EDITORIAL: Can A Villain Movie Work?

EDITORIAL: Can A Villain Movie Work?

I pose you the question, can a movie that centers around an antagonist do well not only financially but critically? I'm gonna look at the villain spectrum and try to answer that question. Hit the jump to check it out!

Villains. The people we all just love to hate. Why? Well, we all have our reasons, I'm sure. One thing, however, is undoubtedly clear when it comes to villainous characters, we can't get enough of them. I'm going to delve into several different villains from a few different film genres to see just what makes a good villain and how we get so invested in them. We won't be confined to comic book movies here, we'll be looking at Shakespearean villains, disaster movies, science fiction, comic book movies and if there's time, we might give a bit of analysis on the recent announcement that Venom and the Sinister Six will be getting their very own solo movies, which is why I write this article. I want to know, and I'm sure you do too, just how a movie focusing on antagonists will be received by general audiences. With all that in mind and the over-abundance of curiosity building up in your veins, let us begin on our escapade through the halls of villainy and evil...

We'll take a look at the Shakespearean aspect first, as I'm sure it's the one you're all least interested in, though is probably the most interesting of the topics. Shakespearean villains would tend to have a common theme amongst them. That is usually them being tragic villains who do what they do because of some foul deed done against them in the past. The main exception to this is the villain of the play Othello, Iago (James in English). Iago breaks the mould in quite a few ways. One, he has no tragic past. This results in there being no need for us to like him or feel any level of empathy towards him as a character. He wasn't cast out due to race or creed, he isn't an alienated cousin, he's just evil for the sake of being evil. To those of you unfamiliar with the play, Iago is Othello's assistant. Othello is a Moor (African) and is a general in the Venetian army. He elects a novice called Cassio to be his lieutenant. This angers Iago who feels he is far more suited to the job. Iago also suspects Othello has slept with his wife, so he is envious towards Othello who has a beautiful wife. Iago sets out with the plan to have Othello lose his mind, have Cassio lose his job and have Othello kill Desdemona. Being a Shakespearean drama, you all know what happens in the end, I'm sure. Back to Iago. The man has no shred of good in him. He is pure evil and worships the devil. He is also incredibly deceptive, at one point going as far as to say, "I am not what I am." That's an oxymoron, but you get the jist of his character never being what he appears to be.

Despite all of this, Iago is by far the most interesting character in the play. Mainly because of his wit and awesome intellect. He spins a web of lies and deceit in order to convince Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, thus leading Othello into such a rage, he wants Desdemona dead, along with Cassio. I won't go into too much detail on the events, but let's just say that Iago doesn't miss anything and he is intensely thorough in his scheming, never giving anything away. All of his plans come to perfect fruition, although he is caught out in the end. So, what conclusion can be drawn from the character of Iago? Well, the blatant one is that no matter how evil a villain is, we will still find them interesting. Another is that the more evil a villain is, the more interesting the character becomes. With Iago analysed, we're finished with the character and we move onto another aspect of villainy that is about as far away from Shakespeare as you can get.

Fun Fact: Iago has been played by both Ian Mckellen and Ewan McGregor on-stage and Tom Hiddleston once portrayed Cassio.

What could be further from the greatest examples of English literature than good old fashioned monster movies! Monsters ranging from the mistaken Frankenstein's monster, to the force of nature known as Godzilla. All are villains in their own right as none of them are really portrayed as the protagonists of a story (unless it's a Godzilla VS. _____ movie). So, what makes them interesting? Let's look at the two examples of monsters already named above, Frankenstein's monster and Godzilla.

Actually named Adam, Frankenstein's monster is probably the most famous of them all. The terrifying creature made from the corpses of men and brought to life by the power of electricity. The inspiration for the character came from the author, Mary Shelley, witnessing several executions and she took great interest in how the body twitched after a high dose of electricity. So, a monster was born. Adam is a tragic monster. He clearly has a mind of his own and wants nothing more than to be left alone to his own devices, but those damned villagers just won't give him a break. We take pity on him because of this. It all comes down to portrayal. If we had seen Adam go around killing a bunch of people, then maybe we might not feel so sympathetic towards him. It's the fact he's more like a lost child that draws us to an interest in the character. So, would we be right in seeing him as a villain? To some extent, maybe, but reality of it really is that he's the protagonist. The real villain is his creator. The cruel and diabolic scientist who was so determined to create this monstrosity, he used parts from the remains of other people.

