Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Great (film) Debates vol. 106

Villains... boo! Well, not always.

What villain were you supposed to hate, but you could almost kind of maybe see yourself supporting?





Panelist: AndrewPrice

I could probably say Darth Vader in Star Wars actually. He clearly thinks his empire is a good thing and he has to deal with pesky rebel scum who are constantly trying to destroy it. But I'm not saying that. I'm going with Gordon Gekko from the first Wall Street only. Not only is nothing he does actually illegal, but you have to admit he's living an awesome lifestyle and he's making America more competitive. Besides, by Oliver Stone's own rules, Gekko has time to do good things with his money... and thereby make himself into a hero.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Well, I know it is television, but the late Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing in Dallas is one of the great, complex, characters of all time. He was, to be sure, a back stabbing rat who would stop at nothing to gain total control of Ewing Oil, and defeat his enemies. But, he did love his extended family, and would stick by them as long as they did not threaten his own quest for power. And when it came enemies of the Ewing family, nobody could spin a trap quite like 'ole J.R.

Panelist: Floyd

Dean Wormer from Animal House. Even a little empathy with someone in charge shows that he was probably right. LOL I hate getting old. By that logic I guess Judge Smails in Caddyshack is also largely correct that the riffraff will (and did) ruin his beloved country club. Supporting doesn't mean "like" though. Now that I think of it, Sgt. Hulka in Stripes is similar. Harold Ramis didn't write a truly detestable villain until Walter Peck in Ghostbusters.

Panelist: BevfromNYC

I don’t like the villains! They are so villainous.

Panelist: ScottDS

Man, these questions are getting harder! The first answer that came to mind was General Zod in Man of Steel. He's only doing what he's been programmed to do: restore Krypton's way of life, and if that means the destruction of Earth, so be it. He only wanted what was best for his planet, and some tool in a red cape had to ruin his plans!

Comments? Thoughts?

49 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

Scott, I know what you mean. I couldn't even come up with an example from a true "movie", although maybe that had something to do with old J.R. jumping in. As I was reading the answers, it occurred to me that Anthony Hopkins in "Fragile" elicited a hint of sympathy for the first portion of the film. Probably the hubris of Willie Beechum (Ryan Gosling) was a little responsible for that. However, by the end he had become so full of his own hubris that any sympathy evaporated, and the audience was rooting for a takedown.

Tennessee Jed said...

You could probably make a case that Dr. Evil would fit the bill, but since that is a comedy, it shouldn't really count. On the other hand, Tyler Durdin from Fight Club would not have been a bad choice.

AndrewPrice said...

I was actually talking about this the other day with someone and it struck us that what makes a villain sympathetic is that he has a chance to be the good guy, but fails.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I have NO idea what to make of Tyler Durdin!

Anonymous said...

I kind of always thought Jigsaw (from the "Saw" movies) was questionable as the "villain." His methods were gruesome & sadistic, but his goals were accomplished--for the survivors anyway. Weren't they--and society by extension--better off with a new appreciation for life?

Floyd R. Turbo said...

The Texas Ranger (Denver Pyle) in Bonnie and Clyde... a morally reprehensible movie (well made to be sure). They deserved every bullet in that car and yet the Ranger is the creepy one. Untrue. Bully for him!

Jason said...

I guess growing up is a factor, but I’d have to admit nowadays that Principal Ed Rooney isn’t in the wrong for wanting to bust Ferris Bueller for playing hookey. Though Jeffrey Jones plays him so slimily that I don’t feel too sorry for him…

And how about Wile E. Coyote? When’s he ever going to catch his dinner? After his latest ACME-built trap fails on him for the millionth time, you wish he’d catch a break.

tryanmax said...

The fact that Tyler Durden isn't real makes him especially difficult to peg. Add in the fact that he purposely brings about his own demise -- not explicitly, but if you reason through it, taking Durden's primary motivation into account, it's the only conclusion -- he's sort of the hero against his own villainy. But it's hard to have sympathy for a psychotic delusion. (I know, I know, Tyler Durden doesn't really fit the description of any known psychosis. It's fiction and I needed to put a handle on it.)

Dave Olson said...

Speaking of Ed Rooney, Dick Vernon from The Breakfast Club shouldn't necessarily be thought of as a villain. He's not really a nice guy, but he's not really a bad guy either. He has a job to do, which involves imposing consequences upon students who broke the rules. Furthermore, and this is something that I've just now thought of despite seeing the movie dozens of times, he had to give up one of his Saturdays to be there as well. To quote John Bender, "Show Dick some respect!"

