What is the making of a villain?
That is a question so many of us ask ourselves, writers or not. What lies at the heart and will, where tendencies and beliefs, and perhaps untested aspects of one's nature just wait for life to throw them a fast one, making them emerge into a new light?
I was able to see Star Trek: Into Darkness recently, and I can honestly say that I found it to be excellent, and a very interesting study in regards to this question. The story was told in a way that was balanced, believable, and potent; different layers build into a coherent whole. It was a story of what one does for those they hold close, and for what they stand for. Through loss, whether through another, or of another, the sacrifices we're willing to make to protect those we care about, and what things we're willing to defend. And, at the same time, perhaps realize what beliefs and things we hold to be true about ourselves, and what sometimes happens in life. What choices we're willing to make.
And it is this theme that makes the Into Darkness villain so powerful, because Khan is willing to do the same, without conscientiousness. His passion is for his crew, his people. His own. This is something both he and Kirk equate to enormously in this story--both of them understand. Both of them can be ruthless, but only one exercises his actions at a cold, brutal level, with no indication that it is the boundary of his capacity.
I have not seen the older episodes or movies, but judging from this movie alone, Khan is incredible. Benedict Cumberbatch did a tremendous job. From the moment he shows up to when he is finally--well, I won't give it away. Khan is understandable. A created being, for savageness and intellect, yet human to the extreme. Only with him, his morals and point of view can condemn a race. He can use people like pawns, because he understands them, even as he disregards them. Looks down on them for being beneath their potential, for accepting their weaknesses.
Perhaps what it takes to make a good villain is a hero that is also human. Mirror effect. It is the example of the story--the stark (or at times, not so stark) contrast. Kirk will do anything for his crew. Only he shows that he is bigger than the plain, personal satisfaction of revenge. There is that struggle there, but he makes the harder decision to follow the right course, further doing whatever is needed to protect that which he represents, and those he leads. His course took one way--Khan another. It's not often that we get such good, close characters to compare. Perhaps I'm just not watching the right movies. But I hope that I will be able to put forward more examples, for myself and for others trying to delve into this mystery, this mystery of what makes people good men or villains. (I say men generally, as in mankind). But then, it is tempting to paint humanity in such simple colors, when we know that we are not that in the least.
These are stories that always draw people, because, I believe, we wonder what lies within ourselves. Someone good, someone in between...someone capable of unknown things? What really lies within us?
~E. C. Shore