Writing The Bad Guy
For some, the over-the-top world of pro wrestling takes it’s characters too far – too deep into the cheesy and often times predictable realm of the cliché.
Making characters that are ‘larger-than-life’ is one of WWE’s core values after all.
And this idea of exaggerated characters is nothing new when we look back at the history of this iconic squared circle.
For me, it seems like the perfect place to gain a better understanding of character writing and on-screen development.
The way that most characters in professional wrestling are dialled up versions of their real life personalities and some of the performers have gone far above and beyond to present us with memorable figures over the last century.
I think it will help me to get an insight into characters outside of pro wrestling, in literature on television and film, and more specifically a look into the minds of some of entertainments most villainous bad guys and those who have created them.
Yes, pro-wrestling can be an arena for the outrageous.
It’s characters brought to life by a band of world class athletes to whom acting and charisma may not always be their strong point.
Sometimes pro wrestlers are more sport than entertainment and that is perfectly fine. But especially in WWE in the modern day.
We see performers handed a microphone and a poorly written script and suck the atmosphere out of and event.
Sometimes, in these moments, wrestling is outright cringe inducing.
But, when it’s not, the squared circle can be a home for the cinematic, hair-raising and heartstring pulling moments which bring fans of pro wrestling, like me coming back for more.
A huge part of storytelling throughout the history of films and television, the antagonist or bad guy is no different in the world of sports entertainment and I want to explore why we seem to gravitate towards the maleficent and maniacal, sometimes at the expense of the stereotypical good guy!
In this video, I will take a look at the different ways in which characters can become ‘the bad guy’, through their personalities and actions.
I want to get a better understanding of what makes a truly dastardly villain in film and pro-wrestling and why the two aren’t so different after all.
Purpose Of The Bad Guy
If we take a look at the countless stories told across many different mediums throughout human history – we see a pattern of good vs evil, usually represented by a protagonist, the character whose eyes we so often see the story through, whose agenda perhaps is similar to our own and whose ethics the audience can most closely relate to.
You are gripped by the story of Luke Skywalker as we see him change from an inept farm hand to a jedi knight, through adversity and trials which see him improve as a person.
In Francis Ford Copella’s 1979 masterpiece Apocalypse Now the lead character Captain Benjamin L. Willard played by Martin Sheen narrates the story so as he dives deeper into the jaws of hell, we get a deep understanding of his emotional state and can better empathise with his horrific predicament.
In professional wrestling, there are many more characters with much greater lengths to their storylines than any film or television programme. This leads to situations where a man is so beloved by fans that as you watched for months and even years as it unfolds before us, you feel like you are living the story through seeing your favourite in-ring combatants succeed. However, not everyone can be a good guy.
This leads to most of the roster being split between being the a heel or bad guy, and a face or good guy. With the good guy wrestlers acting with the noblest of intentions in order to succeed and win glory through the medium of battle.
To oppose them, we must nearly always have a key component in almost every story ever told. Conflict. Can you name a single story which has no conflict? You’d be hard pressed to think of one, I certainly did. Conflict, in it’s uncountable forms, creates the foundation for almost every classic good vs evil battle any of us have ever read on a page or watched on a screen.
The main way in which conflict is bestowed upon the tales good guy, whether in a book or a wrestling ring – is through an antagonist. A name which suggest opposition to the protagonist and that is exactly the role of the villain in most stories.
Luke Skywalker’s story would have no purpose if he was not opposed by Darth Sidious and his now iconic henchman Darth Vader.
The entire Apocalypse now film starts with one goal, for our main character to travel to a location and find Colonel Walter E. Kurtz played by Marlon Brando. An antagonist so powerful that he doesn’t appear on screen until late into the story and is only onscreen for 15 minutes. Without Brando the film is not driven towards its epic confrontational ending.
Although their appearances, personalities and methods differ wildly, the villain in any good story shares a common trait. Their direct or indirect friction with the character which the audience is most closely following. And while this is of course a gross over simplification on the subject as means of a brief introduction, I feel it important to bare this one piece of information in mind as we dig deeper into the nuances of villainy and see that whilst you can be evil and horrid is so many ways – without the conflict there would be little story worth investigating.
So with that said, I want to know – in film, television, literature and pro wrestling – how are these allliances to the dark or light side decided. Are characters born evil or is it the brutal world around them that moulds them into horrific vessels of destruction and death.
Motivations Of A Villain
In story telling – a character whose motivations are known to the audience, creates a situation whereby even if we do not agree with the ethical logic behind the villains motives, we can, at the very least begin to understand why someone is acting a certain way or undertaking certain evil tasks.
If we take a look at the real world, then we clearly see that people are motivated in their daily lives by innumerable different factors which drive them to act in a certain way.
A person may seek justice for a perceived wrongdoing against them. They may make mistakes or out of character decisions because of an unseen fear.
Passion can lead a person to act irrationally to the point of murdering a love rival and so the list could continue on almost indefinitely.
