A good villain is memorable, and impressive, and scary as hell. But bring back the same villain over and over, give him lousy dialogue and have him repeatedly defeated by worthless opponents, and that villain becomes nothing more than an ineffectual bully who doesn't know when to give up. He's like that big, hairy guy down the street who scared the crap out of you when you were a kid, but who now has a pot belly, three obnoxious kids, and a Trans Am on blocks in his front yard. It makes it hard to remember why you ever found him frightening in the first place -- you'd feel sorry for him, but you just don't care enough to bother. Like these five:
Remember how cool Dr. Evil was in the first Austin Powers movie? Very few villains have fallen as far or as fast as Mike Myers' homage to Bondian baddies. Sure, he was a little out of touch with the current global economy, and his relationship with his son, Scott, was a tad strained, but he had a super-cool secret lair inside a volcano island, and a spaceship, and a clone sidekick, and lasers. Despite his flaws, Dr. Evil had all the earmarks of a world-class villain.
But by Myers' third, tired outing, Dr. Evil (along with every other joke in Myers' playbook) was used up -- so much so, that Myers brought in yet another villain, Goldmember, and he played that guy, too. It takes a lot of talent to stretch yourself that thin and get away with it -- I mean, sure, Alec Guinness played eight characters in Kind Hearts and Coronets, but he's freakin' Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Force is considerably weaker in Myers, and maybe if he'd been happy playing a few less characters, he'd have been able to come up with a better script ... one that didn't require the once-impressive Dr. Evil to spell his name "D to the rizzo, E to the vizzo, I to the lizzo." Bleh.
Feel free to add Halloween's Michael Myers and Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees, while we're at it ... all three franchised villains fall into the same category, the one where villain-monsters who were initially the stuff of nightmares devolve into self-perpetuating jokes, and dull ones at that. The first, great A Nightmare on Elm Street will soon get a reboot just like the others, and the trailer (showcasing the awesome Jackie Earle Haley, who replaces Robert Englund as Freddy) is promising. But so far these "reimaginings" have been 0-for-2, so it's best to keep our expectations low.
Freddy was treated the worst of the lot, probably because he's the most chatty, and we've had to watch him become a wise-cracking doofus uttering inane babble between kills. Remember "Why don't you reach out and cut someone?" (A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, 1988)? How about "This boy feels the need ... for speed" and "Hey, Danny, better not dream and drive!" (A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child, 1989). And who can forget Freddy dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, cackling, "I'll get you, my pretty! And your little soul, too!" Oh, dear.
This was one hell of a comedown for a character who debuted in a genuinely terrifying film as a grotesque, brutal spectre who preyed on teens when they were at their most vulnerable, with a back story that was as horrific and as full of real pathos as his dream-crimes. But by 2003's Freddy vs. Jason, his power was so diluted by the filmmakers' insistence that Freddy be a campy schtickster that it was used as the very basis for the movie's plot -- that kids no longer remember him, so he can no longer haunt their dreams. In one of the most illogical stretches ever to grace a horror flick, Freddy therefore brings Mr. Hockey Mask into the kid's lives to scare them ... even though the problem is that they don't remember Freddy. Huh? What? Oh, just go away.
When was the last time you saw a really kick-ass dinosaur movie? Sorry, dinosaurs -- you are so last decade. Which is a shame, really. From the earliest days of cinema, stop-action T. Rex's have thrilled and terrified audiences with their gnashing teeth and tiny, flailing arms, while pterodactyls wheeled through the sky like bony sparrows. Dinosaurs were terrific go-to villains in fantasy flicks for decades, whether the adventures were deep underground or in the darkest jungles. Or Mexico, even! (Remember James Franciscus in the dino-Western Valley of the Gwangi? Anybody?)
But the dinosaur craze peaked with the Jurassic Park series, and that was the beginning of the end. The 90's saw a rash of cheap movies, crappy rip-offs and dumb animated features centered on prehistoric creatures, and most were so bad that it turned everyone over the age of ten off dinos for good. How many Land Before Time cartoons did we really need? From Barney to Carnosaur, it was an endless parade of primeval fail. And when Roland Emmerich turned Godzilla into just another giant, carnivorous egg-layer in 1998, that was pretty much the nail in the coffin.
Hayden frickin' Christenson.
Thanks, George Lucas. Thanks a lot.
Oh, Mother Gaia. You're our home, the cradle of our civilizations, and all our stuff is here ... but you're always trying to kill us. We can look to disaster-movie pioneer Irwin Allen for popularizing the Earth-wants-us-dead genre that began with The Poseidon Adventure (tidal wave) and continued with The Swarm (killer bees), When Time Ran Out (volcano) and the made-for-TV Cave-In (cave-in). But there have been many, many more -- over 200 feature films and TV movies have been produced in the last three decades that involve earthquakes, tornados, floods, tsunamis, epidemics, avalanches and crazed animals. Because Earth hates us and wants us dead.
But thanks to modern technology, filmmakers can make disaster flicks even bigger, more destructive, and over-the-top than ever before. In some cases, it offers good campy fun (Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus!) but mostly it's just bad movie piled on top of badder movie, like Sci Fi (oops, "Syfy") Channel's Magma: Volcanic Disaster. Roland Emmerich's ludicrous The Day After Tomorrow ("I'm Dennis Quaid, I'm a climatologist, and I'm the only one who's noticed there's going to be an Ice Age starting ... tonight!") is followed by his upcoming 2012, which offers so much unbridled Killer-Earth-on-a-murderous-rampage destruction that even the two-minute trailer is overkill.
Frankly, it's becoming clear that Earth's all talk. I mean, really -- if Earth wanted us dead, why hasn't it done it already? We think you're full of crap, Earth. And we're over you.