Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I Was Rooting For You, Mate.

(A brief note: Try as I may, Blogger won't let me change my background image.  So until I figure it out, Holmes and Watson are here to stay.  Now, on with the nonsense!)

I like villains.


I said it.

The rest of this post will explain why.

There must be opposition in all things, and every good story needs a good villain.  Whether that villain is embodied as an actual personage is conditional.  For instance, the villain of a zombie apocalypse flick isn't the zombies, rather, it's the backstabbing that occurs when desperate people are trying to survive.  The villains I'll be discussing are actual people; singular individuals who have for some reason or another gone off the deep end and become antagonists.

I have long-since realized that I tend to root for the bad guy, but I never really asked myself why.  First of all, they're often more complex and unpredictable than the hero, and therefore more fascinating.  Second of all, they're often victims of cruel fate and have turned down the only paths they believe are available to them.  Third of all, they often believe they're doing what's right and that the protagonists are the actual evil-doers.  Any story can be viewed from multiple perspectives.

I don't sympathize with them all, however.  In fact, a villain must fit a particular formula in order to earn my fanhood.   This formula was only recently discovered as I pondered the mysteries of the universe in the break room at work last Tuesday.

It is as follows:

1. The villain in question has a profoundly legitimate reason for going 'off the deep end'.
2. The villain in question exudes an aura of coolness/badassery/usefulness that makes you want to stick with them in a tight situation.  Like a zombie apocalypse.
3. The villain in question at some point demonstrates a level of compassion/mercy/humanity that may or may not lead to redemption. This can be substituted by a display of guilt, albeit brief.

To further educate you, I've rounded up a list of my favorite villains to explain how they fit the Kimmy Formula.

First up, Captain Barbossa!

#1  It's true, he's incredibly selfish and a little bonkers. Then again, if I had spent a decade suffering a horrific curse, finally broken it, only to be killed mere seconds later, brought back to life, forced to help the man who had killed me in the first place, lead an attack in the battle of the century, survive and sail away on the ship that had been my home for over a decade, only to have some douche come along and destroy it and my crew and my leg, thus handicapping me for life physically and mentally, yeah, I would go a little bonkers too.

 I shudder to think what they'll put him through in Pirates 5.

#2  This is his strongest suit, especially considering that he himself was something akin to a zombie at one point. Up until he looses his leg, Barbossa is the most skilled swordsman in the whole series aside from Will, which is saying a lot. (And that's not just my opinion, the writers said so!) Plus, he's got a natural knack for leadership in addition to being very cunning, clever, and witty.  I think he produces some of the funniest moments in the films.

#3  Regardless of his motivations, the fact that Barbossa risked his newly-restored life to save Jack from Davy Jones' Locker is enough to qualify for this part of the formula.  Barbossa becomes one of the heroes in the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, or rather, sides with the heroes against a common enemy.  This provides the opportunity for audiences to see Barbossa in a whole new light, thus redeeming his character in our eyes as well as the heroes'.  One instance in particular during a (ridiculous) scene wherein Barbossa marries Will and Elizabeth is a good example of this.

Next up, Loki!

#1  Life gives us apples and life gives us lemons.  Or, in Loki's case, life hurls a pineapple in your freaking face.  Again and again.  And again.
Regardless whether I'm discussing the mythological or Marvel comics Loki, it's not hard to feel sorry for the guy.  I'll let Tom Hiddleston explain:
 "...If you look at the villains of human history, quite often they’re motivated by emotional damage. Loki was somebody who was brought up as a prince in the royal family with the expectation that one day he would be a king. Throughout the course of the film he learns that the entire narrative of his life is a lie, he was actually the illegitimate son of a monster, left out in the cold, adopted and then cheated. So he’s essentially this damaged soul, whose heartbreak hardens into a menace and a megalomania, a vanity, an arrogance and a pride, which I hope is why you can’t entirely hate him, because underneath all that villainy is a damaged soul...I think he just wants a place to call home.  He wants to belong."
Well said, Tom.
And let me just add that it may not be obvious in the movie, but Odin favors Thor over Loki so blatantly in the comics it's no wonder Loki didn't snap sooner.  I'll not delve into the mythological slights that Loki suffers because of their large quantity, but let me assure you they're much worse.

#2  Aside from the Hulk, Loki is the only one who can give Thor a run for his money.  And that's saying a lot.  He may not be as strong as Thor, but he still packs a wallop.  In addition, he is a master of magic.  You name it, Loki can probably do it.  And who doesn't love that helmet?

