A “Spot”light On Comedic Villains

Athena ScalziSpider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has been out for a hot minute now, and with it has come a million and one reviews of the film. Originally, I was going to add to this onslaught of reviews, but I don’t think y’all need another person telling you how amazing it is. Though, admittedly, it is amazing, and there are so many different aspects of the film that work to make it so dang incredible.

Today, I wanted to talk about one specific aspect that I’ve heard mixed reviews over. The villain. The Spot.

I’ll go ahead and put the spoiler warning here, now. SPOILER WARNING!

Okay, so, The Spot. A seemingly harmless villain that’s clumsy and dorky, partly due to the fact that he was just a nerdy science guy before the accident that turned him into a mass of freaky spots that are actually holes in time and space.

He’s funny! He’s quippy, trips over himself, kicks himself in the literal ass, and is seen as a “villain of the week”. Someone that poses no real threat.

But, I’m not really here to talk about him as much as I am to talk about the idea of comedic villains as a whole. Should the bad guy be funny? Should the bad guy make us laugh, or should the quippiness be reserved for the witty hero?

I think recent media (namely Marvel and DC movies) has been gravitating towards more comedic bad guys as of late, because they had so many serious ones for so long that people need a break from the mundaneness that is a serious villain.

The most prominent examples that come to mind are Thanos and Darkseid. Ultra powerful tyrant world conquerors that aim to massacre millions. These guys are fucking BORING. I hate these villains because their motivations are so utterly lacking.

Thanos had all the power in the universe to reshape the fabric of reality, and he thinks the best solution to everything is to erase half the population? Like what is he even talking about? What does he plan to do after that? Not to mention the fact that humans have been on Earth for thousands of years, and “the snap” only set us back to 1970 population wise. Like we could just get the population back up to what it is now in a couple decades. Thanos did all that for like… nothing. And what did he do afterwards? Go sit in a field and destroyed the stones? What a loser.

(I’m pretty sure in the comics he has a different motivation for doing what he does, something about trying to impress Death herself, which makes a lot more sense, but we’re just talking about the MCU here.)

There’s so many more examples of boring, powerful villains, like Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy, Malekith from Thor: The Dark World, Red Skull from Captain America, General Zod from Superman. These guys have no personality, lackluster motivations, no interesting aspects of their character, and pretty much never even engage in witty banter with the hero! I’m not saying that you have to make the villain likeable or sympathetic every single time, but my god are these bitches boring.

So, you overcorrect and try to make villains funny suddenly. Does it work better than boring villains? Well, considering how many people are obsessed with Loki, it at least works from a marketing standpoint.

Perhaps people think making a villain funny takes away from their evilness and threateningness? I don’t really think that’s true, though, I mean look at Hades or Yzma! Both are plenty malicious and evil, but still really funny! They are undoubtedly some of the most iconic villains from that time period of movies, especially when compared to villains like Clayton or Governor Ratcliffe.

So, when it comes to The Spot, is he too funny to be taken seriously? Does it take away from his attempt at being villainous? I think in the beginning, his unintentional funniness that stems from his ineptness and clumsiness certainly does make him appear as less of threat, hence why he is dubbed as pretty much just a nuisance. But as the movie goes on and he gains more and more power, suddenly he’s not so funny anymore, and he progresses towards being truly evil. Even the characters admit they no longer see him as a joke, and Miles is sorry he ever doubted his ability to be a villain.

He wants to be seen as threatening, and he knows in the beginning he’s not, which is why he’s trying to gain more power in the first place. He wants to be taken seriously by the hero, and not laughed at like he’s just a joke. But he is a joke in the beginning, he literally kicked his own ass! So his transformation into a super powerful, super menacing, malicious villain is very well done, I think.

For me, The Spot works. For others, he doesn’t. He’s just “too funny” for some people, which I can totally understand not wanting a funny villain all the time. Like, sometimes you need a serious, dark moment where the villain truly displays their evilness without the comedy relief. But that’s exactly why I think The Spot ends up working so well. Because he becomes not funny, and the hero genuinely becomes threatened by him and his power. His evilness is no longer a laughing matter.

