Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rooting for the Bad Guy

I was watching The Italian Job the other day and it occurred to me how often we cheer on the criminals in our favorite movies. Isn't that strange? We sure as heck wouldn't root for them if they were robbing our house would we? Popular culture, whether it be cinema, TV or books, would have us believe that most criminals are charming rogues. From the Italian Job, Oceans 13 and every-one's favorite--Firefly, we're given the idea the thieves look like George Clooney and they really only steal from other bad guys. Isn't that a nice idea? But I must admit, I enjoy these films too. There's a certain vicarious thrill in watching a group of people outsmart another group and getting away with the prize. Or even better, the main character gets revenge. Ooooh, I love that. The movie Payback (made before Mel Gibson's famous meltdown) was a great revenge fantasy wasn't it? Or Kill Bill, now that was a film all about rooting for the bad girl who was getting revenge. But hey, I like a girl who can kick butt. Or better yet, how about The Punisher? A revenge film that spawns a comic-book hero. Or The Crow! God, I love The Crow. I know, I'm going off on a tangent. Obviously The Crow is about hurting the bad guys-- really really painfully. But I think heist films-- or anything that involves rooting for the bad guy, tends to incorporate revenge elements. Otherwise, it would be really hard to feel any sympathy for the main characters. So what do you guys think? Do you like rooting for the bad guy or do you find it all totally unrealistic? This is a fantasy site after all....

18 comments:

Fab said...

I liked The Italian Job, because yes it was taking revenge on her fathers' death and getting stolen. I only forgot that they stole the gold in the first place!

Of course it's mainly based on revenge. If it is for the sake of doing bad stuff, the characters wouldn't get my sympathy. I would like to see the original Oceans' Eleven again, with the Rat Pack. How did they robb that casino without the technology presented today in the new movies?

mist1 said...

I always like the bad guy. Bad guys are so much more invested in their mission. They tend to have much deeper personal issues and poor coping skills. I can totally relate to that except for the deeper personal issue part. My personal issues are very shallow, just lie the rest of me.

Also, bad guys have better technology. I love that. Good guys are always pulling out a trusty abacus or sundial. The bad guys, who have been wireless for eons, always have cooler gadgets.

If I had a choice, I would be a bad guy.

Carl V. said...

I'm not sure it is rooting for the bad guy so much as rooting for the anti-hero. Of course, that is all just semantics. In most of these movies (which I enjoy as well), the 'hero' is indeed of the criminal, or 'bad' persuasion, but they are usually the character with a strong moral code, even if it is one of their own making. They have some redeeming quality that makes you root for them over the real bad guys in each film. These characters, with real human foibles, are indeed entertaining and it is fun to root for them. Han Solo was my very first rough around the edges hero, and thus I have a very strong affection to that character. The Stainless Steel Rat was my first real anti-hero in books and my childhood (and adulthood, frankly) devotion to that character has helped forge my love of this type of character in books and film.

Great post!

Hey there, Skippy said...

I think we like bad guys because - it being fiction and all - they get to do all the fun things: blow buildings up, smack their enemies about, order subordinates (tautology alert), cackle maniacally and - if the mood takes you - kill people who annoy you.

Bad guys get all the best lines, too. In support of this sweeping statement I present for you, ladies and gentlemen, Alan Rickman as the Sherrif of Nottingham in "Robin Hood Prince of Thieves":

"I'm gonna carve his heart out with a spoon"
"...And cancel Christmas"
"Do you mind? We've just been married!"

I rest my case.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I recently watched "Scarface". I hated it back in the seventies and I still hate it. What astonished me though was one of the special features available on the disc. It featured numerous rapper/gangstas all weighing in over how much they loved the character of "Tony" and how that gangster was something noble to them. That somehow "Tony" was someone to emulate.

I remember watching a few episodes of the Sopranos and thinking: These people are slime, why would I want to devote any time and energy to involving myself in their lives?

Angela/SciFiChick said...

And how about everyone's love of pirates nowadays?
If I met an actual pirate back in the day, I would rather take my chances and jump overboard.

SQT said...

I agree with a lot of you guys that the whole appeal of the bad guy is that they are allowed to do things the good guy isn't.

