It’s a well-worn adage but it’s true of movie big bads; less is more. A judicious Great White fin here, a rationed-out sweep of an imperial cloak there, the build-up to the reveal of a cinematic nemesis can be a delicious, thrilling thing – and shudderingly scary. The physicality of those foes meant they were a tangible, corporeal threat made flesh (or plastic), squaring up to our heroes in the same frame and dimension. They offered audiences a sense of genuine peril and, while the development of CGI allowed for visual augmentation, it didn’t damage our ability to suspend disbelief (The Mummy Returns notwithstanding).
And then Hollywood decided that the single most scary thing for our blockbuster protagonists to face was... a massive, swirling LED dust storm thing. Yep, what could be more terrifying than facing the inside of a Dyson hoover that’s overdosed on glitter? A cosmic minestrone soup? A billowing smoke stack of embers like your dad’s just done a particularly shit job with the bonfire on Fireworks’ Night? Um, quite a lot actually.
So now, instead of cranking nail-biting tension when the baddie arrives in full-on nefarious mode, all we get is computer-generated particle cloud fatigue and an instant gut-punch from fantasy back into reality. Is it any wonder that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword went down as well as a sodden codpiece with audiences when Jude Law’s campy king stops prowling about in furs and transforms into a stupid billowing Ghost Rider wannabe? Or Suicide Squad disappointed us after offering the worst of the worst, a battle with Incubus, which turned out to be little more than a nebulous black fart? And that piss-poor electromagnetic Doomsday stunk up Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice even more than Bats and Supes? And a moment, please, for Oscar Isaac trying his best as a glorified sandstorm in X-Men: Apocalypse.
Even good tentpoles can’t resist; Fantastic Beasts succumbed to transforming Credence Barebone into an Obscurus (i.e. the lovechild of angry fog and glow sticks) and Wonder Woman jettisoned her tangible adversary for a levitating cinder flurry. All of which only succeeds in making us tired rather than terrified. Or is it just me?
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