Rotating Crops Of Villainy

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“Madame Velan, you have blackened my name, attacked my character, and, worst of all, stolen my dog. I shall have revenge.”

“Do you think you can defeat me now, Madame Goodfeather?  There are still three books in the series, which will become six films. No, I shall not be defeated today! I shall escape using the hot air balloon just beyond your sight, go on to torment you, and then, in the end, I shall be redeemed and we will work together.”

“There you are wrong! My contract continues beyond this adventure, but yours has not been renewed.”

“It may seem so, but I intend on being far too popular to be defeated today! No, our fans will clamor for me, and I will return with a cyborg arm and superior powers!”

It has often been said a hero is only as great as the villain.

In the original Star Wars films, Darth Vader has an immediate, imposing presence as he enters in a fog of smoke, and checks out the kills of his storm troopers (apparently, they have okay aim at the beginning of the series). Soon after, he chokes a prisoner to death. This is a bad man, an unstoppable force, an impossible enemy.

How To Enter A Movie As The Villain

Over the course of three films, Darth Vader’s character develops and deepens along with the heroes of the film. By the final battle between him and Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi, there are three films of relationship and story behind each lightsaber swing.

All of this drives us to the moment when our hero, Luke, rejects the Dark Side and embraces his role as a Jedi. The moment of Luke standing up to the Emperor would not matter without the previous hours of story. Time was taken to establish the villain, solidify his role, allowing our hero to achieve a higher greatness.

Now, turn to this summer season of franchises and sequels. Much time will be spent furthering the modern hero’s story, deepening the audience’s bond with the character, building excitement for the next grand adventure. Meanwhile, a few will bring in traces of villains past, while others have lain their villains to rest and are going to introduce a new version of the same dance number.

Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling. 

Derek Hough dancing on the ceiling.

The new version of the villain might be more spectacular, or it may be a pale shadow.

into darkness, star trek, khan, kahn, benedict cumberbatch, ricardo montalban

It’s Old Khan and New Khan! One of these is Mexican, the other is British. They are definitely the same person.

Yet, modern villains are often tossed aside like disposable plates. The heroes churn on to the next franchise film, while the villain is forgotten in the rubble of whatever city was just destroyed. In The Avengers: Age of Ultron, for example, three Iron Man films, two Thor films, two Captain America films, and the previous Avengers, not to mention the Agents of Shield television show and the entire pantheon of Marvel Comics, build up to this grand battle. Yet, when all the dust clears, what will be remembered of Ultron?

Despite James Spader’s fun performance and a small tie to Loki, the film version of Ultron is dumped next to the soon-forgotten Red Skull, Mandarin, Obadiah Stane, and Malekith (I had to look half of these up.), Outside of the Marvel Universe, we have a new dinosaur in Jurassic World, a new shadow organization in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, a whole new set of issues mixed with throw-back versions of villains in the reboots of Mad Max and Terminator: Genysis, and a dubious German acapella group in Pitch Perfect 2. James Bond: Spectre doesn’t count because villains have always rotated through the Bond Films.

Rare is the villain brought back for multiple films, and rarer is the villain who remains a villain.

Loki from The Marvel Universe is a fine example, except he is betrayed as a bit of a lackey at the end of the first Avengers.

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Still, Tom Hiddleston’s performance and Loki’s ability to switch sides, makes him a deeper, more dynamic character than Chris Hemsworth’s Thor. He remains a villain, yet we want him to work with the heroes. [SPOILER] Stan Sebastian’s Winter Soldier survives Captain America: Winter Soldier, and will return for the third film, but may be a hero rather than a villain. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator was a cold, killing machine in the first Terminator. In the sequels, he becomes a killing machine with heart on the side of the good guys. Even Darth Vader is humanized as a father who cannot turn from his evil ways, only to redeem himself at the end.

This year, the only villain I can think of who has survived multiple films and remains an ominous threat is President Snow in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 2: Woah! Look At That Billion Dollars (Ok. I actually have been enjoying the films so far). Similar to the Emperor of Star Wars, he weaves his way around manipulating the enemy to lure them into a trap. However, President Snow probably only survived the previous films because of the original books.

I don’t think there is a point in decrying the many franchises now filling the movie theater. While most of the franchises are rather loud, the storytelling is continually improving. However, with franchises, movie makers have the opportunity to spend multiple films building a great villain, giving us an ominous, impossible threat who escapes, or even triumphs (ex. The Empire Strikes Back). We don’t need more villains in a sequel, we just need better villains.

  • Who is your favorite villain and why?
  • Which villain do you wish had survived to a sequel?
  • What villains have survived more than one film?
  • What would happen in a Disney Crossover film where Loki and Boba Fett team up to take over Arendelle?

Side Note 1:

This one is a few years old, but I think is an excellent example of villainy: Jean Dujardin And Villains

Side Note 2:

My book, The True Bride and the Shoemaker is now in print! If you are in the Utah Valley area, I have my first ever book signing coming up Saturday, June 27 at Pioneer Bookstore in Provo, UT. For more, check out the event here.

Side Note 3: Thanks again to everyone who’s stopped by. I am hoping to be blogging regularly through the summer, but will be disappearing back into the ether known as Grad School in September.

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7 thoughts on “Rotating Crops Of Villainy

  1. I like this post! You make some great points about villains just kind of…disappearing, or in the case of Darth Vader, becoming humanized. I guess you could say Palpatine lasted 6 films? You could argue the case that he’s the real “bad guy”.

    My vote is that I wish Darth Maul had lived longer and went on to more sequels. He was so bad. I loved how he kind of terrified me.

    I’m glad you’re back for the summer! Glad to see grad school has not killed you yet.

    • Hi! Darth Maul was a great character design with a lot of potential. I often with a relationship of any kind could have been built between him and Anakin, and then Darth Maul playing into Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side.
      Grad School is an epic, worthwhile adventure, but I’m enjoying the break.

  2. Maybe it has to do with each film sort of standing on its own, rather than contributing to an over-all arc. Villains are not planned to be recurring, for the most part. (A character like Loki or Green Goblin from the Spider-Man films would be the big exception.)

    Also, in comics specifically, there are a ton of interesting villains with vocal fan bases. The film makers have to use as many as possible, even if each villain is not used to his/her fullest.

  3. Then there is that equal but opposite horror: the villain who never goes away. Comic books do this too much. How many times does Batman have to engage the Joker, or Superman Lex Luthor? Memoriable villains grow and change while remaining villains, or at worst plausibly coming over to the other side. Standalone works have trouble building the villain up, while ongoing serials tend to keep reusing the villain as is.

    I think the problem with contemporary movie serials is that they are neither standalone movies nor genuine serials. Rarely does the movie-maker know how many movies in a series he/she will be allowed to do, if only because the studio wants to see a profit first. So there’s incentive to have a big climax, which a disposable villain offers, while ensuring continuity with the heroes.

    Oh, and congratulations on a year of grad school!

    • It took me a bit to reply, because you gave me so much to think about.
      I know in both the DC and Marvel comic book universes, the companies put together a new universe every few years or so. This helps them re-use the same heroes and villains, but then churn them back out.
      It will be interesting to see DC’s cinematic efforts to bring more of their characters to the screen – especially with Suicide Squad, a film with pretty much only villains.

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