I honestly think he’s such an interesting villain, even if revenge against the hero is a bit of a weak or cliché motive.

What do you think of The Spot? Who’s your favorite villain of all time? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!


19 Comments on “A “Spot”light On Comedic Villains”

  1. “He wants to be seen as threatening, and he knows in the beginning he’s not, which is why he’s trying to gain more power in the first place. He wants to be taken seriously by the hero, and not laughed at like he’s just a joke. But he is a joke in the beginning, he literally kicked his own ass! So his transformation into a super powerful, super menacing, malicious villain is very well done, I think.”

    I hadn’t thought about this before, but when you put it this way, he reminds me of Syndrome, from “The Incredibles.” There’s another villain who started out weak (in his case, wanting to be a hero sidekick) but because of ridicule, he transformed himself into a dangerous and truly evil villain.

  2. I have not seen the film but based on your review, the one thing I REALLY want to do is to See Spot run. Run Spot run.

  3. “I’m not saying that you have to make the villain likeable or sympathetic every single time, but my god are these bitches boring.”


    Probably the funniest villain I can think of right now is The Mayor from Buffy. Friendly, quippy, folksy, and yet unabashedly wants to become a demon, lecturing the students one last time (“pure evil”) before they get eaten. It can be done!

  4. I don’ think General Zod gets enough credit for being a complex and multifaceted character. Take, for instance, his keen interest in kitchen renovation:

  5. Athena, I enjoyed your analysis. Yeah, give me anything but boring and I can get by the rest.

    Keep ’em coming.

  6. It’s not just that villains like Thanos are boring, it’s that they’re ANNOYING — in the pretentious guy from your philosophy class level of annoying, where you could explain to them all the ways they are wrong but you’d have to start so far back and do so much work that most people just give up and fight them.

    Good villains are understandable, not in the sense that we want to be them, but that we can see where they are coming from and sympathize with some of their motives, even if we deplore their methods. My two favorite villains from the MCU are Killmonger from Black Panther and Wilson Fisk from Daredevil (the tv show, I don’t think he’s as well characterized in other portrayals). Both have a point! They’re not wrong in their distress! You can almost empathize with them — right up to the point where they go overboard into evil.

    I don’t think revenge against the hero is a bad motive either; superheros certainly do a lot of collateral damage and getting frustrated by that is a normal human response. As is the temptation to ramp up your threats because nobody is taking you seriously. I was already curious about this movie and you’ve convinced me to go see it, which is one of the qualities of a good review! Well done!

  7. Your fresh takes on movies overall are the pieces that resonate most with me Athena – really appreciate them :)

    There was a Big Idea piece on here recently about female villains always needing to show motivation while with the males it was optional, which intrigued me.

    I think there is a place for reasonless villains (plot wise, they could just as easily be an asteroid on paths to destroy the earth, making the focus on the reaction rather than the threat), but I do generally prefer it if persons in my entertainment have actual personality.

  8. I think one of the scariest villains that has come forth in the latest superhero film/TV renaissance has to be the Purple Man, called Kilgrave, as appearing in Jessica Jones and played by David Tennant. He can control anyone’s mind and make them do any horrible thing. And he was oh so supervillain-crazy, so you never knew quite what he would do next. shudders

  9. I wonder if funny villains are realistic? I mean, think of whichever politicians you regard as basically villainous. (I concede some peoples’ lists will be different from mine, but that doesn’t matter). None of them appear to have any more sense of humor than a rabid raccoon.

    I think most of them are really boring in the way you describe, but they’re (sadly) real. Maybe a good villain has the right amount of unbelievability?

  10. Let’s not forget the OG comedic villain, The Joker

    His name is literally the Joker – and it seems people love him as a villain, if the sales of tickets to see his movies and sales of his comics are any indication.

