Many screenwriters write pages and pages of a script, only to realize that their villain is either too weak, too strong, or just not the right villain for the hero. Imagine Rocky trying to fight against Darth Vader or the pig from “Babe” trying to battle Godzilla. It won’t work because the hero and villain are completely unbalanced.
What makes a great villain isn’t some purely evil person, but someone who’s the evil version of the hero. It’s that simple.
When the hero is forced to fight against the evil version of him or herself, then the hero not only must defeat the villain, but must also face his or her greatest fears at the same time. It’s no surprise that in “Star Wars,” Luke is fighting against his own father (Darth Vader). That’s because Luke is struggling to gain more confidence in himself, yet Darth Vader is loaded with confidence in himself. Luke must not only gain confidence but must also make sure that his confidence doesn’t turn him into an evil person like Darth Vader.
That’s the real purpose of making your villain an evil version of the hero. That forces the hero to gain the skill and power of the villain without getting sucked into the negative aspects of that skill and power. Luke must always be wary of going over to the dark side.
Perhaps no movie demonstrates this principle of the villain as the evil version of the hero better than “James vs. His Future Self,” which is about a hero on the verge of inventing time travel when his future self comes back in time to tell him not to do it because it will ruin his life.
Now the hero must battle against his future self and decide between pursuing his dream of inventing time travel or pursuing a life filled with people he loves and who love him in return.
The hero, a scientist named James, is full of doubt and is insecure. Yet his future self (the villain) is loaded with confidence and completely secure in who he is and what he needs to do. James must battle his future self to avoid becoming just like his future self, alone, isolated, and feeling like he worked so hard that he missed the chance to actually enjoy life.
Think of any great movie and you’ll find the villain has everything the hero wants but is evil. In “Rocky,” Rocky wants to prove to the world that he’s not a bum. So the villain, Apollo Creed, has already gained the respect of the world, which is exactly what Rocky wants. Apollo Creed is faster and a better boxer than Rocky.
Imagine if Rocky tried to fight Godzilla or a fleet of alien spaceships. Because the villain isn’t matched against the hero, that type of conflict wouldn’t work. The villain really isn’t there to fight the hero so much as the villain is there to force the hero to change.
In “James vs. His Future Self,” his future self actually teaches James how to meditate, how to enjoy life, and how to care for others. So from James’s point of view, his future self is keeping him from inventing time travel, his future self is really teaching James what he needs to learn, which is that life is to be enjoyed and anything that takes you away from enjoying life is what’s truly evil.
When writing your own screenplay, keep this idea of the villain as the evil version of the hero. That will keep the villain’s conflict with the hero evenly balanced and force the hero to literally face him or herself to shed the old way of life and become a newer and better person in the end.