With the influx of new superhero movies being pumped out every year by either Marvel or DC, I’m reminded why I’m always wary to expect a great film. Then, I began to think of why I loved hero movies in the past: the BEST movies have the baddest, most memorable villains that test the psyche of their nemesis, and many new films fall short of that antagonist. If you had to go over the villains of every new superhero movie, you probably wouldn’t be able to remember most of them, but you can definitely remember the original Spiderman trilogy villains. Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Venom, Sandman, it’s villains like these, and many more, who have remained a strong tie to the success of the films. To me, villains are supposed to help define a hero.
Darth Vader, The Joker, the Upside Down’s Demegorgan/Shadow Monster, Voldemort, even Biff from Back to the Future, these bad guys, though vastly different through mediums, are complex counterparts that define the ultimate nemesis to challenge the hero. A hero isn’t just a perfect, ultra-powerful victor, they undergo the conflicting trials of good vs evil while keeping in mind that they muddle into the grey areas at some points in order to defeat their evil doers. The Dark Knight trilogy most represents this formula. Batman is only human, a rich Bruce Wayne at that, but his ultimate mission is to protect the greater good with the experiences and training he’s undergone. However, we see him embody the foretelling, iconic line Harvey Dent says, “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.”
This villainous path is brought by the harsh, sometimes evil choices that heroes must make in order to ultimately save the world. They must destroy cities, kill innocent bystanders, even sacrifice people they love to help the masses. Its these “dark” decisions that lead to a villainous imprint, and it’s all brought to them by iconic villains. This challenge is important because a hero must really question the morals of good and evil, and their final choices make them even more powerful in their overall journey of self-discovery. It adds a depth of realism, of gritty truth that sets apart most heroes from the shiny, goofy, predictable heroes that Marvel seems to produce. I’m not saying that DC has it quite perfect just yet, but they’re going towards the right way with their knack of delving into the psyche of their heroes rather than dropping corny jokes and artless fight scenes for the sake of a Disney-fied film for kids to buy more action figures.
Marvel greatly focuses on the heroes without much thought into creating an evil that stands up against their opponent. “Older” (pre-Disney/DC) superhero films took time in establishing the clashing relationship between hero/villain, with an inside look into how their immoral behavior affected the inner turmoil of the hero. Now, it seems we can hardly remember the big bad going against many heroes/teams, and if we do, they don’t make a lasting impact on the silver screen as powerful enemies we hate to love. They merely brush the surface like an added after detail.
With that, it also seems that many current superhero movies can’t just have one hero, but rather a constant need to assemble multiple heroes with the fear of losing audiences. Even Spiderman: Homecoming had Tony Stark in the forefront, Deadpool had two members of the X-Men, Colossus, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, just to name a few. This relentless “need” to world build seems like more of a gimmick.
Overall, I want to see some memorable villains. I want to see growth, like many movies in the past have successfully accomplished to become the important “classics” we know and love.
P.S. Can there please be a Nightwing or Robin movie? I’m tired of his misrepresentation!