Green Lantern baddie Parallax chows down on some homemade fear.
There’s this old trick people talk about when it comes to James Bond movies. You can figure out exactly who the United States considered an enemy based on the bad guy. From Russian foes during the Cold War to Asian baddies in the wake of Vietnam, the Bond films operate within the chronology of U.S. military concerns. The most recent films (Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) feature villains independent of nations, freelance terrorists. The trend of making evil abstract extends beyond the canon of 007.
Two films from 2011 perfectly illustrate Hollywood’s efforts to dilute the nature of the “bad guy”. First up is Green Lantern, a truly terrible experiment in second-rate CGI and third-rate acting. For those lucky enough to have missed it, the plot revolves around an intergalactic entity named Parallax that feeds on fear. Parallax is a disembodied swirl of grey, like if Lost’s Smoke Monster could talk. What makes Parallax notable is his M.O.: nothing.
Yes, there is some majorly convoluted backstory involving Parallax, one of the Lantern rings and a lot of cosmic nonsense. However, to the casual viewer, Parallax’s wrath is simply evil being evil for the sake of it. Parallax doesn’t want to control the world, or even really destroy it. He exists almost solely as a foil to Ryan Reynold’s Hal Jordan character, a kickstarter for Jordan to embrace his role as the Green Lantern. As someone who isn’t familiar with the comic legacy that preceded this film, please know my analysis of Parallax is relegated only to the film. Whoever or whatever Parallax may have stood for in his ink and paper form, it is lost in an effort to create a villain “worthy” of Green Lantern’s powers.
Fun fact: the original name for this movie was ‘Untitled Universal Studios Ride’.
Let’s look at another movie that came out last year: Cowboys and Aliens. What Jon Favreau and company set-out to create in this film is an action-packed anachronism filled with intrigue and Harrison Ford scowls. They definitely got a few parts of it right. If you want to know what actually happens in this movie, please read the succinct summary over at Movie Pooper. In short, aliens attack a New Mexico town sometime in the late 1800’s. The aliens go from planet to planet torturing the locals to see what makes them tick. Again, we’ve found unmotivated evil.
Like Parallax, these aliens have nothing at stake. They don’t need money, land, technology or war. They’re just really mean. By watering down the essence of these villains, the viewer is forced to side fully with the good guys. Think about the best antagonists in film: Hannibal Lector, Heath Ledger’s Joker, T-1000. Whether or not you’re rooting against them, you’re invested in them. You want to see Lector escape, you want to see Joker push Batman too far, you want to see T-1000 catch Terminator in the semi-truck chase. Do you also want the good guy to prevail? Sure, no doubt. However, when a villain is as flat as Parallax or the aliens of Cowboys and Aliens, the viewer has no investment in the enemy.
This scene, forever and always.
My proposal is simple: let’s agree to make the bad folks as interesting as the good folks. I’m pretty sure there’s enough real-life inspiration out there in the world that we can be doing better than intergalactic bullies. It’s time for filmmakers to appreciate the value of a solid antagonist, one that’s played by an actor, not a computer.