Should superhero movies start to put the emphasis more on the villains?

I thought about this after seeing Infinity War. It's clear to anyone with even a passing understanding of storytelling that Thanos is the main character of the movie. He gets all the backstory, the motivation, character development and emotional beats. The rest of the cast is there mostly just to act as the opposing force. Of course they're not entirely devoid of character growth, mostly with Thor, but the emphasis is clearly on Purple Shrek.

I think superhero movies should embrace this approach more in general. Right before Infinity War we had Black Panther, which I didn't see, but I saw a ton of praise for the villain for (apparently) being a multidimensional character with understandable motivations. The fundamental problem with superhero characters is that you can only build them up so much before they have to settle into a holding pattern: a status quo of character by which to act and be ready to fight the villains. Villains, on the other hand, are by nature more malleable. In films they can be, and nearly always are, one-off expendable things. They can get character development and motivations other than "stop bad thing" or "learn to grow as a person". They can be tragic, misdirected and morally complex. Think of Dr. Octopus in Spider-Man 2 or Mr. Freeze, or even Loki from the MCU in certain respects. They can also be the show stealer like Heath Ledger's Joker.

Since we've now seen the absolute abyss that was Justice League, as well as 3 Avengers team-up movies (4 if you count Civil War), I think it's quite apparent how limited this format is in terms of being able to keep the main characters interesting. But if you put the emphasis on the villain, you can get a complete and satisfying character arc without sacrificing any mainstay characters. I think it'd be worth exploring.

I think it could work, but the ground work leads to laid down first. Batman is pretty uninteresting, even in the Michael Keaton days. Focusing on interesting enemies made them better. But I think of Thor Ragnorok, and that being a good piece because it had some character development. So... one or the other. But probably one movie is too small for both.

bartholen:
t Thanos is the main character of the movie. He gets all the backstory, the motivation, character development and emotional beats. The rest of the cast is there mostly just to act as the opposing force. Of course they're not entirely devoid of character growth, mostly with Thor, but the emphasis is clearly on Purple Shrek.

I think superhero movies should embrace this approach more in general. ( snipped for space)

This is pretty much what Disney has done with switching the focus on the villain or anti hero in recent years. I think they did it well with Maleficent.

In 2014, Maleficent was given her own movie titled after her name, Maleficent. Although she had previously only been a villain with no hope of redemption, this movie gave her an anti-hero story arc that made her a hero turned evil. She becomes a complicated character who is not simply an embodiment of an evil, but a relatable character who has human flaws.

It is interesting to note that this most recent iteration of Maleficent bears more resemblance to Elsa from Frozen than to other villains. Elsa is an anti-hero (a hero who lacks conventional heroic characteristics). She unintentionally causes major problems throughout the story and nearly kills her sister. Fear controls her and causes her to push away everyone who is close to her. Ultimately it is love that gives Elsa the strength to seize control of herself. Maleficent also unintentionally harms those she loves out of misguided motives, but it is love that reminds her of who she truly is and helps her find redemption. In both of these stories there is a minor villain who causes problems (Hans in Frozen and King Stefan in Maleficent), but the true ?villain? so to speak is the protagonist?s internal conflict. This garners a stronger emotional response out of the audience because there is no one person to hate and blame. Elsa and Maleficent are both victims and although they are partially guilty, they ultimately are not evil characters. Instead of having a clear hero and a clear villain, the audience is left in limbo of not knowing exactly how the story can resolve itself. There is empathy for all of the characters as you come to realize that sometimes the greatest antagonist in life is yourself. Perhaps this strikes a chord with audiences because they feel that struggle in their own lives. They also feel that they are their own worst villain. Maybe society has been hiding the true antagonist all along behind exaggerated villain stereotypes and now entertainment is becoming more realistic and so the villains are becoming more real as well.

The role of Disney villains has been changing along with the cultural revolution of the rise of the antihero and the redeemable villain over the past decade in the entertainment industry. They are given chances at redemption and are seen as people who have made poor decisions as opposed to inherently evil adversaries. Entertainment today romanticizes the broken, tortured soul and celebrates moral ambiguity by defying black-and-white interpretations of good and evil.

http://nybyu.com/pop-culture-analysis/the-evolution-of-the-disney-villain-maleficent/

I actually like this angle and think it could work well for Marvel as well if they chose to go more in depth with their character creation and blur the lines a bit more.

Okay, so what do you think of the idea of Venom. I do not have high hopes

trunkage:
Okay, so what do you think of the idea of Venom. I do not have high hopes

Anti-hero, not villain.

Then again, the villains of the film seem to be "evil corporation no. 905," so go figure.

The loss of Red Skull especially hurts.

Samtemdo8:
The loss of Red Skull especially hurts.

