In Honor of Foxxy Electro: The Five Best (and Worst) Cinematic Supervillain Reinventions

As several readers let me know today, Jamie Foxx has been talking at the Django Unchained junkets about his upcoming role as Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, with the money quote coming from, where they asked about the costume. Foxx responded:

It won’t be green and yellow. It will be a different color. They (the producers) want something for the future. They want to have it more grounded and not as comic book-y, so it won’t be green and yellow. They want to try new things, like a liquid rubber and things like that, and there are all these bolts and stuff in my arms when they are hanging me upside down and trying to figure out what happen. How did he become this way? So, it will be some new stuff.

Fair enough – Electro’s costume was always a bit silly looking, so even in an era where filmmakers finally have the guts to give the X-Men yellow and blue outfits, some reinvention makes sense. Just so long as the filmmakers know when to change things up…and when not to. Here are five good examples of getting it right:

Good practice for playing Nixon years later

5. Skeletor (Masters of the Universe). Filmation took a scary looking, pumped-up death lookalike and made him a whiny sniggerer whose plans always failed ridiculously. The live-action movie got many things wrong, but in casting Frank Langella, they made the Eternian evildoer into a genuine threat – one who’d kill his own warriors to become a god. If he’d known that god powers could be destroyed just by his staff getting cut in two, however, he might not have bothered.

In America it’s bling-bling, here it’s bling-BANG

4. Galvatron (Transformers: The Movie). Megatron was a great bad guy, but his transformation from giant robot with arm cannon to tiny handgun never made much sense. Reborn as a new toy in the animated movie, he was able to become a much bigger gun, and gained Leonard Nimoy’s voice. That’s what we call an upgrade.

“Quack quack this, bitches!”

3. The Penguin (Batman Returns). Purists may disagree, but the Penguin is one seriously un-scary villain in most comic-book portrayals: a short, fat guy in a tux is going to beat the world’s most highly trained, semi-psychotic billionaire genius…with an umbrella? Turn him into a circus freak raised by sewer birds, and he gets a little scarier; Tim Burton’s only major misstep with the reimagined Oswald Cobblepot was to make him – rather than Batman – the protagonist of the movie (look closely at the story structure, such as it is – it’s the Penguin’s journey, not Bruce Wayne’s).

“I’ma flip this bird!”

2. Top Dollar (The Crow). A relatively unimportant drug dealer in the comic book, he became the main mean man in the movie version, and Michael Wincott’s distinct, gravelly delivery made the character. Able to swing a samurai sword and book awesome bands like Medicine to play in his club, this guy pretty much had it all until he killed Bruce Lee’s kid. Yes, the father was no longer around to kick his ass in retaliation, but a bird brought the son’s soul back in clownface. Shoulda seen that one coming.

I dare you to make fun of those outfits.

1. General Zod (Superman II). “Why do you say this…when you know I will kill you for it?” The biggest challenge Michael Shannon faces as the new Zod in Man of Steel is not living up to the comic-book character, but living up to the portrayal by Terence Stamp, who defined him not as a dude in a dorky military uniform, but a black-clad bad guy obsessed with making people kneel. You know it was effective because even after seeing Stamp in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, we’re still scared of Zod.

There’s a lot more competition when it comes to the five worst…

Talk to Shatner – he can fix that hairline

5. Lex Luthor (Superman, Superman II, Superman IV). To be fair, it was early days for the big-budget comic-book movie, and Richard Donner was taking as realistic an approach as one can in a movie about an alien orphan who flies around in a red cape. But Luthor’s big plan is…creating real estate with nuclear missiles? And he wears a hairpiece – with a receding hairline, no less – almost all the time? Donner was never going to give us the green “Super Powers” armor, and his movie predated the reimagining of Lex as a ruthless tycoon with a metal hand. But as a super-genius who has to rely on the help of a bumbling idiot and an unfaithful sex object, he really isn’t as smart as he ought to be. Gene Hackman’s good as Gene Hackman, but he isn’t Luthor.

4. The Red Skull (Captain America). Don’t panic – we’re not ragging on Hugo Weaving, whose Werner Herzog imitation kept The First Avenger consistently hilarious for cinephiles. That Red Skull rules. The 1990 version, played by Scott Paulin as an Italian…doesn’t.

“Do you fancy a shag, baby?”

3. Venom (Spider-Man 3). Sam Raimi never liked Venom, and boy, did it show. From the miscasting of Topher Grace to the misunderstanding of how he should even look – unmasked face with crooked teeth? – the director seemed determined to make the rest of us hate the character just as much. Mission accomplished, for now.

“It’s nahht a zirconiaaa!”

2. Mr. Freeze (Batman and Robin). Otto Preminger played Mr. Freeze on the Adam West TV show as a funnyman with a German accent. Paul Dini fleshed him out as a tragic figure with a broken heart. Joel Schumacher decided to try and do both versions at once, while simultaneously casting an actor who didn’t remotely have the range to pull it off. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance is hilarious for all the wrong reasons – the desperation in the way he overplays the bad puns is palpable – but it’s not any Mr. Freeze we know.

Three Mile Island isn’t the only disaster here

1. Deadpool (X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Really? Really, Fox? This should have been a home run – buff wiseass Ryan Reynolds as buff wiseass “merc with a mouth” Deadpool. So the first thing you do is make him mouthless, then give him completely unrelated powers? Like your butchered version of the character, we’re practically speechless. We know there are a lot of Rob Liefeld haters out there, but this seems like a ton of work just to spite him.