By Bloodwolfassassin 5 Comments
As I’m sure most of my readers over on rtgomer.com are aware, this month is DC comics’ villains month, a month long tribute to the DCU’s best bad guys. While working on my weekly reviews of this event, I got to thinking, most people know these characters less from the comics, and more from their appearances in movies and television. Over the years there have been a lot of great actors who have portrayed the best of the worst, and I say it’s time we gave them their due. So today, I’m counting down the top 10 greatest performances as a comic book villain.
But before we get started, here’s an honorable mention.
HM: Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn
Before discussing Harley, first, I have an unfortunate confession to get out of the way. Aside from Harley here, there will be no female characters on the list from here on out. I assure you that this is not by design. It just so happens that comic book villainesses are a sadly underrepresented minority in film and television these days.
Anywho, let’s talk about Harley. There is no denying it, Harley Quinn is one of, if not the most popular female comic book characters today, and there are two very awesome people we can thank for that. The first is Paul Dini, co-writer of Batman the Animated Series who created Harley specifically for that series. The first, and most important, is voice actress Arleen Sorkin, who with her incredible voice, breathed life into the character we all know and love. I believe that if it weren’t for the talent of Ms Sorkin, Harley would not have become as popular as she was. When you look past the bubbly personality, Harley is an incredibly tragic figure, and so to hit that perfect balance between comedy and tragedy you needed someone who could demonstrate incredible comedic talent, as well as an beautiful singing voice (see the episode Harlequinade for an example), but at the drop of a switch to sadness and rage (see the episode Mad Love). Reminiscing about Harley in this light makes it all the more enraging to see what that sick bastard Jim Lee has done to her, the less said about that crime against feminism, comic book fandom and general good taste, the better. The only thing keeping the Harley and Arleen off the main list is the fact that this list is meant to pay tribute to those who have taken an established comic book character and made it their own. Harley Quinn was created specifically for Batman the Animated series and specifically for Arleen Sorkin. No disrespect to talented voice actresses like Tara Strong, but there is no one who could ever do Harley justice better than Arleen, the original and the best.
And now, on with the list
10. Mark Strong as Sinestro
Let’s get a few things out of the way right off the bat. Was Green Lantern a perfect movie? No. Was it a horrible movie? No. Do I regret going to see it? No. If they were to make a sequel that focused more on the character of Sinestro, would I see it? Hell yes! In what was more or less a forgettable and lackluster Superhero film that was destined to be forgotten in the wake of blockbusters like Captain America and X-Men: First Class. However, any time that the movie was good, was usually thanks to the skillful acting of Mark Strong as Sinestro, the man who would one day be the arch-nemesis of The Green Lantern. Hell, half the time, I found him to be a more interesting character than Ryan Reynolds’ Hal Jordan. (Not to far off from the comics now that I think about it.) You don’t see him as a mustache twirling bad guy who could turn evil at the drop of a hat. Instead, you see him as a man who takes his role as a leader very seriously and is tortured by the loss of his best friend and mentor. The comics often say that Sinestro was once considered the greatest of all Green Lanterns. Seeing Mark Strong, one of the most underrated actors of our time bring the same gravitas to the role as with his parts in movies like Sherlock Holmes and Kick-Ass made me believe it.
9. Colin Farrell as Bullseye
For those of you unfamiliar with Daredevil’s Rogue’s gallery, Bullseye is a very basic character. He’s an assassin in silly blue tights who has really good aim, that’s about it. So, when Colin Farrell was cast as Bullseye for the Daredevil movie, he had an opportunity to add his own flair to the character. Using his native Irish accent, donning a long black trench-coat and delivering gleefully evil one-liners, Colin took that simple character, and made him into a deadly and chilling threat. Every time he was on screen, I got excited because I wanted to see what awesome thing we would do next. Killing a guy with a piece of a paper clip, that’s pretty cool, but I think he can top it. Killing someone with a peanut, okay, that’s pretty original. Every move he makes is like he’s constantly trying to one-up both himself and his enemies. Whether you liked, or didn’t like the Daredevil movie, you can’t deny that Bullseye was one of the best things about it.
8. Tom Hardy as Bane
Yes, I am well aware of the fact that this character sounds like General Grievous attempting a Sean Connery impression. Everybody laugh so we can move on.
