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Hell Lost
by Thom Williams

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He <I>is</I> coming for your children...

He is coming for your children...
If you've ever bothered to read John Milton's Paradise Lost, or at least, like me, had the decency to scan the Cliff's Notes, you know that there are basically five characters: God, the Son of God, Adam, Eve, and Satan. Everyone pretty much knows who these characters are, and everyone pretty much knows the story. What you may not know, is that in the story, the most interesting character is unquestionably Satan.

The story picks up with Satan and his buddies, Mammon, Beelzebub, Moloch, and Belial, discussing whether or not they should wage another war on Heaven; rightly or wrongly, Satan feels persecuted for being cast from Heaven by God and takes up the mantle of the villain where he famously intones, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Satan's also a little pissed about Man getting awesome digs like the Garden of Eden and sets out to cause a ruckus. Whether you believe that Satan is real or merely a literary construct, one could argue that Satan is the greatest villain that has ever existed.

As Man's ability to tell stories has evolved and the tools change, film has thrown a rogues' gallery of thousands onto the silver screen, each hoping to capture the magic that Satan did in Paradise Lost, when he unintentionally stole the spotlight. Everyone has their own list of personal favorites - Darth Vader, The Joker (2008), Viktor, Khan, Agent Smith - but what I want to do is talk about the other half. This is a list of some of the crappiest film villains that I can think of right now:

Star Wars Prequel Villains

Before the first shot was complete on The Phantom Menace, the Prequels had some huge black boots to fill. In the original Star Wars Trilogy, Darth Vader existed for three films; it was he who choked a dude to death who may or may not have know where the Death Star plans were, tortured a sexy Princess, allowed an entire planet to be destroyed, murdered Obi-wan Kenobi, and personally shot down a half-dozen pilots over the Death Star. This is all stuff that the audience got to see him do over the course of a single film and doesn't include what he did in later installments nor all the things we pick up over the course of the films about all the bad things that he's done off camera and the fact that he supports an Empire which comes to work with a toolbox which holds genocide and terror within.

In the Prequels, there are several villains. The only one that appears in each of the three Episodes is Darth Sidious/Palpatine the Senator, Supreme Chancellor, or Emperor, and he
The <I>Star Wars</I> prequels' villains left something to be desired...

The Star Wars prequels' villains left something to be desired...
works exclusively off-screen until Episode III. When the architect of the Empire finally reveals himself to the world and God as they say, he has two direct confrontations. In the first, he kills some extras that most people didn't give a crap about and, at least taken for face value, loses to Mace Windu, only to be saved by a cheap shot. In his second fight, Palpatine is fought to a standstill by Yoda. There's no victory for Palpatine to call his own. Not only is he the lesser for it, but so too are the heroes that fight him.

The other villains featured in the Prequels are Darth Maul, Count Dooku, Jango Fett, General Grievous, and various puppet-headed and computer-generated whiners. Maul kills Qui-gon and is then immediately struck down by a squire, Dooku defeats both Obi-wan and Anakin only to get pimp-slapped by Yoda and is summarily put-down during the opening credits of Revenge of the Sith, Jango Fett actually starts to accrue some stud-points by being a common man surviving fights with the superhuman Jedi only to be beheaded in round one against Mace Windu, and General Grievous, the biggest pussy of them all, kills absolutely no one; rather, he runs away while talking smack about how lucky his adversaries are that he's chosen not to fight; the film's makers even chose to have him animated like a big chicken. Not a one survives long enough after their meager successes to build any true villain credibility.

If there is a Satan, none of these guys would be bad enough to get in to Hell.

Crappy Batman Quartet Villains

I repeat: Crappy Batman Quartet, or craptet, meaning Tim Burton's and Joel Schumacher's four cinematic bowel movements entitled Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman and Robin. This is not a discussion over how crappy these four films are - as if I have that kind of time - but a quick scan over how crappy are the villains - the peanuts and corn, if you will - that decorate each individual loaf.

Jack Nicholson's Joker is easily on my list of most overrated anything that ever was. The character generates little to no menace as he prances to Prince, gets stomped like a narc at a biker rally when he finally comes face to face with the Caped Crusader, and spends half the movie pining for Vicky Vale in a junior high crush that makes Anakin's moves on Padme look positively mature during Attack of the Clones. Afraid? Only that he'd bomb on open-mike night at the Improv with his old pie-in-the-face routine.

In the second installment, things go
Nipples on the Bat-suit scared me more than any of the villains...

Nipples on the Bat-suit scared me more than any of the villains...
downhill quickly. While Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman has fueled many a teenage masturbatory fantasy, she's just weird; licking her ‘paws' and rubbing her head, conflicted with overlapping personalities, and for obvious reasons - that she never fulfills - colluding with the other villains like Danny Devito's fish-munching, rubber-ducky driving Penguin, and Christopher Walken in one of his paycheck performances.