As the characters we create for our stories are derived from our own personal experiences and our views on the world around us, the motivations which a villain may have are as numerous as they are in the real world.
In the world of pro wrestling, however, the sights are very much narrowed as we see most of the performers strive towards a singular goal.
To win the top championship belt in their company or indeed in the world. This sees the heels in pro wrestling often lack a diverse set of motivations in order to create friction between the pro and antagonists.
For a century, the main conflicts have been between two athletes coming face to face in order to defeat one another in the ring and be crowned as champion.
That has created a world where the bad guy can fulfil only a small handful of roles as they seek the following two objectives:
Number 1. Win the belt for themselves – this leads to huge insurmountable men such as Brock Lesnar who are in a class of their own, easily able to destroy almost anyone who dares to step into the ring with them. Brock Lesnar set a goal when he returned to WWE in 2014, he wanted the WWE Championship and let anyone who held it know, they were in for a world of hurt. Brock went on to decimate his opponents and once he had achieved his singular goal, Brock then transitioned to achieving the other objective of a heel in pro wrestling…
Number 2. Stop the good guy winning the belt – As the foil the faces in pro wrestling, the heels serve as a conflict on the path to victory for the fan favourites. Whether it be by cheating via underhand tactics in matches, or simply in the case of Brock Lesnar – by being bigger, faster and stronger that those who come before you. When the main bad guy is in possession of the title belt, it gives the fans a face to boo and someone to direct their chants towards. It creates clear division between the villain who is doing anything within their power to hold on to the belt, sometimes their sole desire for doing so – just to keep it away from the hero.
Now the purposes of all of this are more clear, we can see how this narrow path of objectives for the antagonist means that villains in pro wrestling can often times feel grating, with a sense of boredom or sheer annoyance which starts to seep throughout the fans reactions to said wrestler.
If you watched a television programme three times a week, where the main villain continued in their same path every episode, doing the same things over and over again, and you say that you enjoy it you are either a) a child b) stupid c)lying.
Now obviously, not every interaction in pro wrestling is exactly the same and yes some creative villains have masterminded interesting stories, told within the confines of a wrestling ring.
But the point still stands, that almost every villain in the history of pro wrestling has kept to that path of 1. Win the belt and/or 2. Stop the hero winning the belt.
One area, perhaps, where pro wrestling’s reliance on the obvious, in-your-face style of story telling has not aged well.
It leaves the intentions of most characters laid out plain and simple the first time they appear on our screens. So what would be the benefit of having the lines between these objectives blur? Their true identities not initially revealed?
In Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey we do not clearly understand the motives of either the obelisk nor HAL the space ship’s super computer A.I, initially. This unknown motivation leads to a sense of unease, whereby we are taken on a journey into the unexplored realms of space and time, out of control and under the watch of something much more powerful than us.
Eventually, the motives of both entities are slowly revealed and as the credits begin to roll you are left with a desire to piece together what happened to the characters and indeed what the situation made you feel.
A villain having a hidden motivation also has another benefit in some rare cases. The twist ending has been a staple of storytelling since time immemorial. It is the core of all spoken humour and every spine-tingling tale heard around a campfire uses misdirection to keep you on the end of your senses.
By hiding a character’s motivations you are able to frame the story in a particular way only to shatter the expectations of the audience with a reveal that the bad guy was only acting in such a way in order to achieve a higher purpose, often this purpose will be selfless and highly moral, in juxtaposition to the actions seen within the rest of the story.
In A Dog Day Afternoon, Al Pacino is a crazed bank robber, willing to endanger the lives of regular folk on the street in order to make a quick buck at the expense of those around him. However, as the story progresses, we see that his character has been backed into a corner, he is desperate to help his lover, a man who is transitioning to become a woman, but cannot afford the necessary surgeries.
When confronted with this emotionally delicate motivation for the main character, we can empathise and better see what has driven him to such extremes. When the eventually finale takes place and Al Pacino is strewn out, covered in blood in the street – the feeling for this man who, in another story would be framed as the classic villain – is that of sadness and remorse, by the end you are willing Pacino’s character on to win, and when he doesn’t – the film is all the more powerful for it.
The expectations of the audience can also flip in the other direction. A character whose actions seem logical and noble, can come from a place of personal greed and a desire for self-growth at the expense of others.
A company like Coca-Cola may be seen to run initiatives for recycling and put out a message of positivity for the environment whilst still being one of the single biggest damaging factors to our entire planet and remaining to pump out millions of tonnes of waste into our atmosphere. What is on the surface, is not always the driving factor if we scratch slightly beneath it.
An incredibly example of this occurred in June 2014.
The most explosive and dominant new faction to arrive on the scene in the World Wrestling Entertainment company, The Shield, consisting of Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns – had burst onto our screens and run rough-shot over the roster, interfering in matches and destroying the sets, quickly picking up steam as they earned a reputation as the hot new thing in pro wrestling.
All eyes were on these three young men as they united to achieve a common goal, to overthrow the status-quo and see themselves atop the ladder.
