Why Irina Spalko is Actually the Best Villain You Can Ask For | Teen Ink

Why Irina Spalko is Actually the Best Villain You Can Ask For

October 3, 2014
By Stella_Val_Illicia GOLD, Salt Lake City, Utah
Stella_Val_Illicia GOLD, Salt Lake City, Utah
13 articles 0 photos 248 comments

Favorite Quote:
"In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad idea."
--Douglas Adams


Colonel-Doctor Irina Spalko. The one action movie antagonist you’re pretty much guaranteed not to see on any Top 10 villains list anywhere in the great empty vastness that is the internet. Now, I’ve seen a lot of reasons for this: she’s not in the story as much as people would like, she’s not interesting, she’s not the crazy maniacal supervillain that the first three Indiana Jones movies can boast, she’s not a he… and the list goes on.

 

To address the criticisms-- I get that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull got a lot of bad press. The generation that grew up on Indiana Jones experienced what most of them probably considered to be a huge release of George Lucas’s media flatulence when the movie was released. While I wouldn’t consider it to be an awful film by any means, I can agree that it is… well… underwhelming. But bad writing, unrealistic CGI, and all, this movie can boast what I consider to be among the best antagonists in action movie history.

 

I hear a lot from people- women in particular- that Spalko is not a strong female character when she’s standing next to Marion Ravenwood. I’ll give you this: Marion is a strong female character in her own way. But so is Spalko. Often people get upset that directors write female characters who, in order to be defined as strong, come out as emotionless robots, and I hear that criticism of Spalko a lot.

 

When she monologues, I listen, because I can tell she’s describing a goal that is seriously important to her. She goes mad at the end of the movie, from her obsession with the crystal skull. She goes mad. Just because she she is not involved romantically with a male character does not mean she is an emotionless robot. Her emotion is simply driven toward her work, rather than toward another person.

 

People have also said that as a female antagonist, that she doesn’t stand out in the likes of catwoman and Harley Quinn. She doesn’t get a defining moment, or a flashy costume, or a token line. I think what you mean to say is that she isn't sexualized. She is quite possibly the only female antagonist I have ever come across in a male-dominated action movie, who isn’t portrayed as a wild, erotic warrior woman, like the female villains of Batman. Her clothing is nondescript, and her weapon of choice is a rapier. Nothing special, but Cate Blanchett went out of her way to give her a unique appearance to this character without turning her into the sexualized female villains of most action movies. And that is something I have the utmost respect for, in both actor and character.

 

And, of course, the foremost criticism I hear of this character is that she is boring. This sentiment I consider to be the result of the crazy super villains that came out of the first three Indiana Jones movies. The original trilogy was renowned for its wild antagonists; hell-bent on destroying humanity, decked out in color or quietly murderous (but still very murderous), they were forces to be reckoned with. Spalko, on the other hand, is somewhat subdued. She doesn’t seem to have the energy of her predecessors.

 

Spalko is not boring; she’s simply relatable in her flaws. Unlike most antagonists in action movies, she’s not evil. She doesn’t radiate death and destruction. She doesn’t go from mild-mannered to crazed revenge-seeker all at once, nor is she simply evil from the start. She has the steady character arc of a tragic hero, and not of a villain, identifying more with Gollum or Snape than with Mola Ram. First we see a cold political figure motivated by patriotism; as the story goes on, she slowly descends into a personal obsession with the crystal skull, and we see her desperation for answers to all the unanswerable question of the world.

 

In the end of the movie, Spalko doesn’t ask for power. She asks for knowledge: the cardinal difference between this character and the wacked-out bad guys we’re used to. We can empathize with her. Instead of cheering as she’s destroyed, we feel pity and pain. We all want to know why we exist, and whether there’s other life in the universe, and what happens after we die. We understand and empathize with the desire she felt to understand the world, because her motivations are the same things that drive us to act in everyday life, to further technology and science, and influence our governments. And it pains us to know that those motivations drove her to insanity.

