[10 December 2013]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Sometimes, a villain is easily vanquished. Their master plan is thwarted, their defenses undermined and their offenses tried and convicted. They are then locked away in asylums, frozen in ice, left to die on a desert planet or simply shown the door to the great hereafter. Of course, those who don’t die know no end. They seem to play the proverbial bad penny, turning up whenever our hero and his or her half-baked R&R appear ripe for unrest. It’s in these moment, in these time where our terror gets a second chance at thwarting the protagonist that his or her true mantle is shown. Sometimes, all they manage is another miserable defeat. In other instances, the rewards are swift and satisfying… if again, only temporary.
It’s with this in mind (and with the release of Despicable Me 2 on Blu-ray and DVD) that we decide to look over the 10 Greatest Returning Villains of All Time. The parameters for this particular category are fairly loose, but we did decided on a few creative caveats. First, we would only focus on more family oriented fare. Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers never seem to give up, or the ghost, but their evil is always accented with gallons of blood and clots of gore. We also tried to avoid scenarios where the comeback is a mere pre-conclusion con. Just because a menace manages to survive being shot into the sun doesn’t validate a last minute reappearance before vaporization. Finally, we have fiddled a bit with the overall idea. In most of these cases, the return was mandated by a sequel. In some however, a single film holds their origins as well as their new need for some repugnant recompense.
Now that former supervillain Gru is a quasi-confirmed family man, and desperate to turn over a new leaf, it makes sense that he would sign up to help the good guys catch the rogue who stole an entire top secret lab. When our hero (?) suspects that a Mexican restaurant owner is actually the former baddie El Macho, a back and forth between his new life and his former self takes over. In the meantime, our Hispanic horror is indeed back on the side of the sinister, hoping to make horrific mutant monsters out of everything and anything in the world.
When Flint Lockwood invented the “Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator,” otherwise known by the catchy acronym above, he was only trying to help his hometown of Swallow Falls overcome its dependence on sardines for sustenance, and social sustainability. But when the device develops a mind of its own, suddenly taking over the skies, its creator has to step in to stop in. In the second film, the FLDSMDFFR is back, this time turning the various oddball foods its regurgitates into living, breathing vittles critters like “shrimpanzees, tacodile supremes, mosquitoasts, watermelophants, and bananostriches.”
He’s the Terminator of time travel comedies (wait…huh?). It seems like, no matter what happens to the McFly family, be it in the old West or a decrepit crime ridden future version o f Hill Valley, Biff is there to stir the simmering pot. Though it’s not always the same version of the vile menace each time (it has to do with parallel realities and possible alternative time lines, or something), the same intent is there - to rob George (or a version of same) of his bride Lorraine (again, or someone similar) and thwart Marty’s attempts to keep them together. Even in victory, Biff bungles his often ill-considered plans.
Coraline Jones does not like her new home. It’s oddly creepy, and there’s a doll that looks just like her and a small, unexplained door in a living room wall. Turns out there is a parallel world attached to this domain, a realm ruled by a spider-like witch with a hankering for human souls. At first, Coraline believes she has defeated this dark entity. But soon, she realizes, that even the good around her has been poisoned by the Other’s evil designs. As with all things frightening and fairy tale, it takes love to conquer, and family to find a solution.
Look at that face - you can just tell he’s up to no good. Even as a trusted advisor to the Sultan, our baddie is not content to sit back and play a supporting role. He wants more power and assumes a genie will be a good way to gain it. That’s why he has known thief Aladdin head out into the desert to find a certain gold lamp. The result becomes a typical tale of good attempting to conquer evil. Later, in the direct-to-video sequel, Jafar returns to finish what he started, only to have his formerly loyal parrot, Iago, switch sides and destroy him…forever?
His physical situation makes this an easy entry. As the arch-nemesis of one Peter Pan, Captain Hook has a massive score to settle. It was the spritely boy who never wants to grow up that lopped off the villain’s hand, feeding it to a crocodile that now waits, not quite so calmly, to get the rest of his tasty pirate snack. So naturally, Hook is ever after the Pan, seeking revenge and hoping to end the aquatic reptile’s hold on his soul in the process. Throughout the years, it is this brash buccaneer and his inevitable returns that make for Neverland’s arch mythos.
For a long time, this determined driver had the number one arcade game in his small town storefront. Then, as with most fads, he faded away. Determined to retake his place at the top, he transforms into King Candy, sabotaging the world of Sugar Rush and its true ruler, Vanellope von Schweetz. Thanks to the ham-fisted help of Ralph, we learn of Turbo’s “track” record, his desire for power, and the reason behind his secret identity. We also learn that, sometimes, a little glitch in the system, while bothersome, can turn out to be a true hero in disguise.
Here’s one of the rare bad guys who we don’t mind seeing return time and time again. First, he messed with his brother Thor and his adopted father Odin as we learned about their backstory. Then, he worked with some interstellar baddies to bring space wrath down on all the Avengers. Back with his “family” on Asgard, he again proved to be both a viable villain and a semi-trustworthy ally. And all the while, he cracks jokes and makes comments that are equally snide and sincere. Add in the brilliance of the actor (Tom Hiddleston) playing the pariah and you’ve got some terrific terrorizing.
At first, she seems like a wacked out old lady with a really odd fashion sense. Then we learn that this legitimately evil gal wants to capture a group of adorable puppies and - wait, make sure all the children are out of the room - turn them into a coat. WHAT!?! Be it animated or live action, this crazed Queen of couture will stop at nothing to see her runway dreams realized. After a stay in an insane asylum, she’s cured, right? Well… In fact, more films would be better served if their villain made their way from reality to the booby hatch and back again. Cruella illustrates why.
Remember when you saw Star Wars for the first time? Remember how you felt when you saw Han Solo fly in and send a certain black helmeted villain’s ship sailing off into the galaxy. Without an explosion, without a final beat declaring him either dead or doomed, you just knew a certain dark Sith lord would be back, and sure enough, Vader struck again via the Empire while dropping a bloodline bombshell on our hero Luke Skywalker. Oddly, some solid paternal instincts take over during the Jedi’s revenge/return, leading us to believe that his broken heart (damn you awful prequels) could overcome an evil Emperor’s desire to destroy his enemies.