What is it about some bad guys? I’m not talking about your regular, run-of-the-mill, I’m-gonna-blow-up-the-world-and-there’s-nothing-you-can-do-to-stop-me bad guys. You see those on TV and in movies all the time; they’re everywhere, a dime a dozen. There’s not really that much to them. No, I’m talking about really good bad guys – the ones you just love to hate. The ones that are as much fun to watch as the good guys.
Take Angelus, for example, from the Buffy and Angel franchise. He only appeared twice in eight seasons between the two shows (except for some brief flashbacks here & there), but both times he was such a treat to watch that I hated to see him go and was almost sad when he was defeated. For those unfamiliar with the Buffy-verse, Angelus is (vampire) Angel’s demonic alter-ego, usually subverted by the presence of Angel’s human soul. Take that human soul away, however, and Angelus emerges – exceedingly cruel, basely inhuman, and deviously charming. But more than that, Angelus enjoyed being evil. He positively reveled in it, and took great pleasure in devising new and truly Machiavellian ways to mess with the good guys.
And that, I think, is the key to a really good bad guy. He’s got to enjoy being evil and messing with the good guys as much as – or maybe even more than – he wants his evil super-plan to succeed. Isn’t that really the secret to the Joker’s longevity, his decades-long tenure as Batman’s arch-nemesis? Regardless of what plan to destroy Gotham he’s currently pursuing, his ultimate goal is to poke harmful fun at Batman, trip him up, see him fail. He can’t resist any opportunity to taunt the Caped Crusader, even if it means his overarching plan then has less chance of succeeding. And like Angelus, the Joker thoroughly enjoys himself in the process – so he’s fun to watch, at least in the television and comics incarnations. He takes himself a little too seriously in the movie versions, in my opinion, which makes him a little less fun to hate.
Because where’s the fun in hating someone who’s so serious about being evil all the time? Someone who’s so focused on destroying the world (or whatever their endgame may be) that they have no personality? You’re supposed to dislike them, frown on them, judge them, simply because they’re the bad guy. But you’re not supposed to like disliking them. So you don’t.
I much prefer Snape or even Malfoy in the Harry Potter series to Lord Voldemort, on screen anyway, for that very reason. I understand You-Know-Who
provides an overarching, ultimate baddie – the yin to Harry’s yang – and ties the series together (the Force for the Potter-verse? Hmm). But Voldemort doesn’t seem to get much pleasure out of being evil, does he? He’s too serious about it. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that Snape and Malfoy got so much more fun out of tormenting Harry (and friends) on a day-to-day basis than Voldemort did when he finally showed up in the 4th movie. And you really enjoyed watching the two of them (Snape & Malfoy) get their come-uppances throughout the movies. Except at the very end. I felt sorry for both of them by the end. When Voldemort was finally defeated, I was just ready for him to go already.
I think I do feel sorry for almost all the really good bad guys in the end. They were having so much fun. They were so much fun to watch, you almost hoped they’d get away with it.