As their stock continued to rise, the Shield were confronted by the old guard of WWE.
Three of the most successful wrestlers to have ever entered into the ring, Triple H, Batista & Randy Orton, better known as Evolution an iconic team who had been in alliance sporadically for over 10 years.
With Triple H’s desire to quickly quell any momentum The Shield were gaining, confronted them with Orton & Batista at his side.
The two teams facing off at consecutive pay-per-views, in must watch matches which say Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns the victors on both occasions.
After the second hard-fought match, Batista had decided he was done being beaten by these fresh, young talents and unceremoniously ditched Evolution on his way to Hollywood.
This left his ex-Evolution teammates at a huge disadvantage.
And with the Shield reaching new heights of popularity amongst the fans, the good guys seemingly couldn’t lose.
On an episode of Raw as Triple H and Randy Orton made their way down the ramp to face the three members of the shield who were already looking imposing in the ring – Triple H announced they would indeed have a new ally to replace the departed Batista, rumours rang out around the internet about who it might be. But nobody could have predicted what happened next.
As all three members of the shield stood facing down at their opponents, the architect Seth Rollins, steel chair in hand took a few steps back before doing the unimaginable and slamming Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, a chair shot which could be heard around the wrestling world, an attack which disbanded one of WWE’s hottest ever teams at the peak of their powers.
Seth Rollins turning from the leader of the most popular thing in all of pro wrestling, in one instant to becoming the most villainous man in the company – his motives perfectly hidden, waiting for the right moment to turn sides and give himself the best possible chance of personal success at the direct expense of his closest allies.
A truly wonderful piece of story-telling and although it’s nothing new I think it Is a great example of how expectations of a characters motives can change within a narrative, twisting and contorting our perceptions of a person and forcing us to look within ourselves and be mindful that someone that is perceived as the good guy on the surface, is sometimes hiding something much more sinister.
"The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don't do anything about it." Albert Einstein
One defining characteristic of most good villains, is their ability to test the morality of both their opposing characters and the audience at the same time.
A story that can make you sit down and ponder the larger questions of the universe, long after you have closed the last page – is something special, something wonderful, something very human.
Just as we can mull over the moral quandaries of the protagonist – so, we can do the same with the bad guys of cinema and screen.
If a villain has an interesting, clear and relatable motivation for committing such atrocities, it allows us do dive into the grey areas that lay between the black and white realms of good vs evil.
In Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Roy Batty is presented as a replicant, a banished and hunted race of super-human-like robotic A.I. His invention as a Nexus-6 battle robot was not his decision. The intelligence and self-awareness afforded to him by his advanced computing ability make him realise that life is worth living, a beautiful thing which he wants to experience more of. However, as a fail-safe, the robot’s creators implemented a 4-year life for any replicant in-case a situation such as the one that plays out in the film, occurs. And Roy Batty is acutely aware that his 4 years are almost up.
Is Roy Batty wrong to want to continue to live past the age of essentially 4 years old? Is it fair to impart such wisdom onto an A.I being and then force them to knowingly die? So many questions are posed in the story which make you question your morality and access the events from several different angles, giving us an the audience a fuller, richer picture of how we would perhaps react if placed in this dystopian, neon lit future.
Some antagonists do not have morals which the average man on the bus can relate to. Some are psychopathic mass murderers with a desire for gruesome revenge who have become blinded to morality and lack any semblance of kindness or compassion.
However, even in such extreme cases, these villainous characters open the door to the dark side for the reader or viewer who can allow themselves to see the world through the eyes of someone who does not think in the same way. It allows us to reaffirm our stance on what we hold within ourselves to be noble and ‘right’.
Morality in the real world is not a matter of simply good vs evil. Regardless of what religious texts such as the Old testament of the bible may try to convey.
Thus, the fictional world is no different, nor are the characters who inhabit it.
IDEAS WORTH FOLLOWING?
An effective antagonist needs to have ideas of their own, motivations and morals in order to gain a following, a devoted group of cohorts who will be aligned to said motivations and give support to whatever goal the main antagonist is trying to achieve. Both within the story and from the audience.
This is not always the case, but so often in fiction and indeed in the real world. Evil entities draw their power from their numbers, their overwhelming forced as a collective, striving towards a common often despicable end.
And, throughout the history of entertainment, the villains who in my opinion have been the most memorable and impactful upon me, have always given me reason to pause.
In The X-men comics and Marvel films – Magneto, the mastermind behind the mutant uprising is clearly not afraid to bring death and destruction on his path to what he sees as a noble goal.
Magneto survived the Holocaust within the story as a young boy and as The Government begins to impose its ‘Mutant Registration Act’ he feels that this could lead to something similar. With the privacy of mutants around the world forced to be revealed to the public, those who are fearful and oppose the mutant race, now have complete access to their location and personal details.
“I’ve been at the mercy of men just following orders. Never again.” Magneto
I agree with Magneto that this is a huge overstep from the in-universe government. I can see how these people who have been born different to the norm may feel oppressed and ostracised. It happens to this day all around the world.
