Wednesday, November 02, 2011


"In a lot of cases, the bad guy is just an excuse for the hero to do stuff."

I have a love-hate relationship with Cracked magazine. Its happened more than once that they will do a big article on something I had in the back of my mind to do some day. At the same time they do great stuff and its usually worth a look at their site every day (although they are needlessly crude and sophomoric).

The latest example of this happening is their bit on movie villains. I know people who love the movie Up. It was a pretty good movie, but it doesn't really rank very high on my list of favorites, let alone favorite cartoon movies. The problem is the bad guy. The movie didn't need a psychotic murderous villain, and they turned a noble, heroic explorer into said monster for no reason other than "hey, lets have a bad guy!"

I'll let Rohan Ramakrishnan at Cracked explain:
Carl, his floating house and a Boy Scout named Russell somehow make it to South America and inadvertently befriend the same strange-looking bird Charles Muntz has been looking for all these years. As a result, Muntz sets Carl's house on fire, kidnaps Russell and then tries to kill them both by sending an army of talking dogs to shoot them in little planes.

Uh, why?

And don't say, "Because he was evil!" Even in terms of carrying out an evil plan to kidnap a rare bird, it doesn't make sense.
It doesn't make sense from any angle for him to chase and terrorize the bird's friends for half the movie. If he had bothered thinking this through instead of instantly jumping to canine homicide schemes, he could have saved himself a lot of trouble and a lot of money in ammo and doggy parachutes.
See they point out that he already knew the creatures love chocolate and could have comfortably trapped the bird using the candy, even if he had to steal some from the chubby scout.

But it didn't make any sense whatsoever for the bad guy to be that bad. His background and motivation was insanely out of synch with his behavior. And that spoiled the movie to a great degree for me. Because that's bad writing.

Cracked examines some other villains who ignore the obvious and needlessly go about complex, stupid plans, such as:
  • First Blood, the police department (if they wanted him to leave town, let him leave, and why on earth did they beat and taunt Rambo in the first place?)
  • Good Morning, Vietnam, with the sergeant who for some reason hates the DJ and wants to destroy him (which was utterly without factual basis according to the real DJ the movie was supposedly based on).
The one they got really wrong is Demolition Man and miss the entire point of the movie and the character of Raymond Cocteau. And they didn't catch the plot point in 5th Element where the evil businessman believed he would become powerful and rich by helping the ultimate evil, but the rest is fun reading.

I get that this isn't easy, believe me. Writing an interesting, plausible bad guy who drives the story is one of the hardest tasks for a writer, I think. Consider how dull Die Hard would have been if Hans Gruber had been less interesting and complex a character. Think about how boring any action movie becomes with dull, stupid bad guys. The villain of the piece is harder to write than the hero, because the hero is front and center all the time and you can develop him. The villain gets less time in front of the readers and viewers and you have to compress his significance and personality into a smaller bit of time or text.

So I do sympathize with the writers who do this, I just don't forgive them for doing it. Writing is hard, and that's no excuse to do a shoddy job or take stupid shortcuts out of expediency and hope nobody notices. George Lucas' utterly failed effort to show how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader is front and center number one example of this. He went from whiny and impatient to ultimate evil because... well there really isn't any plausible, even remotely convincing reason other than the plot required it. Bad writing.

I should get to work on my "cop movies where they destroy all the evidence and murder the bad guy without any witnesses" list before Cracked does. Its one of the worst movie themes ever foisted on mankind.

1 comment:

Philip said...

We used to joke that the reason modern Hollywood generally can't produce 'good' villains is because it would strike a little too close to home.

Then again, if you look closely at 'The Incredibles', the bad guy looks an awful lot like its director/writer.