Do we have too many?
After Disney began their villain backstories, I started to think about complex villains and characters. I have seen people online complain that villains just aren’t villains anymore. They aren’t bad, they’re just misunderstood. This isn’t entirely new, but after Disney began to rewrite stories (like completely transforming Maleficent), the spotlight seems to linger on it.
I didn’t watch The Falcon and the Winter Soldier but I’ve seen a lot of criticism about the “villain.” How someone who is a murderer and terrorist is portrayed in a way that the audience is supposed to sympathize with them (or maybe even agree with them).
I think it’s important to note that sympathy does not mean redemption. We can sympathize with any character – villain or not – but the character may or may not learn their lesson or be redeemed. There is also a whole conversation that can be had about how this reflects real life. As a religious person, I have sympathy and love for mankind and I want everyone to turn from their sinful ways and know that God loves them – does that mean I don’t believe in jail or self-defense? No.
Just as with writing good characters, I have evil ones and good ones. Sometimes the good characters are annoying and make mistakes. Sometimes the evil characters went through hardships in their lives. Some of the “villains” may be redeemed or have a change of heart. But that won’t negate their wrong actions. And redeeming your own original character is very different than taking a classic villain, like Maleficent, and totally changing them.
There’s a lot of speculation about the new Cruella movie, and it starts with why it’s being made in the first place. She was an animal abuser who wanted to kill puppies…that’s universally acknowledged as really bad. Will they go the same way as Maleficent and make us want to sympathize with her? Or will it be something else entirely?
Sometimes a villain is just a villain. In Boardwalk Empire, we follow a lot of bad people doing bad things. Sure, some of them aren’t as “evil” as others, but they all meet gruesome ends. The point of it wasn’t to get us to feel sorry for mob bosses or to even redeem any of them. It was to tell a story about characters, and those characters all happened to be bad guys.
Maybe we need more evil. In fiction, that is.