And in the extreme case presented to us on paper and on screen, I feel that it is easy to relate to the mutant’s cause. And that to me in great story telling.
To think to myself, even if only for a second – if I was in this world which has been created, and forced into these situations, would I, myself end up becoming a follower under one of these regimes or would I indeed stand with Magneto and fight for my freedoms as an individual.
Well that all depends if I get a good ability like Wolverine with the talent to regenerate, heal and age slower than usual, with massive fuck off claws. But if I got one of the naff abilities like Eddy Eggmund with the incredible ability to produce a small rotten egg from my anus at will.
Then I’d probably be fucked either way and the point about following Magneto is mute. Wow I really got off the topic there.
Think to yourself, would you follow the main antagonist within the last piece of entertainment you consumed if there was one? Because, if not. If I look at a character and think to myself, why would anyone listen to this nonsense?
Then the depth of the world is suddenly shallowed – why would the characters in the story follow this flipping idiot?
In pro wrestling, a heel is often backed by a faction of burly men and women ready to aid in any dastardly way they see fit, all in the aim to help the bad guy achieve their goals. One of the most iconic heels of all time, is Ric Flair.
This historic legend, strutted his way to the ring, adorned in thousands of sequins, shining beams of light around the arena. Ric Flair would boast of his exploits every time a microphone was near enough to his mouth to pick up his smooth-talking voice.
When Ric Flair said he spent more in one night on a bar tab than most people earn in a year and did not regret it. He meant it. When Ric Flair said he was the best in the world inside of a wrestling ring. He meant it.
Some of Ric’s actions of being overly cocky, boastful and proud come off as sickening – turning some away from his charismatic personality.
However throughout most of Ric Flair’s illustrious career, he has time and time again found other industry icons who have aligned with his desire to be the world champions. A feat which Ric Flair has achieved, a disputed amount of times. Some say 16, some say more.
Either way Flair is the most decorated World Champion in the modern era of pro wrestling and that’s someone worth following.
Of course there are numerous extreme cases where I think that the method in achieving a target by an antagonist is too vile, immoral or just plain stupid – who I have then gone on to enjoy as great characters through other parts of their character development throughout the journey.
But for the most part, having a notable reason to want to get behind a villain – makes the character more fleshed out and realistic. Without it, we get some of the forgettable bad guys from the recent Marvel films.
Sometimes, an antagonist can gain their following through misdirection, hiding their motivations and in some ways tricking those who fall beneath their rule.
Those subjugated to this false information and use of mystery to keep them inline can break free and create interesting dynamics where by the oppressed can snap out of their brain-washing, realise that their leaders are indeed cruel and dishonest and take a stand against those who they once aligned with.
So you can see the importance to the process of creating a story – that having good relatable motivation for the bad guy has.
All of these branching possibilities for interesting ideas to emerge, allowing audiences to weigh up the pros and cons of each situation and allow them to move inside the head of the antagonist and even possibly, even if temporarily fall under their spell.
Ric Flair is my favourite wrestler of all time after all.
“If wrestling can be considered an art form, then I’m using oils, and the many others merely water colors.” Ric Flair
So why do so many of get sucked into these clearly unfavourable characters, through their actions and charisma.
Is there a type of person who is more likely to be persuaded to overlook an evil persons deeds in order to be a part of something bigger, or to save themselves from a worse fate?
“Too Sweet” Bullet Club (バレットクラブ, Barettokurabu)
In 2013 in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Then Prince Devitt, now known as Finn Balor in WWE – turned on his partner Ryusuke Taguchi and formed an alliance with fellow foreign wrestlers Karl Anderson, Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale to form a faction of outsiders known as the Bullet Club.
The group quickly set to work going again the grain in the traditions of respectful combat in Japan. Cheating in matches and serving good guys horrible beat downs after matches had concluded.
As the Bullet Club was quickly joined by Doc Gallows and the Young Bucks Matt and Nick Jackson – they quickly became the hottest faction in the world of pro wrestling winning major victories in 3 of New Japan’s 5 yearly tournaments and members of the group holding the IWGP Junior Heavyweight and IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team belts by the start of 2014.
The Bullet Club would tear through the roster in Japan over the next few years and maintain it’s reign as the most popular group of wrestlers in the world, with every wrestling show being flooded by bullet club t-shirts regardless of promotion or location.
The members grew and changed rapidly with the likes of AJ Styles, Kenny Omega and Adam Page all taking control of the group at one point or another.
All the while keeping their motives of winning the belts and destroying the other competitors clear.
So why did these evil men have such an enormous following in both the sense that the Bullet club by now has had too many inductees and betrayals to count whilst also having off shoot groups around the world in Mexico and the USA.
And drawing in crowds to see them destroy the so-called good guys, when these actions are almost entirely rejected and reprimanded when undertaken by others in the history of heels in Japanese pro wrestling up to that point.
