Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Awesome Female Villains

I'm pretty excited for the movie Maleficent coming out this Summer.  Maleficent is such a powerful villain but is so two-dimensional in Sleeping Beauty.  I’d love to see her fully fleshed out, and Angelina Jolie is such an amazing actress.  Can’t wait to see what she does with the character. 

The movie has got me thinking of other villainous female characters that I have loved over time.  So here is my list in reverse alphabetical order.

WARNING:  Massive spoilers.  Don't read a section if you haven't seen the movie or TV show.

1.  Mother Gothal  from Tangled. 
Disney has a lot of villainesses, but most of them like Maleficent are just evil and fairly under-developed (although Ursula is another awesome).  Mother Gothal is a little more complex than the others.  She is about as evil as you can get, kidnapping baby Rapunzel, using Rapunzel for years, manipulating everyone, and callously stabbing Flynn.   There is no doubt she is the bad guy, but her relationship with Rapunzel at times borders on sweet. 
She is very narcissistic and does subtlety put down Rapunzel, but there are also moments of tenderness and the way they part by telling each other they love each other more is rather touching.  I like that their relationship complex instead of it being overtly abusive (like in Cinderella).  It adds dimension to both Mother Gothal and Rapunzel, and it makes Mother Gothal a very compelling villain.

2.  Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.   

Dolores is not a villain that you love to hate.  She is one that you just hate with a seething passion, but the reason that she inspires such venom from the fans is exactly why she’s so awesome.  Dolores is very unassuming, a short, middle-aged woman who dresses mostly in pink and decorates her office with kittens.  She seems more prone to be to be ridiculed rather than of a force of pure evil, but the fact that it is unexpected makes her evilness all the more. 
She’s a lot like Nurse Ratchet (OFOTCN) in that she seemingly means well (Dolores truly believes that she’s doing good) but ultimately savors having power over others.  She took a tyrannical hold of Hogwarts with all her educational decrees that allowed her to read the students’ mail, punish them with torture (blood quills), and banning them from extracurricular activities or even gathering in small groups.  She is most terrifying because her actions mirror many horrible movements in history, and her rise to power demonstrates how easily freedoms can slowly be taken away from us.  I agree with Stephen King when he called Umbridge the "greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter."  She’s a truly horrifying character. 

3.  Darla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

Darla is the first vampire shown on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and she does a fantastic job of playing an innocent, duped school girl until her fangs come out.  Julie Benz just looks angelic, and her voice is so sweet and soft, a perfect contrast to the demon inside.  She dies in the first season of Buffy without much of a chance for development, but when she is later resurrected on Angel, Darla really gets to shine in all her villainous glory. 
Darla and Angel have a long history together.  She sired him, and they spent decades together slaughtering and torturing innocent people until Angel got cursed with his soul.  No one knows Angel like Darla, and she gets to him in a way that no other villain can.  I love how powerful she is, and how much Angel fears her.  I love the bad girl duo of Darla and Drucilla (another great villainess) and how they go shopping together.  I love how Darla pushes Angel into darkness.  He doesn’t lose his soul, but he still comes pretty close to becoming evil.    
But it doesn’t end there.  Darla gets a full redemption character arc on Angel, and the way she dies the second time is pretty powerful.  If you haven’t seen Angel, I suggest you pull it up on Netflix.  Darla is in seasons 2 and 3, and they are worth watching just for her.  She’s my favorite kind of villain.

4.  Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. 

I haven’t read the books (but I plan to), and I’ve only watched seasons 1 and 2, so keep that in mind and PLEASE do not leave any spoilers in the comments (for those who have not seen this show, please note that this is an HBO series, so expect A LOT of sex, violence, and nudity). 

I wouldn't be surprised if Cersei is despised by most of the fans, but I think she's pretty awesome.  Yes, Cersei is having an incestual affair with her twin brother.  Yes, she wants her brother to kill the kid who saw them.  And yes, she has a lot of people killed to stay in power.  She is ruthless, vain, power-hungry, short-sighted, manipulative, and has a real blind spot for her children, especially the horrible, monster Joffrey.  Even worse, she’s mean to Tyrion.  She’s does terrible things, but she knows the game she is playing has high stakes.  What she does, she does to keep her children safe, and I have to respect her for that.

5.  Azula from Avatar the Last Airbender. 

If you don’t know I’m a huge ATLA fan, you haven’t been reading this blog.  The show is pure brilliance, and Azula is exactly what makes this show work.  Azula is Prince Zuko’s sister.  She is stronger, smarter, and more talented than Zuko in every way, but she is also a complete psychopath.  She torments and manipulates him throughout his childhood and beyond, and is the perfect villain to step in when Zuko starts on his redemption character arc. 
Azula is a formidable antagonist.  She is relentless in pursuing Aang and his friends, she infiltrates the government of the largest city in the Earth Kingdom and manages to take it over with Machiavellian skill.  She even kills or nearly kills Aang. 

One of my favorite episodes is The Beach where Zuko and Azula (and Azula’s two sidekicks) are sent away to Ember Island where Azula decides to keep her royalty a secret and try to fit in with normal people.  Ultimately she fails.  I love seeing this whole other side to her which hints that she may have a vulnerable side, wanting to be accepted.  

Later when her sidekicks Mai and Tylee betray her, she loses it completely.  Azula relies on her power (political and bending) and fear to control everyone, and when that fails her, she doesn’t know what else to do.  She starts to doubt herself which ultimately leads to Zuko and Katara defeating her.  Azula is a fascinating character, and she has some real awesome lines too.  Truly one of the best villains ever.

So there are my five awesome female villains.   Who are some of your favorite evil female characters?


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