There are some who say that 2007’s Iron Man was the beginning of the modern comic book movie. Others argue the start of the grittier, more grounded, versions of the genre came with Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins. I disagree. It started years earlier with a story about evolved humans, the prejudices they faced, and how they chose to deal with them…It started with 2000’s X-Men.
Virtually the moment Logan came out in theaters people began to wonder who would replace Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Debates over recasting for future movies showed up all over the X-Men fandom and I cringed. Logan, The Wolverine, was always Hugh Jackman. He still is. Like Leonard Nimoy with Star Trek’s Spock, Hugh Jackman has become synonymous with this character he’s portrayed.
This isn’t always the case with every actor or every role out there; it’s a unique event caused by a blend of equally unique circumstances. Some are the result of role or the actor, others are beyond anyone’s control. For Jackman it was a seventeen year perfect storm that solidified him as The Wolverine in the minds of viewers.
The latest season of House of Cards had a cold open in which Frank Underwood briefly explained the concept of flipism: the belief that all decisions can, and should, be made with the simple flip of a coin. Frank discussed the birth of the ideology and suggested it be used to clear up the chaos he created in the latest presidential election. He’s not the first villain to speak in favor of flipping a coin, of using chance, as a way to make a final decision…in fact there’s a history of antagonists both promoting and using such tactics throughout pop culture.
From Marvel’s supervillains and Darth Vader to the (slightly) more realistic Walter White in Breaking Bad, villains are fascinating; you can’t take your eyes off them. But why? What is it about those so clearly, classically wicked that makes them so compelling to an audience? One possibility is that, in experiencing these villains on-screen, we can face our own inner dark side.
Psychiatrist Carl Jung believed everyone has a darker side, a shadow-self, within their personality. This shadow consists of everything the person considers unacceptable to express: envy, rage, selfishness, the desire for power and baser animal instincts. It’s not something that the person is consciously aware of but something they must acknowledge and face in order to grow as a person.
This is where villains come in as archetypes, representing the clearest forms of those negative aspects of one’s personality. With their bad traits on the forefront, villainous characters allow for easy access to the audience’s shadow self.
Those are some pretty amazing powers…so why doesn’t Magento use them? Why not control others, move at insane speeds, build a magnetic-goo army, or destroy modern society with a giant solar flare? Using any of these additional powers would certainly make it easier for Max Eisenhardt (a.k.a. Erik Lehnsherr) to achieve his goals, but thus far he’s stuck mainly to moving metallic objects and levitation. Is it out of the writers’ concern for the story (whether in a single storyline or the overall X-Men universe) or the character? Do they hold Magneto back for reasons such as tension and excitement or to keep the beloved Magneto as complex a character as he ever was?
Certain characters achieve a level of venom from audiences that can be surprising. Even when they aren’t the main antagonist, trying to take over the world, or even all that villainous, people loathe them…but why? Why is it that certain characters garner more hatred than others? Is it that they aren’t as clever, physically attractive, or entertaining as their more tolerated counterparts? …Sometimes, but not always. Usually there is a deeper reason behind the audience’s intense dislike. It would seem that those characters on TV, film, and in comics who really get our blood boiling are those we’ve met – in one way or another – in real life before.