All hail to a worthy movie villain
BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” gives us the most compelling villain in tent-pole popcorn action movie history.
Quick, name the villain of “Thor: The Dark World” or “Doctor Strange.” I’m a comic book buff and I can’t remember. As entertaining as those movies were, the forgettable villains left a whole lot to be desired. It’s been a problem in Hollywood for a while now. With a rare exception — like “Skyfall” antagonist Raoul Silva — big budget blockbusters just don’t deliver gripping bad guys anymore.
Where’s Max Cady from Cape Fear? Mitchum or De Niro would do.
Marvel’s put out 17 films in the past decade with Thor’s brother Loki being the only stand out villain. The fledgling DC movie universe offered up new takes on both its big bads, Lex Luthor and the Joker. I actually enjoyed both characters: Luthor as a Mark Zuckerberg wannabe and Joker as a hip-hop gangsta were entertaining as hell, but about an inch deep.
Setting the prequels aside, Darth Vader was a pretty simple concept: Scary, black-clad laser sword wielding space Nazi. It worked in the 1970s and early 80s. But today, audiences need a villain with a little more substance.
Enter Kylo Ren. Vader’s grandson, Ren murdered his father - the crazy-popular rogue Han Solo - in “The Force Awakens.” Ren stops just shy of committing matricide in “The Last Jedi,” but neither does he help his endangered mother, Princess Leia. He’s both Menendez brothers rolled into one.
And that’s were his complexity shines. He’s conflicted, but not to the point it will stop him from ruling the galaxy. He’s no mustache-twirling villain. In his addled mind, he’s the hero of his own journey. Director Rian Johnson tells Ren’s origin with just enough ambiguity to let the audience understand, but not really sympathize, with Ren.
As the backstory unfolds, it’s easy to see why Ren wants to kill his uncle Luke Skywalker. In “The Last Jedi” Ren is understandable, likeable even, but not forgivable. He did kill Han Solo after all.
Played by a brooding Adam Driver, Ren reminds me so much of my always exasperated, impatient teenage son. (I hope our father-son relationship doesn’t turn out like Solo’s did.)
Ren is basically an impetuous child with too much power. Ren is all at once damaged, unsure of himself, vain, selfish, self-centered and searching for his identity. Oh, and he feels like his lineage gives him the right to rule the galaxy. And to hell with anyone, especially family, who get in his way.
Ren’s lightsaber tantrums from “The Force Awakens” have festered into rebellion against his evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil evil master. But Ren’s not a freedom-fighting rebel. Remember when Vader wanted Luke to help him overthrow the Emperor so they could rule the galaxy together? Ren’s after the same thing, but his sense of entitlement, his millennial privilege means a lot of folks are going to die just so he can have what he wants.
The spoiled brat from Episode VII grows into an angry young man in Episode VIII. The denizens of a galaxy far, far away suffer for it, but us Earthlings are treated to a rarity in action movies - a villain of depth and shades of gray who is simultaneously relatable and reviling.
Take some notes, Marvel movie folks. With Disney’s pending accusation of Fox, you’ll finally have film rights to the ultimate comic book villain, Doctor Doom.
Victor Von Doom is basically an older version of Kylo Ren, right down to the metal mask. Give audiences the Doom we deserve, complex and compelling. Hell, cast Adam Driver in the role, and get Rian Johnson to direct.