I love movies. Some of my earliest memories are sitting on my living room floor watching Luke Skywalker dart around the galaxy in his X-Wing and watching Aladdin try to bat way out of his league with a certain princess. I'll watch most any movie at least once (unless it stars Taylor Lautner) and even if I haven't seen the movie, I can probably tell you a little bit about it. In all of the movies I've watched, the best parts are always the villains. Their actions, motivations, the little quirks all add up to a masterpiece. Recently, however, we've experienced a dearth of great villains and great villainy--and it's a problem.
In the past ten years, we've maybe had five legitimately great villains. Leading off that group has to always be the incomparable Heath Ledger as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight"--a delightfully dark and chaotic turn from his days as the pretty boy in "The Patriot." His actions had zero motivation other than making the Batman squirmand he does an admirable job. The other comic book villains we've seen since then have been remarkably campy and not all that threatening and after Jared Leto's disappointing debut as the Joker in this year's "Suicide Squad," I can't imagine a lot of people touching the Joker as a character for a good while.
From the opposite side of the villain spectrum came Christoph Waltz, doing his damnedest to make us all like Nazis as Colonel Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Bastards." From the first moment we see his character, Waltz is chewing scenery and running circles around his fellow onscreen mates. It's very rare that we ever see a villain as being far and away the best actor in a movie--especially a movie with Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt ("12 Years a Slave" is obviously a little different.) Waltz is so calculated and charming as Hans Landa that Diane Kruger never even realized that she was in trouble.
Add in a few others like Javier Bardem as the psychopath Anton Chigurhfrom "No Country for Old Men", or Ralph Fiennes putting in work as Voldemort in the Harry Potter series and we've pretty much captured every truly villainous performance of this century. Marvel Studios almost struck gold with Loki, but then they lost all credibility when he got Hulk-smashed.
Villains have become too Disney-fied, starting with Loki and most likely not ending with Kylo Ren from "The Force Awakens". It's almost become too easy for the heroes to triumph over the villains, as every movie now seems more focused upon building a new world around their heroes or making the only good villains anti-heroes, which is definitely not the same thing. There is no Darth Vader, ready to Force-choke his way into our hearts, there is no Keyser Soze ready to turn a police department on its head. The best villains now reside on TV and it's a shame that our villains in film have fallen so far.
You may ask why so serious about movie villainy, but movies mean a lot to me. Film has a lot of lessons it can teach us, but lessons are hard to learn without true tests of character and strength. Superhero movies specifically have a long road to climb, which is why Marvel has them all fighting each other. Morals that movies have to teach us become blurred when everyone in movies is a good person. I'll take a good old-fashioned psychopath over Loki any day. Give me Alonzo Harris making Ethan Hawke smoke PCP in the car. Give me Bill the Butcher, taking Di Caprio's eye. Give me some movie villainy worthy of the $10 I pay for every ticket and I'll go see more movies.
As the world gets scarier around us, it is easy to see the world of film as a simple escape--a means to a joyful end. But for me, joy in movies comes from watching good triumph over evil--a hard struggle that actually teaches us things about the characters or ourselves. In a world that gets a little darker every day, it's nice to know that we can still make up more evil than is present in our lives.