There’s no escaping this line, or that sound, or the faces that always get made while quoting this powerful quip from Sir Anthony Hopkins’ performance as the terror inducing flesh eating psychotic ,Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Even if you haven’t seen “Silence of the Lambs,” you know this line, yeah? Here’s an amazing piece of trivia to go along with the hype from this movie, Hopkins won the Academy Award for best actor clocking less than 16 minutes of screen time!! It’s hotly debated as to the actual amount of time he was on screen, but either way, it is impressive. There’s a rant coming…be forewarned…
Lecter was neither the hero (Clarice played by Jody Foster) or the focal villain (Buffalo Bill played by Ted Levine) but had such a presence as to dominate the film. One could argue he was greater than the villain, his motivations more easily understood, as if it were plainly printed words on a page in a book. This is the kind of artful suspense, visceral revulsion, attention to detail and emotional development Marvel movies are patently ignoring. Oh yeah, <<SPOILERS>> below…obviously…
Here they are…39 of them that we’ve seen since May 10, 2016. Unfortunately, only a few of these stick out like a sore thumb, Winter Soldier, Yondu, Thanos, Ultron, and Loki, mayyyyyyybe Ronan. Don’t get me wrong, they look cool, but as grandma always taught us, looks aren’t everything. Marvel spends so much time developing it’s heroes they end up being the linchpin of the movie universe, but they’re putting the cart before the horse as comic heroes need establishment and also to get out of the way of the villains that plague them. Back in the day, the only difference between comics was who terrorized the cover.
Those exceptions I was talking about before, they are exceptions in kind of special cases, and for special reasons. Winter Soldier started in Captain America’s continuity as Steve Rogers’ best friend. Bucky Barnes became redeemed because of the sordid emotional interplay between the reconciliation of his actions and his inability to cope with potentially being a weapon used against those he holds dear, and it takes three movies for us to understand that.
It’s a similar situation with the chaotic anti-hero Loki. Thor’s adoptive brother and arch nemesis, Loki’s motivation is at once childish and ultimately human. The need to be accepted and also a jealous attitude towards a favored son in the eyes of neglectful parents, Loki’s motivations are understandable and even sometimes relatable. Once again, the audience needs three movies to get it.
A few others that have some staying power are three of the villains whose major presence stems from a single movie: Yondu, Ronan and Thanos. These three are essentially facets of the same villainous prism, greed, vengeance and power respectively. Yondu is a charming rogue turned defender and plays a critical defensive role against Ronan who brings his hate to bear on Xandar. The entire conflict is driven by the Mysterious Thanos, or more indirectly, by the Infinity Stone. These villains are wrapped up in the neat package that was “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and are saved by the light hearted humor, casually relatable tone, and unexpected humor of the entire ensemble. Guardians succeeded in scratching an itch that movie audiences didn’t even know they had, and the villains benefited from that.
Ultron is the last of what I call, “The Forgivable Six” and his saving grace is really a credit to the beacon of light that James Spader brings to the character as a voice actor. Bringing a shocking and dry mechanical wit and smoldering sarcasm to life in this abomination crafted by Tony Stark, Ultron is our technological fears made manifest…
“Ultron would be a great challenge for Freud…The moment he takes his first steps, he’s come to the conclusion that his revelation of how to fix what he perceives as the world’s problems is to start over again with a new, more evolved and developed species.” -James Spader
None of these go as far as to develop truly compelling stories on their own, however. Pardon the cross to another universe, but Marvel would do well to analyze DC’s expansive roster. Batman, for example, has the most compelling Rogue’s Gallery of any hero pantheon. Why? Because he doesn’t kill them every five minutes. Take Mr. Freeze for example, “Batman: The Animated Series” explored his origins in the episode “Heart of Ice” in such a way that defined the villain for a generation. We see the motivation behind Dr. Victor Fries and his pursuit for a cure to the disease that afflicts his cryogenically frozen wife. A villain is made more impactful if given some compelling motivation. Batman’s struggle is made all the more significant as he strives to help his mentally disturbed foes rather than killing them and moving on to the next problem.
Marvel’s relative failure to create a compelling villain is most evidenced in their latest venture, “CIVIL WAR.” Don’t get me wrong, the film was fantastic, but the conflict and major motivation happened between heroes, and was only driven by a villain. Baron Zemo was a pale moon’s shadow of his comic incarnation, and yes, it’s true, it’s a different medium with different constraints…but this is more than that, it’s poor writing. Bring an original take to the table, but it’s no good if it just falls flat on it’s face. It would’ve made a better ending if baron Zemo succeeded in killing himself in the end, like in the movie “Se7en,” the ultimate victory.
Let’s see what Marvel brings to the table for their next villainous iteration of these comic classics, I’m not holding my breath…but one thing is for sure, the internet is speaking with a resounding voice that this is an issue and that it must be addressed.
In a post Deadpool World, and with Netflix marvel IPs firing on all cylinders, y’all need to step up yo Villain game.