EDITORIAL: Can A Villain Movie Work?
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...
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!
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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