Fun Fact: Adam is actually yellow-skinned, not green as many people believe.

Onto everybody's favourite city-destroyer, the King of Monsters, Godzilla! Like Adam, Godzilla is a difficult character to put a definition of villainy or heroism on. Sometimes he can be useful, like when he's killing other big monsters, more dangerous than him. Whereas other times, he's destroying whole cities and that's never a nice thing to do. However, it's looking like the 2014 film may answer my question for me. The trailer shows mass destruction, a building with a gigantic hole through the middle and obliterated skyscrapers. It looks as though Godzilla will be much more of an antagonist in the upcoming film and that's just the way we seem to like him. When Godzilla smashes a building, wrecks a train track or stomps on cars, we can't help but be entertained. Why? That's a kind of malicious thing for us to do. The only conclusion that can be drawn from it is that we love to see the things we build get battered to zilch by giant monsters. Cloverfield proved it. King Kong proved it. Of course, it was Godzilla that started that whole craze, he gave birth to the disaster movie. So, there you go, we're destruction addicts and it would seem that;s why we take such a shine to the great big Japanese lizard, and I'm sure none of us can wait to see him wreck some man-made structures in 2014! As long as it doesn't just stay in Tokyo that is, Godzilla needs to be a threat to the whole world this time, the Japanese have had their fun with him, let us have ours.

Fun Fact: Godzilla's roar sound effect is the sound of a creaking gate, just slowed down to make it more menacing.

On the home stretch now, taking a look at the villains of science fiction. It's obvious who this part is gonna focus on. Yeah, Darth Vader. Why? Because he's the most publicly recognised and we all love him anyway. Why do we love him, though? Is it because of him being a tragic villain who didn't exactly choose to do what he does but got more-so dragged into it? Or is just the cool mask? Well, there's no doubting that Vader is a pretty tragic villain and the Star Wars movies are all based around his rise, fall and redemption. So, maybe it's because he's the hero of the Star Wars movies, but popular belief would demand that it's his tragic rise to become the Sith Lord he is in Episode IV that makes him one of the most iconic characters ever to hit the big screen. We see him as a young, free spirited (annoying) boy in Episode I. We see his corruption begin in Episode II and we see his full transition to the Dark Side in Episode III. The original trilogy may not focus on Vader, but the films are still very much his story. What makes him a great villain, though? Well, I'd say it's his coldbloodedness, his lack of emotion towards his soldiers and most importantly of all, his relationship with Luke. He's a father figure, so naturally, we begin to take pity on him after we learn of the circumstances of his wife's death and the fact he had never seen his children. Once again, a tragic villain seems to provide us with the most interesting character.

Fun Fact: Vader means "Father" in Dutch.

Which brings me squarely onto our last topic for general analysis of the villain, the comic book movie villain. So many to choose from in the modern age, but only one has really taken pop culture by storm. You probably guessed right, it's Loki. The obvious argument toward his popularity is Tom Hiddleston's unbelievably devilish good looks and superb acting skills. The other is the character himself, which I'm sure is what you'd much prefer to hear about. Yet again we come to a villain with a tragic past. Loki, as you all know is Odin's adopted son, hates Thor and wants his adopted father's throne. Now, those are some pretty evil motives and they are handled incredibly well on film. To me, that's why we love Loki's character so much, he;s handled perfectly on film. He's not your typical villain and like Ledger's Joker, he would appear to be setting the new standard for a comic book movie villain, hence the perfect portrayal of Zod in Man of Steel and yet the awful portrayal of Silver Samurai in The Wolverine. It's these revolutionising factors that drive our admiration for the character and rather than just being a one-dimensional villain with the primary objective of killing the protagonist, we get a villain that has many layers to him and we can never tell what's the real him, much like Iago. Loki's cunning intellect and wit are what make him a villain to be admired by the masses. Of course, other recent villains have managed to begin breaking that mould too, like Bane, Zod and dare I say the Motherf%$&*er?

