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Evil from Page to Screen: Nate’s Top Ten Comic Book Villains in Film

I always say a comic book movie is only as good as its villain and come to think of it that applies more broadly too whether it’s a Bond, Seagal, Batman, Van Damme or any other franchise outing. Conflict must arise long before there’s ever a hero to battle it and said conflict must be colourful, engaging, lively and personified by a being you can aptly hate, (or love depending on the complexities), laugh at, perhaps even relate with and live vicariously through. These are my top ten favourite film villains based on comic book characters! Keep in mind I’ve read virtually zero of the source material here and am basing my choices on their cinematic incarnations alone! Oh and there’s gonna be spoilers too so watch out !

10. Ego/Kurt Russell in James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2

Kurt Russell as an entire planet! Or… something like that. He’s this cosmic deity who can sow seeds of himself all over the universe and essentially spread like an organism, but he’s also personified in humanoid form as Kurt Russell lol. It’s a really unique idea for an antagonist who appears affable enough off the bat (Russell is great at that) and begins to go mega-maniacal pretty soon.

9. Norman Osborne/Green Goblin/Willem Dafoe in Sam Raimi’s Spider Man

This pick is mostly thanks to Dafoe who seems born to play the part and milks it for all its worth in a demonic, cackling portrayal of psychotic break and violent menace. I can’t decide which is more effectively scary, the Goblin mask or his own contorted visage leering around at people.

8. Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent/Tommy Lee Jones in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever

I know, I know, it’s a ridiculously over the top performance more akin to the Joker and there’s reasons for that stemming from Jones and Jim Carrey’s dysfunctional set relationship. However, this was the first Batman film I ever saw and I straight up idolized Jones’s ballistic take on Two Face for some time. He’s a loon but the costume and makeup is so garish, pimped out and played to the hilt the character is a blast.

7. The Violator/John Leguizamo in Spawn

Gangly Latino Leguizamo is a left field choice to play an obese, trash talking demon clown from hell but he has always been an actor to shirk the expectations and do whatever he pleases, always successfully. The Violator is a hyperactive lunatic monster dispatched by Satan to babysit unholy warrior Spawn (Michael Jai White) and crack a bunch of dirty jokes while he’s at it. He steals the damn film with amazing lines like “I’ve been doing this since you were soup in your Momma’s crotch.” Good times.

6. Senator Roark/Powers Boothe in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City

No one abuses power and loves it more than Roark, a psychotic corrupt politician who has so many people in his pocket and shitting their pants in his shadow that he’s almost made it an institution to the point that he has his own mantra about it, delivered to a hospital bed ridden Bruce Willis in a thunderous monologue. That’s his only scene in the first Sin City film but Rodriguez wisely brought Boothe back as the central villain in the sequel where he *really* tears it up and chews fucking scenery like a monster.

5. Kesslee/Malcolm McDowell in Rachel Talalay’s Tank Girl

McDowell is no stranger to evil megalomaniac villains but this dude takes the cake in a severely underrated, subversive and very ahead of its time gem. Kesslee is the depraved, sadistic CEO of Water & Power in the distant post apocalyptic future, a dude who spends his time enslaving and exploiting innocent people, psychologically breaking down dissidents, offing his employees with casual abandon and.. uh… walking across broken glass barefoot just for fun. He’s a fucking piece of work and Malcolm knows just how to play him with equal parts genuine menace and sheepish tongue in cheek.

4. Lucifer/Peter Stormare in Constantine

Of all the Devil portrayals in film, Stormare’s kooky, creepy, laconic and terminally weird rendition has to be my favourite. He’s got one extended scene with Keanu Reeves’ John Constantine and it’s a hoot, a highlight of this overlooked horror/noir that I enjoy greatly.

3. Selina Kyle/Catwoman/Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

Michelle is still the best movie Catwoman and I doubt anyone will ever top her. Sexy beyond compare, darkly comic, unstable and so much goddamn fun, she fills out that kinky Catsuit, relentlessly flirts with Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne and just has this scary, seductive edge that is so magical.

2. The Joker/Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight

I had to include this legendary piece of acting. For Heath, for the vivid and arresting vision of the Joker he gave us and for every little improvised tic, organic mannerism and off the cuff moment that make him such a memorable villain.