They were the new cool in the squared circle. With an adult edge and wicked in-ring skills to back up their boasts.
The list of members of the BC reads like a whose who of modern independent pro wrestling. Almost all of the members of Bullet Club with their outstanding in-ring abilities and charismatic time on the microphone have since moved on to spread their independent message around the grappling globe.
From Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks spearheaded All Elite Wrestling, The Good Brothers are currently doing the lords work in Impact Wrestling. AJ Styles has had a sensational career in WWE thus far and Finn Balor and Adam Cole have been amongst the figure heads for WWE’s third brand NXT since 2014 and 2017 respectively.
Current members include Jay White and Kenta and when their grappling talents couldn’t get the job done, they had other just as talented men ready and waiting around the ring to interject in the match and give the protagonist the upper hand.
Only inner conflict between the group saw them get to the point where today we have a very diluted version of the Bullet Club who have seemingly lost their motivation and thus their reasons to follow them.
Along the way, many fans were drawn in to the counter-culture aspect of the BC. A team who went beyond the normal means in order to achieve greatness in pro wrestling and leave a huge dent in it’s history.
The same can be said for 1990s trademark group in WWF and WWE D Generation X.
A team formed from the fringes of the business at the time in the company. Bringing with them a harder look at the counter culture, with their vulgarity and explicit sexual references, turning pro wrestling in the mainstream.
Along with the help of some other important figures – from the child friendly neon nineties into the more gritty production aimed more toward the 18-35 demographic.
People loved Stone Cold Steve Austin, The NWO, The Rock and DX. All massive figures in the pro wrestling world who went against the norm at the time and bring in a new era for the industry.
Going against the powers that be within the company was too great a job for one single person.
So often we saw these now historic names teamed up against Vince McMahon in WWE and Eric Bischoff in WCW.
And the fans who were bored on the status quo in pro wrestling, could get behind these characters in the face of the traditional good guy, the wrestlers motives aligning with he sentiment shared by lots of people during this period.
Most of the groups that form in fiction and in real life, have loose or sometimes harshly rigid structures in the way of leadership and those who are more subservient.
So, what makes someone into a good evil leader and is the role of the minion a
“Hail, Paimon! Hail, Paimon! Hail!” Coven Members
In Ari Aster’s 2018 marvel of horror Hereditary, as the horrific events of this tense and hypnotic plot draws to its conclusions, we see that the tragedies within the story were orchestrated by a cult like group of satanic worshippers, who have caused the disturbing events of the story to unfold in order to revitalise their master with a human child sacrifice.
We are not told this throughout the story until the very end and are led to believe that Tony Collette is sleepwalking her way into committing these atrocities without realising. But as we see this small group of devoted minions collected together at the end of the film, with their master, a devil of sorts back in full control.
The main evil of the film reveals itself to unleash it’s full power, but it could never have gotten there without the help of its minions. The cult that physically go out and do what they are instructed to their despicable ends.
“Look down at me and you see a fool, Look up at me and you see a god, Look straight at me and you see yourself.” Charles Manson
In the real world, Charles Mansion is as iconic a villain as you can get.
He manipulated those who followed in his murderous and crazed cult.
He twisted their minds and corrupted them to follow his every command, going past what they know to be morally right and causing murder and mayhem thoughout Hollywood in the 1969.
Ending with the horrific murder of 5 innocent people.
Charles Manson did not in fact kill any of these people with a gun, nor a knife.
Manson didn’t literally kill anyone.
But, his actions as the leader of a cult, whose instructions directly led to these occurrences, can be considered just as guilty as Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkel.
These three were his henchmen and women.
A construct in fiction too, without which many famous villains would fail to exist.
THE HENCHMAN HIERACHY OF JAMES BOND
Think of the classic James Bond villain.
There are many levels within the hierarchy of evil within this series.
At the very bottom of the ladder, you have the nameless, sometimes even faceless henchmen who nobly stand guard around whatever earth ending laser or moon orbiting space station the particular story takes place within.
These nameless watchers are not given a back story, an explanation for their presence nor their characters much exploration.
They have no autonomy and no power over their situation.
And are most likely being paid more as just a person doing the job of a security guard and not involved in any of the knowledge of the higher up antagonists.
These types of followers are usually dealt with, by a swift chop to the back, a single bullet to the arm or a whack on the head from a candle stick.
These henchmen are sometimes even finished off by one of James’ companions, who are often portrayed as useless and weak.
One rung up on the ladder of villainy we have the memorable henchmen.
The likes of Jaws the 7 foot behemoth with teeth made from hardened metal who appears in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker - to oppose James Bond on behalf of a bigger more villanous villain.
We also have Odd-job who gets his own motives, abilities and is memorable for his unique offence and appearance, answering again to the main villain of the film in which he stars.
Both of these characters and many like them are given a more notable send off with a near death experience, a car chase or prolonged fight sequence only to be inevitably thoughted by Bond and his allies.
The characters seemingly seek more than just an ‘Odd-Job’ looking for personal power and control over those henchmen beneath them.
