The following contains some spoilers for Maleficent.
I know I said at the beginning of the month that my main focus throughout the month would be books (thus, why it’s called Reader Beware Month RETURNS). However, after seeing the brand new Maleficent, I have a bit of a rant brewing within me that I just have to let out. That’s not to say that Maleficent is a bad movie. It’s actually really good. However, I’m angry about what this movie means for villainy. I’m irritated about how this movie treated the Mistress of All Evil. Finally, I’m out right furious about what this could mean for the future of all baddies.
Maleficent tells the story of a powerful fairy who falls in love with a human, is wronged by said human, seeks vengeance against him through his daughter, then grows fond of the daughter to the point of seeing her as a daughter of her own. That, in itself, is a fine story. I have no fault with it in terms of compelling story-telling and good characters (even if the daughter is a bit of a ditz the whole way through). No, I have no problem with the story. However, THAT IS NOT MALEFICENT. For a moment, let’s look at the original Maleficent from the Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty.
Now THAT is what I call a badass villain. She’s EVIL. She doesn’t HAVE a reason to be evil, she doesn’t NEED one. She just IS. So, even though the story was good, one thing kept going through my mind: By trying to make her sympathetic, they have effectively cut the metaphorical balls off of Maleficent.
In the last decade, we’ve seen a lot of famous baddies get backstories where they’re misunderstood or put through some kind of injustice. The biggest examples I can think of are the horror icons that have been put through remakes. Freddy Krueger was now “wrongly accused” instead of a twisted child killer. Michael Myers had a broken home, he wasn’t just psychotic. The self-proclaimed Mistress of Evil certainly isn’t the first villain to get a “sympathetic” backstory in a remake and she certainly won’t be the last. That, my friends, is why I’m pissed off.
Why the hell do villains nowadays need a reason to be villains? It used to be good enough for us that they were just evil. Sure, giving them sympathetic backgrounds makes them more human. However, why do we need them to be more human? Villains aren’t main characters, they’re obstacles for the main character to overcome. They’re the ultimate test of a hero’s abilities. VILLAINS. ARE. EVIL. They don’t need sympathy, they don’t need to justify why they are evil, they just need to BE evil.
You know why anti-villains (villains with morals or villains who are doing bad things with good intentions) are such good characters? Because they’re rarer. We don’t see them as often. So, when we do see a villain that’s only “misunderstood,” it’s special. Making EVERY villain misunderstood feels like making those rare occasions less special.
The bottom line here is, I just like the bad guys to be bad. I don’t want to know that their puppy was run over when they were little or that they were bullied in high school or whatever nonsense. All I want is for a villain to be a legitimate threat for a hero to face and somehow conquer. Besides, doesn’t the world need to see a straight up evil person get their ass kicked every now and again?
(King Stephen doesn’t count. He wasn’t evil, just a giant douche.)