1. Top Dollar/Michael Wincott in The Crow

Overlord and supreme chieftain of a city in decay, Top Dollar is a strange, brooding sort with a taste for baroque flair, elegant antique weaponry, creepy occult sadism, a whole bunch of cocaine, sexual urges towards his witchy half sister (Bai Ling) and ritualistic tendencies. Wincott is one of the great underrated and makes this guy a villain for the ages with a haunting penchant for poetry and a ruthless, unforgiving edge.

-Nate Hill

Gaming with Nate: Larry Fessenden’s Until Dawn for PlayStation 4

Any fans of the classic 80’s slasher aesthetic will appreciate Until Dawn, a complex yet simplistic mystery horror game with some very unique twists on the medium. A group of young friends are in for quite the weekend when they decide to reunite one year after two of their friends disappeared mysteriously on remote, snowy Mount Washington. Ringleader Joshua (Rami Malek before he blew up big time) has a family chalet lodge up there, which is in rough shape with no power, and as they settle in for the night, bicker, hook up and deal with the kind of petty drama you only get at that age, someone else on the mountain starts to stalk and murder them, someone connected to their friends disappearing a year ago. The cool thing here is you don’t play as just one single character, but all of them and there’s at least like six from what I recall. As you rotate through their ranks you make many psychological choices as each character that affect not only your relationship to others, but your shelf life as a member of the team and even how your immediate environment changes over the course of the night. There’s curious talismans to pick up, each associated with a quick audio visual ‘clue clip’ that can be accessed in the menu anytime to decipher the mystery and find out what’s going on. Elsewhere in dreamy vignettes you’re sitting POV style as a mystery character while a very odd psychiatrist (Peter Stormare in full on kooky Peter Stormare mode) probes you for answers, his methods becoming increasingly bizarre with each new cutscene until it becomes apparent he’s probably not anything close to a licensed professional. The game is written and created by horror veteran Larry Fessenden (Wendigo, The Last Winter) so the wintry atmosphere is excellently, eerily done, plus he also plays a character called Flamethrower Guy who factors into the story in ways you might not expect. The visuals are breathtakingly gorgeous, from a stunning, dead quiet gondola ride up the mountain that sets a mood of desolation nicely to almost photorealistic motion capture work on the actors that is impressively lifelike. The technique allows each character to look identical to their respective actors so aside from spitting image versions of Malek and Stormare we get scene stealer Hayden Panetierre too as the tomboy of the group. Evocative setting, strong horror elements in terms of both gore and suspense, intricate innovation in design and gameplay that allows you to play through the game nearly a hundred different ways based on choice and consequence, a haunting rendition of Ralph Stanley’s O Death by Amy Van Roekel over the opening credits, this has a lot going for it and is one of the coolest horror games you can find out there.

-Nate Hill

Francis Lawrence’s Constantine

So they chose a dark haired, American Keanu Reeves to play John Constantine instead of some sassy blonde British Sting doppelgänger, big whoop. I mean if that really cheeses you off as a fan of the comics to the point where you can’t enjoy this wonderful film then fair enough. This iteration of Constantine makes its decided departure from source material and opts to give us a gorgeous dark LA Noir fantasy full of striking imagery, genuinely frightening set pieces, intense character work from a host of cool actors and a slick, oily visual feel that accentuates the supernatural tone beautifully. Keanu is basically an icon of cool, between The Matrix and recently introducing John Wick to the world this guy is kind of a cultural talisman of epic genre films and for me this stands with the best. Constantine is an exorcist, detective, damned soul, chain smoker, extreme ghostbuster and all around cynical badass, here solving a mystery with biblical implications relating to an LAPD officer (Rachel Weisz), her ill fated clairvoyant twin sister (also Weisz) and a fearsome series of events that could spell the end of the world. John has allies in snarky cab driver Chaz (Shia Leboeuf in his ‘back in the day’ phase), mysterious club magnate and sorcerer Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou), eccentric entomologist Beeman (Max Baker), hard drinking clergyman Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince) and demonic concubine Ellie (Michelle Monaghan). He’s up against some gnarly foes of this world and others including nasty hellhound Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale channelling Harvey Dent), a possessed Mexican immigrant (Jesse Ramirez), the treacherous Angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton in mercurial androgynous mode) and big baddie Lucifer himself played by a kooky, darkly dapper Peter Stormare in what has to be one of the coolest and most captivating portrayals of the devil cinema has to offer. Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, The Hunger Games) has big budget, flashy effects sensibilities and while there is a fair amount of visual sizzle and large scale spectacle here the tone is often one of suffocating darkness, unseen dread creeping down narrow hallways stifling both light and space, eerie close quarters settings and a claustrophobic aesthetic that refracts the hellish elements of this story into the forefront brilliantly. John’s trip to hell with assistance from a cat is one stunner of a sequence, as is his explosively violent, gory n’ gooey showdown with Balthazar and an opening exorcism that launches a full length mirror, demon trapped inside, onto an LA street in broad daylight. His flippant confrontation with Stormare’s Satan has to be my favourite scene though, it’s such a classy, stylish, well acted and creepy-funny bit that caps off this story not with a huge bombastic action sequence but rather a clipped, ironic and altogether biting exchange of dialogue between these two great actors, who would go on to have another priceless little Easter egg scene together in John Wick 2. So say what you will about this film and I hear ya with legitimate grievances regarding fealty to the comics but that don’t bother me, I love this dark, unique, creepy, baroque jewel of a film too much. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

