Good Morning: Heroic Villainy

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Michael Hutchins

In many classic tales you have the stories of how the heroic protagonist through adversity and many trials is able to defeat and prevail against the villain and win the day. However, what happens when your hero is in fact the villain or will become one?

This is a question I've been asking myself over the past few days after watching one of Disney's latest releases: Cruella. The movie acts as something of an origin story for Disney's favorite fiendish fashionista, and the scourge to at least 101 Dalmatians.

The idea of a villain as the main character, and arguably protagonist, is not a new concept and many well known bad guys have gone through it. Alex DeLarge of A Clockwork Orange is a prime example of a villainous protagonist that works. Even Darth Vader has gone through the treatment through the prequel  Star Wars movies.

The problem is that they can be hard to write. There is a fine line between making a character that the viewers see as the villain while also being able to empathize with them. Despite this empathy, the viewer must still see the villainy in their actions. When done wrong, one side or another takes priority and throws the tenuous balance out of order.

When I heard that Disney was attempting to make something of an origin story for the Cruella de Vil, who some of my friends have described as the most evil of Disney's rogues gallery, I had my qualms. This is coming at the heels of 2019's Joker, which I feared would spawn a series of copy cat movies that try to make edgy, gritty origins for many villains while making them somewhat sympathetic. I even heard some people describe the film as Disney's version of Joker.

At the end of the day, however, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the film. While not perfect by any extent, it was a fun enough romp through the 70s British fashion scene with its fair share of punk influences. Rather than trying to lessen the villain, it served more as a start of darkness and showed how we got to the fiend we've seen in previous movies.

When done right, the use of the villain as the point of view character can have an certain effect that few other storytelling techniques can. It can serve as something of a warning sign that fills the rest of the story with a sense of suspense and forebody about who the character may soon become.