So, with all these factors of villainous character taken into account, do I think that a film focused on an antagonist, or even a group of antagonists could work? Absolutely, I do. We, as a species seem to be drawn to evil characters with dark pasts, tragic lives and even those who are willing to carry out cold blooded murder. As long as the Sinister Six is comprised of well-established villains, people will definitely want to go and see it. Another thing that factors into that is the uniqueness of it. When was the last time you saw a movie about a group of supervillains? Struggling to answer? Good!

As for Venom, make that as dark as you can and make it about Eddie Brock's pure hatred of Peter and Spider-Man. As long as it focuses around Venom and we then see Spidey as the guy Venom's after, I'll be happy. But to make me ecstatic about it, don't try to make Eddie Brock more docile at any point and have him beat the living crap out of Spider-Man. I'd pay any sum of money to see that on the big screen.

What do you guys think? Could our love of villainous characters mean that supervillain films become a normal occurrence? Sound off with your thoughts in the usual place, and cheers for managing to sit through this!
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Jollem - 12/18/2013, 6:05 PM
they sure can. they have before. thousands of times
DEVLIN712 - 12/18/2013, 6:27 PM
Villain movies could end up the next blockbuster craze
DEVLIN712 - 12/18/2013, 6:28 PM
What's the HTML format for having an image and text side by side. I can never manage it without phucking over the entire article
GliderMan - 12/18/2013, 6:36 PM
It could work but they can't be done the same way as superhero movies work.
MrCameron - 12/18/2013, 6:37 PM
Ever since Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker, villains have been all the rage in Hollywood, opening the door for more and more actors to cut their teeth on a meaty antagonistic role. And guys like Scorsese and Tarantino have practically made entire careers on films about mobsters and murderers. So hell yes, a villain film can work and now is the time, if any, for such a movie.
cipher - 12/18/2013, 7:38 PM
Damn good write-up, mate. There's nothing I can really add that you haven't already said far better than I could ever hope to, but, yeah..

The more I think about it, the more I like it. I'm not entirely sold on the idea of a Sinister Six film.. but, I'm more than happy to be proven wrong, and I'd have no problem admitting that I was if it all works out in the end. We'll see. Heh, I do love me some villainy, though. My favourite character in all of fiction is probably Lestat, and he started out as an absolute f*cking bastard.
cipher - 12/18/2013, 7:40 PM
I never knew that about Zilla's roar. Heh, with the way I've been coughing lately, if you slowed that down it'd probably sound like Pazuzu from The Exorcist. Holy shit, I have GOT to get rid of this bloody cold already.
TheOneAboveAll - 12/18/2013, 8:16 PM
Why was my comment deleted?
I said it is a well written-good article
Vader is a Dutch word for Father...
the German word for father is Vater
MrDonut - 12/18/2013, 10:21 PM
I think it'd work but since most villains want to kill their lead villains it kinda undermines the story since the hero will never die in his conflicts with the villain.
Inhuman - 12/18/2013, 10:24 PM
Its never been done before. It would be interesting to see how they do this
MightyZeus - 12/18/2013, 10:35 PM
Great editorial. Good write up. I do think that it can work but it depends as to whose writing the project and whose directing.

I'm fine with a Venom spin off film. I'm a bit anxious about a Sinister Six film but i think it could be done.

redkrypton - 12/18/2013, 10:46 PM
I was rather hoping that, instead of what had happened, that Zod had gone into the gateway to the Zone but instead, due to a malfunction, wound up on Earth-3. The sequel, if were to be considered such, would have involved Zod bringing the villains into a team, fighting their authorites, thus being their Earth's Ultraman. The logo got me thinking about that. This would end up with him bringing them to Earth-1(?)to fight Cavill's Superman et al. in the third movie. The second movie would be an inverse Avengers, nothing but super villains fighting for what, by their definition, is justice and honor in their messed up world.
Vaportrail - 12/18/2013, 10:48 PM
Villain movies can work, there's been plenty.