Michael Bay’s Armageddon

As Michael Bay’s Armageddon opens, a stern, well spoken Charlton Heston informs us that once upon a time a great big asteroid slammed into our planet and killed all the dinosaurs. He also makes mention that it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. Well, Michael Bay takes that and runs with it for nearly three furious hours of jump cuts, character actors, explosions, music montages and delirious extended Americana fanfare, and I love the resulting film to bits with no apologies or hesitation. Bay haters (Bay-ters to us cool kids) can whine and rip on the guy all he wants but fuck em, Armageddon is one kick ass film and an all time favourite for me. I feel like people just latch onto the glossy, runaway excess of the Transformers films and are blind to the fact that the guy has several classics under his belt, this being chief among them.

Never mind that the plot defies logical scrutiny or science, it’s an excuse to see Bruce Willis and his merry band of oil drillers train for NASA’s space program, climb aboard the space shuttle that might as well be a party bus, blast around the moon and hang out on the surface of a freaky looking meteor that Steve Buscemi’s loopy Rockhound literally refers to as ‘Dr. Seuss’s worst nightmare.’ If there’s one thing you can count on in a Bay film it’s no expense spared on spectacle and set pieces, even the ones that aren’t necessarily central to the plot. Before Willis and his team are even briefed on the situation there’s a mini-asteroid demolition derby that shreds NYC and a busted valve on his oil rig that sends equipment flying everywhere and goes on for a good ten minutes as he’s somehow chasing Ben Affleck around with a shotgun as an aside to the main event. Willis and Affleck spar with each other over his daughter (Liv Tyler) and call me an old school sap but I’ve always fallen hook line and sinker for their romance, put to the test by the potential end of the world and accented by the now infamous Aerosmith song belted out by her dad in the background. The cast is stacked too, as per Bay. Scenery chewing occurs thanks to Michael Clarke Duncan, Owen Wilson, Keith David, Jason Isaacs, Udo Kier, Eddie Griffin, Grace Zabriskie, Keri Russell, Chris Ellis, John Mahon, Shawnee Smith and Peter Stormare in probably the craziest Eastern European characterization he’s ever pulled off as the caretaker of the Russian space station who has more than a few screws loose.

As wild and crazy as much of the film gets, there’s a few characters who provide dramatic depth and weight that I’ve never seen mentioned in reviews, as most of them seem to be just focused on bashing Bay and his tactics instead. Billy Bob Thornton Is uncharacteristically grounded and dignified as the head of NASA, ditching his usual cocky prick attitude for a much more down to earth turn. Will Patton always makes me tear up as Chick, compulsive gambler who just wants to do right by his wife and kid, as well as make it home to see them. William Fichtner gives powerful work as an Air Force hotshot who also fears for his family’s lives and gets the most affecting scene of the film in a tense, emotional confrontation with Willis. Sure there’s the inherent silliness of the ‘Leavin On. A Jet Plane’ scene (it’s actually kind of sweet) and the overall maniacal attitude plus the constant stream of deafening pyrotechnics and special effects. But there’s also key dramatic moments and a host of excellent performances, and it would do many well to remember that. It’s an all timer for me, and a childhood classic that I fondly remember watching on VHS with my dad countless times. Oh, and fun fact; the guy who plays the US President here is Stanley Anderson, who also got the role in Bay’s The Rock, which pretty much suggests they exist in the same universe. I like the thought of a Bay multiverse, heh.

