I’ve noticed a trend in movies lately. It must be there in literature as well, but I haven’t noticed it as much in the books I’ve read. That trend is villains as protagonists.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never had an issue with a well rounded villain that can tug at your heartstrings a bit, but still be the bad guy in the end. For instance, Heath Ledger as Joker. I felt like he tantalized with just enough of a backstory to make the character feel human, but not enough for the audience to feel like Batman was kicking kittens and puppies when they fought.
Recently we have seen Suicide Squad, Venom, and now Joker making their debuts. In these movies the traditional villain is not just a protagonist, but is converted to a hero. It’s a strange feeling to embrace evil to fight other evil.
These wonderments first crept into my mind when my son picked out his Halloween costume for this year and I realized that for the second year in a row he had chosen a villain. Last year he was an Imperial Stormtrooper and this year he is going as Boba Fett. How had I not noticed this before?
When I was a kid we had to convince someone to be the bad guys so we could beat up on them when we played Star Wars or The Hobbit or army for that matter. The thought of being a storm trooper for Halloween was just absurd. When I was a kid we all wanted to be heroes.
What has changed?
This brings me to my final thought. I wonder if this started on a mainstream tangent with the Star Wars prequels. I know they are divisive. Some love them and others hate them. Personally, I have a couple problems, one with the story and one with the actual films. The film problem I have heard echoed by others and it is simply the tech level being superior to the original movies that took place thirty years later. Meh, been there, beaten that dead mule.
The story problem feeds into my above point. The movies were all about the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the birth of Darth Vader. We, the audience, were expected to root for Anakin. He was a cute little kid. Who could not like him? (Maybe it was easier when he was a moody teenager) But the point is, we were expected to love him, despite what he was to become. That was a tough pill to swallow.
In reality, the prequels were akin to watching a movie about young Hitler or Stalin. Sure, maybe they were cute and innocent as kids, but at some point they were going to be evil.
Darth Vader exterminated the Jedi. He exterminated planets. He brought about the collapse of the Republic. Darth Vader was the face of destruction in galactic proportions and yet we are supposed to root for him because he’s just a kid?
I have a tough time getting behind that.
I think the problem is that he is portrayed as the protagonist. He is the character kids wanted to be. So, why do we wonder why kids want to be Stormtroopers?
What does this say about society? What does it say about the future? If fictional villains are really just flawed heroes, how soon before real villains are viewed as flawed heroes? How soon will it be before evil is fully acceptable, as long as it’s used to fight greater evil?
I hope we remember who the real heroes are.