When it comes to fictional forms of media, there is nothing I love more than a good villain. A truly memorable antagonist stands in the way or our heroes and acts as an ever-constant threat against our protagonists. That begs the question though, what makes a truly great villain? What makes an antagonist not only a truly evil force, but also into something that we love to hate?
The answer to this may depend on the form of media the villain is associated with, but I’ve decided to give my own thoughts on what makes a truly great villain. I also have to thank Super Eyepatch Wolf on Youtube for giving me inspiration to make this post on my blog. So, for a villain to be something I can truly get behind, it needs a number of things:
It’s not enough that a villain is intimidating, but he also needs to look intimidating and have a design that makes him appealing (or not so appealing) to look at. A good example of this is the original Green Goblin, who dresses in a truly gaudy green and purple outfit. Even if this original design is somewhat outdated, it’s still memorable enough to let you easily pick him out from a crowd. He’s not some generic pretty-boy with a sword, or some giant monster wielding a hammer. No, he’s this gaudily-dressed imp of destruction, raining pumpkin bombs down onto hapless citizens.
This next section is highly dependent upon the form of media the villain is depicted in. For things like television, film, and video-games (depending on if the game has voice-acting or not), then how the villain sounds is a great factor in determining the appeal of a character. For example, Mako playing Aku in Samurai Jack is often sited as one of the best portrayals of a villain in cartoons.
Mako knows how to ham it up as Aku, delivering a voice dripping with both comedic value and intimidation. Mako is able to portray Aku, this Japanese demon of death and destruction, as a character that one can enjoy. Greg Baldwin, who is Aku’s new voice actor, also does an amazing job. He isn’t as good as the original, but manages to capture the energy and cheesiness of Mako’s portrayal very well.
It’s not always necessary to cast someone well-known or famous to play a villain. As long as the person playing said villain can inside the head of the character and portray him the way the creator intends, while still keeping the role their own. A voice is everything in a villain. A bad voice actor can truly destroy what makes a great villain great.
Being An Actual Threat
Having a villain who looks and sounds great is one thing, but you need a villain who can actually get the job done. A villain who can’t achieve their goals, or pose much of a threat to our heroes becomes a joke after a while. A good (or rather, bad) example of this is Corypheus from Dragon Age: Inquisition. Corypheus is foiled easily at every turn by your chosen protagonist.
Corypheus very rarely does much to be a thorn in your side, and a lot of his attempts to stop you reach Dick Dastardly levels of pathetic. A good example of a villain who manages to threaten our heroes at every turn is Etemon, from the cult classic anime Digimon. Despite Etemon seeming like an incompetent goofball, he was able to trounce the Digi-Destined most of the time. Not only that, but he also devised a “Dark Network”, that he can use to attack his enemies from afar.
Etemon’s seemingly silly design and behaviors masked his truly power and potential. This mischievous monkey of magnified malice ended up being a true threat to our heroes. A villain who isn’t able to be a challenge to our protagonists in any way ends up feeling lame and hollow. A villain can’t just talk the talk, he/she needs to also be able to walk the walk.
The Villain Needs To Be More Than A Villain
Super Eyepatch Wolf discussed this as well, but it bares repeating. A villain who feels more like a person, is better than one who doesn’t. A villain needs to have weaknesses as well as strengths, needs to have dreams beyond his current goal, and needs to feel like a real part of the world. Most Marvel villains end up just kind of showing up, usually with little development.
Again, a villain needs to be a part of the world. Not just antagonist no. 125 who happens to co-exist in the universe, but hasn’t been mentioned or established until now. Now I know most villains are not like that, but sometimes establishing an antagonist beforehand can really work wonders for your property.
A villain doesn’t need to have all of these properties to be a great villain, but it certainly helps. Having a strong voice, memorable design, good backstory and development, fantastic characterization, and a threatening persona can actually make for both a great character and an amazing villain. Examples are out there, there’s a ton in fact. Coming with a great and memorable villain isn’t easy, but having one can make or break a series. At least, that’s my opinion on the whole thing.