Effeminate, campy, queenish villains in Hollywood aren't exactly a new thing. Examples go as far back as say, Claude Rains' bad guy in "The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938), Peter Lorre as the delicate Mr. Cairo in “The Maltese Falcon” (his business cards are gardenia-scented for crying out loud), Conrad Veidt as the SS villain in “Casablanca,” Charles Laughton in “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935), and these types can be found in plenty of eras (Vernon Wells as the leathery, Pillsbury Doughboy-esque villain in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s "Commando" is sort of known as the plump Freddie Mercury of action movie villains).
But as of late, this trend, the fey, not-so-ambiguously gay villain (often with bleached blonde hair for some reason) seems to be coming back with a vengeance in modern cinema. While we're not completely omg offended per se -- we're not so politically correct to assume we can tell storytellers how they should write their characters -- we are starting to tire of this recent trend and lazy way of conceiving villains: the swishy, bleached-blonde villain with nefarious plans who comes with a dollop of (suggestively or outright) gay on top.
Worse, a lot of the characters appear to be conceived by the actors and not on the page. Both Guy Pearce in "Lawless" and Javier Bardem in "Skyfall" have openly discussed how they "fleshed out" their characters much more than what was in the screenplay initially (in our recent interview “Skyfall” director Sam Mendes told us he essentially let Bardem do whatever he wanted with the character). As such, it's somewhat alarming that "run wild and free with the bad guy" for some actors immediately means: makes this character not so subtly flaming.
With "Skyfall" in theaters this week, and Javier Bardem's villain being the latest offender of this new stereotype, we thought we'd chronicle five recent villains that fit this mold of the not-so-ambiguously gay villain.
“Mommy was very, very bad," Javier Bardem's Silva character says in the latest Bond, with pronounced theatricality. His near-ridiculous villain character, dressed as a dandy in a tan blazer and cravat in "Skyfall," seems to be earning great reviews, and we're not so sure why. It's just another madman character who's soooo crazy and off-the-rails, and well, of course he's got to have dyed-blonde hair (the new signifier for dangerous and queenish apparently), possess a lispy mannerism and maintain a well-coiffed sartorial style. And there’s almost nothing closeted about the character despite Sam Mendes and Bardem’s interview talk of the character’s sexuality being “ambiguous.” When he spreads Daniel Craig’s legs, gets on his knees between them and says “there’s nothing in the rulebook about how to prepare for this” as he’s slowly and gently moving his finger around his captor’s neck, there’s lots of hunter/prey connotations swirling about. More troubling is how the scene, and our introduction to Silva, essentially evinces him to be repugnant and vile. While Bond does shoot back well, disarming him with the, “How do you know this is my first time?” line in their sexual tête-à-tête, it’s still rather unfortunate that Bardem’s Silva amounts to a good boy who disobeyed, didn’t follow the rules, was tortured, became unhinged psychologically and then turned bad.
There's almost nothing subtle about Tom Hollander's eyeliner-wearing, aging-clubber character Isaacs in Joe Wright's coming-of-age action drama "Hanna." Doubly disconcerting is how "Hanna" is built on fairy tale archetypes. Cate Blanchett's character is essentially the evil queen, Saoirse Ronan is like an innocent Snow White, and Eric Bana is like a Huntsman figure, but Tom Hollander's character is what exactly? The Cheshire Cat? It’s very unclear where his character fits in these molds, and worse, on top of being uber-swishy, Hollander's character is annoying, sniveling and weasely in his one-colored tracksuit, peroxided hair, and designer sunglasses (worse: he’s based on a childhood friend of Wright’s who used to beat him up as a child). Hollander's imp character is, to put it bluntly, supposed to be a little bitch that might as well lustfully lick blood off a dagger. It's like the character is built to be so hyper-poncy that you can't wait for him to die, and that's disconcerting. The character certainly mars what is otherwise a pretty fresh and interesting take on both the coming-of-age story and the action thriller.