 

We stop seeing her as a villain, but because the story portrays her as the antagonist, we find her underwhelming, because she draws, in my opinion, nearly as much sympathy as the hero. We have no idea what to do with her, because media has developed such clearly defined niches of good and evil that we ultimately come to dislike her as a character because we can’t fit her into the villain niche.

 

Seeing the look in her eyes as she came to be driven less and less by political forces and more by her own obsession, I came to love this character.

 

And yes. It hurt when she died, because I understood her motivations and looked beyond the costume, and beyond the fact that she was, in fact female, and an antagonist. It hurt me to see Spalko die, despite the fact that she was the villain, and the movie was underwhelming. That, my friends, is the mark of a truly exceptional character.


The author's comments:

I feel like Spalko is really underrated as a character, because people hate Indy 4 so much. She's actually a fascinating character.


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This article has 21 comments.


Beila BRONZE said...
on Feb. 28 2015 at 11:32 pm
Beila BRONZE, Palo Alto, California
3 articles 0 photos 519 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." -Mark Twain

That's interesting. Thanks for explaining it to me. :) Yes, Luna Lovegood is possibly the most fun character in the entire series! I love the depth of her character, which goes back to where this thread originally started. :) She's a "minor" character, yet you can see that JK Rowling knew her inside and out, quirks and all. Her ideas and uncannily insightful comments were an unexpected and refreshing addition to the cast of character when she showed up, not to mention, I think the costuming department in the movies needed a break from all the black cloaks. ;)

on Feb. 27 2015 at 9:31 am
Stella_Val_Illicia GOLD, Salt Lake City, Utah
13 articles 0 photos 248 comments

Favorite Quote:
"In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad idea."
--Douglas Adams

Yeah, I do :) I love Neville. He's great from the first movie up until the last one. And also characters like Luna Lovegood. And I just referenced The Lord of the Rings, if you're wondering. Galadriel so happens to be a very minor character in the books, with about a chapter and half, who I really came to enjoy when I first read Fellowship of the Ring. That whole chapter was just awesome. But really, she changes the course of the story. She has a huge impact on Frodo, and on Boromir, and pretty much everyone.

Beila BRONZE said...
on Feb. 27 2015 at 1:28 am
Beila BRONZE, Palo Alto, California
3 articles 0 photos 519 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." -Mark Twain

Uh, oh. I have no idea what you just referenced! :) Care to explain? I love the minor characters who have back stories, though. Sometimes, I feel like they are really the ones who make or break movies in particular. Like, the drama obviously has to be good and all, but the characters who are just there for comedic timing or to pull the rug out from under their feet--they're memorable. Obviously, this is not a perfect parallel, but in the very first Harry Potter movie, I think Neville only got about half a minute of screen time, but his "great deal of courage to stand up to one's friends," in Dumbledore's wise words, made me completely fall in love with the character. Is that kind of what you mean?

on Feb. 26 2015 at 6:09 pm
Stella_Val_Illicia GOLD, Salt Lake City, Utah
13 articles 0 photos 248 comments

Favorite Quote:
"In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad idea."
--Douglas Adams

Yeah, that was a great moment. It was like-- Ohhh, so that's why she's been introduced to us. It was brilliant. That's why I've always loved, in Tolkien, characters like Galadriel. She's only in the story for a chapter and a half, but she has such a huge impact on all of the characters and where they go from there. Not to mention she's got a great back story. I mean, she's by no means an antagonist, but in the way of minor characters, she's pretty brilliant.

Beila BRONZE said...
on Feb. 25 2015 at 9:05 pm
Beila BRONZE, Palo Alto, California
3 articles 0 photos 519 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." -Mark Twain

So true. I think it's the intentionality it reveals. A lot of writers people their work with characters who exist because they have to instead of characters who live because they want to. I think that's a major distinction between good writing and Great Writing- the writers who have the real love for and dedication to their art immerse themselves in the writing and understand every tiny detail. It's the difference between creating worlds and discovering them. It seems that a character like Narcissa is just there because duh, Draco needs a mom, but in reality, she's there because duh, J.K. Rowling was going to have her steal the show all along! That's genius right there, in my opinion. :)

on Feb. 25 2015 at 6:08 pm
Stella_Val_Illicia GOLD, Salt Lake City, Utah
13 articles 0 photos 248 comments

Favorite Quote:
"In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad idea."
--Douglas Adams

Oh my gosh, yes! I loved that scene. She was such a minor character, but she had such a huge impact on the story. I really love it when that happens in a novel. A character who doesn't seem all that important suddenly impacts the plot in a way you didn't see coming.

