Recently, our own Oli Lyttleton penned a thoughtful and persuasive essay on the lack of memorable bad guys both in superhero films and big tentpole productions. The reasons for this are many, and it surely won’t be news to anyone who’s been paying attention to the strange and fascinating climate for blockbusters that has emerged in this current moviegoing year.
Simply put, it’s hard to be invested as an audience member in the outcome of a villain’s fate when we all pretty much know that they’re destined to die at the hands of the hero in the movie’s loaded final moments. Hey, gotta keep the sequel train moving, right? There’s also plenty of instances, most recently in “Jason Bourne” and “Suicide Squad,” of writers putting more thought into the villain’s often irrelevant means of making good on their motives and skimping on the eccentricities that might make them otherwise interesting. Either way, it seems safe to say that it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a genuinely iconic iteration of evil in a big-budget Hollywood film.
Perhaps the last great one, at least in a superhero movie, was Heath Ledger’s feral and inspired take on Gotham City’s most nefarious bad guy, the Joker. Of course, as Jared Leto demonstrated when playing the Clown Prince of Crime in “Suicide Squad,” imbuing the character with a bundle of actorly tics and a general sense of unpredictability doesn’t quite cut the mustard. You could make the argument that anything would have seemed like a letdown after Ledger’s performance in “The Dark Knight,” and yet what’s most memorable about the late Australian actor’s interpretation of the character aren’t necessarily his throat-clearing monologues about his evil plans, or even the evil plans themselves. It’s the tiny, seemingly spontaneous moments of menace – like Ledger’s famous improvised take where he gets all bratty-schoolchild on a remote-controlled explosive when it takes too long to go off, or his bemused reaction after he jams a pencil into a goon’s eye socket – that audiences remember.
Thoughts? Watch the video and let us know in the comments section.