Top 10 Villainous Characters With Justified Motives

Published: March 12, 2014

Too many people do not understand the precise definitions of heroes, anti-heroes, villains, protagonists, and antagonists. Not every protagonist is a hero and not every villain is an antagonist. With more and more sympathetic, Shakespearean, or charismatic villains, we're beginning to see something new in our storytelling: the villain's side and how they are justified in their actions even by the standards of those in the right! Here is a list of 10 popular perceived villains who are either justified, redeemable, or not really villains at all!

  1. Loki Odinson/Laufeyson

    It took very little to get crowds to swoon over the trickster of legend and even less to do it when it was brought to Marvel's Cinematic Universe. For hundreds of years, the figure of Loki has represented the free-spirit of man, but when the character shouted a desperate 'Tell Meeeee!!!' in the first Thor film, hearts around the world melted for this would be anti-hero placed in the villain's role. But Loki was not unjustified in his pursuits and here is why:

    1). His mother placed him on the throne

    Yes, he allowed some Jotuns into Asgard, but the issue was easily dealt with and Thor's actions afterwards proved his arrogant, cruel nature and got him banished. Loki's diplomatic and hopeful nature got him an uncomfortable reveal about his past before having to confront a kingdom that had mocked him for centuries.

    2). Thor's banishment had no real allowance for returning home.

    Odin did not state that Thor could return when . . .; instead, he simply gave Mjolnir orders. By returning home in the manner that he did, Thor defied Odin as king and father, Loki as king, and Asgard's laws.

    3). The Warriors 3, Sif, and Heimdall committed High Treason

    Whether or not Loki's plans to double-play Laufey were wise, they were the decision of the king. That aside, the warriors and Heimdall did not know this was his plan and simply wanted him removed because he was not Thor. That goes beyond seditious and verges into outright malicious and racist if his being Jotun had anything to do with it. Sending 'The Destroyer' after these traitors was well within his right.

    4). Loki never sought to murder or harm anyone on Asgard, but to destroy the creatures that caused the issue of his discomfort: the Jotuns, which Asgard also was in favor of.

    Looking at the film before 'The Avengers' where Loki decides that he is above the law and has no reason to respect or love his home, one can only come to one conclusion: Thor is a terrible example for a prince and should never be king and Odin is a kidnapper.

  2. Smaug the Magnificent

    The eyes, voice, and size of this enormous creature are a testament themselves to what early man feared . . . mythological creatures with the capacity for utter destruction. However, Smaug proves to be wise, patient, and curious which are traits not usually associated with the cold blooded killer he is made out to be. In fact, Smaug's presence and actions are almost entirely justifiable; here's why:

    1). Smaug is a dragon

    Dragons eat livestock, they stockpile gold for bedding and trade with humans (a fact Tolkien himself brought out stating that some humans had positive dealings with dragons), they live in caves and mountains for safety . . . if a large-brained animal sees a pre-made home with furnishings and plenty of food what other choice is there than to let instinct take over and have the best means of self-preservation!

    2). Smaug did not set out to murder the line of kings or serve Sauron

    Oddly, this wealthiest of creatures in Middle Earth had allegiance only to himself and his mountain which he treasured (a borderline conservationist) and knew how to hunt without destroying food supplies entirely or scaring away entire villages. Erebor was abandoned because the smell of dragon and heat in the lower levels were unbearable for the dwarves, but they were not murdered by the dragon outright, neither were any elves or humans. What made Smaug seem so dangerous to Gandalf was that he was a wild card that had proved more cunning and powerful than any creature in Middle Earth and if the enemy did finnagle his way into Smaug's mind, no amount of ring-destruction would undo his power.

    4). I cannot stress this enough, Smaug was behaving like a dragon. The dwarves and humans surrounding the Lonely Mountain actually had ample warning of the attack, but refused to leave out of greed or pride. While Smaug does boast that he kills when and where he wishes, he is, again, simply speaking like a dragon with a certain level of arrogance that comes naturally for them. Had Smaug been out to murder, then no matter where Bilbo had hidden, Smaug would've blocked the exits, set the place ablaze, and gone back to sleep.

