I love a good, complicated villain as much as the next girl.
Though "Maleficent" disappointed many critics with its simplistic treatment of the character motivations and dramatic rewriting of the original story, Maleficent herself remains as appealing as ever. She's incredibly dynamic, always knows how to command a room, is utterly confident in her own abilities and, both here and in "Sleeping Beauty," she always gets all the best lines.
I’m starting to resent, though, that it’s always the villains who get these kind of qualifications.
These days, it’s always the bad guys who win our hearts. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki seems to have been everyone’s favorite character in “Avengers” and “Thor: The Dark World,” despite the fact that he’s at least sort of insane, tried to hand the earth over to aliens, and probably killed his father. The thing everyone remembers most about Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy is Heath Ledger’s Joker (and, as a possible runner up, Tom Hardy’s Bane).
In TV land, legions of fans still miss their favorite drug dealer now that “Breaking Bad” has ended its run. “The Following” gives more love and screen time to the serial killers than it does the cops, and the Netflix hit “House of Cards” is like a soap opera of villainy.
The reasons for this, unfortunately, aren’t terribly complicated. Villains are the ones who are allowed to surprise audiences, to be confusing and exciting and keep their motivations secret from us. They don’t have to follow the rules of what makes a “good person,” or feel a lot of guilt over the fact that they don’t. They get to say all the witty, clever things we all think but hesitated to actually say out loud.
They get to make all the grand, dramatic gestures, to hold the audience’s attention and demand that they are important enough to make people watch. They’re allowed to blaze, to burn, to reach as far as they possibly can on the strength of their own skill and ambition. They’re allowed to be themselves, as fiercely and gloriously as they possibly can.
In short, they’re absolutely free.
As for us “good guys,” we yearn for that more than anything. If you don’t believe me, take a look at “Frozen.” It’s insanely popular, making devoted fans out of everyone in the family, and the character who gets the most love is Elsa. It’s no coincidence that her big song for the movie is “Let It Go,” a celebration of finally being able to be yourself and no longer holding back.
While world domination isn’t on most of our to-do lists, we all dream of that kind of freedom. We all imagine what it would feel like if we didn’t have to stifle that thought we’re afraid sounds stupid, if we were brave enough to take charge of a situation that we know we could solve if someone only gave us the chance. If we could be ourselves, as fiercely and gloriously as we possibly could.
But fiction tells us that only villains get that kind of freedom, and in the end they pay for it with death and defeat. Even sweet Elsa was labeled as such, leaving her sister to be the one who had to run around and keep everyone happy. After all, good guys aren’t supposed to upset people.
If we were allowed to, maybe we wouldn’t need so many villains to love.