2018 has been an amazing year for movies. No contest. One of the greatest things that came around this year in particular is that the villains being chosen for movies are not the classic villain. While some do have a “Take over the world because I want to” vibe to them, most of them are compelling and interesting characters. They represent an alternative way of thinking and while they might choose the wrong path they aren’t necessarily wrong. Let’s look at some of the great villains from movies this year.
The biggest movie event of the year, and probably the last 20, was Avengers: Infinity War that premiered on April 27, 2018. The last 10 years of Marvel films have been building up to this event and it paid off (for the most part) extremely well. The big bad in this movie was the Mad Titan Thanos, but this Thanos was MUCH different from his comic book counter part. In Marvel Comics, Thanos is evil for the sake of it. He doesn’t have any real ulterior motivations other than wanting to be reunited with Lady Death, whom he has fallen in love with. Thanos thought that if he could prove to her that he deserved her love she would admit that she belonged with him and they would finally be united in love. Yes, comic Thanos wants to bang a busty skeleton and that is why he kills half the universe. While this does work to make a great villain to have the Avengers go up against, the maniacal overlord trope has been used and abused so many times in film that something else needed to be done, enter the Russo brothers.
Until they directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russo’s main directing credit came from the paintball episodes of Community. With their success at crafting (arguably) the best Marvel movie to date, Kevin Feige gave them the reigns to bring Thanos to the big screen. The Russos dove into their work and brought us a mad titan that you could sympathize with. In the MCU, Thanos begins his quest to get power sure, but having the power wasn’t his goal it was a means to an end, he wants to bring the universe back into balance. His main argument is that he is the only one who can see that eventually life will cease to exist if left to prosper unchecked. We find out that this is what led to the downfall and extinction of his home planet. He states that the universe only has a finite number of resources and that those resources are being used at an alarming rate. So, to ensure the longevity of life, a culling must take place. 50% of the entire universe, chosen indiscriminately to ensure fairness, needs to die to ensure life continues. This draws an interesting parallel to our own planet where we are using resources at an increasingly fast pace and Global Warming will become inevitable in less than 50 years unless we do something about it. The redeeming quality of Thanos, is that he knows he is also part of the problem and he is willing to sacrifice himself if it means the universe spins on.
On February 16, 2018, we were introduced to the nation of Wakanda through Ryan Coogler’s epic film Black Panther. Having been introduced to T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War, his solo film was where Black Panther was really allowed to shine. Part of what made the movie so great was its compelling villain, Eric “Killmonger” Stevens also known as N’Jadaka. Now Killmonger spent the first good portion of the movie manipulating his way into Wakanda proper before executing his plan. He attempted and succeeded in a coup of the throne by exploiting his right to challenge the king to one on one combat for the throne. While he missed the official day where all the tribes were permitted to present a challenger, his cousin T’Challa accepted his challenge. Killmonger was a vicious fighter and had been trained by the CIA to work as a black ops member to destabilize foreign governments. He racked up over 2,200 confirmed kills and decorated his body with ceremonial “crocodile” markings for each life he took. When Killmonger defeated his cousin and assumed the throne his first act after ingesting the heart shaped herb for himself was to burn the garden where it was grown. His second order was to arm the “Dogs of War” Wakanda had stationed around the globe so they could arm the disenfranchised descendants of the African people to take control. Having grown up in the slums of Oakland California after his father, prince N’Jobu was killed by the king T’Chaka for betraying the people of Wakanda, Killmonger knew the conditions his people’s descendants were living in. Wanting to end the subjugation of his people he believed that the only way to accomplish this task was to create a series of coups around the globe and arm the revolutionaries with Wakandan tech, which is way more advanced than the rest of the world.
His belief in the ability and requirement of the Wakandan nation to end their ruse of appearing as a third world country and assume their rightful place as rulers of the world, caused a shift in the people of Wakanda. While some like the Border Tribe allied with Killmonger, most didn’t agree with his way of thinking. When T’Challa returned and took his throne back, he agreed that it was time for Wakanda to step out of the shadows and take a more active role in the affairs of the world. In the end, Killmonger was right even if he went about it the wrong way, and his people took their place as major players in the affairs of the world.
Say what you will about the second installment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, but the villain Gellert Grindelwald, played by the great Johnny Depp, stands as one villain you can’t help but sympathize with.
The movie starts nearly immediately after the first one ended, I believe there has been a few months of time that passed but nothing has really changed. We start with the American Ministry of Magic holding Grindelwald in a cell before the British ministry representatives arrive to transport him to Europe for his crimes. They never specify what his crimes are but it appears he is like most of the mafia bosses in history, linked to many crimes without direct evidence to place him there. While his followers do utilize the unforgivable curses to their full extent and with wanton disregard for the muggle population, Grindelwald doesn’t use any of the curses himself. It also appears in the film that in certain circumstances, the 1920’s Ministry of Magic condoned Aurors utilizing the killing curse to stop large threats to the Wizarding World. Now none of this really has anything to do with Grindelwald but it is important to know because of how the movie plays out. The reason that you sympathize with Grindelwald comes at the climax of the film. Grindelwald is hosting a massive congregation of witches and wizards from across Europe in order to recruit them to his side. While most people think Grindelwald is just a Voldemort analogue, they could not be more wrong. While Voldemort wanted to extinguish muggles and all muggleborns because he viewed them as dirty or unclean, Grindelwald wants to control them. He understands that in the beginning there will be death and that is the price they must pay for their ultimate goal which is harmony through wizard rule. Now while this definitely sounds “Take over the world villainy”, give me a moment to explain…
The movie takes place in the 1920’s which comes on the tail of the ending of the First World War. Now we learn that the wizarding world didn’t take part in the war in any capacity but countless witches and wizards were killed because of it through collateral damage. Grindelwald provides a vision to his congregation at the end of the film that predicts WWII and the dropping of the atomic bomb. He goes on to say, that if left to their own devices, muggles could destroy the planet within the next 20 years and calls for witches and wizards from all countries to ally with him to bring the muggle world to order to stop unnecessary death. This causes a lot of the congregation to ally with him and chant his name in unison, which is something he relishes in. It’s obvious Grindelwald is an egomaniac, but being an egomaniac doesn’t mean he was wrong in his beliefs.
There you go, three fine examples of how modern films are moving away from traditional villainy and giving us more complex villains. As I’ve said before, while some of them went about it the wrong way, none of them were wrong in what they thought. See you next time!