Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Villain, Stay Villainous.

Great heroes need great villains to triumph over. Lately, whether because of the thin pickings of stories remaining to be told, or modern fascination with the roots and psychological causes of "evil", entertainment is showing us more and more why villains are villains. Personally, I occasionally enjoy a semi-sympathetic villain, especially when the character's history significantly adds to the story. In this case, I'm not talking about situations where the transformation of the character is shown in the initial story (such as Loki in Thor, Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, etc.), but back-tracking and either illuminating or retelling (such as Wicked, Maleficent, etc.). But there are times when I have to ask why we need to know, when knowing the whys eliminates the chill that effectively makes the villain formidable. There are very specific cases in which the exposition works well, but I would posit that for the darkest and most iconic villains of cinema, the story is best left in darkness. 

For example, in The Silence of the Lambs Dr. Hannibal Lecter relishes his depraved enjoyment in cannibalism. Then, Hannibal Rising explained what traumatic event initially put him on this path. I didn't see the movie, but somehow knowing why Dr. Lecter became a cannibal lessens his impact. Not that the man isn't still horrifying, but part of what put me on edge for The Silence of the Lambs was his unpredictability mixed with what seemed to be plain and pure evil incarnate. The explanation of his traumatic and horrifying past dulls the unpredictability slightly, and suggests that Dr. Lecter wasn't simply born evil. This is disappointing for the simple reason that Dr. Lecter is the kind of villain I don't want to see redeemed, or made in any way sympathetic. The mystery of his origins fueled the hatred and fear of the character, and the illuminating of this mystery somewhat lessens the darkness. 

On the flip side however, Harry Potter's Lord Voldemort is thoroughly explained in the course of eight movies. The difference however, is that the movies (and books) hold that he was always that way. Therefore, going back to his childhood at the orphanage or his days at Hogwarts only increase his resume of evil deeds, and reflect that from the time of his birth, he only grew in evil, rather than hitting a turning point that changed a sweet boy into a Dark Lord.  

The current trend in prequels doesn't cause me significant concern just yet, but there are certain stories I beg not to be told, simply because sometimes evil needs to just be evil. What follows is a half-serious, half-comical list of iconic movie villains whose backgrounds I never want to see onscreen. 


I can hear the criticisms now, but this animal ranked #18 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Greatest Villains. 

And it should be noted that this movie has been giving beach-goers pause since 1975. 

So why don't I want to see the origins of this iconic villain? 

Because I have a strong suspicion it would go something like this: 
"Fish are friends, not food.
Still not eating fish." 

The great dragon of recent cinema hasn't made any official lists that I'm aware of, but this is another example of an antagonist that doesn't need to be explained. There is nothing, repeat nothing, about the old dragon that is remotely sympathetic, so exploring any background that would claim otherwise would be futile...

... and absurd. 
"Always resented being sent away"

Now getting a little more serious....

Captain Barbossa
It's true he's not the worst of villains, and most of the time he's really more comical than anything else. But I still don't want to know how he became a pirate, mostly because I don't want to see anyone but Geoffrey Rush play this role. 

Cruella DeVille
I can't imagine that any explanation for this woman's morbid obsession with dog fur would be appropriate for an animated character who debuted in a Disney movie. 

Borg Queen
This entry is here with the following caveat: I don't want to see this villain's backstory and know who she is at the get-go. I'd much rather the next Star Trek movie introduce a shady female character and then it be grandly revealed that she is destined to become the Borg Queen (in a manner similar to how Khan was introduced in Into Darkness). 

Shere Khan
I like that he hates man, and I don't need a reason. Man probably killed his wife and son or some such thing, but he's just as magnificent without a known reason. 

Okay, I've been messing around up to this point, but here is the big one; the entire reason I was inspired to write this post. Here is one villain I don't EVER want to know the story of: 

The Joker

I don't want to know how he got those scars. I really don't. Not because I'm afraid of how it happened, but because the Joker is exactly the kind of villain who works because of the irrationality of his actions. The Joker is terrifying precisely because he can't be explained, and any attempt to do so would be doing a great disservice to the Joker shown in The Dark Knight. Therefore, number one of all villains that I hope never get their own movie is this one. The Joker doesn't need a movie to explain him-- it would completely ruin him. The Joker, like Lecter is better shrouded in darkness than reduced to a psychological explanation. He is a great villain because he appears from the darkness without reason or warning. The mystery of his origins only add to the chill and terror that he brings. Leave him in the darkness and  mystery where he belongs; where he thrives. 

Readers, what villains would you hope to not learn more about? 

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