Beila BRONZE said...
on Feb. 24 2015 at 7:28 pm
Beila BRONZE, Palo Alto, California
3 articles 0 photos 519 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." -Mark Twain

Uggh, sorry, Teen Ink and I have serious technical problems. :) I posted that comment- no idea why it doesn't show my name.

. said...
on Feb. 24 2015 at 7:26 pm
Interesting. I've never heard that or picked up on it in the movies. I wonder if that's one of those things that J.K. Rowling had time to create, but the movie director didn't have time to accurately portray? In that case, I see the appeal of her as a villain. By the way, that makes me think of Malfoy's mother in the last movie; that was possibly one of my favorite movie villain scenes of all time. When she showed that she loved her son more than she was hopelessly devoted to Voldemort's cause, I gained a huge respect for her as a character. I know she's not even remotely the main villain, but that decision definitely had me reconsidering my perception of Voldemort and his followers.

on Feb. 24 2015 at 6:13 pm
Stella_Val_Illicia GOLD, Salt Lake City, Utah
13 articles 0 photos 248 comments

Favorite Quote:
"In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad idea."
--Douglas Adams

Mm... What I find interesting in Bellatrix is mostly the alleged love and attachment she actually feels for Voldemort. There's some sort of connection she feels for him that I find really interesting. I love insane characters. I will read Divergent at some point, I'm sure. :)

Beila BRONZE said...
on Feb. 24 2015 at 1:33 pm
Beila BRONZE, Palo Alto, California
3 articles 0 photos 519 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." -Mark Twain

So as a rule, I can't really make it through more than a few minutes' worth of fantasy, so I have not read Chronicles of Narnia, nor Harry Potter. I have, however, seen the Harry Potter movies. I'm not sure what I think of Bellatrix. From what I remember of the movies, she's a pretty flat out evil, possibly completely insane villain. What intrigues you about her? And you have to read Divergent!!! The movie, of course, could not do justice to this amazing book.

on Feb. 24 2015 at 9:45 am
Stella_Val_Illicia GOLD, Salt Lake City, Utah
13 articles 0 photos 248 comments

Favorite Quote:
"In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad idea."
--Douglas Adams

Ah, that's where I don't know much. I saw the movie--Kate Winslet does a good villain. But I never read the book. I don't usually do YA novels, but she did seem really interesting. I read the Hunger Games a couple years ago. I liked it, didn't love it, didn't like the last book at all. Alma Coin was my favorite character though. She was too interesting for me to hate. Made the last book worth finishing. Good antagonist. Another favorite villain on the list--the White Witch from Chronicles of Narnia (ashamed to admit I haven't read that either but it's on my list). And, you know, Bellatrix.

Beila BRONZE said...
on Feb. 24 2015 at 4:53 am
Beila BRONZE, Palo Alto, California
3 articles 0 photos 519 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." -Mark Twain

Ooh, you got me. I was not a huge fan of the Hunger Games concept and tried to forget the series as soon as I was done reading. My friend convinced me to start, and due to Suzanne Collins's tragically incredible writing, I couldn't not read through the last book, but I really didn't connect with the idea of a whole society watching as kids go into an arena to fight to the death. It was just too sickening to me. Consequently, I barely even remember who Alma Coin is and can't give you my opinion of her. But since we're going through the list... Jeanine Matthews of Divergent? (Loved her in the movie, by the way.)

on Feb. 23 2015 at 8:24 pm
Stella_Val_Illicia GOLD, Salt Lake City, Utah
13 articles 0 photos 248 comments

Favorite Quote:
"In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad idea."
--Douglas Adams

Yeah, that was pretty much my point with Spalko. I always thought that the movie could have done this really interesting political thing, given the Cold War on their hands, and they passed it by. Yet the portrayal of Spalko was the only little hint you got of that "political thing." I mean my theory about Maleficent is, as I mentioned, that people feel insulted that Angelina Jolie is taking on their favorite character, but I don't really understand why that's insulting in the first place. Ooh, what about Alma Coin from the Hunger Games? She's another one of those interesting villain-like characters.

