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President Snow, Prince Anders, The Joker, Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad. Just a handful of antagonists who are getting standalone works based off their origins into how they became so evil, and so twisted, that it would explain what makes them tic. For me, stories have always been about the heroic acts and hardly the villains. There are great villains out there, some of which are either hilarious to watch their plan unfold, or is so calm that he becomes a true threat to the hero.
Now, I’m not against villain heroes. If some bad guy on an island with a secret lair wants to establish his master plan at the expense of the bumbling spy trying to stop him, go for it. Evil Genius was one of my favorite games back then. The question that should be asked when making these standalone works is “should we care?”
Sometimes, heroes do bad things, but only because they’re forced into that position by the bigger antagonists. They lost everything, and now they have to fight dirty to get back what they had lost. But I would never want a standalone series about Joffrey Baratheon and how insidiously evil he was as a child before their meeting with the Stark family.
The thing about villains is despite wanting to see their efforts to stop the hero at all costs, they’re not meant to be appreciated or even admired. They exist because they stand in the way of the hero’s goals. We only enjoy them because they entertain enough that their interaction with the hero makes for great entertainment.
As far as backstory, while important, they don’t need to be the star. Unless a supposedly minor character is the hero in all of this, it has to make me care enough about the villain. I think the Joker is an amazing villain, but is he a good main character or even a protagonist?
A lot of the times, villain stories tend to be “look at how evil this guy is!” as opposed to any depth the character may possess. Sometimes, a battle with oneself can make for a great story. Having the main lead struggle with society enough that they turn to crime to burn everything down. If they’re sympathetic enough to where you want them to see how their internal battle is killing them.
This is primarily in response to a few things, notable the SNL parody of Joker winning an Oscar and chalking that up as “White Male Rage.” On top of missing the point entirely, white characters have proven to be capable heroes and even interesting villains. Heck, even non-white male characters and even women have made for amazing villainy that you want to be entertained by them.
Maybe you have a normal housewife who takes up a life of crime, killing political leaders while trying to keep her husband (or wife. I won’t judge) in the dark about it to the point where it affects her psyche and when the time comes, BAM, she kills her husband.
(I’m too child-friendly to do anything like that, so if you want that plot, go for it.)
But if that is the entertainment industry’s goal: to prove that the “evil white male” can be sympathetic, then maybe don’t draw attention to this “white male rage?”
Another issue most would rather see heroes and even anti-heroes, those who turn to crime, on the run from the CIA or MI6, or heck, even a gang lord trying to stop another gang lord. Scarface is a good example. Tony Montana isn’t exactly a good person, but he’s entertaining enough to want to see more of his story.
Arthur Fleck. Yeah, he becomes the most insane villain in Gotham City and whatever humanity remains is nonexistent. But it would probably be better to tie that with Bruce Wayne and Batman. After all, the two go together and would no doubt spin who the real villain is.
As far as villain protagonists, like with everything else, it can be done right. I’ve seen amazing villain stories that fit the theme and the genre, while also making them entertaining and relatable as a character. But we have to care enough about a villain that such a story is needed, even if it is an origin story. Plenty of ways to handle villain backstories, either in universe, or as a standalone.
Personally, a lot of them need to go back to film school and learn how to actually make a good movie, but that’s beside the point.
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One thought on “Do we care about villain backstories?”
Personally I do and I loved this film!