    5). Smaug was older than any of the other creatures around the Lonely Mountain and by right of old laws had first pick of where to live. This was also done by an ice dragon named Scatha, but Smaug chose a place where he could one day truly be a king over humans, dwarves, and elves with his massive wealth and reputation.

  3. Prince Nuada Silverlance

    Since the 70's, movements have been underway to help heal the planet. Since the dawn of man, figures from mythology have (in the literary world) fought to have a place alongside humans without much interference, but without being shoved aside, either. The invisible world of magical creatures seen in 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army' reflects the earliest of Celtic myths in even using names of high kings and their enemies. The most notable is the main antagonist, Prince Nuada Silverlance, who actually might've been reasoned with and done a world of good for his own people and humanity. Why? Here's why:

    1). The truce made between humanity and the magical worlds was broken the first time humanity breached their boundaries and widened their cities. The concept that Prince Nuada broke the truce at the auction house is moot because it did not exist any longer.

    2). Being a creature of the earth (or rather, a Son of the Earth), he was more equipped to give humans advice on what to do to reverse the negative effects of industrialization and co-exist with his kind . . . once convinced that we could control our numbers and respect their sovereignty of course.

    3). In Celtic society, a king that lacked a piece of their anatomy was no longer considered a viable leader (this was actually in the story of Nuada himself), so Balor should not have been allowed on the throne unless he could continue to prove himself in battle and protect his people. As it was, he could not which made his heir, Nuada, king and any edict made law.

    4). Humans set off atomic weaponry and tinkered with the CERN Super-Collider, both of which were thought to be able to destroy our entire world in one of the theoretical outcomes. Clearly, humanity needs guidance and cannot be left to our own devices meaning the intervention of a magical force, even if it's just scaring us into behaving, is crucial.

    5). Prince Nuada's intentions were to preserve life, but in the process take away those factors that harmed life on a larger scale. This is noble, but once stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, any creature that bent on protecting life would reconsider which humans would be suitable to kill and which would not.

  4. Vlad Tepes (Draculea)

    Beautifully and historically represented here, Vlad Tepes is still hailed as a hero in Romania . . . so why is he one of the ultimate villains in the rest of the world? Perhaps ties to being a vampire have something to do with it alongside religious and criminal intolerance. But Vlad could be known for as many good deeds as evil ones if his history is truly studied. Why, you ask? This is why:

    1). Vlad spent his childhood as a hostage being tortured by the ruler of another nation at the bequest of his father. Instead of formulating a plan to assassinate the man, go back and get revenge against his father, and other nasty deeds, Vlad focused on what little education his mother had given him and furthered it (while still being insolent according to his captors).

    2). Vlad was placed on the throne as a Voyvoda by popular vote, not just because he was 'of royal marrow'. After assuming the throne, Vlad strengthened the defenses of his nation against their enemies (the Turks), encouraged religion in every home to better family life and productivity, and even maintained a good standing with the Romani (a group of people who have for years been ostracized and hated by other European Nations).

    3). Most of the stories of punishment are overblown for tourist purposes. While crime was at an all-time low due to Vlad's zero tolerance policies, Vlad is also known in several journal entries to have judged crimes based upon their severities as well (wanting to compare himself to Solomon the Wise).

    4). Vlad's focus was on his people's well-being and not on war or vengeance.

    Despite claims otherwise, Vlad's institution of schools, churches, better trade and thereby more employment saw Romania become a powerful and formidable presence in Europe.

    5). He was NOT a vampire!

    It is rumored that Vlad drank blood or applied it to his skin because he believed the alleged allergic reaction made him younger . . . neither are true. Vlad was a devout Catholic and then Protestant meaning that it was against his beliefs to consume blood or meat with blood still in it. As for the allergy, it's a little difficult to ask him abou it.

    6). He died defending his people

    No villain dies defending their own people from an enemy that has plagued them for years. While circumstances surrounding his death, including the disapperance of his corpse and head, are still sketchy, Vlad gave his all for his countrymen and, from what we can tell of his dedication to 'The Order of the Dragon' to his God.

