Hollywood villains are no longer just born due to avarice but social injustice. The methods they adopt are evil but they are either trying to solve a problem or struggling with their identities
When it comes to Hollywood, there are certainly more than fifty shades of grey. The world of Hollywood isn’t ceased to black and white anymore with the political climate around the world, environmental concerns and racial undertones changing the face of villainy.
Long gone are the traditional Hollywood villains, who just liked to spread evil for sadistic pleasure or with the purpose of world domination. Today, socio-political issues are defining the antagonists of Hollywood films.
If supervillain Thanos in the Avengers series wanted to wipe out half of the world’s people to cure the ills of overpopulation, the Godzilla was a reflection of the consequences of humanity’s actions in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. King Orm of Aquaman stood against humanity for polluting the ocean.
“Environment is such a big real life issue. It is only getting worse and worse as we see climate change affecting all of us. So it naturally and organically became part of the story but the cool thing was I got to do it from the point of view of the villain of the film. You kind of understand why King Orm is angry at us. I think it gives it more texture and more meat,” Aquaman director James Wan said.
There’s Idris Elba as a genetically-enhanced terrorist of colour hell-bent on destroying the human race in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw; actor Jake Gyllenhaal entered the superhero universe as the villain Mysterio who points out how people lose trust easily and are ready to question a much-loved superhero at the slightest doubt — and he proves his point in the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Michael B Jordan as Erik Killmonger, the villain of the critically-acclaimed blockbuster Black Panther won as many hearts as the superhero T’Challa, because in the end he is just driven by his father’s death to help oppressed people of colour.
Samuel L Jackson as Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service is disgusted by humanity’s excesses, and takes matters in his hand to rectify it. Even in Incredibles 2, the central villain Evelyn Deavor is obsessed with the idea of freeing humans from the enslavement of technology.
In Hollywood, the identity of the bad guy has always been a reflection of the world’s realities. Consider Magneto, the man living with the horror of Holocaust in the X-Men franchise or the twisted Arthur Fleck who becomes the infamous Batman villain Joker or Yokai the antagonist trying to reunite with his daughter and family in Big Hero 6 or Kingpin in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, and the bullied Severus Snape from Harry Potter universe.
Villains in Hollywood are no longer just born due to avarice but due to what happens in their lives — sometimes social injustice — and due to an urge to make the world a better place. The methods they adopt are evil but they are either trying to solve the problem or struggling with their identities. And that makes many feel compassion for them.
“If we can have compassion for someone who inflicts harm based on the fact that harm is being inflicted on them, that is good news because it means that we have compassion for literally everyone,” Ezra Miller, who essays the role of villain Obscurus in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, said.
One of Joker’s quotes explains it all perfectly. “They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. When the chips are down these civilised people will eat each other. See, I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve,” Joker had grandly stated.