Bad Guys?

Marvel Studios has been getting it right lately. I don’t know if you’re following this expanding and intricate universe they’ve been creating in phases over the years (including Iron Man 1/2/3, Captain America 1 & 2, Thor 1 &2, Avengers, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) but the quality and care that has gone into the franchise has been great — not just for other superhero movies to take note of and try to emulate so we, as an audience, get better crafted stories, but they’re at such a high-caliber that even non-superhero movies could possibly learn a thing or two as well.

For instance, the creation of a believable villain. I’ve said in the past that I fawn over the villains that have a twisted view of reality that was a slow evolution of injustices and misfortunes that accumulated over the course of their life. I hate the villains that just do evil because they want to be bad. That makes no sense. I don’t believe anyone wakes up thinking “Gosh, I would love to be a horrible person and do things that are terrible to others.” Maybe there are some people like that, but in movies I just can’t buy into it. It’s infinitely better when the backstory of the villain is laid out so you can see how they got to the murderous path they set upon.

The Thor films have done it exceptionally well with Loki. While I obviously don’t condone anything he does in that movie (cough, cough),  I can understand why he might think what he’s doing is right. That’s the important ingredient: the empathy. Marvel Studios has done it again with the latest Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier.

Sidenote: If you have not seen the movie yet, stop reading. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

The “bad guy” that Cap, Black Widow, and their team has to take down seems amazingly sinister in the beginning. Just a brutal force with no stop button on the terror he wreaks. No small talk, no petting a white cat as he demands money from the UN via Skype from his secret lair, no MWAHAHAHA laughing, no grandstanding. He just destroys things, silently and quickly. Pretty standard badass stuff. And also pretty forgettable. But as the movie unfolds and his backstory is slowly revealed, the character gets depth and intrigue and you start to see how he got to be this unstoppable storm of homicidal rage. He was given a chance to be empathized with as we saw how his tormentors brainwashed away his humanity and turned him into a dehumanized zombie. It was just awful to watch (in a good way). I felt so bad for him. Yes, the villain. I felt so bad for what he had to go through. And once again I find myself on the side of the “bad guy.”

That’s the type of villain I think movies (or stories in general) should always aspire to. A story that can be viewed from all sides, rather than just the lens of the hero, makes a much more compelling plot and really engages me as a fan. Bravo, Marvel! Your ability to make the villain “not so bad” has been getting stronger as time goes on. It’s getting harder and harder to really hate the villain anymore since they’re not all born with black hearts. They’ve just had some horrible experiences that really messed up their heads and I’m glad the movie studio is taking the time to put that much thought into the “bad guys” now.

captain america

 

An unexpected role model (Or, Ode to Deadpool)

My daughter loves Deadpool. No, that’s not a Metal band from Scandinavia. He’s a comic book character far, far removed from the popular canon of superhero icons.  I’ve let my nerdy side out on this blog previously with an Ode to Loki.   Well now I feel the need to address the badly maligned character of Deadpool.

deadpool banner

In the world of comics, A-Listers are the ones we all know by heart; your Supermans, Batmans, Spider-Mans, etc. The B-List are those whose names you still recognize but might not know their secret identity’s name or what planet they come from. These are your Green Arrows, Martian Manhunters, Silver Surfers. They get some credit every once in a while, but rarely do you see a kid on Halloween rocking a Dr. Strange costume. Then, below that you have your C-listers. They don’t get a lot of love and only really show up when the comic needs to 1) fill in the background space during a huge war, 2) find a convenient way to move a story along without having to explain too much or 3) have someone die. These are your Firestorms, Quicksilvers, Luke Cages, and Inhumans.

