It’s impossible to turn on the TV, or click through the internet, or listen to the radio without hearing talk about Russia, a Russian investigation, the collusion investigation or anything involving Russia or Vladimir Putin.
Now, ignoring the possible negative consequences of such accusations to our republic, people and way of life – to say nothing of America’s standing as a world power and the catastrophic consequences of nations such as China and Russia filling the void left when America bows out from the world stage – this whole national crisis could have some benefits to it.
That’s right: Better movie villains.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there have been no good movie villains. Terrorist cells don’t have the same charisma that an Oxford-educated KGB agent does. Latin American dictators make terrible adversaries for icons such as James Bond.
But now that Russia is waking from that perestroika-induced haze, we finally have a decent adversary again.
Now, before you say, “But Kevin, we always had Nazis as villains,” I’ll acknowledge Nazis make a very close second to best villain ever.
(In movies. I don’t think we can argue that actual Nazis weren’t the worst in history. There were, contrary to what some may say, no fine people on that side.) There’s no way to make a Nazi sympathetic. You shouldn’t.
But a Russian villains can draw on so many facets of a rich culture. They might be a sadist with a car battery at their disposal, but they also have a wealth of introspective thoughts at his disposal because of years reading Dostoevsky and Gogol. Or their devotion to their nation can only be tempered by hearing stories their grandmother told after growing up in the Holodomor.
A good movie villain needs to make you think, if only for a second that “maybe they’ve got a point.”
Killmonger in “Black Panther” will do that – why not help oppressed people rise up around the world?
That’s a good thing, right? Just for a second, you root for the guy.
Except Russia has entered the modern world now. No longer under the yoke of the Communist Party, it practices the same brand of classical liberalism as the rest of the civilized world, albeit with fewer people at the top. These Russian criminals don’t have the came cache that the Communist villains had. A guy going toe-to-toe with James Bond because of some Marxist ideal – you can respect that. If he’s doing it to open free markets and make a few bucks, he’s just like the rest of us.
Well, almost just like us.
There are other Communist countries in the world that don’t seem as adept at providing villains for our cinema. China would be perfect – the only other nation that could really threaten American global hegemony – but no director would dare risk a Chinese villain. China is a huge market and they want access to it.
North Korea, until about a week ago, was a huge adversary. But the one James Bond film with a Korean villain, “Die Another Day,” had to whitewash him into a Brit and it was an all-around bad flick anyway.
No, there’s just something about Russians. They have that je ne sais quoi that make for great adversaries. The United States needs to be countered by the Russians. It’s only right, it’s the only way.
Our decadent and soft way of life, with supermarkets and readily accessible toilet paper, needs to be balanced out by those raised in the cold, Russian winters that stopped French and German armies bent on global conquest. Our national sense of individual entitlement needs to have the opposite a villain fighting for collective good.
Except we don’t even have that anymore. Putin, for all his power and braggadocio now, will not be memorable after he is gone. Not like a Stalin or a Kruschev, anyway. We can look at our onetime and future opponent across the globe and know Russia’s leader is only in it for himself and any evil plan is just so he can enrich himself at the expense of the rest of his people.
No. Give me the Soviets any day of the week, the classic Russian villain, where he and an American kid who grew up playing baseball and eating apple pie face off in the back alleys of Tangiers, Berlin or Istanbul.
The world is a lot less fun when everyone is only in it for themselves.