Why it’s good to be bad

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Most films can be boiled down to a hero vs a villain. A good force vs a bad. These could be anything from countries to ideas, both sides being morally grey, to a comical bad guy vs a pure hero. Whatever the case, the core conflict can be traced back to these simple roots. A lot of modern triple-A films seem to have a problem with this though; they are happy to make a cool hero but neglect the villain, to the detriment of the entire film. In my opinion, in a story, the hero should be about half the people’s favourite character. The other half should like the villain.

The most basic factor in making a good villain is motivation. What does the villain want to achieve, why does he want to achieve it, and why does the hero want to stop them? This step is where many movies falter. In a film like No Country for Old Men, this is simple. The villain wants the money, so he has more money and the hero does not want to give up the money. Wanting to destroy the world is not a good motivation. What would they gain if they succeed? In the Transformers movie, the Decepticons always want to kill all humans, but we are never told why. This leads to little moral investment as we can’t even partly understand the villain’s actions. Some people say the villain should be the hero of his own story. This is true but the villain can be insane, making him the villain of everyone else’s story.

The villain should also help push the film’s themes. All good films have themes that the story follows. The hero’s actions push the themes forward, but the villain should help too. In The Dark Knight, the major theme is order vs chaos. Batman pushes this theme by trying to defeat the chaos-causing villains but the Joker really sends it home. He is chaos, he is the perfect anti-batman.  This helps the film as the theme is being pushed from both angles. In other films like Captain America, the villain does not show up enough to push the themes. This means the hero, Captain America, needs to make the themes shine on his own, weakening the movie’s themes and thus weakening the movie’s impact.

The final and most important thing a villain must be is threatening. The villain needs to be the superior force. In Star Wars the villain is a huge figure dressed in black armour who owns a planet-destroying space station. The Rebels are no match. This creates tension as the heroes need to do everything perfectly to pull off victory. We can imagine them failing easily as the villain could crush them with little effort. In both Iron Man and Iron Man 2 the villain is someone who stole Tony Stark’s weapons and is using them against him. The hero is the superior. This lowers the tension as we don’t even have the illusion of Iron Man failing. This makes a weak third act which drops the overall impression of an otherwise great movie. The villain is such a key role, and such a cool role if done right and it is a shame what most modern movies do to this role. There is hope though, as some new films are respecting the villain, like the new Star Wars, we just need to hope other films catch on.