What about Bob? Has the Age of Almost Great Villains Passed?
Ah, Bob. He left us too soon. Not Bill Murray’s Bob Wiley of What about Bob fame but Bob of Batman (1989). Or as the Joker put it: “my number one … guy!” Poor Bob. The world is worse off due to his absence. He’s someone none us should have forgotten but have. He’s got his hits on Youtube but no plans to resurrect him even though he’s leagues ahead of Darkseid, who isn’t even on the radar of most moviegoer.
Originally, I admit this article had been geared to giving the so-called second stringers their due. But that is a bit distortive of the actual record because not all second stringers get forgotten. Just ask old Henry Kissinger. Or need one be reminded of Boba Fett’s massive cult? Nevertheless, too many both second-order and first-order baddies get left behind. Mr. Glass did a good job in making Unbreakable a great film due to Glass and his (admittedly Lex-Luthorish-inspired) intellectualized madness.
One might entitle this article “The Real Revenge of the Fallen.” True, Bob lacks the greatness of, say, Baines in Malcolm X or Steven Spielberg’s mystery driver in Duel. Not everyone can make it to the Hans Gruber heaven of immortal bad guys. Think only of Cypher in the Matrix. Smith gets in easily if not deservedly. But Cypher like Al Pacino as John Milton/Satan are considered the strictly second-class.
Not that the usual reasons for excluding some from the villainous elite make sense. True, it seems like one needs enough screen time or a good enough script to create the ultimate villain. But one need only turn to HAL, for instance, or R. Lee Ermy’s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket as the very embodiment of evil though neither is onscreen all that long. Yet in each case the moments are memorable. In contrast, only die-hard film fanatics might be able to pluck the Karate Kid III’s Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) in all his pony-tailed glory from their memory banks. Admittedly, Saito (Danny Kamelkona) of the Karate Kid II is considered top dog (among the second-best). One can’t include Kreese since this is a spotlight on forgotten villains and Kreese is too much to be forgotten. Like Ivan Drago he defines the top scumbags of the 1980s.
If one had to put a finger on that perennial paradox of why so many current films lack the potency past ones did, a lot can be attributed to the sheer lack of great evil for heroes to confront. What made Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man so great as comics and films were the bad guys they took on. Great stories demand great villains. (Though exceptions exist. Zoolander is fine but Mugatu deserves his own series.) After all, it’s not just the fact that the latest incarnations of Bond aren’t as great as Sean Connery’s interpretation but the villains, too, have been almost uniformly forgettable.
And clearly Fantastic Four suffered by having a lackluster Dr. Doom being played in mechanical fashion as if he were just another villain. Poor Megatron’s decline and fall under Michael Bay deserves an entire dissertation onto itself and is too painful to go into. And George Lucas – being out of his mind once again – had to kill off Darth Maul, the only thing even anti-Lucas people can agree made Phantom Menace bearable. Admittedly, it’s a difficult thing to select good cases from bad among villains. Ghostbusters II’s Viggo just can’t match the sheer awesomeness that is the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. This carries over into TV as well when the Borg moved from unstoppable killing machines to mere annoyances. The Stand (1994) did have an incredibly good Randall Flagg but the Flagg found in Stephen King’s novels has yet to get a cinematic version that does justice to just how screwed up he is and join the pantheon next to Hannibal.
That’s the tragedy of greatest of villains. They really can’t be constructed by committee. It may seem simple to construct a sadistic SOB like Clarence Boddicker of Robocop but one has to remember that great villains are often part of an entire universe that makes the badness resonate. Clarence wouldn’t be Clarence if not for his compatriots in arms, all as crazed and funny as he is. Imagine Jack Torrance without Lloyd or Grady! Not even worth contemplating. Fact is even in the ideal cases like everyone’s inevitable number one pick – Hitler – it’s easy to screw a good (bad) thing up. Certainly, Hitler is still plenty evil anyplace but trying to get him at just the right pitch is tough. Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie (2008) gave us a scary Hitler but one far below expectations of the God of Evil Itself we’ve come to expect.
It’s doubtful Bryan Singer’s Hitler or Tarantino’s Hitler is going to stick in the mind as much as version appearing in the superior Downfall. Getting Hitler is hard enough as Indiana Jones can attest. But having him and Goebbels coordinated in their joint mischief is a very difficult act of choreography. Still one prays that one day Himmler will get his proper time onscreen as will Soundwave and poor Venom. Having toasted the R. Lee Ermys of this misbegotten universe let’s spare some applause for the not-as-well-remembered-evil-ones. Though the Draculas, Jasons, Gordon Gekkos and Hitlers will always be close to our hearts but there many rivals like old Teddy KGB that deserve their time in our hearts as disgusting pieces of inhumanity. So, Teddy, my brother, a toast for thee!!
Christian Jimenez[vsw id=”U70p8VHxWZM” source=”youtube” width=”640″ height=”400″ autoplay=”no”]