One based on serial comic books where the focus was the hero? That's new.

Will Spider-Man even be in the movies? That's my big question. Venom you could do without so long as they're not telling the origin, but the Sinister Six EXIST to take down Spidey.
sanyaya - 12/18/2013, 10:49 PM
Its funny how in America the make Godzilla into a Villian and in Japan he's like a [frick]ing hero
WyattLayne - 12/18/2013, 10:52 PM
Can villain movies work? Yes.
Can a villain movie work? Yes.

"Can A Villain Movies Work?" No.

Because grammar.
ALegendaryPanda - 12/18/2013, 10:58 PM
Hell yes villain movies can work! I can't freaking wait to see how these turn out.
EXODUZ - 12/18/2013, 11:19 PM
I think a great example of a story centred around villains is 'Game of Thrones'. Sure you can argue that there's the Stark family and Danayrius Targarian (however you spell her name, dragon lady), but really the reason why most everyone picks their own favourite character is because they're all sympathetic bastards, some worse than others (Joffrey) and you enjoy watching the inevitable backstabbing and betrayal. We've already seen how villains can be sympathetic, every spiderman film has sympathetic villains, Sandman and the plight of his daughter, Otto fighting his tech demons, Norman fighting his mind demons, Harry wanting to avenge his father.. etc.., I think the villains could carry a story all on their own, could end up being better than the formulaic superhero film we've all adjusted to
NovaCorpsFan - 12/18/2013, 11:32 PM

I fixed the error, you're comment was deleted so you didn't look like a fool. I did for your own good dude, people can get freaky.
WingDingaLing - 12/18/2013, 11:52 PM
Take Chronicle as an example
NovaCorpsFan - 12/19/2013, 12:06 AM

Put a space then, ALIGN = LEFT/RIGHT at the end of the image embed code.
Lhornbk - 12/19/2013, 12:13 AM
Ummmm......from what I have heard about the new Godzilla movie, he will be fighting other monsters, so I think he will end up being the good guy.
LittleDanglyThing - 12/19/2013, 12:14 AM
I'm almost certain the Spidey spin-offs will get bad reviews and not make as much money as Sony would hope for.
Lhornbk - 12/19/2013, 12:17 AM
They won't work unless, at the end, they actually take on their hero.
SpiderParker - 12/19/2013, 12:29 AM
I have to say this is pretty good editorial and very nicely written. IMO, there are some types of villains who can support their own movie like Venom or Loki but I can hardly see how Sinister Six gonna work without Spidey in it. I mean they form the super villain team to beat Spider-Man so surely he had to be in the movie to work.

Anyway, on a side note, I think they can set up some scenes in TASM2/TASM3 showing Peter and Spidey getting in the way of Eddie Brock somehow but without going into too much detail in the movie itself. Just one of those encounters where something seemingly small happens but affects Eddie alot. And in the Venom movie they can expand on it from Eddie's perspective and show why he hates Peter and Spider-Man.
Space - 12/19/2013, 12:54 AM
I thought the composer Akira Ifukube produced Godzilla's roar by rubbing a resin coated glove along the string of a bass and then slowing down the playback?
Doopie - 12/19/2013, 1:39 AM
nice article...i think a movie about villains can definitely work and is something i've wanted to see for some time. but how do you make a villain sympathetic? would you even try?
i think the best approach may be to start a character out on a 'good' path and twist them into something terrible a la Michael Corleone or Walter White
ELgUaSoN - 12/19/2013, 2:46 AM
Can a villain movie work? Hell Yeah it Can! and I can't [frick]ing wait!

gurugeorge - 12/19/2013, 2:48 AM
As said above, it could work, but it would have to be differently handled from superhero movies. No matter how great a rogue's gallery a superhero has, the main emphasis on the stories is always on testing the superhero's character. That's the only reason they need "good" villains at all.

