Villains Don’t Always Need To Be Justified
There are certain types of movies that require villainous characters. Characters that our protagonists must face and defeat. A villain, by definition is a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; a scoundrel or a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot.
To build up a good story, the majority of the plot usually needs to focus on our main characters and what they’re doing, what their endgame is, etc. There are obviously different types of movies and formulas but typically the villain isn’t the focus. In most cases, the villain is the obstacle preventing the hero or protagonist from their end goal.
All of my life, I’ve been perfectly fine with this dynamic. There have always been good guys and bad guys; the line is usually drawn in the sand right up front. I love lots of movies where this isn’t the case, but when a villain is required, the best villains are the ones that are evil for the sake of being evil. Disney movies are where I find that this is most prominent.
Ursula the Sea Witch is out for revenge because she was banished from Atlantis. Of course, she was banished because she was being naughty…
Cruella De Vil wants to skin puppies to make a fur coat. Not because she doesn’t like dogs or anything, just because she wants their fur. Plain and simple.
Cinderella’s evil stepmother is wicked because she hates that Cinderella’s father loved his daughter more than her (although this isn’t really painted out too clearly in the movie itself).
The Queen wants Snow White dead because she’s the fairest in all the land.
And Maleficent is overlooked and not invited to take part in the royal celebrations and curses Princess Aurora because of it.
There are so many instances of villains just being evil that this has become a common formula and movies succeed because of it. A new trend in literature and in film is to tell the story from the perspective of the villain. A trend that really took off with Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked, which turned into a Broadway Musical sensation and because when one thing is successful, there’s a compulsive need in the entertainment industry to replicate that success by using the formula on other properties.
The thing is, sometimes villains don’t need backstories. Some characters should just exist for the sake of helping move along the plot in an interesting fashion. Maybe someone has managed to come up with a really fascinating way to tell the story from the other way around, but the fact remains that sometimes I don’t want to see the other side of things. A good story can exist without having to see every angle of it.
One of the first times that Hollywood tried to replicate Wicked on a big scale was with Oz: The Great and Powerful. Not only did they try to show the story of how the villains came to be the villains but they did it with the same property that Wicked came from out of, The Wizard of Oz.
Sure, the idea of seeing things from someone else’s perspective seems enticing in a lot of ways, but most of the time it’s pretty lackluster and the motives that are given to our villains leave me soured on the original film. I don’t need to know that The Queen from Snow White was beaten and abandoned as a child so her heart grew cold and dark. I don’t need to know that Ursula was cast aside by the person she loved most and dabbling in dark magic to usher in her revenge would change her forever. I don’t need to know that Cruella De Vil was a poor orphan who always associated wealth with fancy and extravagant clothing and as such, she coveted the things to make her appear anything other than what she was.
Obviously I’ve just made those up, but in any case, my point remains: I don’t need to know why some people are evil. We live in a world filled with people who are monsters for no perceptible reason. Hollywood doesn’t need to find ways to tell stories that don’t need to be told. Also, I sooooooo copyright every last one of those ideas, Hollywood, so should you decide you need more villain sob stories, you’d better find other ones.
You want to show a villain story? I’m personally about 100x more inclined to go see a movie that doesn’t necessarily justify the villain’s behavior, but rather shows us a glimpse into their rationale and thought process. Compelling stories can still be told through the eyes of someone evil and sometimes it’s interesting to watch the mayhem unfold. Take Hannibal, for example. Hannibal is the backstory of Hannibal Lecter, who became a famous fictional serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs. The TV series, helmed by Bryan Fuller, doesn’t justify any of Hannibal’s actions, but instead just takes us through his life as a serial killer. He’s evil and there are no ands or buts about it. There are many reasons to like the show, but the idea that it doesn’t try to give us a sob story is one of the top reasons why it’s great.
Video games that you give you the choice of whether or not to be a good or bad character (such as Fallout 3, inFamous or Fable) showcase that there is a market for seeing the other side to a story, but for the sake of keeping things interesting and not for any other reason.
We all have our own problems and personal baggage and things that we don’t often talk about. Sure, some people choose to take what happens to them and go down a dark path, but most people continue living normal lives and persevere. Hollywood thinks that we’ll sympathize with these characters if we see the turmoil that they go through, but it does just the opposite for me. Give me flawed characters. Give me characters with mental disorders, but if you go this route, give proper insight into the mental disorder since sometimes characters having a real disease that exists in the world is far scarier than making something up. Give me an interesting story and not something to potentially tug at heartstrings, making us weep for the bad deeds yet to come, because otherwise I just don’t care to indulge in that cheap kind of moneymaking ploy.
A friend of mine summed up all of my thoughts on this in one sentence and I’ll leave you all with that, “It’s not that these stories shouldn’t be told, it’s that the ones that are told, aren’t told well.” Hear that Hollywood? Give us the good stuff!