Kenn Christenson said...

Always have a soft spot for villains, who see the error of their ways- which is why I liked Oberst von Luger - the Commandant of the POW camp in "The Great Escape." His scene at the end of the film was excellent as he relayed the news about "the fifty."

tryanmax said...

I thought I should give a more "answery" answer. These are all from the world of superheroes. Mr. Freeze is probably the most sympathetic of all the Batman villains, and there are quite a few. (Though Schwarzenegger's punny turn at it is hard to feel sorry for.) Harvey Dent/Two-Face is nearly as tragic. And then there are all the psychotic villains like The Joker who ultimately have been failed by Arkam's miserable revolving-door mental health system.

But in the world of comics turned films, X-Men's Magneto is probably the most sympathetic, given his mid-holocaust coming of age really souring him on humanity in general.

PikeBishop said...

Hulka in "Stripes" is not so much a villain as he is a challenge or obstacle to the protagonists. He's Cyclops, the Sirens, the Lotus Eaters not Dr. No or Goldfinger

ScottDS said...

Jason and tryanmax -

I almost said Wile E. Coyote and Mr. Freeze. (And I take it you're not a fan of lines like "Ice to see you!") :-)

ScottDS said...

Pike -

If Hulka counts, so does Captain Harris from Police Academy. He even tells Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg) that he's upset with him because he's interfering with Harris' ability to get some good recruits.

Kit said...

Mr. Freeze is better in the animated series and the Arkham City video game than in the dreadful movie.
re The Joker, have you read Alan Moore's The Killing Joke?

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, I have tremendous sympathy for Wiley E Coyote. All he's trying to do is eat. Plus, he needs a good lawyer to go after this ACME company!

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, Hmm. That's definitely an original answer.

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, LOL! That is annoying when a film makes a real life good guy into the villain.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, On the other hand, he seems to revel in being an ass to the kids, and his version of tough love is pretty asinine.

AndrewPrice said...

Kenn, Great call! I think he's a great villain because he's reluctantly the villain. He just wants to do his job and let everybody sit out the war, but they won't let him. And then, when the Gestapo gets involved, you see how disgusted he is by that whole thing.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Magneto is a fascinating villain because, on the one hand, he doesn't really see himself as the villain, yet he revels in being the villain. It's a really interesting twist on villainy.

AndrewPrice said...

Pike and Scott, Those are interesting villains because they are simultaneously very petty (and quickly go over the top), but they're also kind of right (at least at first).

tryanmax said...

Magnets does exhibit an awful self awareness. I read it as coming from multiple places. There's an "I'll show them" mentality. There's also a disdain for non-mutants as lessers which seems largely self-persuaded, as if he actually once bought into the idea of mutants and/or Jews being lesser himself and is aggressively rejecting the idea -- which in turn suggests he isn't fully convinced. Then there's the power-trip he gets from being in charge and surrounded by like-minded people. This is my analysis based only on the films and cartoon series (the first one). I've never read the comics. They managed to pack a lot of character into the films.

AndrewPrice said...

That they did. He's one of the most richly drawn villains I can think of. He is one of the few who seems to display all of the emotions normal characters have, plus he seems to genuinely want a better world, but keeps sidetracking himself with his bigotry and with a kind of mischievous nature that kicks in at times and makes him do stupid things.

tryanmax said...

"Magnets" BTW, should read "Magneto." We all know what's to blame.

AndrewPrice said...

Yes, hippies.

Tennessee Jed said...

saw "Lone Survivor" and it was great .... very emotional. That said, there was never one millisecond wher I felt any sympathy for the main villain (Yousuf Azoumi playing "Shah" who was code named "Rick James" by the members of SEAL team 10.)

Backthrow said...

The Blob. It never asked to land here... and if absorbing/ingesting people is so wrong, why were they made to be so gosh-darned delicious?

Also, Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) in THEATER OF BLOOD. Sometimes
snooty critics just deserve their fates, especially when they fail to recognize and honor true genius. :)

AndrewPrice said...

The Blob? LOL! So you're pleading entrapment? I can go for that. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I've heard its good.

shawn said...

Scorpius from "Farscape". He is just trying to save the galaxy from the threat of the Scarrans.

Anonymous said...

