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The Boogeyman is Eating Crisps: A Quick History of Movie Bad Guys August 11, 2006

Posted by doctorolove in Movies.
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Did I not get the memo?

When did popular entertainment decided to make metrosexual British men, with their catty, snide comments and perfectly coiffed hair, the embodiment of evil?

There’s Simon Cowell, of course. America’s Got Talent has that other British guy, who’s trying to be mean, because the handlers tell him so. In the past few James Bond films, the supervillain 007 has been chasing has his haughty accent and perfectly tailored suits. Even the villains we all know and love from the comics (Doctor Octopus, the Scarecrow, Dr. Doom) have all been played by Brits (though the “metrosexual” term is used very loosely with the Ron Jeremy look-alike that is Alfred Molina.)

For years, every hero had to fight the Russians. There has never been a more perfect villain persona. We never really knew what went down in Russia and that made them even scarier. And the stereotypes Hollywood pieced together were tailor made villain material. You had fanatical devotion to an unjust cause, an accent filled with hard glottal sounds, and furry hats (which may not seem like much, but are extremely scary face to face.) And you weren’t a true hero until you took a few snipes at the Russkies in your action film. Schwarzenegger, who could have easily passed for a Russian in every film appearance he made before his accent was “governized” and fazed out, took them on in Red Sonja. James Bond made countless gunfights against KGB agents into tiny little Noel Coward plays. And Sylvester Stallone was the poster boy for anti-Russian sentiment almost on his own, with Rocky and Rambo propagandizing their way through evil (when he wasn’t fighting the evils of other people’s arms in Over the Top).

But when communism fell like a prom dress, Hollywood had to scramble. What stereotypical bad guy would audiences not mind being turned into Swiss Cheese? One quick look at the late 80’s headlines, like any great spin doctor would, and they got their answer. Everybody hated drugs. Drugs were bad. And nobody was giving us more drugs than the South Americans. Good looking men in Hawaiian shirts that were only buttoned halfway up. Exotic mountain locales. And those sexy Spanish accents that made moving six or seven kilos of blow into something out of Los Penthouse de Forum. So, Sly, Bruce and Ah-nold packed up their jackets and vodka bottles and caught a Chinook helicopter down to Central and South America.

And it worked, for a little while anyway. The beauty of it was that there could be absolutely no political spin on it what-so-ever. Sure, the Contras were on the lips of anybody who tried to watch afternoon soaps and was angered at them being pre-empted for Ollie North trial coverage, but nobody really understood just what our government was really doing. We were all too distracted by Ollie’s gap tooth grin, stolen from the Lauren Hutton collection. There was nothing controversial about blowing up drug mansions owned by good looking men surrounded by underlings who were armed to the teeth.

Yet the public got bored, partly because most of the people still around to watch the action move drivel Hollywood turned out in the eighties were probably on drugs anyway. So, again, they picked up the papers and tried to figure out just what we were confused and scared by. Hmm, they must have thought, there’s still communism in Korea and China, and even though we don’t have any beef with them, let’s be on the forefront for a change. And almost overnight, the Escobars and Sanchezs of evil were replaced by scary looking Asian men in military uniforms left over from Russian central casting.

Surely, this villain was the best of all. Not only were they lucky enough to have Sino-US relations just starting to chill, but they could throw in some kung-fu. Kung-fu in any type of action film is like Bacos: they make every scene better. Sure, we still clamor for the explosions and finely crafted intrigue set to the throes of violins and timpani, but throw in some men in uniforms doing twirls and spins in the air and you can explode bladders everywhere. Because we all used to go to the bathroom during the long plot explanation stretches, but with the possibility of kung-fu around every corner, that pee break will have to wait.

And so the new generation of action stars took their kicks to the face and partied with Asian woman and it seemed that Hollywood was happy. Surely, the Asian villain would last just as long as the Russians did. They could accumulate themselves a nice stable of actors and sets that they could re-use and recalibrate to fit the plots like a game of Movie Mad Libs. But as always, complacency set in and Hollywood felt the need to be even more topical. They didn’t need a newspaper to predict where they needed to get their villains from next. It was only natural they decided to make the bad guys Middle Eastern.

Desert locales, mysterious religious practices most of Middle America didn’t understand and the ever present knowledge that most terrorists didn’t like America. That can practically write itself. Throw in the “We created them” angle present in Afghanistan and you have movie gold. Plus, most Middle eastern countries where they set the new breed of action films were bordering Asia which provided great crossover opportunities. It wasn’t hard to get the public to boo and hiss the Middle Eastern villain, with events being what they were. But for every anti Al-Qaeda action film, there was the news media who portrayed the Middle East as a cauldron of double entendres and murky underdeals. Being a villain wasn’t so simple anymore, since you never could tell who wore the white hat and who wore the black one. Hollywood doesn’t like politics in its’ action films, unless there is no room for debate. What would they do now? Could they go back to Asia and try a do-over? Too late for them, as it turns out, since directors who were actually from Asia and using sets that were really in Asia were already filling the kung-fu hungry void left behind. Russia was gone; drugs were coming from trailer parks, cooked by unemployed drifters. So they went with the obvious decision…Britain?!?

I’ll admit I don’t understand the metrosexual, but I don’t fear it. I don’t truly think that beneath their Gucci shirts and bed head hair, they are launching a worldwide plot. Last I checked, we’re cool with Britannia. They’re even catching terrorists for us now, since we’re too busy shooting drug dealers in the butts along the Mexican border to do it ourselves. And Hollywood, don’t even try to play the language card. If we don’t know that they call erasers “rubbers” or cigarettes “fags,” we obviously don’t have cable (BBC America) and don’t deserve to be watching your films anyway. We should go out and get a job, so we can afford the basic necessity of cable.

But judging by the upcoming Bond film and a few Revolutionary War films slated for December release, it looks like the evil British villain is here to stay for at least a little while anyway. Just know I won’t be sitting in the seats. I’m just not scared by bad teeth. Though I’ll admit, Dame Edna creeps me out a tad…

Crossdressers as evil supervillains…now there’s something I can see…

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