The Right Kind of Villain

by limebirdlaura

Anyone who knows me knows that I have developed an…erm…obsession with the character Loki. This is, of course, largely due to the beautiful man who plays Loki…but I won’t get into that here.

Much to my delight, Loki was not only the villain in Thor, but also the recent record-breaking film ‘The Avenger’. OK, so he’s the bad guy…but why am I blabbing on about him? Because I want to get into why he’s such a great villain!

First, a brief background on Loki – but keep in mind that this is mainly coming from the movies, I have limited knowledge about the Norse god or how Loki is portrayed in the comics. Loki is the adopted brother of Thor, the god of thunder, and son of Odin. Never having hope of sitting on the throne as King of Asgard, he lives his life in his brother’s shadow. There’s also this little bit about him being the god of mischief.

So he wants world domination. Look into his pretty eyes, and stare at his gorgeous smile…let’s give it to him for crying out loud!

Ahem, oh…where was I?

As a character, though, Loki has depth. He doesn’t just hack and slash his way through his victims until the hunky hero beats him down to win the day. He’s not just a one-dimensional prop to aid plot points.

Loki struggles with his relationship with his brother. Other than the times he tries to kill him, there are scenes when he appears to truly love his brother Thor.  There are also scenes where he lies to his brother, to keep him out of his way. But there is one line that I think defines his relationship with his brother, he says he never wanted the throne, he only wanted to be his equal. (Now, being that he is the god of lies, can we trust that he’s telling the truth? He’s got pretty eyes, so yes of course we can!)

He also struggles with his relationship with his father, Odin, and I think that is where the force behind a lot of his madness is driven from. As a baby, Odin found Loki and adopted him and raised him as a brother to Thor. Odin knew, and Loki found out, that there was never hope of Loki becoming King of Asgard. That honor would fall to Thor no matter what. What Loki knew was that Thor was arrogant, and he used that to his advantage to get him out of the way in order for his father to see that Loki is worthy of the throne. Unfortunately, Loki’s plans are a little too mischievous for any good to come of them.

I’ve heard the actor Tom Hiddleston who plays Loki talk about the psychology of the character in interviews. He has mentioned that they didn’t want the character to start out as a baddie, we get to see why he becomes the way he is. I love that in a bad guy, when you can see where they have come from. They took great effort to make sure the character wasn’t 2 dimensional.

To compare, the character of Darth Maul from Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, is an example of a 2 dimensional villain in my opinion.  He’s like cardboard, that’s how interesting his personality was. Sure, he looked really cool, and he killed people with an epic light saber, but other than that there was nothing to him. He was simply there to get Qui-Gon Jinn and company worked up. OK, cool…and? Sure he looks neat, and he’s got some awesome moves, but that’s all there is to him as a bad guy. Much like The Destroyer that appears in Thor. The Destroyer was built for the sole purpose of killing people. There is no meat to The Destroyer’s story, because it’s just a machine built to kill. Darth Maul on the other hand was this big bad Sith Lord, but what was his story? Being a Sith Lord is pretty big stuff, so I shouldn’t be able to compare him with a machine, but here we are.

Keeping with the Star Wars example, compare Loki to Darth Vader. Vader is a bad guy, and through the movie(s) we get to see why. There’s a reason Vader turned into this horrible Sith Lord – he had to go through X, Y, and Z to arrive where he did – just like Loki.

Loki is a perfect villain. There’s as much meat to his story as there is the hero’s story. I love it when the bad guy makes the film more interesting and gives it more depth, and does more than just stalk the good guy down. It keeps the story on a constant motion for me, no scene of the film is boring or “fluff” when you have both the good guy and the bad guy pushing the story along. A script shouldn’t focus solely on the hero, when the villain’s story is just as important most of the time. Having a cookie-cutter, mustache twirling, cackling-at-the-top-of-his-lungs villain doesn’t add as much depth to a script or keep the action as interesting as a villain who has a clearly defined motive and personality.

Who are some of your favorite villains? What villains do you wish had a better story?


30 Responses to “The Right Kind of Villain”

  1. Great post Laura! I think one of my fave villans (in films) is the Joker in Batman. However, that may be down to the superb acting of the late Heath Ledger. In books… hmm… Hannibal Lecter from Red Dragon, because that man be crazy! haha. ( This is my exact literary expertise) 😛

    • Thank you! Joker is a great villain, and Heath Ledger was a wonderful Joker! I had to watch that movie again the other day after watching the newest one. Ohhh and Hannibal is awesome. And that man definitely be crazy! Silence of the Lambs is one of my favorites.

  2. Good post Laura. I love villains that have a sympathetic side to them, where we can relate to some (certainly not all) of their intentions and emotions. We watched the newest Spiderman this weekend, and I was talking to the kids about how the Lizard (I don’t know his actual Villain name) was a rounded bad guy (I won’t go into detail in case people haven’t seen the movie) and how it was more interesting to follow the story. While you want Spidey to win, you’re also feeling sorry a little bit for Evil Lizard.