As we continue to climb the ladder of evil withing Bond films we get to the Boss of each story.
Usually the big-bad of each film who is dealt with by the time the credits role.
The villains which get the most screen time, and are given the most opportunity to explain their reasonings, however unfeasible or outright idiotic they may seem.
"The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.” Elliot Carver
The main antagonist in each film is at the top of the mountain, or in the depths of the sea and we watch as James Bond, through the use of clever gadgets, explosive weaponry and sexual deviance makes his way up the ladder, past each level to get to and eventually defeat such characters who become iconic, the likes of Auric Goldfinger of Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun.
However, it doesn’t matter how much power these men wield over their countless followers and employees.
It doesn’t matter how clever their plan or how massive their laser shooting robots are.
James Bond almost always finds a way to take them down in the end, usually with a hearty helping of sharp suits and alcoholism.
That’s when we go to the very top of the ladder. In Ian Flemming’s fictional world we have Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.
Or S.P.E.C.T.R.E. An alliance of villains who appear in old a handful of the novels and in even less on screen roles.
The 21 person group was headed up by Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who is arguably the most memorable and widely parodied Bond villain of all time.
Blofeld sits atop the pile and controls everyone below him from the shadows. Leading the international crime syndicate through fear and manipulation.
Those who oppose Blofeld are executed without prejudice.
Blofeld answers to nobody and assumes complete control over all decision making for the faction.
He like many other great villains who we’ve seen grace our screens, he is what I like to call, the horrible boss.
Each rung of the ladder relies heavily on the rung below it. But controls them through brute force, money and fear.
This is one of the key reasons that separate them from the structural hierarchy usually displayed by the protagonists.
Okay so most of us have never had a boss evil enough to want to literally take over the world, but being in a position on subordination to a person who is just a bit of a dick head can feel just as demoralising.
Yeah, fair enough I’ve never worked for someone who wanted to steal the world’s carbon supply to turn them into diamonds to fuel my underground illegal betting syndicate. But if we look past these actions at the core of the horrible boss – we seem such similarities between the nature of their control and power compared to many of our own working lives.
This makes the horrible boss archetype such a great foundation for a protagonist.
But that isn’t where the strengths of this trope end.
The boss character in pro wrestling is one that is as old as the business itself. In the 1950s Ed Strangler Lewis an athlete who himself had an innovative career within the ring, set to work as the manager and business director for World Champion Lou Thesz.
The two men had a history, competing in many bouts against one another, this led to a sense of animosity and sometimes distrust. This imperfect coupling made for a captivating must-watch show, you never knew is Ed Strangler Lewis was going to finally betray his younger protégé and go in for one last shot at glory.
By this point, Ed Lewis was way past his prime and a little thicker around the middle than he had been a decade earlier.
This is often the case in fiction, with the person we see in charge of the whole operation being physically much weaker than those who do the main protagonists bidding.
Here we often see the big-bad manipulating their faction, sometimes with underhanded phycological tactics and sometimes with something as simple as a wad of cash.
We sometimes get a feeling that the more intelligent henchmen is having second thoughts, starting to wonder if they could simply overpower their boss the next time they overstep the mark and speak down to them in that condescending tone.
This sense of weakness shown from the main antagonist gets under the audiences skin, in direct juxtaposition to he heroic strength we so readily clamber towards from the protagonist.
In most cases, the man or woman who stand a top the criminal world in stories is portrayed as abnormally intelligent, with a cunning and complex plan, with layers hidden under the surface and away from the initial prying eyes of the viewer.
In pro wrestling this archetype is exemplified by a man who has revolutionised the way a character can mastermind a devious plot behind the scenes whilst on the surface seemingly working towards a completely separate goal.
In May of 2013, WWE began to show videos apparently directly from the backwoods in the middle of nowhere. A group of shadowy figures spoke in cryptic snippets about their arrival and their motives to cleanse the world of pro wrestling from false idols.
Unsettling imagery of spiders, dolls heads and flames created a disjointed and maniacle feel to this videos, which sparked anticipation for wrestling fans as we awaited the debut of this newly formed and seemingly terrifying group.
The lights in the arena go out as two enormous men Luke Harper and Erik Rowan, both with filthy, sweaty clothes and tangled beards, smashed their way onto the scene in WWE, under the control of Bray Wyatt. The leader of a cult known as The Wyatt Family.
Soon the arenas around the world would be filled with The Wyatt’s families ‘fireflies’ and all would follow under his master plan.
The cult’s entrance music was hypnotic, the visuals caught you slipping into a trance. Bray Wyatt’s long, contorting speeches are filled with hidden meaning.
It was all about misdirection and manipulation.
As the Wyatt family tore through the roster in WWE only their inner torment could pull them apart. Over the years since, we’ve seen Luke Harper take a stand against his overlord and fight back against his family, leaving the group to redeem himself (and get a clean vest) before leaving to AEW and becoming one of my all-time favourite wrestlers. Leading somewhat of a cult himself these days.