Bane, as a character, needed this. If you’ll recall, the last time Bane appeared in a motion picture was in the much maligned Bat Man and Robin, in which the man who broke Bat Man and nearly destroyed all of Gotham City was downgraded to generic minion status. That is inexcusable. So, naturally, Tom Hardy had a lot of work to do in order to redeem the image of the character, and good lord, did he succeed. This is someone I can see as the Dark Knight’s greatest challenge. Gone is Bane’s customary luchadore mask, exchanged for a terrifying breather mask. While the comic book Bane relied on chemicals for his enhanced strength, this Bane relied only on his natural muscle and cunning. Everytime Bane was around and you heard that chilling voice, you knew something bad was about to go down. Tom Hardy managed to transform himself masterfully for the role, putting on 31 lbs of solid muscle for this specific purpose. Bane was the logical choice for a villain in Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises, and Tom Hardy proved himself to be more than up to the task.
7. Tom Hiddleston as Loki
You all knew he had to show up on this list eventually. A relative unknown prior to Thor and Avengers, with a single character role, Hiddleston catapulted himself to well deserved super stardom. Prior to the films, Loki was always a character I was fairly indifferent to, but seeing Hiddleston bring the character to life in a way that no one else could changed my mind entirely. In norse mythology, Loki is the god of mischief, so naturally an actor playing Loki would have to play him as someone who is a sly and ambitious master of deception. Hiddleston achieved all of that and more. This is a man with the perfect look for the character, everything about him screams devious, especially that smile of his, seriously, every time he smiles I feel like any minute he’s going to do something unspeakable. His chemistry with his co-stars is also noteworthy. Alongside Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, he plays the prodigal brother with no interest in returning to his home of Asgard. With Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, he plays a powerful deity with unlimited confidence that this foe poses no threat to him. With Robert Downey Junior’s Iron Man, the roles are reversed and he is now a man desperately trying to assert his power over an opponent who’s own confidence won’t allow it. My personal favorite however is his scene with Scarlett Johanssen’s Black Widow, in which he does everything in his power to get inside her head, leading to a very amusing payoff when he realizes that she was playing him the whole time. A fantastic actor who I hope to see more of in the future, Hiddleston more than deserves a spot on this list. Let’s hope his momentum as Loki continues with the upcoming Thor: The Darkworld.
6. Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor
One of the most well known villains in the history of comic books, Lex Luthor has been portrayed by many a great actor over the years, including Gene Hackman, Kevin Spacey and Michael Rosenbaum. However, in my mind, the man who did it best was Clancy Brown and his incredible voice talent. Not only did he play Lex Luthor for several years in both the Superman and Justice League cartoons as well as various animated films and video games, he has played nearly every incarnation of Lex Luthor, from the mad scientist, to the scheming businessman to the corrupt U.S. president. Just by listening to the man’s incredible pipes, you can hear the entire story of a man who once thought himself to be on top of the world until he was consumed by his obsession with Superman. One of my favorite DC Animated Universe Lex Luthor moments comes in the Justice League episode Hereafter, in which a funeral is held for the presumed dead Superman and Lex Luthor shows up to pay his respects. You can hear the heartbreak in Clancy’s voice as he declares he will miss Superman and instantly, you know how empty this man’s life has become with the absence of his obsession. If Lex Luthor does make an appearance in a sequel to Man of Steel, I can think of no one better to finally portray the character in live-action than Clancy Brown. Hopefully the demand will be great enough that this fan boy dream finally comes true.
5. Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face
With so many great performances in The Dark Knight, some of which from actors who may or may not appear later on this list, Aaron Eckhart’s performance as Harvey Dent is sadly over-looked. This is actually really sad because most of the film hinges on the actions of his character. As SF Debris put it, while the film is about Bat Man and The Joker, the two are both merely players in the story of Harvey Dent. Wisely, Nolan opted to shy away from the goofy nature of the character with the ridiculous Two-toned suits and the fixation with the number two, and instead placed the focus firmly on the tragedy of the character. When we meet Harvey Dent, we’re instantly drawn to the guy. He’s very likeable and he has the potential to be a force for good that Bat Man could only hope to be. Aaron has a lot of work to do here. First, he has to capture the shining beacon of hope in the Darkness of Gotham that is Harvey Dent, then, he has to show the darkness within that light just waiting beneath the surface, and finally, when Harvey has lost everything, he needs to show that darkness completely take hold as he begins his transformation into the monstrous Two-Face. All of that is performed seamlessly by Eckhart. An excellent portrayal of my favorite member of Bat Man’s Rogues gallery, thank you Aaron Eckhart, you deserve to be in the top five.
