I just got back from the new Star Trek movie. Because I’m a geek. Not such a big geek that I saw it opening weekend, but close. You can call me a Trekkie, I don’t mind. If I did mind, I’d insist on being called a “Trekker” — and those people are some seriously messed-up Trekkies.
You know what? The new Trek movie was good. In keeping with the tradition established by Nicholas Meyer in Wrath of Khan, if the series is on the rocks and needs to be saved, hire someone who doesn’t give two shits about Trek to make the next one. You might get a real story out of it, instead of a bunch of pseudo-science techno babble and bullcrap about the prime directive. Yeah, despite all the fan fretting, it really gelled. Except…
Star Trek producer folk, you have seriously got to do something about your villains. As in: get one. Someone. Anyone.
No no no. Casting the Hulk, covering him in tattoos and giving him pointy ears is not getting yourself a proper villain. He needs something to do, he needs a plan that makes sense, he needs some sort of real motivation. What did you give us? A pissed-off miner. You could have come up with anything in the universe, and that’s what you went with? So the villain who goes back in time and (spoiler alert!) destroys Vulcan and fucks up forty years worth of Trek continuity is coming from the same headspace as, say, the slasher from My Bloody Valentine? For serious?
Lame, forgettable villains is something that’s dogged this movie series right from the start. V’ger wasn’t a villain so much as a problem that had to be solved before it destroyed Earth. Same with the probe in Trek IV. Part VI was more of a conspiracy thingie with a Shakespeare-quoting Christopher Plummer playing an obnoxiously pretentious Klingon English-lit major. There’s KHAAAAAAAN! Obviously. But really, without the grudge baggage he brings from the Space Seed episode, all he really has to offer is Ricardo Montalban in a plastic chest yelling at Kirk over a sub-space frequency. The only half decent one was Christopher Lloyd in The Search for Spock because he hardly needed any makeup to play Klingon. He gets to be genuinely nasty at points, but mostly distinguishes himself by getting Shatner’s boot to the head in one of the most satisfyingly dismissive dispatchings of a villain I’ve ever seen.
Then there are those utterly forgettable Next Generation movies starting with Generations. How do you screw up Malcolm McDowell as your villain? Here’s how you direct McDowell as a villain: “Malcolm…go full-out Caligula. Action!” Then you just let him do his thing and edit out the bits where he dances around naked and fist-fucks men. Or not if you don’t care about your PG-13 rating.
I’d rant on about the subsequent villains in the series, but I can’t even remember any of them. I think there was a bald guy. And the guy with the nose prosthetic. And…um…the other guy with the nose prosthetic. And then, er…oh yeah. Nose-prosthetic guy.
But bad villains aren’t only plaguing the Star Trek franchise these days. James Bond is having his fair share of problems finding someone to match wits with. Look at the last two guys. An asthmatic accountant who weeps tears of blood? I spent the whole movie rooting for Bond to steal his lunch money and shove him into a mud puddle. And Mathieu Amalric as…well…just some guy. What a waste! Mathieu Amalric is perfectly capable of playing a memorable Bond villain. Just look at him in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In that movie he played a paralytic with locked-in syndrome, drooling all over himself, with one eye stitched closed and the other one wide, staring and blinking coded commands to his minions. What a fantastically creepy Bond villain! At the end of the movie, Bond could have made an unfunny quip about “going down” and pushed his wheelchair into an open elevator shaft. It writes itself. But come the actual Bond movie, what’s he playing? A young Roman Polanski by the look of things. Not very menacing unless you’re a 13-year-old girl.
It would take him a lot of screen time to blink “Goodbye, Mr. Bond.” But you get my point.
It speaks volumes about the Brosnan years that the only good villains were hot chicks like Sophie Marceau and Famke Janssen. Then there were the Dalton years that gave us some guy who thought he was Pacino in Scarface and Joe Don Baker. No, really, Joe Don Baker. You have to go all the way back to Roger Moore’s run to find memorable Bond villains. Yaphet Kotto, Christopher Lee, Richard Kiel. Hell, Herve Villechaize! Even A View to a Kill had Christopher Walken and Grace Jones. Terrible bond flick, but bonus points for stunt casting.
To find any decent bad guys these days, you have to turn to comic book movies. But even with well-established villain characters who have been around for decades, you take your chances. Every superhero flick has villainitis now. Gone are the days when it was just Jack Nicholson or just Gene Hackman hatching some sinister plot. Hollywood’s thing today is to overcast their antagonists, loading each movie with multiple members of the rogues gallery until none of them have sufficient screen time to ply their trade. Even the Joker doesn’t get to solo the Dark Knight anymore. The Batman movies have been stacking baddies three-high for nearly twenty years, and I think the official villain count for Spider-Man 3 was thirty-seven.
How sad is it that to find a great over-the-top, gimmicky, freak-show of a super villain nowadays, you have to look to reality? You want a giant Arab terrorist mastermind living in a cave and hooked up to a kidney dialysis machine? Check. How about a pill-popping, morbidly obese blowhard with a bionic ear who uses the public airwaves to call for the failure and demise of the democratically elected American government? Got it. Did I hear you wanted a shadowy puppet master with his own personal death squad who has his exact whereabouts erased from the public record so he can torture his victims in private as a pacemaker keeps his black heart ticking? Turn on your TV. That guy‘s been doing a lot of interviews lately.