R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: The Bad Asses of 2008, Part 4

2008 Valedictorians of Bad Assery!

Okay folks, finally, after months of delays, we get to the concluding portion of my list. It’s been a tougher struggle than I anticipated, but we’ve made it. Now, here’s the rest of the list so far…

25. Detective Tom Ludlow, played by Keanu Reeves – Street Kings
24. Hancock, played by Will Smith – Hancock
23. Racer X, played by Matthew Fox – Speed Racer
22. Frank Martin (AKA: The Transporter), played by Jason Statham – Transporter 3
21. The Hulk/Bruce Banner, played by The Hulk/Edward Norton – The Incredible Hulk
20. Lu Yan, played by Jackie Chan- The Forbidden Kingdom
19. Tai Lung, Voiced by Ian McShane – Kung Fu Panda
18. Silent Monk, played by Jet Li – The Forbidden Kingdom
17. Abomination/Emil Blonsky, played by The Abomination/ Tim Roth – The Incredible Hulk
16. Harvey Dent / Two-Face, played by Aaron Eckhart- The Dark Knight
15. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, played by Tom Cruise – Valkyrie
14. Mahogany, played by Vinnie Jones – Midnight Meat Train
13. Det. Sgt. Ma Jun, played by Donnie Yen – Flashpoint
12. Hellboy, played by Ron Perlman – Hellboy II: The Golden Army
11. Wesley Gibson, played by James McAvoy – Wanted
10. Randy “The Ram” Robinson, played by Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler
9. Walt Kowalski, played by Clint Eastwood – Gran Torino
8. Fox, played by Angelina Jolie – Wanted
7. Indiana Jones, played by Harrison – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls
6.Tony Stark/Iron Man, played by Robert Downey, Jr. – Iron Man
5. Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone – Rambo

And now I present…

The Bad Asses of 2008, Part 4: The New Icons

Now where did I leave my car?
4. Batman/Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale – The Dark Knight

“You wanted me, here I am.”

I’ve got a feeling that Christian Bale will be making this list again next year in some capacity. I know right now he’s not the most popular person with some people because of his off-screen antics, and its possible this could cool his career a bit, ala Tom Cruise, but I’ve got a feeling that this may just blow over, much like similar transgressions from his 3:10 to Yuma costar Russell Crowe. Why do I think that his recent goings on will blow over? Well look at his work in The Dark Knight for instance.

Sure, this wasn’t Bale’s first go-round as Batman, but I think it would still take an incredible performance from any actor not to get completely overshadowed by Heath Ledger’s Joker. Now, while Ledger completely draws your attention the first time you see the movie, take a look at the film again and look at what Bale does here. Once again, the actor personifies the perfect onscreen Batman. This is an incredibly tortured version of the Caped Crusader; a man struggling with his identity and his purpose, and to some degree you can see the exhaustion even seeping into his daytime persona. I don’t think any Dark Knight other than the Animated Series version has come even close to such a terrific interpretation of Gotham’s hero.

Still, he never stops being completely confident and totally unstoppable when it comes to his physical presence, really whether he’s got his cape and cowl on or not. In fact, my favorite Christian Bale moment in the movie isn’t when he’s in costume at all; its when he single-handedly and unarmed takes out one of the Joker’s thugs and then proceeds to take apart the man’s gun, hardly even looking at the guy, much less breaking a sweat. The moment is so perfect in its badassery that it outshines even Batman’s thunderous car/bike chase through Gotham, taking out a small army of gangsters at Sal Maroni’s club, or pushing Maroni off of his own fire escape, all of which are cheer inducing moments. Yeah, I think Bale’s here to stay, especially if there’s another Batman movie in our future.

Thomas Jane is a pansy!
3. The Punisher, played by Ray Stevenson – Punisher: Warzone

“Someone has to punish the corrupt.”

Now, I may take some flack for this pick, and I’ll admit that the movie itself has a lot of problems, but none of them have to do with Ray Stevenson as The Punisher. You see, I’ve been a Punisher fan for some time. I’m not one of these guys that sits in his basement with head to toe Frank Castle gear on and a skull shirt for every day of the week, but I own the entire run by Garth Ennis, and I know exactly what The Punisher should be on screen…an unstoppable force of killing, with no mercy in his heart and the will to keep on going in order to get vengeance for his family, even if it means his own death.

For some reason, I’ve never felt like I’ve gotten the full Punisher experience from the movies that have been produced with his name in the title. Dolph Lundgren gives an OK effort, and I can appreciate the copious amounts of ninjas in his movie, but there’s not enough scenes of him completely dominating the room. He gets beat down by those same ninjas in one scene in which the assassins come at him on a giant carnival slide (you half expect them to be riding potato sacks), and spends a lot of time worrying about the kids of the gangsters that he’s been slaughtering. Also, just a bit of nitpicking has to ensue when Lundgren doesn’t sport Castle’s trademark skull.

