December 28, 2013 11:30am PT by Graeme McMillan
Worst of 2013: Bring on the Ineffectual Bad Guys
Let's just admit it: Being a villain is a thankless task. For all of the presumed "cool" inherent in the role -- bad guys get to ignore or outright contradict social norms, after all, which always seems just a little bit attractive to those of us regular folk -- being a villain really just means one thing: You're destined to lose. A lot.
At least some villains get to be criminal masterminds as well, which generally translates into some level of personal success and/or wealth taking place before the inevitable defeat and prison time (or, in some cases -- yes, we're looking at you, Man of Steel's Superman -- death). For most, though, villains are around to give our heroes a small amount of difficulty before bowing to their inevitable fate.
With that in mind, it's no surprise that some of this year's cinematic nemeses were somewhat … well, somewhat lacking in the villainy department. OK, so 2013 gave us the genocidal Zod and the cosmic-level Malekith, both of whom seemed to have some ambition and genuine danger to them -- but the year also brought us these losers, all of whom were done a favor by their movie's heroes putting a swift end to their schemes. Seriously, evil: You'll need to try harder in the future.
Latham Cole: Admittedly, Cole starts from a disadvantage in the villainy stakes by being one of the bad guys in The Lone Ranger, a movie that was hardly firing on all cylinders in the first place. Even so, he turned out to be a particularly dull bad guy, with a confusing motivation -- already a rich railroad tycoon, he wanted to become a richer railroad tycoon, so that he could … become an even richer railroad tycoon, I guess? -- and a penchant for employing others to do his dirty work for him. Perhaps Cole was a villain who stayed true to the pulp roots of the central character, but when compared with everything else on offer, he seemed particularly disappointing and uninteresting.
Dr. Green The comic book incarnation of The Wolverine's evil physician has one particular advantage over her movie counterpart -- she's a psychotic occasional terrorist figurehead, instead of, you know, an evil physician. Worse yet, the movie Viper turned out to be a relatively powerless flunky who manipulated others through drugs and surreal, unconvincing machinery (A machine that somehow extracts a superpower? Sure, why not?) instead of being someone with any particular mission or, for that matter, talent of their own. The Wolverine had a bunch of things going for it, but the villains weren't really part of that. Maybe for the next solo Wolverine movie, we can just import some Sentinels or something more exciting.
Khan: Aside from upsetting some of Star Trek's hardcore fan base and giving Benedict Cumberbatch reason to chew some 23rd century scenery, what purpose did Khan actually serve in Star Trek Into Darkness? He blew some things up, killed some of Starfleet's top brass and generally played the part of a free-range bogeyman, but … why? Surely there were more subtle, more effective ways of provoking the intergalactic war that he was theoretically attempting to engineer without drawing attention to himself. Obviously, the genetic engineering that made him into the superhuman he claimed to be included an upgrade to his ego -- a move that may guarantee a need for onscreen pyrotechnics, but also makes for a far-too-flawed "evil genius."
Zartan: Take a second to consider what the shape-shifting villain of G.I. Joe: Retaliation actually accomplished, aside from getting killed and exposing Cobra's existence to the world. The destruction of London, yes (That happened in Star Trek Into Darkness, too; is London the new disposable city for big action movies?), but also the disabling of the world's nuclear weapons. It may have been part of a nefarious plan, but that plan fell apart leaving the world a safer, less likely to be destroyed by nuclear explosions place. Surely "accidentally making a better place" should automatically result in expulsion from even the most pathetic League of Calamitous Evil?
The Mandarin: The best -- and worst -- of this year's ineffectual villains, at least Iron Man 3's central villain turned out to be a purposeful dodge on the part of the filmmakers. Yes, The Mandarin ended up achieving nothing aside from a new respect for Ben Kingsley's way with accents, but that was the point; he was only the villain of the movie for the purposes of trailers and trolling the fan faithful. It was a bold move on behalf of co-writers Shane Black and Drew Pearce, but one that paid off handsomely without any real collateral damage. Now, if only Marvel Studios can be trusted not to undo the whole thing with the rumored reveal that there's a "real" Mandarin who's been hidden in the background all along.