Beila BRONZE said...
on Feb. 23 2015 at 1:45 pm
Beila BRONZE, Palo Alto, California
3 articles 0 photos 519 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." -Mark Twain

I completely agree with you regarding Maleficent. Besides the true love message, I loved that Maleficent was actually portrayed as a human being in this movie. People are complicated, scarred by their pasts, twisted by ambition, and capable of compassion even in the midst of a desperation for revenge. I believe that any person, to a greater or lesser extent, has the potential to become both a hero and a villain, and I really appreciated the way Maleficent was treated- as just another person. I guess that was your point with Spalko, too.

on Feb. 23 2015 at 9:28 am
Stella_Val_Illicia GOLD, Salt Lake City, Utah
13 articles 0 photos 248 comments

Favorite Quote:
"In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad idea."
--Douglas Adams

Thank you so much! I kinda fell in love with this character and it drove me crazy how many people overlooked her just because film is... well, the script ain't so good. And the CGI left a lot to be desired. I actually really liked Maleficent. I know, I know, a lot of people were angry about the existence of that movie. But I'll save my rant about how people let their personal feelings of insult as Angelina Jolie played their favorite childhood character get the better of them in favor of the fact that Maleficent kind of got the same bad press as Spalko. She wasn't particularly evil, but that's what made her interesting, rather than the flat out villainy we see in the original. Plus I'm a sucker for true love that isn't romance :)

Beila said...
on Feb. 23 2015 at 2:14 am
Wow. I am by no means a fan of Indiana Jones, as in my life wouldn't really be much changed whether or not the whole series existed, but this was so passionate, even I want to scream it from the rooftops! :) I think one of the best parts of writing is when you can feel an author's tone of voice change, when you laugh at one part and then you shake your head at another, and you kind of expect the writing to respond because the author's presence is so vivid. You did a fantastic job. Out of curiosity, have you watched Maleficent, and if so, what were your thoughts on the portrayal of her as a villain/hero?

on Feb. 19 2015 at 9:41 pm
Allen. PLATINUM, Palo Alto, California
32 articles 9 photos 525 comments

Favorite Quote:
[i]No matter how much people try to put you down or make you think other things about yourself, the only person you can trust about who you really are is you[/i] -Crusher-P

I can applaud this sincerely, even as someone who isn't a major fan of most mainstream movies and comics. Very well written.

on Jan. 28 2015 at 8:58 pm
CaseyChickenWang SILVER, McDonough,
7 articles 2 photos 89 comments

Favorite Quote:
"No one likes half-jinglers! Jingle all the way!" - Shelley McNeight
"You don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate." - GSUMUN

Yas! I love villains :) Hal (from Kubrick's 2001), Maleficent (from, well, Maleficent), the witch from Oz, and now I think I just added a new villain to my list - Irina Spalko. Well written. Bravo!

alioops SILVER said...
on Dec. 3 2014 at 7:48 pm
alioops SILVER, North Hollywood, California
8 articles 2 photos 36 comments

Favorite Quote:
"What moves men of genius, or rather, what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough."
- Eugene Delacroix

I totally agree! I love seeing real strong women as characters.  Great article!

on Dec. 3 2014 at 6:14 pm
Stella_Val_Illicia GOLD, Salt Lake City, Utah
13 articles 0 photos 248 comments

Favorite Quote:
"In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and been widely regarded as a bad idea."
--Douglas Adams

Thank you :) I kind of fell in love with this character when I watched the movie, and I was dismayed by how many people hate her.


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