  5. Malekith (Malekith the Accursed)

    It seems a little unfair to put Christopher Eccleston's most recent performance and Marvel's most recent villain in the 'least memorable' category. In fact, it seems a little odd that this version, which is not the Malekith the Accursed that appeared in the comic books, was considered a villain at all. While as a 'dark elf' his title and inhuman look are definitely frightening, that doesn't necessarily make him a villain. Don't believe me? Read on:

    1). Asgard began the war that ravaged Malektih's homeworld and tried to commit genocide on it.

    That's right, Odin's father tried to do what Hitler wanted to do; eradicate an entire race because they made him angry. Was Svartalfheim a legitimate threat? We don't know; we're not sure if the Aether would actually cause any destruction other than the atmosphere surrounding the planet (and we're pretty sure Malekith didn't know, either), but regardless, Asgard couldn't stand the idea of a race of ancient creatures that would not 'bow' to Bor as king. That's beyond petty and hardly makes Malekith, the first to refuse to bow, an enemy.

    2). Malekith was wronged by Asgard personally

    It is implied that Asgardians killed Malekith's wife and children either before or in the first stages of the war. That's just outright murder and while Malekith does end up doing something similar during TDW, it is only after millenia of suffering the loss of a wife and young children.

    3). Malekith was a respected leader, not a tyrant

    While most villains are dictators or manipulative despots of some sort, we see that is not the case with this version of the character. Even his lieutenant shares an endearing 'brother in arms' moment with him during one sequnce which causes the leader to shed tears at the thought of losing one of his own . . . not the trait of someone evil.

    4). When given Jane, Malekith did not harm or her or try to harm her to harvest the Aether

    Humans are fragile and easily broken by any race. Not only did Malekith forgo outright murdering Thor, the heir to Asgard's throne which would've been prudent for a villain, he did not violently take the Aether from Jane which a truly sadistic creature would've done. After seeing his own planet ravaged, it seemed like Asgard was the only realm that Malekith was willing to do all kinds of damage to, but anything else was still not an enemy and did not deserve mistreatment from him.

  6. Aro of the Volturi

    Rather than seeing vampires as a race that could conquer and enslave mankind, this unspoken leader of 'The Volturi' or lawkeepers in the vampire world of the Twilight saga, sees them as superior but separate and desires it to be kept so. After ages of wars and bloody encounters with humankind at the hands of the Romanians and other creatures, the Volturi as a whole became the voice and hand of the law; but does that make them villains just because they are vampires?

    1). The Volturi do not kill at random

    Food is brought to the group in Volterra and they are forbidden to kill anyone in the surrounding areas, making Volterra the safest place to be for a human.

    2). The Volturi despise other vampires killing at random

    When other vampires feed it must be done discreetly and preferrably done on people of a less than savory nature, or so it is implied. This law protects humans from mass killings once seen in the ancient days.

    3). The Volturi support the arts and appreciate them

    With money, guidance, and other forms of patronage, Aro is at the head of the trio that lavish themselves as much in culture as they do in blood, seeing both as equally necessary for their survival. The Volturi were rumored to even take measures during wars to preserve priceless pieces of work from enemies seeking to destroy them.

    4). Most importantly, the Volturi make sure that vampires around the world understand their limitations and consider putting their gifts to good use for their own kind, a trait seen in any good leader.

    While this might be bad news for certain humans, it is a matter of looking at vampires as a separate species and no one can decry a species simply for trying to survive particularly if they try to do it in an organized and civilized way.

  7. Denethor Steward of Gondor

    You'd be hard-pressed to find any real fans of Denethor, but was he really a villain?

    1). He mourns his sons and soldiers

    While we're given the image of a man who only misses one son and is aloof to the other and the rest of his men, look more closesly and you'll see a steward at the end of his rope who has repeatedly mourned his own men and does, in fact, love his other son. This was especially true in the books and the film version wanted to make him a Shakespearean tragic villain; while they fell short on that (unlike Denethor who had a long drop), one can still see traces of the source material.

    2). Stewardship is a difficult place and he had been forced into it long past time for Aragorn to ascend.

    When Aragorn gave up his throne for exile, it was understood that the line of Stewards were the new royalty in Gondor which, being so near Mordor, was a really awful place to try and make a home. Not only did Denethor have to play 'king', but he also had to maintain a homelife as a single father with two sons. Wouldn't that make anyone edgy? Being on edge does not a villain make.

