A lot of people glorify heroes. They help people, do good and save the world. And that’s true; they deserve a lot of praise for all the good that they try to do. But in all honesty, would they even be heroes if villains didn’t exist? Someone or something has to cause a problem or do something that will make another person stand up and decide to become a hero, which is why I think villains deserved to be discussed and, dare I say, glorified just as much as heroes.
One of the most common misconceptions about villains is that they all fall under the same category: the bad guy. This could not be more incorrect. I think the best way to categorize and understand villains is by looking at the scale of Hero, Vigilante, Antihero and Villain. The term Hero is pretty self-explanatory: It refers to the person who saves the day. But the other terms get a little more complicated. A Vigilante, for example, is a person who decides to become something similar to an authority figure or a member of law enforcement without getting actual legal authority. A Vigilante tries to do good and fight crime, but without authority figures backing him, they’re often chased down by law enforcement. Batman is a perfect example of this. He risks his own life on multiple occasions to protect Gotham, but because he chooses to operate in the shadows and act as an intimidating figure, most of the Gotham City Police Department is after him constantly.
The Antihero is probably the most complicated term of all because it’s always in a gray area. An Antihero is neither good nor bad, hero nor villain. Antiheroes are typically understood to be protagonists or central characters that don’t have stereotypical “good guy” qualities. I’ve always thought that this explanation was incredibly vague, so I came up with my own distinction for Antiheroes: characters who think that the ends justify the means. This could mean that they either do the wrong things for the right reasons or do the right things for the wrong reasons.
An example of the former would be Albus Dumbledore. This might be a surprise to many of you, because by all accounts Dumbledore is the token “good guy” — the mentor who Harry relies on. But even though his end goal was to do the right thing by stopping Voldemort, Dumbledore made a lot of awful decisions. He constantly did the wrong thing to defeat Voldemort, such as keep secrets from Harry. Granted, he is more heroic than many other Antiheroes, but he did make mistakes that were unforgivable.
On the other end of the Antihero falls Severus Snape. I’m not much of a Snape fan myself, but I can admit that in the end, he did the right thing by being a spy for the Order of the Phoenix and helping Harry defeat Voldemort. But he did none of these good things for the right reasons. He did everything in Lily Potter’s name. At first, that sounds like it would be okay, but then you remember that the only reason he turned to Dumbledore was for her, not because he actually wanted to fight for the good side. He had absolutely no problem in letting James and Harry die as long as Lily was saved. Not to mention that he was cruel to students, mere children, when he had no right to be. So yes, Snape may have been important in defeating Voldemort, but does that really mean he was a Hero? No. He did what he did for himself, not for anyone else.
And finally we get to the Villain. Villains are often known as the characters whose evil actions are most central to the story, the characters who cause problems for the Heroes. This is also pretty broad, but it makes sense. The Villain does bad things because he wants to. And what better Villain to discuss than the Joker? In my mind, Joker is the epitome of the Villain. He just likes to wreak havoc and hurt people and cause problems for Batman to solve. He also rarely gets any material out of his evil. In “The Dark Knight,” the Joker literally burns a stack of money to prove that, for him, doing evil isn’t for any material gain. For him, evil is a state of being that he enjoys. He likes to do evil. Sure, he may have a tragic backstory, but in the end, the Joker just likes to be bad, which is why he is one of the best examples of a Villain.
I know that many of my examples are subjective, but to me, the characters that I mentioned embody each of these categories and their respective traits. Morality in general is a subjective concept, but that’s okay because it makes watching and talking about movies and their characters so much more interesting. Good and evil fall on a scale as well, just like the scale of Heroes to Villains. No one person can be perfectly good or perfectly bad. Even the most honored Heroes have dark sides, and the most vile Villains have soft spots. Obviously the scale of good and bad is meant to be arguable; what fun would it be if it weren’t?