For whatever reason (oh yeah, everything is shitty and broken…) even our most potentially fun action movies have taken a turn for the dour and serious. Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are the obvious examples to point to here, but even more lighthearted fare like The Avengers and Star Trek had their fair share of brooding and pathos. Oftentimes this is exhibited most purely in the villains who are downcast, bitter people with some serious and sad personal issues.
That’s all well and good, and sure it probably makes for some deeper storytelling, but we’ve definitely drifted away from the time when people where about villainy for villainies sake. I miss vilains just being goofy motherfuckers with one or two weird visual signifiers, a collection of one liners, and a utterly over the-top hammy performance. Let’s take a look back at some of the best. Here’s the High Five.
5. Bennett (Commando) // Vernon Wells
All you need to know about Vernon Well’s performance in the perennially underrated and bizarrely forgotten Commando can be captured in that nightmare inducing face you see above you. As the former partner turned nemesis of our hero, John Matrix, the chubby Aussie Bennett sneers his way through a quasi-paint-by-numbers villain role before exploding into sweaty, goofy, sad awesomeness for the climactic battle.
He also happens to have the best/worst villain outfit ever, some morose leather-daddy getup that includes a heather grey mesh tank top and caterpillar mustache. He’s basically the villain equivalent of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character from Boogie Nights, all pent up obsession with Matrix and knife penetration. Nullus. Mesh tank top.
4. Dr. Emilio Lazardo (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension!) // John Lithgow
First off, kudos to John Lithgow for almost showing up twice on this list for his work as Qualen in Cliffhanger (another movie I love that people don’t talk about that often anymore). But even that helicopter-wearing baddie couldn’t stand up to the trans-dimensional Dr. Lizardo AKA Red Lectroid Lord John Worfin.
Did that not make any sense at all to you? Good, that means you can still have the immense pleasure of seeing Buckaroo Banzai for the first time in your life. You get to see Lithgow scuttle around making intense animal noises, say stuff like “Shut up John Bigbooty!” all in a vaguely placable accent and with a crazy poof of hair and… just watch the movie okay.
3. Castor Troy (Face/Off) // Nicolas Cage/John Travolta
Protip: Take your face off. Replace it with another guys face. ????. Profit! At least I assume that’s how the pitch meeting went down for one of the best action movies of all time. John Woo got double the fun by allowing his magnetically evil Castor Troy character be played by not one but two Oscar caliber actors who also happen to be more or less insane.
You don’t get a whole lot of Cage’s Troy, but holy shit does he make the most of it, including a scene with a giant mustache, grabbing fistfulls of a choir girls butt, and getting his tongue sucked. There’s no way that Travolta could live up to that I mean ho- oh is he dancing around whilst disarming a bomb? Romancing his own teenage daughter? Trying to mutilate his own face with a piece of metal whilst simultaneously having a harpoon sticking out of his chest? Thanks guys!
2. Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (The Fifth Element) // Gary Oldman
That name. That hair. That accent. That flavor saver. What’s not to love about Zorg? The best part about his campy goofiness is that it’s all intentional on his part, and is really his defining characteristic. He’s a man of precise appearances (what, you just think ‘do is like that when he rolls out of bed?) and perfection, who maintins his power by operating above everyone around him.
People are supposed to be afraid to question him because he is a consummate other, someone who’s actions are supposed to be unpredictable, straddling a line between silly and sinister. His motivations don’t really make sense (what’s he supposed to do after the purge of all humans anyway?) but it doesn’t matter. He’s just an evil sonofabitch with a world class wardrobe.
1. Howard Payne (Speed) // Dennis Hopper
Full disclosure: the whole impetus for this High Five was the fact that Speed came on the TV last night and I ended up watching the whole thing, reliving how awesome it is and especially how goofily deranged Hopper’s 9-fingered performance is. Thank god for Jan De Bont they got Hopper for this role by the way. The character himself is actually written in a way you could see him bogged down by his past, bitter and sullen at the loss of his thumb or whatever.
But not in 90s era Hopper’s hands, who basically just plays him as a guy who likes to blow shit up, say “Jack” a lot, and make one of the best villain faces ever when a purple dyepak explodes out of a money bag into his face. Keanu tries to keep up charisma wise, but no one can hold a candle to Howard Payne. He is taller though.- Whole Milk