4. Terence Stamp as General Zod
No disrespect to the likes of Callum Blue and Michael Shannon, both of whom portrayed fine Zods in their own right, but the man who did it first was the man who did it best. All Stamp need do is stare into one’s soul with his cold authoritative gaze and that would be more than enough, but then he opens his mouth and delivers the line that to this day has been synonymous with the character. That line: KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!! Every move the character makes is that of a seasoned and disciplined warrior with a gift for strategy and conquest. It is rare that you truly feel as though Superman is outmatched, but with Zod and his followers, you begin to believe. Very rarely does an actor come along who plays a character so well that their interpretation completely eclipses the original, but I do believe this to be one of those times. I salute Terrence Stamp, the man who countless generations of Superman fans, KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!!
3. Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto
To directly quote McKellen’s biography on Wikipedia, “Sir Ian McKellen is considered one of the greatest actors of his generation and one of the greatest British actors of all time.” You know, they’re not wrong. Even at the age of 74, this knight of the realm continues to be one of the most noteworthy actors in history, his amazing mastery of his craft being shown in all of his roles. His portrayal of Magneto in the X-Men films is no exception to this. Magneto is one of the most complex villains ever committed to ink. Having grown up a jew in Hitler’s Poland, young Erik Lehnsherr literally experienced the worst of humanity. As he grew up, and his mutant powers manifested, he used them to wage war against all of humanity and establish mutant dominance, all the while never realizing that he has become the very thing he hates in the process. McKellen plays Magneto as a man with complete mastery of his powers who uses a calm demeanor to mask the great rage he harbors within him. I especially love his lines that degrade those who he sees as inferior. And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his incredible chemistry with Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier. One of the greatest hero/villain relationships of all time brought to life by two of the finest actors who ever drew breath. These two are so great together that their appearance in the end credits scene of this past Summer’s The Wolverine, (Spoilers, sorry) turned a movie that was just okay, into a movie that was awesome. Ian McKellen kicks all kinds of ass and here’s hoping that he continues to do so in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
2. Heath Ledger as The Joker
There is truly nothing I can say about this performance that hasn’t already been said. It would be a travesty not to include this performance on my list. I could nitpick The Dark Knight, one of my favorite movies of all time, beyond recognition, and I would be unable to find a single negative thing to say about this performance. This performance is nothing short of perfection in acting. I have seen this movie a million times, and still, I have been able to find no trace of Heath Ledger within the character, all I can see is the Joker. The fact that this would turn out to be the late Heath Ledger’s final role before his all-too-soon death in 2008 is an incredible tragedy, but my god, did he go out with one hell of a bang. Every time he’s on screen, the audience can’t decide weather to be terrified or captivated by his disturbing antics. I personally have always imagined The Joker as the epitome of the evil a human being is capable of, and no actor has ever been able to capture that side of the character better than Ledger. I am certain that I will receive plenty of hate mail for not putting Ledger at number one. Believe me, I wanted to, and in any other list, he’d be more than worthy of that honor, but at the end of the day this is my list, and I have to be honest with myself. So without any further ado, I give to you, my number one choice.
1. Mark Hamill as The Joker
If I haven’t made it clear already, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker was, and still is, in a word, untouchable. However, that simply isn’t enough to top this list. To explain what is, first, I’ll take you back to my childhood, back when I was only about four or five. My older brother had introduced me to this character called Bat Man through this really cool cartoon. All of Bat Man’s enemies were memorable, some of them even pretty scary, but none of them left more of an impact than The Joker, due in no small part to the voice talent of Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill. In the nineteen years that followed, every time I would read a comic book, play a video game, or even simply devise a story of my own that featured The Joker it has always been, and always will be Mark Hamill’s voice I hear in my head. Hamill, using only his incredible range, was able to hit that perfect balance between the comedic nature of the character, and the terrifying evil that lurked just beneath the surface. And speaking of Hamill’s range, if anyone says to you that Mark never did anything after Start Wars, slap them upside the head because Mark Hamill went on to become one of the most talented voice over artists working today. Here’s a test for you. Listen to him play Luke Skywalker, then Listen to him as The Joker, and then listen to him as Master Eraqus from Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. Without me having just told you, there’s no way you’d ever guess that these three very different characters were all played by the same guy. When Mark Hamill officially announced that the video game Arkham City would be his final time playing The Joker, I was almost heartbroken. It was truly the end of a glorious era. Sure Richard Epcar has done a great job, but at the end of the day, there is simply no one who can fill the void left by Mark Hamill and his chilling Joker laugh.
And that about does it for this humble list. If there’s anyone you didn’t see on the list who you think deserved a spot, please let me know in the comments. Just be sure to keep it civil. And be sure to join me later this week for out final look at villains month over at RT Gomer Productions. Until next time.