  8. The Red Queen

    This one is just simple; she was queen. Not only was the Red Queen the eldest and therefore heir to the Throne of Underland, she already had loyal armies. Granted her cruel treatment grew as her temperament became mroe and more unstable (we see that she was so terrified of being left by her own husband that she had him killed), but she did not start off as a villain and simply being in a position of power does not make one evil. It is true that she was out of sorts, but her position of power sadly gave her the right to do even the most atrocious and absurd things according to the laws she made . . . we're pretty sure a full-frontal lobotomy would've cleared that right up, though.

  9. Shere Khan the Tiger

    Why even mention this character? Because he keeps coming up in conversations about villains versus anti-heroes. Like Smaug, Shere Khan is doing what is in his nature. Unlike Smaug, the tiger holds a grudge and tigers have been known to do so. But then, what justifies his actions?

    1). Tigers clearly mark their territory

    Mowgli was raised with heightened animalistic instincts that existed in early man as well as had a good number of guides telling him where it was safe to be in the Jungle and where it wasn't. If anyone was responsible for Mowgli being in danger, it was the animals supposedly looking out for him.

    2). Tigers were hunted to near extinction even then

    Shere Khan was more than aware of man's potential and, like other animals, developed a healthy fear that turned into a healthy dislike that turned into an unnatural hatred for all humans. However that 'hatred' could've simply been a mislabeled defense mechanism. In India in those days it was common to burn parts of the jungle for farming or building and slaughter tigers for various reasons including 'snake oil' medicinal cures. If you knew that a race of creatures was willing to destroy your home and dismember you for profit, would you tolerate their presence?

    3). Shere Khan never sought out Mowgli or any other 'men' to kill them (like 'The Ghost and The Darkness') but instead simply kept an unusually large perimeter of territory that happened to be near a village. This is fairly normal; after all, both humans and all other animals need to be near bodies of water so finding their settlements near one another isn't uncommon. We're never told or shown Shere Khan going in and massacring groups of humans like the Mufuwe Man-eaters (lions from Mufuwe Africa that actually dragged people from huts and stalked tourists before parading around with their remains, roaring). Instead, Shere Kahn keeps a watchful, and somewhat docile, distance on his own turf.

  10. Khan Noonien Singh

    Not unlike Malekith or Prince Nuada, Khan is setting out to protect his people and his family. Unfortunately, unlike the other two, Khan has a vengeful streak, but in all fairness that streak applies predominantly to those that did wrong and would be willing to do it again. So why is this terrorist on a list of could-be something other than a villain? This is why:

    1). Khan seeks out an individual in need and helps them first; a real villain would've promised help and not delivered it, allowing the little girl to die.

    2). Khan did not aim to destroy Starfleet entirely, but did seek to take out those responsible for his own predicament and the predicament of his crew. He also desires to avert war with the Klingons and tries to warn the Enterprise crew about this albeit in a cryptic and not helpful way.

     

    3). Khan is willing to form a forced alliance with the crew of the Enterprise to help save both of their lives. A real villain would rather simply allow the others to die and find a way back to his crew (knowing that he would survive).

     

    4). Aside from attacks on Starfleet, Khan does not seek out violence or vengeance against 'regular humans' or other races and instead focuses his tasks on those responsible for his situation.

Before you get the idea that I would stand beside any of these characters and defend them while they did their dastardly deeds, know this; there are always two sides to every story and when one looks at the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law, one might see that the actions of one deemed 'evil' are in fact in line with the letter of the law (though perhaps not the spirit). As for the most redeemable and potentially helpful or heroic of those mentioned, that is difficult; the first three possess extreme reasoning and would ensure their survival at all costs making a conversation about 'doing what's best' instead of 'doing the right thing' a sure way to get them to turn around. However, with his sympathetic nature, wounded background and fear of being harmed again, it is Loki that makes the most redeemable and justifiable of these characters (if we are speaking only of the first Thor movie, if we are speaking about all of these characters in general, it is likely that the Prince of the Magical World would be the most redeemable and justified). Once again, the trickster wins!