(Before we get started, check out my two previous 2017 Year in Review columns: 2017’s Top Five Horror Movies and 2017’s Five Coolest Characters!)
Everybody loves a great villain. They push and challenge our heroes to rise above their previous limits and reach new heights. They can also make films more fun and interesting by pushing the boundaries of what it means to be despicable. There’s no one way to do a villain “right”, and that’s part of the fun. This list will reflect a varied take on villainy, from the conflicted to the downright evil. But all added to the moviegoing experience and elevated the entire project of which they were a part. It’s never felt so good for these actors to be so bad. Here are my picks for . . .
2017’s Five Best Villains
NOTE: There will be some unavoidable spoilers in this post. I’ll minimize them as much as possible, but proceed with caution!
5. Ego (Kurt Russell, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2)
Oh, the delicate nature of family. Especially when that family is a Celestial being with nearly limitless power and designs on restructuring all of existence in his own image. Thanksgiving dinner can get a slight bit awkward. What makes Ego so great is that he genuinely loves his son Peter. And his plan also would have succeeded if not for one slight infallibility to which even Celestials aren’t immune: overconfidence in his relationships. Ego assumes that Peter is completely on board with his plan due to Peter being so romanticized by finally meeting his birth father. So, Ego reveals the entire truth of his and Peter’s past to Peter, expecting Peter to eagerly accept it. We have all had relationships where we care for the other person more than they care for us, whether said relationship be romantic, familial, or friendly. And that moment of realization can be painful. Especially when you’re a genocidal maniac and the one spurning you is the leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Nice try, Ego. Maybe Thanos will succeed where you failed. (Original review.)
4. Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes)
Bobby Riggs is certainly an unconventional choice for a villain. Is he even a villain? Perhaps not, but he certainly wants to be. Riggs voluntarily places himself in the role of villain in order to benefit himself financially. He doesn’t believe the things he says. He doesn’t mean the things he does. He’s simply greedy and understands his audience well enough to know how to get it. It doesn’t matter to him how he is perceived by others. He even genuinely cares about his opposition. But he still goes about embarrassing them and himself as long as it helps him afford a nicer house and a nicer car. And as Rachel Dawes said in Batman Begins, “It’s not who you are underneath. It’s what you do that defines you.” And, if that’s the case, then Bobby Riggs is easily defined as a funny, charismatic, endearing, complex . . . villain. (Original review.)
3. Hela (Cate Blanchett, Thor: Ragnarok)
There is no complexity to Cate Blanchett’s Hela. Hela is a supremely powerful demigod who, unlike Ego, has no particular ties to her family (Thor, in this case). She rules the Norse underworld and wishes to bring about Ragnarok – the end of Asgard – in order to further populate her realm with vanquished souls and add to her power. She takes delight in every death she brings about and relishes in pounding Thor into the ground. All she wants is what she sees as hers. And she’s powerful enough to get it. Thor and his “Revengers” are only able to stop her by using some quick thinking and by pitting her against someone else of equal or greater power (although, to be fair, the Hulk never got his shot). Along the way, Blanchett, herself, has a blast with the role, sinks her teeth in, and delivers one of the more memorable mainstream performances of the year. Hela appears to have been stopped, for now, but I wouldn’t bet against seeing her pop up again, in the future. (Original review.)
2. The Armitages (Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Get Out)
Though a thrilling and entertaining horror-suspense thriller, Get Out primarily serves as a metaphor for much of modern society and the Armitage family represents the worst of us. The film can be interpreted on many different levels, but what can’t be misconstrued is the pure callousness and hate that radiates from the family by which the unfortunate Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) finds himself surrounded. Their casual racism is rooted in jealousy and insecurity, something which can be seen on a daily basis in the real world. Those who allow themselves to be consumed with racism and intolerance are always afraid of what the targets of their hate bring to the table. They’re afraid of their livelihood, their way of life, or – perhaps most absurd of all – even their country being taken away from them by others who they view as “different” based solely on harmless surface characteristics. The Armitages concoct a method to nullify those perceived possibilities and to use people of color for their own benefit in a way that goes far beyond anything we’ve seen in film, before. And, to a degree, they succeed. The worst kind of villain is the one who succeeds. Ultimately, the Armitages also serve as a mirror to society and, after seeing the film, potentially and hopefully give those who are not beneficiaries of inherent privileges pause and awareness as they go about their daily lives. So, in being so ruthlessly, unforgivably horrible on-screen, they may hopefully enact change for the better in at least one person, somewhere.
1. Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, It)
I really wrestled with this. I almost put the Armitages in the number one spot. But, when it came down to it, I just couldn’t. Pennywise is the embodiment of evil, reserving his killing, maiming, and eating exclusively for children due to their purity. And he’s not exactly remorseful over these acts, either. He doesn’t bother putting his food sources down humanely. Pennywise goes all out to hunt children both for food and for sport. Bill Skarsgård’s performance is one for the ages, as well, standing tall beside the great Tim Curry and helping craft the film into something truly memorable. Ultimately, Pennywise gets the number one spot because he was the only villain on this list who was the title character in their film, which he then launched to a staggering $698 million worldwide gross on a $35 million budget. When a villain has that sort of appeal, how can they not be the best of the year? (Original post.)
Whew! This was a tough one. Not only was ordering the top five extremely difficult, but even choosing them proved troublesome (there were a few others I had in mind that I hated to leave off). I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll be back, sometime soon, with more looks back at 2017 in film!
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