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December 10, 2009

In Defense of Evil Corporations

On Twitter, I am arguing with Gabriel about Evil Corporations. I like 'em. He hates 'em.

As movie villains, I mean. He doesn't like the implicit, he thinks, critique of business and profit.

I like 'em.

First of all, let me distinguish: There is a big difference between the Evil Corporation in Erin Brokovich and the Evil Corporation in Total Recall. (Was that a corporation? I forget. The bad guys wore suits; close enough!)

Erin Brockovich and Michael Clayton and Syrianna and all the other idiot leftist productions are intended to be "serious" critiques. This despite they set up their villains with such cartoonish malevolence that Emperor Palpatine seems more well-rounded and realistic by comparison. But that's what they do -- they tell us we must show "nuance" in all things, and sophistication in art, until it's time to make their little stupid polemnics. At that point we find out that the oil companies are run by a board of directors that includes Freddy Krueger the creatures from Seti Alpha V that bore into your ears.

But I do not think that critique is present in a James Bond movie. It's not intended, really. It's a pure contrivance, and they usually don't spend too much time pretending it's anything but that.

In action/fantasy/sci-fi movies, the Evil Corporation is just this very awesome plot device. With one plot device, you get:

1) Mad resources and an unending supply of troopers with high-tech hardware. Plus the tech guys in a room full of monitors whenever you need to explain how they found the hero again (in time for the next attack sequence). You can also kill all the corporate troopers and guards without moral qualms, because hey, they are mercenaries for an Evil Corporation.

2) The ability to carry this all out with so little public outcry. Corporations keep secrets better than governments. They don't have Concerned Voters that might protest. They have a board and that's it. You have the board in favor of the plan, that's fine. (Yeah, shareholders: They're not informed.)

3) A villain of the right size to be threatening and a seemingly unbeatable size... and yet it is a beatable size. James Bond could never, ever destroy the Soviet Union. It's too big. It's unimaginable. On the other hand, it's easy to imagine him destroying the Drax Corporation, because the Drax Corporation doesn't exist. Pretty easy to imagine it disappearing from the face of the earth, as you were only playing along in pretending it existed in the first place.

4) You get to avoid making up stupid-sounding fake foreign country names. This, to me, is huge. My head detonates whenever a movie or tv show makes up fake foreign country. Worse to me than the 555 phone numbers.

5) Plausibility -- Hey, corporations exist, they do have power, and they sure can be evil. Hey -- ACORN.

6) Cool set design. Loves me some tastefully-futuristic Evil Corporation meeting rooms.

I don't know what would become of James Bond if you took the Evil Corporation out of his rogue's gallery. How many times can he have missions against the Soviet Union or North Korea -- missions which, necessarily, can't really accomplish anything, because no one's going to buy a plotline where Bond kills Kim Il-Jong.

On the other hand, he can murder the shit out of an endless parade of Karl Strombergs.

Where would RoboCop be without OCP? The Terminator without Cyberdyne? Aliens without Wayland-Yutani? Nowhere, that's where.

Here's the other thing. I know, and I agree, that Hollywood is avoiding using realistic jihadist terrorists for heavies for political reasons. I want to see such movies.

But-- here's the little secret. There's also a good reason why they're using Evil Corporate types more frequently, anyway

Now I do not mean to let Hollywood off the hook -- I can use a lot more shoot-up-the-terrorists movies like The Kingdom, and they certainly owe us a real damn movie celebrating the military's war on the bastards in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I don't mean to let them off the hook.

But those would be serious movies. Realistic movies. Note, for example, The Kingdom was a realistic violent drama. It was not a fantasy, not a romp.

When it comes to fantasy, there's a reason you don't want terrorists as your villains.

It's because they're dirty ugly uneducated lunatic-raving little bastards.

To be a good villain, the villain must challenge the hero in all three arenas of competition: Physical, Mental, and Social.

Usually all villains surpass the hero in at least one category. The Industrialist Mastermind, for example, surpasses him in intellect or power (social), but not in physical prowess. The Industrial's Chief Enforcer -- your Oddjob -- surpasses him physically, but not in the other two areas.

The villain(s) must be superior to the hero in all three areas. (Or, at least, two.) That's what ultimately makes the hero's victory surprising. (Well... surprising in theory.)

The hero must at some point take on the villain(s) in all three areas. Including the social arena-- Why do you think Bond engages the villain in Bacarrat or witty by-play or romancing his girl into bed and cuckolding him? Because he's not just contesting with him in terms of brawn, and not just in terms of cleverness, but in terms of social ability. He's going full-spectrum against the villain.

