Steppenwolf — Justice League

I saved this top spot for an actor, who perhaps, is undeserving of my ire. Truly when asking nearly any comic book fan who might show up on this list, nary a one could even name Mr. Hinds. You’d then need to mutter “he was the voice of Steppenwolf in Justice League” for said fanboy to even register the thought that an actual human being lent anything to the “performance” of the bad guy that united the seven. Hinds’ Steppenwolf was given an unsurmountable task of being the harbinger of actual bad guy Darkseid in the DC movie-verse. Whereas Joss Whedon utilized Loki and an army of CGI-expendables to bring together the Avengers (which worked in spades, because, duh), Joss as would-be Cyranno could not convince Zach Snyder and his army of slow-fast-motion-mustache-erasers to replace the wooden non-starter that was Ciarán Hinds and his portrayal of an Apokolyptian war general.

It also helps that with all the money saved for the film’s “fully CGI villain, see, we can do it too, Marvel!” was spent instead removing mustaches and dyeing everything to burnt umber. Steppenwolf looks like a lifeless stand-in for final effects throughout the 82 hours the flick drones on. Combined with his creepy mewling of “mothaaaaa” every time a motherbox appears on screen, and boy howdy, do you wind up with something special.

Justice League was a trainwreck of a film, weighed down by a metric ton of problems. For many it was the brooding. Or the sepia-toned-everything. Or that as hawt as Jason Momoa was, is, and forever will-be… no amount of his bro-screaming was going to cut through the cynicism. Or maybe it was Henry Cavill’s weird CG-baby mouth. But for this writer? It was mostly shouldered by the worthless antagonist in the film. And while Movie-Steppenwolf isn’t that far off from his comic counterpart (both are generically forgettable also-rans) here he was shouldered with being a threat worthy enough to pull together arguably the most recognizable team of superheroes (plus Cyborg) in order to save the day. And what exactly did Hinds give us? Sleepy British snarling. The exact same sleepy British Snarling Professor Lupin gave us in Wonder Woman. So close, in fact, methinks that it’s likely Snyder wanted David Thewlis to reprise his Ares for the League, but after looking over his budget declared “…then get me his non-union Mexican equivalent!”