-Nate Hill

Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report

Few films successfully balance story, character, emotion, action and special effects on a scale as grand as Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, which I saw for the first time last night and am still reeling from. It’s brilliant, intelligent science fiction, a labyrinthine murder mystery, complex detective story and a thunderous action movie all rolled together in a perfectly pitched recipe, probably as close to flawless as you can find. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, Spielberg world-builds fantastically around the concept of ‘Pre-Cogs’, neurologically damaged clairvoyants who can predict murders before they happen and have been put to work in Washington DC of 2054, where Lexus hover cars jet along vertical freeways, mad doctors replace eyeballs in a grimy shanty town flophouses, holograms dance about and there hasn’t been a single murder in six years, which is all about to change. It’s a startlingly complex, succinct version of the future where every bell and whistle serves the story instead of being simple gaudy arbitration to flaunt the studio’s money showboating across the screen. Tom Cruise gives a focused, implosive turn as John Anderton, chief of the high tech PreCrime unit, tasked with taking the PreCog’s readings and implementing force to ensure that these future murders never take place, that is until his very own name comes down the tube and he’s propelled on an odyssey to clear his name, smoke out elusive corruption and put ghosts of the past to rest in several different cases. Talk about an eclectic cast of actors supporting him, with standouts including Max Von Sydow as the grandfatherly director of the program, Lois Smith as an eccentric botanist with ties to the past, Kathryn Morris as Anderson’s intuitive ex wife, Colin Farrell as a sharp federal agent who both hinders and helps Anderton’s cause, Peter Stormare positively devouring scenery as aforementioned mad doctor, Tim Blake Nelson as a chatty prison warden, Neal McDonough and Patrick Kilpatrick as fellow PreCrime cops and Samantha Morton who almost walks off with the film in an arresting portrayal of angelic, animalistic PreCog Agatha, whose gifted brain holds power to unlock the past. The central mystery of the film is deep, broad and filled with hairpin turns you don’t see coming, it’s noirish in the way it unfolds but slick and streamlined in design, like all the best retro futurism I can think of, this now included. Better still is the fierce, uncompromising emotional centre where it finds gravity, particularly in a heartbreaking scene where Agatha enlightens John and his wife to their own pain, hers and that of those in the past she is trying to find retribution for, it’s a devastating sequence of blunt truth and unfiltered compassion that resonates beautifully from Morton, Cruise and Morris who all nail it. What more can I say? Roger Ebert said it best when he wrote that this film reminds us why we go to the movies in the first place, and I agree. I was attentive, rose up to met the narrative with my focus and always felt entertained by both the large scale fireworks and careful mechanization of story. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II

Michael Bay is a great filmmaker and Bad Boys II is a masterpiece, one of the best action movies ever made. I know there are those out there who have nothing but contempt for Bay and his balls out, blitzkrieg blockbusters, and that’s okay. But there’s also those of us who recognize that the guy just has bushels of talent when it comes to staging breathtakingly explosive, propulsive large scale action sequences. I’ll concede that he has been perpetually slumming it in Transformers-ville for ten punishing years, but honestly I think that’s just to harvest dollars from the Asian box office overseas, because that’s where those big dumb flicks are most popular.

Bay’s core filmography is legendary, and while I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite, I’d say Bad Boys II if you held a gun to my head, definitely because of aforementioned action sequences but also it’s just one of the funniest fucking things I’ve ever seen, thanks to the combustible camaraderie between Martin Lawrence, Will Smith and a host of scene stealing others. This film is insane in all the best possible ways, it starts at brutal excess and only escalates from there until taste, shame and any other employments of restraint have been pummelled by a beautifully un-PC masterwork of ultra-violence, cheerful profanity, unabashed nihilism and enough Miami gunplay to constitute a civil war.