Okay: That's not always true. Some movies have a villain that can't compete in the social arena -- Jaws, obviously, is just a monster. The Aliens are just monsters. The Terminator may look human, but it's just a monster. You can't engage it. It, famously, "cannot be reasoned with."

So sometimes a fantasy movie is a pure monster-bash and skips the full-spectrum confrontation element. But much more often the villain, somewhere along the way, turns out to be a human. Or an "alien" that is human in every respect except for bumps on his forehead.

Now back to these dirty little ugly scraggly-bearded religious-luantics/serial-killers.

Imagine James Bond playing one of these flea-bitten little assholes Baccarat.

See the problem?

Okay, imagine James Bond trying to steal one of their women away to turn that woman and get information.

See the problem? 1, they have no women. 2, the ugly beasts that they might have are hideous. 3, those women would either be 1) completely unturnable, as they're just as nuts as the filthy human viruses they consort with, or 2) too easily turnable, just immediately agreeing to do whatever Bond wants to get a plane ticket out of their third-world hell-hole cavern.

Okay, now imagine one of these filthy monsters giving James Bond the obligatory "You and I are not so very different, Mr. Bond" speech.

Bond would recoil in horror, and then laugh, and then say: "You wish, baby. You wish."

These demented monsters are so hideous they almost wind up projecting the exact wrong thing: Pathos. They're pathetic. Evil, yes -- but pathetic.

As opposed to, say, Ronnie Cox in RoboCop. He's evil, but not pathetic. He projects authority and accomplishment.

Again: Compare him to the human insect that your realistic terrorist is.

Although I seriously agree Hollywood is ducking the realistic, serious war picture that shows our troops or our foreign agents as the heroes they are, killing as many of these vermin as their ammo supplies will allow, when it comes to pure fantasy romps, as most action pictures are, these low-life bastards simply don't make for good villains.

They are too depressing. They are too uncultured. They are too filthy and dirty. They have absolutely nothing interesting to say.

They cannot engage in witty jousting. Because they are brainwashed lunatics who worship a God of Murder. What the hell kind of dialogue can you have with them? What becomes of the social confrontation in your fantasy-action movie?

The Evil Corporation villain, of course, allows this. The CEO, or whatever corporate officer is leading the evil forces, will of course be a very intelligent, literate, interesting sort of guy. You can actually talk to this guy. As evil as he is, he is "Fantasy Evil." He says evil things. But his nails aren't filthy and he's not wearing a sheet covered in his own excrement.

He can be plausible, sort of. Rather than so realistic that you're like, "God, this is depressing. Look at these filthy camel-buggering animals."

Sort of the same reason that fantasy-type movies, when they need the plot device of a disease, invent a fake disease with conveniently vague symptoms. A fantasy movie doesn't throw cancer at you -- it's too real, it's too horrifying, it's too weighty for a fun little fantasy.

And terrorists, I think, are human cancer.

You can include "Terrorist-Types" in fantasy movies. It can be done. Taken sort of, sort of maybe did this. But really the guys at the end were not "terrorists." They were just a depraved old Sheikh and his hired security team.

They all were showered, they all wore clean clothes, and they all were respectable enough to easily blend into Paris society.

I'm not saying it can't be done. It's just hard, and you'd really have to be on the look-out for making your terrorists too realistic. Terrorists who are "too realistic" are too plainly evil, and seem "fake," because really, how on earth can you be that ugly, depraved, filthy, murderous, and stupid simultaneously?

I mean -- they really are. But they wind up being so ugly and evil it kind of takes you out of your fantasy-action mood.

Evil Corporations don't present you with this problem. They're just as evil as the audience can accept. but they don't smell of urine and desperation and sheep-funk. They don't bring to mind ugly and painful memories of 9/11, which is something you usually want to avoid if you're doing a modern-day swashbuckler.

Anyway. My two cents. I do see that Evil Corporations are, in fact, often a convenient method of completely avoiding real-world problems and real-world enemies. But that is usually the point of a fantasy -- escapism, escaping real-world problems and filthy real-world terrorists, in favor of a fantasy world where even the evilest man in the whole world is still, when you talk to him a bit, a pretty cool and happening guy.

I mean-- You all know you would have a beer with Burke from Aliens if you had the chance. And Hans Gruber too.*

* Okay, technically, not an "Evil Corporation CEO," but having every single one of the attributes of one, except for the actual charter.

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posted by Ace at 10:59 PM

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