This is sort of where Deadpool hovers; a C-Lister with cult status. Where the cult status comes from is also the reason he’s probably not going to ever crack into the B or A lists. First off, while he’s not a villain he’s far from being a hero. He’s a killer. It’s sort of in the name. If that very short description has you thinking his character is some dark, brooding antihero with an insatiable bloodlust borne from a lifetime of sorrow you’d be wrong. He’s actually quite funny. Comedy is a huge element of his character. Very sarcastic, very dead pan, very witty. He’s a quirky comedian. And while he’s routinely breaking the fourth wall by talking directly to the readers during huge gunfights, he’s also just as critical of the people writing his character. Often times Deadpool will express annoyance at how the writers of his comic have portrayed him in a certain storyline. All with biting humor, that is.

deadpool

He’s perhaps one of the first if not the best meta-character that strays far, far outside the lines of what a typical comic is, all while still retaining the mainstays of a typical comic (guns, explosions, blood, action, tragic backstory continually juiced for carnage fodder, etc.). While I don’t read him all that much, I can understand why my daughter and others like him. He doesn’t hesitate, he doesn’t take anything seriously (even when face to face with almost certain death), he doesn’t always do the right thing, he’s definitely no boy scout, he takes advantage of things and people so they work in his favor, and he pretty much gives a middle finger to anyone who doesn’t agree with him.

In many ways he’s the stereotypical morsel of psychopathic perfection we’ve come to expect in quality comic anti-heroes. However, I argue that in many ways he’s also something to aspire to. Okay, so I’m not recommending we become assassins plying our trade to the highest bidder.  But so many of us take ourselves too seriously because we’re worried how other people will see us. Will I fit in? Will they like me? Will I sound dumb if I say this? We let our fears overwhelm us. Deadpool pushes past his insecurity and while horrible things happen to him, he strives to live life on his own terms.  Despite his emotional scars and fears, he does what he wants and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks. I believe that’s worth emulating.  Yes, yes, I realize that he could probably benefit from having just a tiny bit more compassion and empathy, but seriously, after what he’s gone through what can you expect?  Still…everyone should have a little more of his “I’ll do whatever the hell I want and who cares what they think” attitude.

deadpool on game

Good vs. Evil (Or, Ode to Loki)

On paper it all seems so simple. The good guy wins. The bad guy loses. That’s the way it’s supposed to go, right? I think there’s nothing wrong with that if you buy into the premise of a villain that only exists to be a malevolent force, which is pretty silly when you think about it. I think that everyone believes they are a good person and what they’re doing is for the betterment of society/earth/family/etc. People aren’t just born and decide “I know what I’m doing is wrong but I really want to bring about destruction just for the sake of destruction.” This just doesn’t hold true. At least, not with characters who are fleshed out.

Take Loki for example. On the outside he’s a terrible deceiver, a trickster, a plague to all the citizens of Asgard, a poison to contain and destroy. Okay, okay I realize that’s harsh and personally I just don’t see it but this is what we’re supposed to believe. Anyway, once you look at his motivations it becomes clear that in his warped view of the world, the terrible things he does are either responses to injustices he’s already faced or ways to correct what he perceives to be already misaligned.

Although he has some obvious anger issues that a little family therapy would probably help to work out, just take a look at what he has gone through (and all in one fell swoop mind you): His father betrayed him, he found out he’s not a true heir, his brother is heavily favored (adding fire to the sibling rivalry), and in an ultimate act of punishment he was denied access to his mother, the one person he loved the most. All he wants is to be accepted but that’s the last thing anyone is willing to give to him. How does this not create a pretty pissed off person looking to change things in their image?

Often times, in well-crafted stories at least, villains are just misunderstood and are rarely given the tools to properly deal with the plight they were placed in. I’m not advocating for evil to reign over us all, just making a plea to try to see things through their eyes.

Of course it helps when you have the perfect person playing the part. I mean, the actor can easily make you love or hate a character. It’s very likely that the entirety of the above well thought out, deep and philosophical rhetoric would be moot if someone other than Tom Hiddleston was playing Loki. Yes, I know, it should hold the same regardless….but come on….we all know that just isn’t true.

Yes, yes, I realize that when Loki lays waste to Asgard and takes the throne, we’re supposed to be appalled and dismayed, and morally we should call for his downfall. He’s the villain after all. However, all of that falls to the wayside with Tom Hiddleston’s mischievous grin and we instead find ourselves rooting for his success.

Loki