Basically, you'd have to get some way of getting the audience empathizing with the character (in the same way they naturally empathize with a hero), but that's going to be uncomfortable for the audience (reminding everyone how a turn to the dark side might be possible for them), so difficult. Needs good writing, basically.
ds9epicfan - 12/19/2013, 3:00 AM
Sure...it worked for Catwoman!!;D
tricklove187 - 12/19/2013, 4:05 AM
@ds9epicfan It worked for Elektra too.
Abary - 12/19/2013, 4:36 AM
"Fun Fact: Vader means "Father" in Dutch."

Kind of a spoiler for dutch people who see the movie.
DrunkenNukem - 12/19/2013, 4:43 AM
what about a movie starring joel schumacher and brett ratner as actor and they both die at the end getting smashed by a giant dick...joel schumacher is the main villain..and ratner will be his lover..

..Of course someone like PinkGusto should direct a movie as great as this one
DrunkenNukem - 12/19/2013, 4:44 AM
@Nova Great editorial by the way
AnakinsTwin - 12/19/2013, 4:56 AM
Great article with one oversite, Hannibal Lecter!
AnakinsTwin - 12/19/2013, 5:00 AM
I'd love to see a Kingpin movie. Does anyone know if Marvel owns his rights or are they shared between Sony/Marvel like Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch w/ Fox?
Spidey10 - 12/19/2013, 5:16 AM
Looking at the above picture theres no way you can say Spidey doesnt have the best rogues gallery...that is by far the best
WADEZILLA13 - 12/19/2013, 5:50 AM
You need a Fun Fact Checker: Godzilla's roar was made when Ifukube ran a glove down the strings of a contrabass. It's well-documented, and pretty much common knowledge for dorks/anyone remotely familiar with kaiju films.

And Godzilla has only been portrayed as an outright villain once, in Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, in which he was supposedly (and stupidly) possessed by vengeful WWII spirits. In all other films he is simply a force of nature, an oversized animal - albeit a huge, angry one. One could argue that he showed some malice in the original 1954 Gojira, but even then he was simply a rampaging product of the real villain: humanity's use of nuclear weapons.

All accounts have this trend continuing in next year's movie, with Godzilla fighting equally dangerous monsters and causing some property damage and human casualties in the process. Is he a threat? Hell yeah, but in no way is he an outright villain. Like the shark in Jaws, he's just doing his thing, and can't help if a few puny humans get trampled underfoot.
WADEZILLA13 - 12/19/2013, 6:10 AM
@Spidey10 Even a huge Hulk fan like myself has to agree; Spider-Man has the best collection of enemies hands-down. But, I do have an issue with one of the most popular - Venom.

As a comic book villain, Venom works just fine, but I've always believed that his whole intrinsic concept is just too ludicrous to translate to the big screen. If Sam Raimi had spent more time developing the symbiote (Fun Fact: he didn't want to include Venom at all in SM3)instead of having him conveniently fall from space and land a few yards from one of the few super-powered individuals on the planet, that iteration almost could've worked. Still, no explanation was given as to why Eddie Brock suddenly sprouts huge fanged jaws and a 2-foot tongue, which is a cool look but doesn't make a lot of sense in a film world that tries to legitimize comic origins with real-world science (admittedly a classic villain like The Sandman is also a bit of a stretch).

Moreover, the Venom (and by Extension, Carnage)character is too heavily tied to Spider-Man to work in a movie without him. Altering his origin, chacteristics or connections to the webslinger to make him stand on his own would frankly be as big a crime as shoehorning him into Spider-Man 3
dkhager - 12/19/2013, 6:21 AM
great editorial..and yeah..i def think a villain movie could work..given great writing it could be great
wcwpoet - 12/19/2013, 6:39 AM
I have no desire to see a Sinister Six movie that doesn't include Spider-Man it's pure insanity to think it would work.
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