    • I just think it’s interesting to see a “human” side to a villain maybe….it makes it easy to think “wait, I see how easily he became that monster…could that happen to me? What keeps me from NOT becoming that? What could have happened in his life to make him different?” I think it’s kind of like real life examples of say two children raised by drug addicts. Kid A becomes an addict, Kid B does something to change their life and get out of that mess. What caused two kids in the same situation to go different directions? That’s getting a little off topic I know, but along the same lines I guess of what makes one brother a villain and another a hero.

      I haven’t seen the new Spiderman (I don’t know why, my hubby usually jumps on comic book movies the day they come out) but it looks really good!

    • Whoops! I just had a case of mixed identity. Maybe Laura is the hero but LimebirdLaura is the villain? MWUAHAHHAHAH. (Ok… I’ve had too much coffee ignore me…LOL)

      • Haha, that’s okay! I do that, too. In fact, I try to comment on LB as limebirdkate, even with other LB posts, but I obviously forgot to do that with your post as I showed up as my alter-ego!

  3. Yes it’s very true, a villain has to have some redeeming features (and not just physical ones!) in order to be a satisfying villain. If they are not multi-dimensional, then your feelings towards them won’t be either, and that definitely affects your viewing (or reading) pleasure. You can hate them, but you should also be able to find some understanding of why they are how they are. I like intelligent villains, like others have mentioned Hannibal, where you can be impressed by them at the same time as being horrified. Dumb killing machines do nothing for me.

    • It doesn’t hurt that Loki is really pretty 😉 HEHE I know though, I love when you can leave a book or a movie (or a book AND a movie in the case of Hannibal) and talk about the characters. Pick them apart and analyze them to see why they tick. Don’t get me wrong, I love my fair share of books and movies that are full of fluff and don’t require a lot of thought, but I really love when you have characters that keep you up at night thinking about them.

  4. The portrayal of “successful” (let’s say sympathetic) villains depends on the story. Sometimes, a big bad wolf is just that, and it’s fine (Stephen King’s Pennywise, in IT, is just a monster. But hella scary, and it works). Mostly, though, I agree that a villain should have some sympathetic qualities. Even the shark in “Jaws” is just following its nature. In fact, I prefer “antagonist” to “villain.”

    Getting back to your post, the sad thing about Loki is that he’s a product of self-fulfilling prophecy. When you’re labeled as the god of mischief, it’s hard to break from that pigeonholing, no matter what you do. Most of Loki’s actions in the stories (and Thor comics, of which I’m admittedly a fan, especially Walt Simonson’s run, arguably the finest stories in that comics character’s history) are simply selfish, or because he’s bored. (So what if his kids bring about Ragnarok? Nobody’s perfect.)

    I don’t want to label him a victim, and I’m not excusing what he does (tricking Hod into killing Baldur is pretty harsh)…but Loki gets a bad rap. Yes, he’s a bratty little godling, but he just wants what he has coming to him. He just wants his fair share. Who wouldn’t want that, especially as a son of the All-Father?

    Japanese mythology has a similar god, Susanoo, who does a lot of selfish, nasty stuff. He’s also labeled as a god of mischief (sometimes “evil”). But, when you read the stories, it’s those gods who are so much closer to our own human natures, it’s difficult not to feel sympathy for them. I think there’s a lot of truth to early civilizations creating stories of gods to explain away our own faults and shortcomings. So it makes sense that we’d identify with the gods who are closer to ourselves than those who are pinnacles of virtue (or unrepentant devils).

    My favorite antagonists definitely have their sympathetic sides. They don’t necessarily do good things, but I can see their points of view.

    Great post! Hopefully, I didn’t go too much into know-it-all mode…but I love talking about mythology. 🙂

    • Firstly don’t EVER worry about going into “know-it-all mode” I think I can say for all the other limebirds that a good amount of debate is always welcome. And you DEFINITELY know more about mythology than I do, and I love learning about new things so BRING IT ON!! 😀

      And you are right, Pennywise is A GREAT villain…super scary. I have friends who to this day are afraid of the drains in the street 😀 Maybe it’s different for straight up horror films? I’m not sure, but you do bring up a good point that I hadn’t thought about. Freddy Krueger is another (one of my all time favorite movies ever since I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was 7) You DO get to hear a little about why he is what he is during the first movie, and as the movies progress — -to be fair as they progressed he got sillier but, that never mattered to me.

      It might also depend on the hero. With your Jaws example, if the other characters hadn’t carried the story as well as they did you’d end up with one of those cheesy Sci-Fi (Sy-Fy now??) channel specials. I do love Stephen King’s villains though. I read a review of Stephen King the other day that said all of his characters were flat, and I couldn’t disagree more! Even with Pennywise…he may not have an elaborate back story (although, I haven’t read IT…I don’t know why I just never have) but he’s still one scary dude!

