Villains are the new heroes in modern storytelling

By Melissa Platero, CCNN Writer

Disney villainess
Angelina Jolie as Maleficent.

For the longest time, audiences loved cheering against movie villains like Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and Darth Vader in Star Wars. After all, they were 100% evil, not the least bit charming, and there was no shortage of mustache-twirling world conquerors who talked with British accents while stroking black lap cats. Now, however, the world seems to be falling in love with nontraditional antiheroes, as movies, TV shows, and books paint their “bad” guys and gals in more complex hues.

Even Disney is getting in on the villain worship, with Maleficent giving us the back story on a misunderstood dark sorceress played by Angelina Jolie, while Universal’s Despicable Me series focuses on Gru, a sympathetic super-villain voiced by Steve Carell. Suddenly, old-fashioned heroes are boring, simple-minded, and usually way less clever than the baddies!

I mean, everywhere you look, the lines between good and evil are being blurred into a very complicated gray. The main characters in the mega popular Fast and Furious franchise are illegal car racers and robbers, Batman is a lawbreaking vigilante, and Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks is… well… a pirate! The list is endless, and it’s just continuing to grow. TV shows are increasingly revolving around vampires, mobsters, werewolves, and just about any real-life or fictional monster you can imagine.

Okay, so what gives? Does this mean our society is slowly being corrupted by a secret villainous plot to make baddies seem heroic?

Really, though, think about it. Could we be, at this very moment, helplessly mind-controlled by shadowy figures who are laughing out loud while they collect our hard-earned cash, rolling out ever more glorious wickedness? Nope! See, several psychologists and entertainment professionals believe that this fascination with the dark side of the Force is very simple to explain. Never, and I mean never in human history have we had such easy access to so many forms of entertainment. Smartphones, the internet, social media, and a dozen other high-tech devices have flooded our minds with a billion stories, whether it’s big budget Hollywood films or the latest homemade YouTube video.

antihero
Batman is one of the most well-known antiheroes.

When you have that much storytelling coming at you, it’s easy to get bored of predictable good vs. bad stories with two-dimensional heroes beating Saturday morning cartoon villains.

After all, real life is much more dynamic, and as our entertainment appetites become more sophisticated, we can’t help but find a charming, multidimensional antihero way more interesting than a perfect dogooder. I’ll gladly side with the monstrous-looking Beast in Beauty and the Beast instead of the cleancut “good guy”, Gaston.

In fact, the biggest bad guys often hide behind a charming smile, polished style, and flattering words. In other words, you’re more likely to find the black-hearted knight hiding behind a white knight’s suit of armor, and the good-hearted knight hiding his heroics behind a Dark Knight’s batmobile!

So, it’s no surprise that the latest Jaguar car commercial preaches “It’s good to be bad” with suave speeches from the villainous actors Ben Kingsley, Tom Hiddleston, and Mark Strong.

I mean, you know it’s real when the car commercials are getting in on the action!

Featured image courtesy of Universal Pictures. Image of Maleficent courtesy of Disney. Image of Batman courtesy of Warner Bros.