Back in WWE we’ve seen The Wyatt Family corrupt Daniel Bryan, a fan favourite who had been turned to the darkside and align with Bray’s nefarious schemes, only to give us one of the most memorable face-turns of all time, when Daniel Bryan finally snapped out of the control from Bray Wyatt and became an even bigger hero in his redemption.
We’ve seen the Wyatt family recruit another monster by the name of Braun Strauman, a physical freak and all around terrifying human being. Imagine having to stand across the mat from this ham-hock.
Nowadays Bray Wyatt himself has become an even more distilled form of misdirection and psychological manipulation.
In one instance he is Bray the caring, thoughtful man in a sensible v-neck, talking to us about compassion and how to live happily together. It’s still very cult-like in it’s intentions, but presented in a more palatable way, in order to reel in a wider audience.
This also means that when his alter-ego The Fiend snaps out and comes to the ring amongst darkness and horror. The contrast is all the starker.
It’s surprising, it catches you off guard and once The Fiend has you in position, he will strike from the darkness.
Bray Wyatt has now evolved. He was the tyrannical leader with others to do his bidding, appealing to those on the fringes, the disenfranchised few. But now. It’s something so much more horrific. Bray Is an enormous man himself.
A skilled technician in the ring with years of experience. He is deadly, vicious and capable of beating anyone on a good day.
His followers are the fans in the arena now. The people like me watching at home. Bray Wyatt and The Fiend don’t need to draw their power from the fact that they have a huge group of husky men to fight their battles for them.
The fiend doesn’t need them anymore. Bray Wyatt has fear.
"The Wolf Will Never Lose Sleep, Worrying About The Feelings Of Sheep. But No-One Ever Told The Sheep, That They Outnumber The Wolves" Bray Wyatt
EVIL THROUGH FEAR
The term panphobia (persistent fear of evil) was first coined by Théodule-Armand Ribot in his 1911 work The Psychology of the Emotions. He defined it as "a state in which a patient fears everything or nothing, where anxiety, instead of being riveted on one object, floats as in a dream”
One of the most evil men in all of human history Hermann Göring, one of the leaders of the Nazis said; “The people don't want war, but they can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” H.P Lovecraft
Throughout human existence, hiding your face has always been a way in which people have added mystery and darkness into several different areas of our lives.
The ancient Greek’s and Romans used clay and wooden masks in their theatrical performances, adding emotion to the poems or verse. Often these masks would represent evil figures and frightful monsters who directly oppose the hero.
Think of the medieval executioner with his huge looming axe, standing over a criminal, preparing to severe his head.
So often, we see these men adorn a sack or cloth hood or mask to shield their identity amongst the public, but also to add a degree of intimidation.
After all they were the personifications of the bringer of death. But hiding a character’s appearance in films and television, need not be so dramatic in modern media, in order to illicite a similarly powerful set of emotions.
Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 romantic masterpiece ‘In The Mood For Love’ handles the unseen evil in a very different way. The story follows to Chinese middle-class people in the 1960s who are in the middle of finding out about their respective partners infidelities.
Finding nothing but loneliness, even surrounded by an apartment full of friends – the pair seek refuge in each other’s company – drawn together by the coincidence of their identical circumstances. As we spend more time with the two, we find out more about their past and can better connect with the different way in which they are choosing to move forward with their lives.
The adulterous characters, a wife and husband suspected of each having an affair – are never directly seen on screen throughout the entire film. They are clearly layed out as the villains of the piece, yet we never once get to glimpse their face, we hardly get a word to explain their point of view.
This sense of disconnect from the antagonists mean you are firmly behind the two jilted lovers as the focus shifts towards their relationship separate from their husband and wife.
It also means you are left not knowing the full story, the way some people can be made to feel when their partner cheats on them in a committed relationship.
The unseen element of In The Mood for love, from a cinematic point of view is perfectly fitting with the themes of the story and help us as the audience to better get into the mindset of the main characters.
You can get lost in the emotions and not look at the film from a completely logical point of view. The movie has the same effect of you as love. It blinds and confuses you. All from what it doesn’t show.
In the critically acclaimed anime series Death Note, one of the core principles which keeps us gripped to every word throughout the story – the the balance in intellect between the two main characters. Both good and evil from one another’s point of view.
In the complex story ‘Light Yagami’ has the ability to cause anyone on earth’s death, simply by writing their name down in an other-worldy Death Note. ‘L’ is the clairvoyant detective brought in to thwart Yagami’s plan.
The chase between the two men is what kept me captivated. Each having different morals and skills, to deceive and illude one another, the pair coming face to face in a few scenes which have your entire body tensed up.
And although Yagami is a murderer, you can in some aspects at least, see the situation from both characters point of view, L readily admits:
“If you measured good and evil deeds by current laws, I would be responsible for many crimes. The same way you all like to solve mysteries and riddles, or clear video games more quickly. For me too, it’s simply prolonging something I enjoy doing. That’s why I only take on cases that pique my interest. It’s not justice at all. And if it means being able to clear a case, I don’t play fair, I’m a dishonest, cheating human being who hates losing.” L, Death Note
leaving you caught up in the middle of one of the greatest criminal detective programmes ever made.
