The ’80s excelled at many things: mullets, arcades, phenomenal cocaine use... But the decade also specialised in a unique movie antagonist: the weaselly douchebag who tries to thwart the hero, ending up with egg on their face.
From William Atherton’s Walter Peck in Ghostbusters (opens in new tab) (“It’s true - this man has no dick”) via every G.W. Bailey character (Police Academy, Mannequin, Short Circuit, et al) to James Tolkan (Back To The Future (opens in new tab), Top Gun (opens in new tab)) and Aliens (opens in new tab)’ Paul Reiser, these guys aren’t overarching villains seeking world domination, just petty bureaucrats using their position to boost their own egos.
They exist purely to allow our protagonists to stick it to The Man and look good. They may not be the douchebags we deserve, but they’re the douchebags we need right now.
Today’s movies too often set ultimate authority against their hero. In Iron Man 2 (opens in new tab), Tony Stark faces not only supervillain Whiplash, but also Senator Stern, who wants Tony to hand over his tech to the US government. But it would’ve been far more satisfying to see our hero get an unannounced visit from Health & Safety, investigating the continual broken glass showering pedestrians below Stark Tower.
In Avengers: Endgame (opens in new tab), you could’ve had the same H&S bod now running the department (all higher management disappeared in The Snap) and determined to shut down the time machine built at the New Avengers Facility. No permits? No time heist!
Joker (opens in new tab) was desperately missing a dubious health officer stalking Arthur, determined at first to prove he’s faking his condition and later that he’s the killer clown on the news. Todd Phillips should have revealed him to be Jim Gordon in the end credits; there’s an origin story for you!
The smallest battles are often the most important. James Bond, for instance, needs a snarky HR rep refusing to sanction his pay rise until he’s completed the MI5 manual-handling course. What a payoff in the climactic fight when 007 wins after remembering to straighten his back and use his knees when throwing the henchman off the building.
These jobsworths with their clipboards and rule-quoting allow our heroes to fly higher and we need them back... or is it just me?
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