But Stewart has a great point. How on earth have characters like Tony Soprano and "Scarface" become so popular? I've never sat all the way through "Scarface" because of the violence, but I have watched most of one season of "The Sopranos."

It's amazing to me that a show that has such unsympathetic main characters lasted so long. I remember thinking that I wouldn't mind too much if Tony-- or other main characters-- got their comeuppance, it wouldn't be such a bad thing.

I like my bad guys to be in the "lite" category. Roguish but not really bad bad.

Crunchy Carpets said...

I think it is because those of us higher up on the morality and ethics scale than someone like Scarface has a teeny bit envy for people like that...people who obviously have NO guilty conscience.

Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

Scarface is a very popular character in the city. There are jackets, posters, shirts, and fuzzy rugs available here in Chicago all with that one character-defining picture of Pacino shooting the rifle. Very unfortunate.

As for true villains, a good villain defines the hero and very often surpases the hero as a character. Luke Skywalker was a whiny farmboy but Vader was the baddest dude in the galaxy.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

The bad guys tend to have a lot of image. Where would we be without the Darth Vaders?

Jhianna said...

Love the bad guys. Or anti-heroes, whatever you want to call them. They're some of my favorite characters: Riddick, Vic (from The Shield), Eric Draven (from The Crow), and heck Dr. House.

Anonymous said...

Hey,
Check out Rottentomatoes Sci-Fi Top 100 List! I was trying to email you, but couldn't find an address. Anyway the list is at
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/features/special/2007/scifi/

Hope you like it :)

Alex said...

I hope you watched the original. The new one sucked ass.

Stewart Sternberg said...

SQT, I think the idea is that the difference between the loveable rogue and the villain or true bad guy is that the rogue has potential for redemption, or else you know that somewhere in that rough exterior is a heart of gold.

Tony Soprano had no foil, no good guy to really balance his evil. I've been thinking this through, reading these comments. A bad guy like Tony, without a good guy, is unwatchable. Or if he isn't, then I'm not sure what people enjoy about the slimeball. Someone who is a monster in a film where there is countering force is going to get his butt kicked and you want to be there for that.

Imagine Star Wars without Hans or Luke, just Vader flying around killing people willy nilly. Sheesh. There would have been images of Vader on gangster jackets and in the background of thug rap videos.

Alex said...

You assume Tony Soprano is "evil," and that is where you go wrong in your quest to understand him.

I think the point of mafia movies is to illustrate life by a code of honor so different from the values of modern society - one perhaps rooted more in medieval chivalry - that a conflict necessarily ensues. True, they murder, they steal, they don't pay their taxes, but they also value family more highly than anything, they have a strict sense of right and wrong, honorable and dishonorable. And when someone steps outside what they consider right or wrong, the punishment is quite severe.

It's not that these people are "evil," as you say, but that their code of conduct is not the same as yours. Call it more primitive, or less progressive; call it barbaric; call it backwards. Call it whatever you want, but what it all comes down to is that your moral code is not the same as theirs. If you can't handle that, then you're probably too closed-minded to watch shows with anyone other than progressive-Democrats as protagonists. Deal with it.

SQT said...

but they also value family more highly than anything, they have a strict sense of right and wrong, honorable and dishonorable

I gotta ask, what kind of family values are we talking about here? Tony Soprano isn't exactly a family man by my reckoning. Okay, I'm willing to accept he's more "barbaric" or whatever. I can even deal with the violence. But Tony was always shown cheating on his wife, soooo marriage isn't valued too highly-- unless, of course, the wife cheats on him.

No, I don't think Tony Soprano is a guy who has values. Nothing in the characterization would make me think that he has any particular qualms about whatever methods he uses to get what he wants. I think he's more of a "might makes right" kind of guy. In a way it makes for fascinating television. I didn't think it was a bad show. I just didn't particularly empathize with the character.

Hey there, Skippy said...

the documentary on Scarface and hip-hop really is quite disturbing.

ShadowFalcon said...

I love both version of the Italian Job and yes I was routing for edward norton. I think that why the prestige was good they were both the bad guy and the good guy...