R0BTRAIN’s Badass Cinema: Marvel-ous Villainy

Hey everyone and welcome to summer 2011! I know my last column wasn’t a particularly positive one, but I’ve got to tell you that as of this moment I’m pretty stoked about getting the summer kicked off and I’m trying really hard to be optimistic. A big reason for that has been the positive word of mouth on Thor so far, which I’m hoping will kick the big movie season off on the right foot the way Iron Man managed to in ’08. That year also featured a big superhero summer and if Thor manages to be as huge and entertaining, then perhaps we’ll be in for the same type of great results.

Another reason that I’m in a good mood is that Fast Five has kind of already gotten the good times rolling a week early. Flooring me with just how fun it is, Fast Five not only stands out as the best movie in the series, but might end up the best old-school thrill ride of the whole season. Like The Expendables on wheels, Fast Five is just a rocking cast (and Paul Walker) doing awesome things for just over two hours. If you’ve ever wanted to watch a movie like Bad Boys 2 but not feel guilty about it afterward, then maybe this is the one for you.

Big, macho epics haven’t really been in short supply this year, with the surprisingly entertaining update of The Mechanic giving Jason Statham the chance to get his Bronson on, and Battle: Los Angeles supplying tons of destruction and Marines spouting “It’s been an honor”-type lines, but Fast Five really brings the goods with all the gun fights, fist fights, and car chases you can handle. It’s amazing that after all this time someone finally decided to put Vin Diesel and The Rock in a movie together, and then actually managed to use them correctly. If I could get a prequel about The Rock and his team of super commandos taking out international crime rings and terrorists, I’m sure that would make me perfectly happy and take in a boatload of cash in the process. In fact, if the rumors are true about director Justin Lin taking on the next Terminator sequel, perhaps he should think about bringing The Rock and Vin Diesel with him.

Can someone else tell me if this has ever happened before, where the fifth film in a series ends up being the best one of the bunch? I’ve always understood the appeal of The Fast and the Furious series, but to be honest, I’ve never really been a fan. I kind of loathe Rob Cohen (xXx, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) as an action director, because he’s not spectacularly bad, I just think he’s cut from the same hugely mediocre cloth as directors like Paul W.S. Anderson and Mark Steven Johnson, and the first film is a prime example of his work. With so much intrigue and so many car chases, The Fast and the Furious should be a cheesy blast, but I think it just kind of lays there with its pretty cars and pretty people, and ends up going nowhere.

Some of the other entries have fared better, but Fast Five is the first time I’ve really felt the movies have really had the type of energy I want from my big, blockbuster action films. The action sequences within the film get bigger and bigger until the finale lays waste to much of Rio, while the fight between The Rock and Vin Diesel is the sort of epic, wall busting smackdown you want it to be. Also, by adding in so many of the characters from the previous movies, it actually gives the flick a bit of a mythic quality that the series has never had before. Fast Five almost feels like a new beginning for this franchise, and I hope they’re able to take advantage of it.

Speaking of franchises and new beginnings, this past week I saw a tweet from action star Scott Adkins (Ninja, Undisputed III) that made me happy to no end:

Getting on a plane to go and make Universal Soldier 4 with Dolph & JC.

Just as Fast Five shocked me this past weekend, perhaps the title of 2010’s most shockingly entertaining sequel belonged to Universal Soldier: Regeneration, which brought back not only Jean-Claude Van Damme, but also a reinvigorated Dolph Lundgren, both of which ended up giving us two of the best performances of their careers. The movie is just a rock-solid actionfest, featuring some of the best onscreen fights of last year, a great bad guy in former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski, and a finale that absolutely floors you with its wall to wall intensity. Fans who thought that The Expendables was the only action-hero-reunion movie of last year would do well to check it out.

Rumors have abounded about a new Universal Soldier film for months now, and thankfully that looks to be the case, with director John Hyams coming back on board again for good measure. While many may not have seen the last movie because of it being a DTV release, US:R was one of the best action films of any size to come out last year, and with the addition of Scott Adkins to the cast of this new film, I’m absolutely frothing at the mouth to see what Hyams, JCVD, and company can come up with next.  If John Hyams can make this new Universal Soldier film just as memorable, I say make him the frontrunner for the Expendables 2 gig.

Of course, all eyes will be on Thor this weekend, as I’ve already talked about how important the movie is for the upcoming summer season, but it’s also hugely important for Marvel and its buildup for The Avengers. Marvel’s films need to be a big steamroll that keeps getting stronger and faster until 2012’s big event, and while Iron Man proved to be a terrific beginning for the Avengers’ setup, Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 didn’t set the world on fire as many would have hoped. Thor needs to be really solid and Captain America perhaps even better for Marvel’s plans to fall into place properly.

I will say upfront that I have the utmost confidence in Chris Helmsworth as the film’s title hero, as he seems to have the boisterous aspects of the character down, and I’m sure he’ll have the right physical presence to portray one of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful beings. Unfortunately, nearly everything we’ve seen from the movie has been centered on Thor himself, so we’re kind of left with question marks about everyone else, especially Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Villains are so important to a big saga like this, and if Loki can’t appear to hold his own onscreen with the Thunder God, the entire enterprise could appear lopsided and end up boring.

