Villainous Motivation

Last time I talked about what makes good action hero. This time I want to talk about villains. What is an action movie without a villain? Who or what is the force that the protagonist has to fight against? There are many definitions of the word villain. In its simplest definition, it can just be a scoundrel or a criminal, but is also defined as “a character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot” (Oxford). The villain is the reason why the hero has to act but the villain is also the driving force of a plot as well. Danny Manus, a writer for Script, states in an article, “Your antagonist needs to be almost as complex as your hero.” If your villain is just a one dimensional person who just wants to take over the world where is the fun in that?  Villains need to have their own story of why they are doing the evil things. This is where the importance of motivation comes in.

In a segment of Chris Stuckmann’s video of The Problem with Action Movies Today, he talks about villains and how important it is in “giving him motivation that we can understand. The best villains are the one we can actually understand.” If the reason why the villain did his deed was because they are a psychopath then the villain isn’t very compelling. There has to be more than just “he is a psychopath”, we need to know why. “There should be something so innate – so driving – that no matter how much they are defeated or rejected, your villain should still think they are in the right (Manus).” The villain needs to stand behind his motivation until the very end because that is what challenges the hero.

I want to use the example of The Joker in The Dark Knight. The Joker is the definition of chaos and anarchy, the complete of opposite of Batman who lives by justice. In the beginning of the movie the Joker’s motivation is unclear: he doesn’t want money; he doesn’t want to rule the city. As the movie progresses, we start to see what is going on. Every time they face each other face to face, The Joker opens up more to Batman explains his motivations. Joker is shown to be a crazy but his motivation is clear; he isn’t killing people just because he is crazy. He wants chaos and he wants to challenge Batman’s morality. Alfred sums up Joker’s motivation well by saying “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” The Joker knows that Batman will not kill him and even says “You have nothing to threaten me with” as he attempts to push Batman to the edge of his own morality. He doesn’t even want to kill Batman and even tells him clearly he doesn’t want to because Batman completes him. Even at the end when Batman captures the Joker, the Joker still stands behind his motivation and tells Batman they are destined to do this forever while he laughs, knowing that he had succeeded into pushing Harvey Dent into madness.

Manus finishes off his article by saying “And often times, films become iconic because of these antagonist characters more so than for the heroes” and I agree. If a hero can just beat a villain easily then there is nothing exciting about that. The challenges that the hero faces has to be created from the villain’s motivation. The stronger and more complex the motivation, the harder the challenge is. It is because we remember the villain’s motivation that the film ends up becoming iconic. Who are your favorite villains and what were their motivations?


One thought on “Villainous Motivation

  1. I like how you use the joker as your example. This character interaction between the Joker and Batman is one of the most iconic ones out there because of the intricate reasons behind why the joker is the way he is. I agree that the most compelling villains are the ones that have a sense of normalcy and understanding to them because then people begin to question themselves for understanding where they are coming from.


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