#3  There's a reason Coulson tells Loki he lacks conviction.  Loki is a naughty boy but (very) deep down there is good in him.  There's a multitude of examples displaying this in the comics but the one that stands out most comes from the Siege series wherein Loki turns the tide of a battle in the Avenger's favor by giving his life to empower them.  If that isn't redemption I don't know what is.  Granted, Loki was responsible for the Earth's peril in the first place, but the fact that Loki realized his mistake and felt guilty enough to sacrifice himself says a lot about his character.  Loki is currently a child in the comics, having been recently resurrected by Thor.

He's still a little trickster but he adores Thor and does everything he can to avoid becoming his past self.  He's a trickster-hero.

And lastly, Inspector Javert!

#1 To quote the bottomless well of wisdom that is my father, "Javert was an asshole."  But if I was born and raised in a jail with no parents, given very few options in life, thrown my heart and soul into my work, chased a man for nearly two decades, finally caught him then realized to do so would be unethical thus proving my entire life's work as low as I had considered those I brought to justice, I would toss myself off a bridge too. Javert is so true to himself he literally can't change in order to continue living. So, to solve the problem, he removes himself from the equation. Basically, he suffers a fatal epiphany.

 #2 Everyone who has seen the musical adaptation of Les Miserables knows the Confrontation scene wherein Javert's butt is whupped by Valjean.  But those of us who have read the novel know differently.  There is never an actual physical confrontation between Valjean and Javert in the novel.   And if there were, I have no doubt that novel-Javert could take on novel-Valjean.  Valjean may possess freakish strength but Javert is likened unto a wolf and described as an imposing beast of a man.

In addition to all of this, Javert possesses a dry sense of humor that serves as a comic relief in the novel, just as the Thenardiers do in the musical.  Hands down, some of the best moments in the novel belong to Javert.

#3  Javert may be a terminatoresque douche but he's ultimately a good man.  Some actors have portrayed him as straight-up evil (i.e. Geoffrey Rush), and while they make a good villain it isn't true to Javert's character.  The defining moment of Javert's redemption comes in the latter-part of the novel where he helps Valjean transport the mortally-wounded Marius safely home from the barricade.  Afterward, he takes Valjean home to Cosette then simply walks away.  Granting Valjean's freedom costs him his own life but he does it because it's the right thing to do.

(Couldn't find a pic of Javert helping Valjean, so here's my buddy Varela about to hop the bridge.)

I'd also like to give a shout out to Norman Bates, Darth Vader, Benjamin Linus, and the Phantom of the Opera, who all qualify but weren't analyzed in order to avoid taxing your patience.  (Well, Vader is a wee bit unqualified.  He barely meets #1 due to poor writing/acting.)

And for contrast, I've assembled some unsympathetic villains:

Sauron (Lord of the Rings)--  He's a giant eyeball on top of a tower without a personality and wants to kill everyone in Middle Earth for the heck of it.

Voldemort (Harry Potter)--  Evil incarnate.  He has no redeeming qualities, no goodness or mercy.  I've never felt a smidgen of pity for this guy.  He may have been an orphan but so was Aladdin.

Red Skull (Captain America)--  I like to pretend it's not Hugo Weaving, but his evil twin bent on ruining Hugo's career and dignity. 

Obediah Stane (Iron Man)-- While it's hard to dislike Jeff Bridges, this power-hungry douche tried to kill his best friend's son. Three times.

Shaw (X Men: First Class)-- Basically possesses the same crippling ethnocentric thinking as Magneto, but without the redeeming quality of being cool (and beautiful).

Nero (Star Trek 2009) While it's sad his home planet was destroyed by a NATURAL supernova, that's no excuse to go on an elaborate murderous campaign and commit genocide against a race that had absolutely nothing to do with the NATURAL supernova.

And let me just add that I recognize that not all villains are given a backstory to help the audience understand their motivations, but that's not my fault.  That's just poor storytelling.

So, what do you think? Do you have a favorite villain that you'd like me to analyze in order to determine their worthiness for sympathy?  Do you agree with my theory?  Whether or not you do, leave a comment!

1 comment:

  1. I'd have to say I enjoyed this article immensely! Who is my favorite villain? Definitely the Joker from Batman. I could probably write a whole paper about him, but when it comes down to it, he is entertaining because he's so CRAZY. Villains who are mentally insane are so interesting mainly because they are so unpredictable. And nothing beats Heath Ledger wearing a nurses getup and walking out of a hospital while it's blowing up.