Too often the villains in Marvel properties just aren’t up to par with the rest of their movies, which can really leave a bad taste in your mouth. Case in point, I’m a fan of Julian McMahon as an actor and admire his work on the series Nip/Tuck, but I think he’s completely wrong for Dr. Doom in the Fantastic Four movies. Doom is perhaps Marvel’s most important villain, and he’s severely botched (along with most everything else) in both Fantastic Four flicks, which doesn’t do either picture any favors. Even in the original Spider-man, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin isn’t everything he could be, with a lot of the problems coming from his weak costume and over-the-top take on Spidey’s biggest foe. Want more? How about Nick Nolte in Hulk, John Travolta in The Punisher, or Dominic Purcell’s awful turn as Dracula in Blade: Trinity. Not enough? Well then there’s Colin Farrell as Bullseye in Daredevil, Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles in Ghost Rider, and weak sauce versions of Deadpool and Phoenix from various X-Men travesties.

In fact, the list of Marvel Villains that have actually gotten their proper due is unfortunately pretty short. I’m hoping that I can slap Loki’s name on this list after Friday, and if we’re lucky he doesn’t end up on the pile with emo Peter Parker and Wes Bentley’s Blackheart. So for what it’s worth, here are Marvel bad guys I think have actually made the trip from the comic page to the bigscreen successfully.

The Best of Marvel Movie Villainy

Ron Perlman as Reinhardt, Blade II

If you had to put a gun to my head and ask me my absolute favorite of Marvel’s movies, I’d ask you why you brought a gun in the first place and then I’d probably tell you Blade II. The fact is, Blade II is just a kick-ass movie from start to finish, Marvel movie or no, and while Luke Goss gets all the big, operatic bad guy moments in the movie, Ron Perlman is just an absolute blast as Reinhardt, a member of the Vampire Nation’s Bloodpack with a particularly large amount of hate for Wesley Snipes’ Blade. Hilarious and badass in every scene he’s in, you really can’t take your eyes off of Pearlman in the movie, even when half his face is burned up and he’s making bad jokes about his mother being murdered. (note: Not sure if Reinhardt is actually in the comics or not, but you get the point.)

Mickey Rourke as Whiplash, Iron Man 2

As my favorite part of Iron Man 2, you can just tell that Mickey Rourke threw everything he had into Whiplash to make him as memorable as possible. The costume is awesome, but Rourke carries Ivan Vanko so well that it doesn’t matter whether there are pyrotechnics going on or not to keep you interested in the character.  Whiplash is like a coiled snake, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. When we see the aftermath of his carnage after he’s wiped out a couple of tough-looking guards, it creates a pretty haunting image in the middle of what’s supposed to be a fun romp of a movie. With not a lot said, Rourke’s character manages to still speak volumes with his dastardly deeds, with the theft of the movie being his biggest crime after all is said and done.

Brian Cox and Kelly Hu as Colonel William Stryker and Deathstrike, X2

This duo caused all kinds of havoc in their X2 mutant witchhunt and even invaded Charles Xavier’s mansion, which I’m sure everyone up to that point thought was pretty impregnable. Bryan Singer’s second foray into the X-Men universe still stands as the best movie in the series, which added some much needed gravity to the super-heroics, and Stryker and Deathstrike make for a perfect pair of heavies to go with the movie’s dramatic stylings. Cox is pure evil and chews up all the scenery he can every moment he’s onscreen, while Hu’s Deathstrike is still the best physical villain the X-franchise has ever been able to produce.

Alfred Molina as Dr. Otto Octavius, Spider-Man 2

Easily the best villain of the Spider-Man movies, Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock is that classic case of an upstanding man turned evil while trying to do good works. Molina does an amazing job of showing a man go from Dr. Frankenstein to Frankenstein’s monster all in an instant, but better yet displays during the entire film that Octavius is a man with a soul, even if circumstances cause that soul to get twisted. Octavius’ interactions with his new limbs are awesome, as they’re treated like a character all on their own, and together they treat NYC as their personal battlefield with which to wage war with Spider-Man. There’s a reason that Spider-Man’s comic book Rogues Gallery is considered one of the best in the business and seeing Doctor Octopus re-created in such a complete way is just further proof of that onscreen.

Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto, The X-Men franchise

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to think of the casting of Sir Ian McKellen when it was announced he would be playing Magneto in 2000’s X-Men. I’d always pictured the villain as he was on the page, kind of like Ricardo Montalbán’s Khan with a big purple and red suit, but instead of just a physical presence, director Bryan Singer chose McKellen for his cerebral quality. This was someone who could believably match wits with Patrick Stewart’s Professor X, and still appear menacing in a battle because of his powers, not because of brute strength.

McKellen’s Magneto is an amazing villain because he’s one you can easily sympathize with. His methods are questionable, but his cause is just; he protects his people from those who would seek to wipe them out. He’s also a man that is easy to root for when it comes time for him to be an anti-hero rather than just being a straight villain. Never resorting to being an over-the- top thug or maniac, Magneto’s a brilliant mind whose menace comes when you don’t necessarily expect it. When you need your villain to be understood and not just feared, it helps to get one of the best actors in the world, and that’s exactly what this character has going for it. Hopefully Michael Fassbender has just as much luck in his upcoming interpretation in X-Men: First Class.

So that’s it for now folks. Talk to you guys soon.

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