      I know what you mean about Loki. My husband said was saying the other day, if he was the god of mischief why did anyone ever listen to him? I think maybe you’ve hit it on why I like Loki so much, ” it’s those gods who are so much closer to our own human natures, it’s difficult not to feel sympathy for them.” – Sure they cause death and destruction and all sorts of bad stuff but there’s that little touch of humanity in them that makes them so darn relatable!

      Thank you for all your comments!

  5. With such characters, you have this inner wish to find the thing what turns them around toward positive, and it keeps a viewer/reader feeling part of the story. Thought provoking post.

  6. Great post, Laura!

    I was just chatting on another blog about Disney villains, so the thoughts are fresh in my mind. I find the more charismatic villains to be the most menacing. If I may use a Disney example, I find Gaston from Beauty and the Beast to be one of my favorites. He is a popular, narcissistic pretty boy at first glance, but what makes the man dangerous is his ability to bend a mob to his will.

    In the movie he demonstrates that skill without even much provocation. The beast did nothing to Gaston except (inadvertently) bruise his ego, but that was more than enough to get him to speechify. A few provocative, well-chosen words and the guy has an entire town brandishing torches and pitchforks ready and eager to kill anything in its path. That is real power.

    An evil man who has the support of the public is a very scary thing indeed.

    • You make a great point about Gaston! I hadn’t thought about him that way, but now that you word it like that he sort of reminds me of Hitler to a certain extent. I agree, Disney does have some great villains. I’m a sucker for Disney films (especially Pixar) as much as I love gory horrible horror films, there’s still a great big ole’ kid inside of me who beams everytime I see that there’s a new Disney flick coming out. One of my favorites is Ursula. Also, Scar from Lion King… maybe a little bit like Thor and Loki in that respect!

  7. Fantastic Post. I always try to give my villains some kind of humanizing factor. Pure evil’s kind of boring, don’t you think? It’s more fun to make the bad guy more problematic, to give them admirable qualities and but ultimately still not be a nice person.

    • Thank you ! sometimes I think that sometimes the humanizing factor in a villain is always that little nagging voice in the back of the mind hoping that they will see why they were wrong and be good for a change.

  8. Great post Laura, and you are right. You have to take time to properly develop anything you put into a story, or it probably isn’t worth mentioning. A lot of food for thought here, thanks!

    • Thank you! I find myself (probably much to the annoyance of my husband) enjoying characters that can be deconstructed and analyzed.

  9. LOVE this post. OK, I’m biased because I needed more dimension to my bad guy, so she (yeah, it’s a gal, whatever) is getting her own book. OK, it started as a short story. We’ll see where it ends up, but I’m finding it fascinating.

    Great post!

    • That sounds interesting! Good luck with your book. I love stories where the bad guy is also the main character. I think it’s so interesting!

  10. I’m striving for that “humanness” in one of my works. It’s easy to fall into the cardboard cutout trap!

    • Sometimes it can work out when they are just a cookie cutter bad guy, but the majority of the time it’s so much more fun when they are developed more. Good luck with your stories 😀

  11. The best villains have a character arc just like the hero. So just as much effort should go into their back story as that of the hero. Also, good and bad are simply differing frames of reference. Perhaps the hero is really the bad guy. Hmm.

    • Yes great point! I think that’s why I fine Thor (the movie) an interesting arc for both characters, there are times when Thor himself does bad, and Loki seems to do good (or at least, seems like he’s trying to do good). Their arcs seems to intersect.

  12. I love Loki, too! Tom Hiddleston does an excellent job bringing him to life for us. (Although, I am always reminded of Brent Spiner as Data when I see him on screen lol) As I was reading your post about Loki and Thor, a couple of brothers in a similar situation came to mind… Moses and Rameses. 🙂

  13. Great post! Another testament to how well Loki is written/portrayed is how many devoted fans he has! I don’t know but I’m guessing there aren’t too many Darth Maul/Mol? devotees out there… You know, just even the phrase “he struggles with his relationship with fill-in-the-blank” tells you he’s “human” — a real person with real issues of his own. Darth Maul maybe struggled with his relationship with his dermatologist…

    I must confess I have been thinking on and off about other villains and I can’t even for the life of me come up with one. OK, not true, I came up with Prince Humperdinck — but bad example, that is farce. I can’t recall any “depth” to his character, just laughing really hard when he says, “Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped.” There’s no motivation for this (other than stereotypical I-want-power-because-I-want-power), but it’s almost the lack of motivation (along with the irony) that makes it funny.

    Darth Vader is a GREAT example. I found Star Wars: Episode 3 absolutely enthralling, along with in the early days the reveal of the man-behind-the-mask.

    But I’m not sure if my inability to think of other compelling & multidimensional villains is because I’m terrible at examples or because Loki is the greatest villain ever written…hmmmmm…

    • Thank you so much for commenting 🙂 I also love Darth Vader’s character arc. I love character arcs in general. I mean don’t get me wrong I love a good don’t-think-too-much-about-it comedy or something like that but when a good character has an amazing arc that keeps you thinking and thinking and thinking about it then I think that’s a true sign of an amazing character like Vader or Loki.


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