Eh, skull doesn't really have depth even in his good days

It's what superhero movies are doing quite consistently. Not all of them, obviously, origins stories tend to focus more on the heros themselves, but otherwise there are a lot that are very much defined by the antagonist. Take the Joker in Dark Knight. Batman movies in general get this a lot, honestly.

Should superhero movies start to put the emphasis more on the villains?

Once superhero movies become stale.

undeadsuitor:

Samtemdo8:
The loss of Red Skull especially hurts.

Eh, skull doesn't really have depth even in his good days

I tend to see that as a positive, at least if you're doing a story about the hero. Because now you can focus on the hero and his character and not have to worry about fleshing out the villain too much. Why is the Red Skull trying to kill these people/take over this country? Well because he's an original brand Nazi with a skull for a head, this is just Tuesday to him.

But isn't more focus on the villains something Marvel is already trying to do? Thats why Vulture, Killmonger and now Thanos get praised while someone like Malekith does not. They just need to stop killing their villains at the end so they can continue being developed and meaningful.

I also think Disney needs to do this with more of the properties they've acquired. I kind of want a Star Wars movie with an Imperial protagonist. See why they're loyal, maybe give us a chance to flesh out why not everyone sees the Empire as hilariously evil, have them turn to the rebel side at the end if you really want...

Hawki:

trunkage:
Okay, so what do you think of the idea of Venom. I do not have high hopes

Anti-hero, not villain.

Then again, the villains of the film seem to be "evil corporation no. 905," so go figure.

"Embrace Your Inner Anti-Hero"

God, the trailers for that Venom film look hilariously bad.

undeadsuitor:

Samtemdo8:
The loss of Red Skull especially hurts.

Eh, skull doesn't really have depth even in his good days

Loss?

Either way, any marvel film with Red Skull back would be better than that Venom trailer I saw. I made several people in the theater laugh when that trailer ended and I said "I saw that in a dollar bargain bin back in the 90's... it was something called Spawn."

Didn't they already do this? It was called Suicide Squad and it was fucking awful.

Catfood220:
Didn't they already do this? It was called Suicide Squad and it was fucking awful.

Nah it was called Despicable Me, and it was fucking awful.

It was also called Megamind and it was fucking fantastic.

CaitSeith:

Should superhero movies start to put the emphasis more on the villains?

Once superhero movies become stale.

They've been stale for close onto a decade now. Exceptions exist, but "exceptions" is the key word.

Depends on the complexity of the supervillain. A super'villain' like Godzilla doesn't need much characterization and backstory to realize the threat.

A 15 year old that orchestrates a strategic nuclear exchange might need a hell of a lot more screentime to actually ascertain how.

I'd say fiction in general makes the mistake of emphasizing the villains way way WAY too much, to the detriment of everything else. Oftentimes the hero has little to no actual characterization at all, taking "a story is only as good as it's villain" far too literally. Most of the time the hero is just... there, having an extremely generic characterization, while the villain is a hammy, bombastic, complex character, and everything he does moves the plot forward while the hero does little but react to what the villain is doing. I actually like that Marvel movies tend to focus on the good guys as much as the bad guys for this reason. Having said that, making Thanos functionally the main works for him in Infinity War because Marvel spent like a dozen movies building the guy up so it would have been disappointing had it turned out any way other than it did.

Good villains? Superhero movies? What?

But, seriously, can't think of a really 'good' villain in any of the recent super hero films.
-Haven't seen the new Avengers or Black Panther

Suicide Squad was shit. The Venom movie looks stupid. Most of the Marvel/DC villains have kind of sucked.

Franchise comic book heroes have a tendency to be bland "white meat babyface" (to borrow a wrestling term) types because they're the anchors of a franchise. You want the biggest potential market for a running title, so the main character that will always be there never develops much interesting traits because it might make them less generally appealing.

Whereas the villains (and other recurring, but non-permanent fixture characters) have full freedom to be written with whatever combination of traits. If there's any particular backlash against such a character, they're easily written out, something you can't do with the titular protagonist (generally, there's been a few here and there).

I don't think it could work for most villains. They're there to test the heroes and those are the characters people are buying tickets to see. It might be interesting however to see how Venom performs when it comes out in the near future, but I have no intention of seeing it.

I think what could work, is an Anakin Skywalker style Face-Heel turn. It could be really interesting to have a hero do a movie or two, then turn villain for the next one in the franchise. Fallen heroes are often great characters and done well, quite memorable, especially if they have a redemption arc as well.

Loki was the most ambiguous MCU "villain". He was clearly a villain in Thor and Avengers, ambiguous in the Dark World and a Hero in Ragnarok, so he did a heel-face turn, but it could be really good to have a good guy go bad. Civil War pit heroes against each other, as did Batman v Superman (spit), but they were still hero vs hero.

So I don't think a movie could support a headlining villain, but I do think a hero could go bad for a movie or two.

 

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