The Equal Goal: to match wits and win against their own equal and arch-enemy (the hero)
DEFEATING THE BAD GUY
Wrestlemania 30 Daniel Bryan
At the end of the classic fairytale story – we so often see – a final showdown between our pro and antagonist – more often than not, in some over-the-top and spectacularly dramatic location and usually, to the death.
In most cases, this is the opportunity which the hero must take in order to complete their journey and reset the world back to a calmer state, bringing peace to its citizens.
In the defeat of the stories villain, the audience can breathe a sigh of relief as they see their favourite good guy go on to fight another day and escape with the princess.
In so many ways – the big memorable moments in pro wrestling, especially WWE with it’s penchant for spectacle – are a kin to a modern day fairytale.
With the obvious intentions of all characters easily aligning them with right or wrong, good and bad it is literally black and white.
Back at Wrestlemania 30 in 2014, one of the most incredible fairy-tale moments happened and I’d like to take a minute to explore the importance of the villain in this sports-entertainment come operatic performance.
In the months leading up to April of 2014, the fans of the pro wrestling world had decided on a new people’s champion. Daniel Bryan, a shorter, slimmer and hairier man than the average WWE superstar – had been a core component in the independent pro wrestling world for a decade, earning a reputation among wrestling’s most devoted fans as an unmatched in-ring talent.
The background of this story is just as important as the end, so I must go back and explain to you why this Wrestlemania moment, meant so much to so many people, in the face of three of the companies most feared villains.
By the time the man had been signed to WWE, the narrative was always about how Daniel Bryan would never be good enough. His first role on screen being that of a apprentice, a man with more experience than half the roster at the time, was made to be an underling to the Miz a man who broke into wrestling from a reality TV show on MTV.
Bryan would excel in matches and continued to force his way further up the card until he got his chance at the World Heavyweight Championship belt. The opening match of Wrestlemania against Sheamus and undoubtably the most important match of Daniel Bryan’s entire career up until that point, a chance to truly announce his name on the world stage as the future of the WWE.
Sheamus kicked his fucking head off and won the match in 18 seconds. How do you think that made Bryan feel?
Roll on a few years and at the Royal Rumble match in 2014, the fans felt they had waited long enough to see their favourite, Bryan make his way to the top of the mountain and win a world title.
Notoriously, Daniel Bryan did not feature in the Royal Rumble match despite rampant rumours spreading like wildfire around the internet before hand. As the number of remaining entrants ran down and the fans in the arena in Philladelphia realised that Daniel Bryan wasn’t going to enter the match let alone win in – they grew angry and bitter, chanting “This is awful” throughout the final 2 hours of the pay-per-view.
When Batista – a returning fan favourite – eventually won the rumble match, the fans seemed deflated, disappointed and in the mood to show WWE their frustrations.
Usually, this is something that WWE the company would be happy to ignore, breeze past and continue with their plans for Randy Orton Vs Batista as the main event of Wrestlemania.
But this time. Something was incredibly different.
Standing in Daniel Bryan’s way to glory was a gauntlet of villains.
The horrible boss. The evil over lord. The masochist. The destructive beast. The mastermind.
As the fans displeasure grew, it was clear through every match and every talking segment on any WWE show, they would chant for Bryan and essentially attempt to take over the proceedings until they got what they wanted.
Performers tried to muddle through the deafening noise of the crowds, to no avail. The sounds couldn’t be sweetened by the editing team in the production truck and WWE had no other option but to stand face on to the backlash. The ‘Yes’ movement as it become known took a hold of the wider world and could be seen used in sports arenas to this day. But at the time, as the wrestling world came together in support of their decided champion – there was still a long way to go.
After several unfair trials placed in Bryan’s way. He was granted the opportunity to fight for the belts at Wrestlemania. His moment had finally come. There was just one last, enormous hurdle to overcome however.
He would face off against the man directly responsible for holding him back, Triple H - early in the night, seeing interference and frustration coming from Triple H’s wife and Daniel Bryan’s boss Stephanie McMahon. Through it all it looked like Bryan would lose, with his boss rubbing both his height and overall size in his face. Daniel Bryan can not help being 5 foot 8. What he could help was his chances of creating an ever-lasting Wrestlemania moment.
The victory in the match was hard-fought and brutal leaving Bryan battered and bruised covered in marks and bandages – and like so many of us have dreamt of doing – kicked his boss in the head a lot of times and pinned Triple H for the 1,2,3. What a remarkable moment for Daniel Bryan, taking on and defeating an industry icon who he had looked up to since he was a teen on the biggest stage in pro wrestling.
But, we know that’s not where the night ended.
Bryan’s victory in his first match meant one thing. Now he was granted access to the main event. A match for both WWE title belts against the original pairing of Randy Orton and Batista.