What do Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness have in common? Yes, they are both summer blockbusters. Yes, they are both modern imaginings of celebrated franchises. Yes, they are both filled with action, great characters, and awesome CGI.
But what I really want to talk about today are hot villains. In Iron Man 3, you’ve got Guy Pearce playing Aldrich Killian (cue the swooning). In Star Trek: Into Darkness, you’ve got Benedict Cumberbatch (Cumberbitches unite!) playing the infamous Kahn. And when these guys are on screen, you aren’t sure whether you’d rather kiss them or kill them.
It hasn’t always been this way. Classically, villains heralded from fairytales and other regional stories. These stories were didactic in nature; they were both entertaining and educational. They taught you a very valuable lesson. Don’t go wandering in the woods by yourselves, children.
In more modern storytelling, villains provide the catalyst for a story. I mean, you don’t have a story without conflict. Something or someone has to make our heroes act and change. Otherwise, we wouldn’t really root for them. And how can you get through the dog days of an Arizona summer without rooting for heroes on the big screen?
It’s pure entertainment. Now I’m not saying there aren’t some lessons embedded in these summer blockbusters (Iron Man 3 – appearances can be deceiving; Star Trek – it takes both heart and logic to defeat evil), but we don’t go to Harkins to learn a thing or two. We go to the theater for explosions and cool technology and, in my case, to watch Benedict Cumberbatch run through Starfleet.
So why is the sexy villain such a good draw?
1. Okay, not like it’s news, but we girls tend to be attracted to bad boys. I don’t know if it’s the edge or the leather or the ignorance of authority…but it’s hot. No one wants to wind up with a bad boy, but we sure as hell want to date or make out with one during our lifetimes. The dude equivalent is Megan Fox.
2. Subconsciously, villains are more terrifying if they are beautiful. Think about it. Pretty things lure prey in, seemingly harmless and with no pretenses. In the cases of Killian and Kahn, they both look like they are human, just like you and me. So when they turn, we didn’t see it coming.
3. Our relationships with them are more complex. Geez, I know Aldrich Killian is the bad guy, but his butt sure looks good in those pants. We forget who to root for because we’re attracted to them. It’s an interesting psychological conundrum, which can be pretty fun.
4. It taps into the savagery of the human race. Neither Killian nor Kahn are quite human, but they do retain certain human qualities that we can relate to. So when they unleash the dark and devious parts of them…we have to admit that we would all be capable of the same if we didn’t have moral compasses. It’s the same reason people read up on serial killers and the like when they aren’t homicide detectives. Human psychology is interesting. And human savagery is just under the surface, latent and ready to strike.
5. It’s not like movie studios don’t know that a sexy villain or leading man will entice ladies to accompany their boyfriends and husbands to summer blockbusters. Hollywood, I’m on to you. And you’re doing a brilliant job.
So I say bring on the summer blockbusters.
Which, of course, is synonymous with bring on the sex and savagery. Though it’s short-lived and the good guys always win in the end (as they should), you have to admit – it’s a little fun to flirt with danger.