This is a great question. There has always been something about villains that incites some element of admiration. I don't know how many of you guys were wrestling fans back in the eighties but all the great villains eventually did face turns because they were so popular. Roddy Piper has been stabbed 3 times walking to the ring. He has,by his own reckoning,had gallons of beer poured on him, not to mention the spit. Paul Orndorf used to walk to the ring shirtless to show off his Mr. Wonderful physique. He switched to a heavy oversized robe after a fraternity bought up a whole section of seats and all threw darts into him like a porcupine. Bret Hart started as a heel.Yet all these guys did hugely popular face turns. I think there is a fascination with villains because of the freedom they have. The heroes are bound by rules.
The villains, the ones who do it right,have panache,color,charisma.
GypsyTyger

Anonymous said...

So along those lines,bad guys that I can almost root for, Boyd Crowder. I admired William Smith's character from Any Which Way You Can. Gary Busey's Mr. Joshua from Lethal Weapon mixed raw psychosis with raw style. In Under Siege I actually got angry when Segal squared off with Tommy Lee Jones because I knew that meant that Tommy Lee was doomed.
Walter White and Tony Soprano were the protagonists of their respective shows but they were both villains. And I rooted for both of them.
Patrick Swayze's Bodhi was damn likeable.
Powers Boothe's Curly Bill Brocius and Michael Biehn's Johnny Ringo were cool badasses, as opposed to Ike Clanton, who was just an opportunistic coward. I always had an underhanded admiration for the Captain of the Bishop's Guard in LadyHawk.
You have to have a certain style to pull off villainy and do it well.
GypsyTyger

Rustbelt said...

Since Backthrow beat me to the 'Obscure File,' I'm going to dig deep into 'Parts Unknown.' [cue the Ultimate Warrior's entrance music]

I'm going to go with Tree from "Code Name Diamond Head." Okay, the only way people know about this movie- wait, SHOULD know about this 'movie' (okay, it's actually a failed Quinn Martin TV pilot-turned-TV movie), is from its parody treatment by Mike and the Bots on MST3K. Long story short, international villainous rogue agent Tree (oh, Lord...) played by Lovejoy, er, Ian McShane arrives in what is apparently Hawaii to steal an explosives formula from the Navy with help from his henchmen, including that guy everybody's seen from that one show... In fact, if you ignore the obvious plot hole (since it's known he's there, just safeguard everything he could be after and catch him when he moves), his plan is quite foolproof.
Okay, why root for Tree? Because his opponent, Agent Diamond Head, is a total a$$. He spends more time acting tough, being 70's-esque cynical, and yelling at co-stars than being a detective/secret agent/whatever. This character was clearly written by people who saw "Dirty Harry" and completely missed the point of that film. (Those responsible for "Mitchell" are in the same category.) In fact, Tree's plan is so good, the writers apparently wrote themselves into a corner and created a convoluted subplot where Tree breaks his cover (twice), goes after one of Diamond's associates because there is an international bounty (I guess) on her head since he's, uh, greedy, and (on the second try) falls into Diamond Head's hands. Yes. The 'good guy's' plan was to sit around and wait for the villain to do something stupid.
My brother and I watched this, made the mistake of paying too much attention to the flick, and felt totally robbed when Diamond Head caught Tree in the end. As one Youtube poster put it, this movie should only be remembered as visual evidence that there was, in fact, a time when Ian McShane was not an old man.

Good MST3K episode, though. The entire treatment can be viewed here, if you dare. (Oh, and if, by the end, you're not rooting for the villain to win solely out of spite, then I declare there's something with you!)

Kit said...

Andrew,

The German Camp Commandant would have a good reason for wanting the POWS well treated. He was Luftwaffe and if word got out the Luftwaffe was executing POWs the Allies might decide some retaliatory executions were in order.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, He's also a big believe in leather. LOL!

I tried "Farscape" several times, but just couldn't stick with it for some reason. I'm not sure why. I really enjoyed the first 5-6 episodes, but then it seemed to change.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, There's more to it though. There's also the idea that Luftwaffe viewed itself as more civilized than the Gestapo. And in this case, the way he plays the character, it's clearly a moral issue for him.

AndrewPrice said...

GypsyTyger, I watched wrestling all the time back then and you are right, the bad guys were the most fun to watch. Even when they turned good for a while, they still had that edge.

On Boyd, I'm only in the middle of season 2 and he's still kind of hard to understand at this point. He kind of swings between likeable and freaking insane.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, LOL! Nice choice. I don't even know what else to say.

Kit said...

Bennie, from Rent. A young businessman trying to bring in businesses that will revitalize a poverty-stricken and crime-ridden community.

