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  • Writer's pictureVedashree Khambete Sharma

Give Us This Day Our Worthy Villain

Pookie was video-chatting with a friend the other day. They were discussing Wonder Woman 1984. Pookie liked the movie. Her friend, decidedly less so. 'Yuck', she said, 'It's horrible.'

And I must confess, I had similar feelings when I first saw it. I've been having this feeling awhile, this experience of being underwhelmed by superhero movies. It happened in Infinity War and Endgame, in Justice League (although SnyderCut was somewhat better) and I believe it comes down to this:

I need a good villain.

A hero is only as good as the villain s/he must beat. And that's why the villain cannot be a computer-generated one, which was my problem with both Thanos and Steppenwolf. (Ultron managed to scrape by, however, because James Spader is just that good at being bad.) I sincerely believe that if they had cast a human actor, used makeup and prosthetics to make him seem alien and CGI to give him stature (like they did in a fantastic burst of irony with Peter Dinklage in Endgame), it would have made for a far more threatening bad guy than the purely CGI ones. Because evil is, after all, such a very human quality - it's just not that believable in something entirely machine-made.

But Veda, you say, what about Cheetah? Isn't that exactly what they did to her? Then why didn't Cheetah work?

Because they cast Kristen Wiig and wiped their shoes on her, that's why. She's hilarious, good at playing the awkward Before character, fine. But the After? Bleargh. As if the bad costume and unimpressive make-up wasn't bad enough, what was that arc? Why was it so badly written?

My benchmark for female villains as portrayed on screen, would be Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Even Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy was a worthy opponent to Batman. And I think it was because in both cases, they had cast A-list actresses, who had some weight to them. And given them solid screen time. Good dialogue. A great build-up. It wasn't George Clooney's or Michael Keaton's show with these ladies peeping in for two minutes. They held their own.

Not what happened with Kristen Wiig and Cheetah.

Actually, I find this happening all too often with women characters. It's like the writers phone it in. The female reboot of Ocean's Eight, the female reboot of Ghostbusters, the recent Netflix movie Thunder Force - they could've been sooooooooo much better. They had the cast for it, certainly. But the direction and the writing was just shit.

And that makes me a little scared. See, if Hollywood is already so reluctant to give screen time to women, you just KNOW it's going to use these instances and say, 'See? We tried to give the girls some importance, but it just didn't work, did it?' And this is despite knowing that in the hands of the right directors, right writers, they could've been magic. Look at Fleabag. Look at Killing Eve. They prove you CAN have fantastic women antagonists if you just give them enough room to grow. Give them some power over the protagonist. Make them actually menacing or wicked, a credible threat. Make them sympathetic villains, fine, if that rocks your boat, although I do love me a Moriarty-type who delights in his own evil.

Just make them the kind of villain I can root for.

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