    Of course his style of comedy is so cruel – but it could be argued that his style of comedy is just a bit further out on the spectrum of “practical joke” comedy that also includes things like Jackass

    This also feels like a good, if unintentional, companion piece to John’s new release – Starter Villain :-)

  11. Let’s see if I can keep this reasonably concise and still cover the ground….

    First, regarding the Joker: my Jokers are Cesar Romero (from the 1966 series) and Mark Hamill (from the 1990s animated series). And the reason is this: Romero and Hamill, albeit in very different ways, understood that the Joker’s particular virtue as a villain is, in fact, that he is all about embracing the funny. As much as I can give points to Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix for tour de force acting, I can’t watch their Jokers onscreen, because they have embraced the Joker’s insanity but not the essential funny that makes the character interesting. (There is a brilliant short story in one of the tie-in anthologies to the pre-Nolan Batman feature films, entitled “Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard”, that illustrates this point to the best possible effect.)

    There are certain actors who’ve also demonstrated genuine mastery at making villains iconic and watchable. Victor Buono, probably best remembered nowadays as “King Tut” from the ”66 Bat-series, is one of these. He turned up again as recurring villain “Mr. Schubert” in the short-lived series Man from Atlantis, but is also notable for having played a Fagin-like crime lord in the one and only color episode of Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason. Another, more recent example is Neil Patrick Harris (Dr. Horrible, the Music Meister from a standout episode of Batman: Brave and the Bold, Count Olaf in the Series of Unfortunate Events streaming series, and forthcoming as a yet-unrevealed Doctor Who nemesis).

    And turning to Doctor Who more generally, possibly the all-time most appealing villain(s) in film and television history is (are?) arguably the Master. My favorite iterations are those of Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley from the classic series, but Michelle Gomez’ version of the character from the modern iteration (“Missy”, to her “friends”) also deserves mention in this context.

  12. I just came down here to say my favorite villain is The Master from Doctor Who, but @John C. Bunnell reminds me how wonderful NPH’s Count Olaf was.

  13. One of the classic analysis lines is that the villain is the hero of their own story. But as has been said in these comments and in Athena’s writing, where does that leave Thanos? He does a 50 year reset and then goes and pounds rocks in a garden. Not much of a solution for pretty impressive genocide.

    Good villains are hard to come by, which is what makes a good villain all the better. I was bored out of my skull with Ant Man 3 and hold little hope for this phase of the MCU. The first two Ant Man movies were charming because of the support characters, the third blew it.

  14. Oooo! We’re talking about villains!

    1) I agree with you, Athena. A funny villain, done well (like The Spot), is a good thing. Some folks say The Spot was “too funny?” Do they understand the basic tone of Spiderman?

    2) I also agree that villains like MCU’s Thanos are boring. If a villain’s motivation falls apart under the stiff breeze of casual logical reasoning, then it was a shoddy construction to begin with.

    3) One the subject of GOOD villains: Magento, anyone? Give me a villain you aren’t really sure IS a villain! I’m not sure Magneto is wrong. With his power and background, and a world full of anti-mutant bigotry, violence, and exploitation, I might make the same choices he does. And a different kind of good villain: William Foster (from 1993’s Falling Down). He’s the protagonist, and the audience really roots for him in the beginning, but towards the end of the movie he (and the audience) has come to realize that HE is the villain. A very eye-opening epiphany that recontextualizes all “heroes.”

  15. That’s a good question. I have quite a few favorite villains, the Master and Davros from classic Dr Who, both mixed alien power with human weaknesses. As for comedic villains, Harry Mudd from classic Star Trek is one of my favorites, refreshingly human in such an alien universe! The comedic villains from Adam West’s Batman were also very endearing. So yes villains can have weaknesses and can also be comical. Not sure I have a favorite villain though, the more I think about them, the more pop into my mind. Cthulhu was very different, the powerful and sinister alien god type, like Thanos. Servalan from Blake’s Seven was by no means comical but very human, in contrast to the mechanical alien-ness of the Daleks. These all work too. Diversity among villains is always a good thing.

  16. I am belatedly reminded of one additional example of comedic villainy that should not go unmentioned here: John Colicos’ portrayal of Baltar, arch-foe of Battlestar: Galactica in the original series, who can chew scenery with the best even with his head half-covered by a combat helmet.

    As proof I offer this video clip, which includes what may be the single best punchline ever delivered by a robot (or at least in a robotic voice) in all science fiction history….

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