The Thomas Jane version gives us a great Punisher…for about the last twenty minutes of this movie. The rest of the film he’s playing around with fake fire hydrants and making up convoluted plans in order to take down his targets, all while the bad guys keep sending wave after wave of bad guys in his direction. This makes him look weak and reactionary instead of a man who is on a crusade to punish his victims.

The problem with these movies is that we’ve seen better versions of this characters in movies that have had nothing to do with the Marvel Comic anti-hero. Films like Man on Fire, Point Blank or even the original Deathwish gave us straight ahead revenge films and filled our minds with their single-minded, straightforward anti-heroes. That’s what Punisher: Warzone gave me with Ray Stevenson as Frank Castle. He’s a man who doesn’t play around, in fact in the first 10 minutes he kills about 30 people, without remorse or leniency. We’re talking decapitating gangsters, breaking the necks of their wives and shooting whoever gets in his way. This guy is Robocop without the cybernetics, punching people in the backs of their heads by going through their faces, setting bad guys on fire and blowing up scumbags by the dozen. That’s the Punisher, and I’ve finally gotten to really see him on screen.

You get it? It's a Joker?!
2. The Joker, played by Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight

“Wanna know how I got these scars? My father was… a drinker. And a fiend. And one night he goes off crazier than usual. Mommy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself. He doesn’t like that. Not-one-bit. So – me watching – he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it! Turns to me, and he says, ‘why so serious, son?’ Comes at me with the knife… ‘Why so serious?’ He sticks the blade in my mouth… ‘Let’s put a smile on that face!'”

Was there really a more iconic performance from 2008 than this one? The most memorable turn from what may have been the best film to come out in 2008, Heath Ledger’s Joker is a screen icon that is going to endure and endure. There’s wasn’t a more quotable, energetic and raucous performance all year, and it’s a role that will be a lasting legacy for an actor that may have been a bit underappreciated when he was here on earth. Trumping Jack Nicholson’s “Caesar Romero turned all the way up” Joker was a task that I wouldn’t wish on any actor, especially one that was known for roles of characters with quieter internal struggles, but when Ledger let out his inner psychopath on screen, the Joker like many fans had never seen before got unleashed into pop culture history.

I’ve got to say that I was cautiously optimistic when I heard that Ledger had gotten the role of the Joker. Sure, he’d never really done anything like this before, but I also knew the actor was the real deal, challenging himself with difficult roles more often than the softball characters of many of his contemporaries. I still don’t think I was prepared for what Ledger brought to the Joker.

The guy is simply a force of nature in this movie. He walks into a room, and the tougher his opponent, the easier it seems to take him out. His opening “pencil trick” throws an entire room of gangsters off balance, and even when they think he’s finally exposed and ready to be put on a leash, The Joker outsmarts them and makes them pay with their lives. If the criminal underworld can’t control him, then what hope do the men who have to work inside the law have? Ledger’s Joker is a man that JUST. DOESN’T. CARE. You can’t seem to beat him, even when you think he’s trapped. That’s what gives him the edge when it comes to going toe to toe with a man that has honed his body and mind into becoming the greatest crime fighter in the world. We lost a great actor this past year, and we’ll never get to see his greatest character live again onscreen either.

A new workout routine that ends with multiple homicides...
1. James Bond, played by Daniel Craig – Quantum of Solace

“I don’t think the dead care about vengeance.”

Speaking of pop culture icons, being unstoppable and maybe psychotic, Daniel Craig’s James Bond continues to add layers to the most enduring western cinema screen hero of all time. Not as universally loved as its predecessor, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace finished off the story admirably by skimping a little on style and story, instead deciding to pack the movie with wall to wall action. While I did love Quantum more than most, there’s a big reason why the movie was the success I believed it to be; Daniel Craig.

The man is just a monster. Acting on a level of ferocity only really touched upon before, in movies such as Diamonds are Forever, License to Kill and For Your Eyes Only, Craig’s Bond cuts through bad guys like a hot knife through butter. When he throws one henchman through a glass door and sits there watching the man die, you realize just how vicious this Bond can be. I love to watch him knock bad guys off motorcycles, shove others off of roofs and simply destroy all in his path, all to get retribution for the woman he loves.

Having seen every Bond picture several times, it would take a lot to truly surprise me in one of these movies, and Craig continues to do so. Heath Ledger had legends he had to displace in people’s minds, but nothing on the level that Craig has had to deal with, and he somehow keeps succeeding. For being able to make this icon all his own, even with such an amazing legacy to live up to, he tops this list and will probably do so again some day.

There you have it. The class of 2008 was an all out awesome fest with a wide array of ass kickers, superheroes, antiheroes and all out villains. I can only hope 2009 is up to the same tasks.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, but I’ve got a feeling that next year’s list will definitely have some participants from Watchmen, coming up this weekend. Hope its as awesome as it should be and is in my mind right now. See you guys next week.

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