I write this with two particular villains in mind who I thought were the most interesting characters in their respective films. I’m speaking of Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, and Darth Vader in Star Wars (original trilogy). Both characters held a lot of mystery and a particular brand of evil that was interesting to watch unfold.
What I did notice is when both characters became the central character of their own films, their stories and characters changed, and in many ways we saw they were not evil, but misunderstood, and that has in effect, cut off their true potency.
When I first talked about both characters, I suggested they were more like tragic heroes with a fatal flaw. They had desire, motive, and they made things happen. Both Maleficent and Darth Vader paid the ultimate price for their actions. Only one of them remained relentlessly evil, while the other had a change of heart.
That said, when looking at the film, Maleficent, we see that Maleficent is the victim, and it is her trust that is betrayed. This betrayal turned her into a spiteful person, who acts out of malice and revenge.
This is a completely different character from the original, who was pure evil, didn’t give a damn how you felt, she was going to do as she pleased. Granted that would make for a dark live action film (kids may be scared of her), but let’s be honest, she was the mistress of all evil. That’s a huge part of her appeal.
In the prequels of Star Wars, we get to see Darth Vader as Anakin Skywalker. It could be argued that it was only after Obi-Wan defeated Anakin, and left him to die in Revenge of the Sith is when he really turned evil.
Up until that point, Anakin was cocky, murderous, and extremely petulant. After he was defeated, humiliated, and left to burn alive is where he suffered, got angry, and realized the totality of his actions–which had been vile, and sadly this did not make him regret who he became. I would dare say that’s when the story starts.
Maleficent’s origin film allows for her to be re-branded as a dark heroine, while Darth Vader’s origin attempts to depict his tragic fall from hero to evil. For the purpose of the Maleficent film, the character’s evil roots were purged in favor of a more kid-appealing villain, while the Star Wars prequels took a route to fill in gaps.
Both de-mystified their strongest characters with mixed results.