Top 10 reformed movie monsters that want our trust
|LISTS - MOVIE LISTS|
Yes, yes, the murders. But that was ages ago...
This week sees the release of Oliver Stone's Wall Street sequel Money Never Sleeps, and brings back one of the 1980s scariest monsters, in penitent mode. Yes, Gordon Gekko, the most toxic trader who ever strip-mined your grandad's company, is out on parole and donning the mantle of a white-hat moneyman.
Nor is he the first screen villain to repent of his wickedness and wonder why we start locking the china cupboards. When someone you loved as a villain turns goodie, it's a recipe for first-class screen tension. I can't see Giger's xenomorph doing the confessional chat-show circuit, or Hannibal Lecter helping out at a soup kitchen (my advice: stick to the bread), but when there's just a hint that a screen dastard has done a moral u-turn, you can't help but wonder if it's really in your interest to show him your back...
10: Henry Turner - Regarding Henry (1991)
Arch-narcissist Harrison Ford is the cheating, emotionally empty husband to long-suffering Annette Bening in Mike Nichols' tale of medical transfiguration. When Ford is shot through the head in a store heist, his character and moral compass completely reboots, bringing about a new era of happiness with his estranged family. The tension comes when he begins to recover his memories later in the movie, and we begin to wonder if his redemption has just been a fugue.
9: Norman Bates - Psycho II (1983)
Anyone who has stumbled upon the later Psycho sequels might well have not bothered seeking out this first follow-up to Hitchcock's classic chiller, but it's a great movie that doesn't retread the original and works beautifully on its own terms (to boot, it's a hell of a lot better than the novel of the same name by Psycho screenwriter Robert Bloch). Mother-loving, woman-killing, bird-stuffing nutter Anthony Perkins is out of the funny farm after more than twenty years, and apparently blessed with new insight into and repentance of his former existence as a serial killer. Trouble is, as soon as he gets out, the bodies begin to pile up again. Is Norman so batty that he's murdering in his sleep, or some kind of trance? Does it have something to do with his new friend Meg Tilly, or the uneasy townsfolk that aren't sure of our (anti)hero's good intentions? Screenwriter Tom Holland pays off an engaging premise with one of the best and most shocking conclusions to any horror movie.
8: Lando Calrissian - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The history of why there were no black characters in the original Star Wars (1977) gets rewritten by the Lucas empire every year; it's an omission that ILM & Co. were able to fix in the 1997 re-release, but the truth is that Billy Dee Williams appeared - in what many argue is the best entry in the saga - as a corrective measure. Having betrayed his best pal Han Solo to the dastardly Darth Vader (who himself didn't long enough in Return Of The Jedi to make anyone nervous about his change of heart), Williams surmises that his deal with the Empire isn't worth the paper it's not written on, and repents of his wickedness towards Leia and the others. Seconds out of the handcuffs, Chewie nearly pulls his head off, and you can't blame him; Calrissian's motives even for his about-face seem dubious. Did Vader's back-tracking inspire this fit of conscience? If the Dark Lord had been as good as his word, would Calrissian have been setting his coffee down on a coffee-table made out of Luke Skywalker in the next film? Anyway, all is forgiven by the time RotJ comes about, which makes Calrissian a pretty flavourless character in that movie, sadly.
7: Richard B. Riddick - Pitch Black (2000)
David Twohy's sci-fi horror introduces us to one of the best characters in genre movies of the last ten years. Vin Diesel is the (apparent) psychopath being transported to a prison planet in Lecter-style constraints. When the crew of the crashed starship find themselves facing a plague of very unpleasant bat-creatures during an extended eclipse, Riddick is brought into a tense alliance with his former captors. Diesel's extensive mind-games with his nervous troupe really get the most out of the scenario, and we're kept guessing as to whether he's 'on the team' right up until the final five minutes of the film. And then. And then...
I can hardly talk about it. Then they made the Chronicles of Riddick in 2004, which turned the character from a fascinatingly ambiguous hard-man into a tree-hugging pussy. Apparently sequel #2 is going to get Riddick back in scary shape...
6: Captain Barbossa - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)
Possibly the only moment that stands out or bears remembering from the first PotC sequel Dead Man's Chest is the final pre-credits shot of Geoffrey Rush resuming his much-missed role as the nicotine-stained treacherous sea-dog that caused all the problems in the excellent 2003 original. The tension that resulted from Barbossa teaming up with his old nemeses in At World's End lasted a good deal of the movie; but it didn't last as long as the shock that not only was Barbossa now pretty much reduced to the role of a Sherpa, but he wasn't funny anymore. How they could fail to pay the character's ignominious past off in the sequels is baffling.
5: Father Joseph Fitzgerald Crissman - The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008)
And here we have the hardest of scenarios for repentant villains: a reformed pedophile priest. Billy Connolly is the defrocked cleric who claims that God is giving him information about the series of disappearances that Mulder and Scully must solve. It's a challenging scenario, as our instinctive revulsion - and a general conviction that Crissman's condition is pathologically incurable - leads us to interpret all of the character's actions as deceptive and self-serving.
4: Magneto - X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Silky smooth, metal-bending mutant Sir Ian McKellen finally had a chance to show his kinder side in this second - and worst - of the sequels to Bryan Singer's excellent 2000 comic-book adaptation. The need of a movie villain to band against a common enemy with his former adversaries crops up fairly frequently, but it takes an actor of McKellen's calibre to make us quite this uncomfortable, as Magneto renews an uneasy alliance with old chum Prof Xavier in order to fight Warren Worthington and his mutant-curing injector guns. Even during what can only be characterised as an uneasy truce, we wonder if Magneto might start playing with the cutlery again before the enemy arrives.
3: Harry Osborn - Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Another redemption in the Regarding Henry class, the vengeful son of the Green Goblin gets a dizzying knock on the nut in an early bout with Spidey which causes him to surrender his woes with Peter Parker and his alternate identity to a spiritually-cleansing bout of amnesia. We know his dad was a whacko who Parker wouldn't have killed if he could help it, but this happy event brings back 'good old Harry' to his best friends, and we're glad of it. The thread is unfortunately thrown away in a flood of over-casting and a series of bad decisions by director Raimi and the producers, but what the hell, it made several fortunes so it must be brilliant.
2: The T800 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Genius. Genius. James Cameron not only made a potentially hackneyed switcheroo fresh for T2 but managed to milk our collective hatred for Arnie's cybernetic killing-machine for all it was worth throughout the movie. By the time that the T1000 (why can't he self-terminate, by the way?) was lowered into the boiling vat at the end of the movie, he'd won us over and proved his worth. We therefore could possibly have done without the cheesy thumbs-up from the melting-pot, but it did little to mar the inventive concept of this ideological turnaround for a first-class screen villain.
1: Garland Greene - Con Air (1997)
If ever there was a character that deserved to get spun out into a sidequel, it's Steve Buscemi's Lecter-style serial killer in Simon West's first class action romp (yes, Jerry Bruckheimer was only the producer). Even a planeful of some of the hardest prison convicts in the world scratch their chins a while before letting Buscemi out of his protective cage when they hi-jack their transport to a new prison. The cons have a mixture of reactions to Greene, from bemusement to a well-advised wariness. But it's not until Greene comes across a (pretty annoying) little girl playing tea-parties in an abandoned Arizona playground that the tension pays off. And it pays off in spades. We've come to like Greene a lot, even if he is out of his usual context. Is he going to throw all that goodwill away in an unimaginable act upon his new play-partner? The answer proved to be one of the most nail-biting screen moments of the 1990s.
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