The devil is in the detail – 5 villains that deserve an origin series/film
The recent announcement of Ratched, Netflix and Ryan Murphy’s new series exploring the origins of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, has taken many by surprise. The iconic movie villain practically cemented the term battle-axe in popular culture, but we never really considered what inspired that cold, calculating persona. Now, that all changes.
With so much potential in Ratched capitalising on One Flew’s critique of the treatment of mental health, the reveal got me thinking: are there other characters who would benefit from a prequel? Not simply to fill in the blanks, but to actually tell a worthwhile story that fleshes out the original’s meaning, or expands the cinematic universe in which the story is set? I believe so. And with Netflix’s ambition to push Ratched as a fully-fledged television series, excitingly, these could all work if the timing proved right. So, here are 5 bad guys/gals that have earned our attention to their details.
1: The Emperor – Star Wars
I’ll start off easy. Darth Vader got the tragic backstory: we saw why Luke Skywalker believed he could be turned back from the Dark Side. But, what if we got to see the story of a man who committed similarly evil acts, yet stayed that way? No redemption, no Light Side getting in the way: a deep dive into the Sith legacy that the films have never really given us. An Emperor-led prequel series/film is your perfect opportunity.
We can all admit that one of the finest scenes of the prequel trilogy is Emperor Palpatine’s recounting of Darth Plagueis the Wise (despite the countless memes). How the Emperor killed his master in his sleep. Doesn’t that sound like some Gothic, Game of Thrones-esque drama that’s worthy of some exploration? After all, the Emperor has always served as the reverse Yoda, as the evil master. If Yoda teaches us valuable lessons in goodness, why can’t the Emperor’s story act as a cautionary tale of becoming power-hungry? Feels mightily relevant in this political climate, if you ask me.
And for those that question Disney ever making something so dark, they also approved of The Punisher series, a Marvel show that includes a scene where Frank Castle drags a man’s face across broken glass while he screams in agony. Yeah, it’s more than possible.
2: Daniel Plainview – There Will Be Blood
Speaking of men in power, come on, There Will Be Blood’s Daniel Plainview is the greatest of all bad businessmen, using his authority to dominate the oil industry, destroy that which stands in his way and drink a milkshake for his troubles (if you know, you know). With present day CEOs and business moguls in the spotlight often, questioned over their behaviours and actions, surely the tale of Daniel Plainview deserves a second go on the market?
He’s a man with a ruthless determination, who famously says ‘ I have a competition in me’, one that inspires him to kill. Where does this come from? It would be too simple for it to be daddy or mummy issues. So, turn it into something systemic: the relentless capitalist is reborn every generation, with Daniel inspired by his own Plainview. The film could explore how those ideals are passed down, hinting at the necessity of shared ownership and the democratisation of power.
Get Paul Thomas Anderson back. Get Daniel Day-Lewis out of retirement. Crack open the hair grease. Let’s see what Daniel Plainview is really made of.
3: Terrence Fletcher - Whiplash
There’s the Demon Headmaster. There’s Miss Trunchbull. And then there’s Fletcher, played by the Oscar-winning J.K. Simmons. It’s hard to think of a recent character getting so deeply buried into our brains, other than John Wick. Tossing cymbals at students’ heads for missing a note. Forcing them to play till their fingers are literally bleeding. Yeah, the guy is memorable and it would be great to see how his own education fared.
Seeing as we’ve seen how destructive he is first hand, why not use a prequel to explore how that attitude snowballs forward? Akin to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, we could see a promising Fletcher, slowly hardened by abuse, disappointment and constant pushing. Yes, it sounds depressing. But as Joker proved, stories around the downtrodden rising up are popular as hell: just check the DC film’s box office takings.
More importantly, it would be in keeping with Whiplash’s internal debate: is Fletcher wrong in his methods, as he does achieve what the sets out to in creating a great musician in Andrew (Miles Teller)? If we see Fletcher experiencing similar suffering, maybe we’ll be more willing to accept Whiplash’s ending? Or, perhaps the repetitive violence will just put us off Fletcher even more, as he adds to the problem. Like I say, these outcomes build on the first film’s themes, so I think it would be worthwhile.
4: Harry Powell – The Night of the Hunter
Let’s go back to a classic. Charles Laughton’s 1955 stalker thriller features a classic creeper: Harry Powell, played by Robert Mitchum, is a Christian preacher turned serial killer, murdering women by what he believes to be God’s will. It’s heavy stuff for a film era noticeable for its restraint and censorship; it’s ripe for a prequel to see what causes a man to justify murder as a holy act for a God that prohibits murder through the Commandments.
A character study seems the best port of call, like the new Ratched series. But with this prequel, treat it like Netflix’s Mindhunter: as we witness Powell’s first crimes, the film can be presented as a study. Like a fly on the wall, we’ll see what empowers Powell, what inspires his misogyny. But framing it in the gender politics of today, it will serve as a brutal reminder that sexism isn’t just an injustice in the workplace or in the media industry: in the wrong mind, sexism can endanger lives, particularly when that mind belongs to a man who believes he has the blessing of God.
Casting the role would be a challenge. But it must be an imposing figure, someone with authority. If you’re really going to match modern themes, Harry Powell must represent the controlling type that we see dominate the news these days.
5: Amy Dunne – Gone Girl
On the flip side, why don’t we explore one of modern cinema’s crazier female characters? Amy Dunne, played admirably by Rosamund Pike, is more than just a bunny boiler: she would smoke the bunny if she could. Framing her husband for her murder, using extreme means to ‘prove it’ so she can get back at him for an affair. It would be fascinating to see what twists someone’s mentality that way.
Could that aggression towards betrayal stem from a betrayal of her own? Desi Collings, an ex-boyfriend, has a restraining order filed against him by Amy. Clearly, there’s a similar obsession there: this prequel could take a feminist approach and show how the scars of abuse turn her into the monster we see in Gone Girl.
Ultimately, it’s got to be dark: if you follow-up a David Fincher project, you expect to dial the tone and lighting down a few notches. Maybe, like with Ratched, it would worthwhile to give reasoning to Amy’s actions, rather than simply labelling her as a madwoman. Heck, maybe it would empower her: if men treat her like trash, perhaps she should throw it right back.
Those are my picks for film villains that deserve an expanded backstory. But as we’ve seen with Ratched, anyone could be up for a surprising set-up. Who do you think deserves a second shot? Let me know by dropping some feedback!
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