A little while back, I wrote an article mocking the Netflix series Ratched. This was a somewhat enjoyable but mostly quite silly show that purported to look at the origins of Nurse Ratched, the villain of the novel and movie ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. This of course was only one of (arguably the strangest one of) a recent slew of origin stories for famous villains.
I’m going to be honest and say I kind of hate it. My problem is that, in attempting to empathise with these characters, they often fall into the trap of preemptively justifying them. There are exceptions to this — Better Call Saul, for example or the much maligned Star Wars prequels for example both make it very clear that their protagonists’ decisions only make things worse. We are led to understand why Aniken and Saul become arseholes — but we still acknowledge that they’re arseholes.
Because in the end, a villain has a role in a story, and that role is to be the person in the wrong — at least according to the creator/s. Now, the reader or viewer may or may not agree with that assessment, but that assessment remains an essential part of the story. We in the audience may say ‘Magneto was right’ but an X-Men movie can’t say that. The villain’s job is to be morally in the wrong. A story may ask us for sympathy with the Devil, but it can’t say ‘actually, he’s not the Devil.’
That’s the moral dimension. The other problem is aesthetic. Basically, good villains just look awesome. I use that word advisedly: a good villain can be the cause of awe. Take that villainy, and they just don’t look that cool. They look like Hayden Christiensen in a stupid rat-tail or like Joaquin Phoenix, only skinny. It’s kind of sad.
I understand why these sorts of movies are so common right now. It’s to do with how entertainment companies look at intellectual properties, how money can be extracted from said IPs. And they are occasionally entertaining. But they rarely add anything to the stories that they are derived from, and often actively detract from them.
Having said that, if anyone’s thinking of making a film based on the origins of Slimer, please let me know. Got some ideas.