Schumacher does the legacy proud as he introduces everyone's favorite madcap, Jim Carrey, as the Riddler, and a desperately-trying-not-to-be-shown-up Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face. Aside from the dissimilarities to the comic, which runs rampant throughout the entire craptet, both Carrey and Jones milk the bigger is better school of villainy, where subtly and menace are given a backseat to flailing arms and grotesquely misshapen facial expressions. Oh, and if I wanted to see a dude's unit through a unitard, I'd go to the ballet.

As the craptet comes to a close in the Super Bowl of failed expectations, Batman and Robin, the audience is treated to Schwarzenegger's homage to Running Man's Dynamo with Mr. Freeze, Uma Thurman's drug spewing tease and tree-hugger, Poison Ivy, and a criminally underused Bane, the man who in the comic broke the Bat, as some sort of chemically-triggered, life-sized Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot.

The only thing that Satan has to do with these movies is to claim the filmmakers.

Bennett and Arius

I know that it's ‘80's action ham with a healthy side helping of cheese, but over the years there has never been a villainous duo that has done more to weaken heroes and villains everywhere - if only that these two schleps became anything bigger than purse-snatchers - than Bennett (Vernon Wells, Road Warrior nemesis Wez) and Arius (Dan Hedaya, Nick from Cheers) from the 1985 ‘hit' Commando. If you haven't seen the movie, you absolutely must if for no other reason than to see where the bar for ridiculously limp-dick villainy is set.

First, for those that don't remember, Schwarzenegger was just becoming the next big thing, coming off both Conan movies and Terminator a year before. As copies of Commando were hitting rental shelves of ma and pa video stores and its HBO run of three times a day every other day - interrupted only for Beastmaster - was heating up, Predator was due to hit the theaters. Arnold was built like a brick shithouse that was full of money from a gamut of films ranging from spectacular (Terminator) to
If my dad loses to this guy, I'll never live it down!

"If my dad loses to this guy, I'll never live it down!"
downright embarrassing (Red Sonja). Villains opposite him were going to be out-staged, so Commando, it seems, didn't bother to try.

Arius is the head of some sort of criminal syndicate. Due to the presence of palm trees and horrible Spanish accents, one can surmise that he's somewhere in Latin or South America (where the drugs come from). He wants some democratic nobody from a third-world dump whacked and he and his team of monkeys have squared with each other that the best way to go about doing this is to find a retired body-building, commie-killing badass Matrix (Arnie), kidnap his daughter (!), and blackmail him into doing it for them. Aside from coming up with this clearly flawed plan, Arius is incompetent to the point that he allows a 12-year-old girl (a young Alyssa Milano for you pervs) to escape him, is made fun of by Bennett (see below), and I can't even remember how he died.

Bennett, who is to be the Governator's nemesis in the picture, is played by a 40-year-old actor that clearly was hitting pancakes harder than he was hitting the gym, with a beer-belly and two flabby limbs exposed by a chainmail tank-top, and was self-described as Freddie Mercury on steroids, complete with a full-on ‘70's porno moustache. As he tries to generate menace with an Australian accent, which I'm not sure is possible (think Outback commercials), talking crap from behind multiple men with automatic weapons, and threatening a 12-year-old girl, Bennett caps off the film in an historic way.

At this point, it should be noted, that Matrix has fought through the entire Columbian (or whatever) army with guns, knives, his bare hands, and garden tools. Bennett gets the jump on Matrix, wounds him, and has him at gunpoint. Exhausted to the point that I'm sure he could barely lift the Earth upon his shoulders, Matrix taunts him into putting down the gun and engaging in a knife-fight which Bennett, of course, loses. The nemesis then reaches for a gun and is impaled with a pipe.

Even Satan was laughing his balls off watching this.

It's really not that complicated. The villain is not unlike a mountain. The bigger and badder he is, the better the hero that takes him down. In cases such as those above, any perceived strength of the villain is on the audience member's individual shoulders. There are doubts about the significance of their defeats, and so there will be a lack of tension as those defeats near. Since it's called a climax, you can imagine what happens when there's no tension.

How powerful could God possibly be perceived if Satan never won?

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Other Columns
Other columns by Thom Williams:

To Bear the Arms Right

Bang for the Buck

Be All You Can Be

Mean Teen Wrecking Machine

Never Go Full Retard

All Columns

Thom Williams
Thom is both a maker and lover of films. He loves, and makes, films of all kinds. He is often as surprised by what he likes as by what he creates himself; Thom entered film school with a distaste for silent, black and white, and foreign films, yet left having made one of each. He likes what he likes and make no apologies for his opinions.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Thom Williams by clicking here.

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