Yep, the one we are supposed to hate for joining the "man" is the only likable character. At least in the movie.

Dave Olson said...

Since no one else has said it yet, I'll bring up Hans Gruber. He was smooth, charming, and as he'd tell you at the drop of a hat, classically educated. It would only take a few small tweaks and the script for Die Hard would go from a tale of a cop heroically saving the day to a masterful caper spoiled by some shmuck from New York.

Oh come on, admit it. When the vault opened and the soundtrack segued into "Ode to Joy", you forgot the way Hans had murdered Mr. Takagi in the coldest of blood. You even forgot that the same fate had befallen Ellis, who didn't deserve his fate but was clearly asking for it. For a minute or two, you were totally on Hans' side.

Tennessee Jed said...

O.K., Dave - fair enough. It is hard to realize that 25 years has passed since Die Hard lit up the big screen. That was truly a breakout film for Rickman who surely showed a talent for melodrama. It is interesting to me that there actually is an actor named ... wait for it ... Hans Gruber. Still, he only seemed like a goo guy compared with the pouty glaring of Gudanov. And, I must admit, my favorit role of Rickman was as the British wine merchant Steve Spurrier in Bottle Shock. Spurrier says to Chris Pine ( playing Bo Barrett, now president of Chateau Montelena): "it seems your father thinks I'm a bit of an asshole, but I'm really not ... I'm just British.)

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, I have to admit that Gruber was very likable. He seems like a really fun guy to drink a beer with. Unless he then tries to kill you.

Kit said...

"Benefits of a classical education... "

tryanmax said...

Re: Gruber -- I have nothing but respect for a man who can pull off the perfectly trimmed 80s full bead without looking like a yutz. (Unlike Harry Ellis.)

goldvermilion87 said...

I find Loki in The Dark World sort of likeable -- not because you root for him over the villain, but because you start to wonder he might possibly be changing into a good character, and you then discover that he's just shape shifting for his own purposes.

But then, I don't know if it's fair to say you're supposed to hate him? Since the movie makers wanted you to like him, and then to get punched in the gut when you realized (as you knew you should have throughout) that he was still just a power-hungry liar.

Rob S. Rice said...

You're all thinking way to small for the villain you oughtn't to be rooting for.

Think big.

Think bigger.

Think even BIGGER!

Thin even, EVEN BIGGER...

Right. Godzilla. I mean, half the time I'm shouting, 'Go get 'em!' Then I slap myself. Then Raymond Burr gets spliced in. Then I'm shouting, 'GO GET HIM!'

Non-Kaiju? Oh, very well. Dean Wormer in 'Animal House,' I'm not the first, but I do like the simple honesty of 'I really hate those guys.' Wallace Burton Binghamton, nemesis of LTCDR Quenton McHale. A very formidable antagonist, who, the one time his courage was questioned by his peers, blew up half the Japanese-held island of Kemo. I don't suppose REDEEMED villains such as Stoick the Vast from 'How to Train Your Dragon' count... Okay. Bye now!

KRS said...

One thing about the German POW camps is that they were run the respective service of the prisoner. So, Luftwaffe managed the camps for captured allied airmen, the Wehrmacht for soldiers and the Kriegsmarine for sailors. The Luftwaffe was known for treating allied prisoners the best, in some instances even allowing military honors at the funeral of a deceased POW.

I got wind of a story a little while back - I haven't been able to confirm it yet - of a Luftwaffe commandant getting warning of the Gestapo sending a squad of soldiers to take some of his prisoners. According to the story, he sent guards armed with machine guns to wait for the Gestapo at the train station. They prevented the Gestapo from getting off the train. Like I said, can't confirm it.

Getting back on topic, I don't particularly like villians and I don't want to like them or see any humanizing quality in them - things get to feeling phony. I do like conflict between flawed people, but I don't consider them villians. So, no, I always wanted Hans Gruber dead, even during the Ode to Joy.

I prefer a villian to be evil, all the goodness explunged from his soul. I also prefer him to be believable, like Major Nagai, or any Japanese officer in The Great Raid. This is real evil that vomited out of real humans in the real world. There is nothing more frightening in the movies.

Anonymous said...

The T-1000.

The actor did a superb job (not blinking when firing a pistol, the sprinting, etc), and lil' John Connor, juvenile delinquent that he was, wore out his welcome by the end of the first act. I'm glad the T-X got it right in Rise of the Machines.

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