While Bay’s first Bad Boys was a great time, it was kind of like pre-drinks at buddy’s place before really getting the night underway, and II is the penthouse party that blows the lid off of everything, gets the cops called and shuts down the entire block. Smith and Lawrence’s Mike Lowry and Marcus Burnett kick off the proceedings by noisily barrelling through a KKK rally in the Everglades which results in Marcus getting accidentally shot through the ass cheek by his own partner, going on to be a priceless running joke. Then it’s on to take down simultaneously terrifying and hilarious Cuban drug baron Johnny Tapia, played by Jordi Molla in a performance so manic and unhinged that to me he represents the Spanish Gary Oldman. This results in a deafening, barnstorming tirade of extended car chases, ferocious shootouts, almost horror movie level carnage, excessive drug consumption and so much bickering between our two leads that we begin to wonder what was improv and what was scripted, but I suspect it was mostly the former. Bruckheimer seriously just threw paint at the wall here and let Bay set fire to it, this has to be one of the most precious, time capsule worthy, fucked up blockbusters that has ever come down the Hollywood assembly line. Gabrielle Union has never been sexier and holds her own as Marcus’s DEA sister, Bay favourite Peter Stormare hams it up almost as much as he did in Armageddon as an unstable Russian gangster and the cast is insane with memorable work from Michael Shannon, Yul Vasquez, Teresa Randle, Oleg Taktarov, Jon Seda, Antoni Carone, Henry Rollins and more. A huge shout-out to Joe Pantoliano as their stressed out Captain, he reaches levels of exasperation that I didn’t think were possible, and the scene where Marcus shows up in his living room fucked up on ecstasy is one of the most indescribably great comedic moments of the millennium, played to the hilt by all three actors.

From drug infested Miami Beach nightclubs to all out warfare on the highway overpasses to attitude filled family pool parties at Marcus’s crib to a thrilling showdown outside Tapia’s Cuban mansion and everything in between, Bay pretty much set the bar for the R rated action comedy, and set it pretty fucking high. Critics like Ebert hate this one because it overflows with unpleasantness, excess and mean spirited humour, and hey who am I to argue. If your sense of humour is tuned in to this kind of stuff then you’ll dig it, if not then it won’t be your bag, it’s very much an early 00’s film and most of it sadly wouldn’t even come close to being green-lit in today’s big budget world. I love this crazy ass film to pieces, it’s showcase Bay, hallmark Bruckheimer, the comedic pinnacle of both Smith and Lawrence’s careers (“Big fuckin eyes, but a nice fuckin fish!!”) and a milestone in the action genre. Woosahh.

-Nate Hill

Mercury Rising

If you really think about it, pretty much everything about Mercury Rising is really, really ridiculous. The plot is one of those overcooked potboilers that’s jumped out and simmers on the stove, the government agencies here are all heinously corrupt and run by arch villains who employ comic book assassins, going out of their way to literally murder a young autistic kid (Miko Hughes, poor guy barely escaped Freddy Krueger before they put him through this nightmare) who has cracked the NSA’s most top secret code. The director of the NSA would have to be a convincing enough asshole to even vaguely pull off something so out there, but they got lucky in hiring King Asshole Alec Baldwin, who is simply hilarious in the role, justifying his sociopathic actions with delusions of unilateral national security as only the best, most self respecting villains do. It’s up to disgraced, incorruptible FBI agent Bruce Willis to shepherd the poor kid through a minefield of contract killers, attempts on his life and bodies that pile up along the way. As absolutely postal as it is in terms of a realistic plot, it does still work as a solid thriller thanks to Willis’s charisma, Baldwin’s devious charm n’ smarm, some decent action set pieces, Miko Hughes’s convincing portrayal of his character’s condition and a well rounded supporting cast. Standouts include Kim Dickens as a kindly girl who helps them out, Peter Stormare as a mute terminator style thug dispatched to hunt them as well as John Carroll Lynch, Kevin Conway, Chi McBride and Jack Conley. Made with a reliable big budget and all the fireworks in play, it’s serviceable stuff but for its hysterical premise. A group of maximum security convicts takes over an aircraft?

Okay. Terrorists with nerve gas take Alcatraz hostage? I’ll buy that. Drilling a hole, planting a nuke and blowing a deadly asteroid in half? Sure, why not. It’s just something about the director of the NSA coherently sanctioning the death of a child and putting so much effort into it that has me chuckling. Baldwin sells it I guess, in his greased hair, gravel voiced, Draconian way. Watch for his eventual confrontation with Willis in a wine cellar, it’s the warped highlight of the film.

-Nate Hill