After a decade of development and false starts, the big-screen adaptation of Stephen King's beloved fantasy series The Dark Tower will hit theaters this Friday. The film follows gunslinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) as he travels through the parallel dimension known as Mid-World and modern-day New York City, attempting to reach the titular structure in order to save the world from extinction.
Along the way, Roland must also continue his centuries-long fight against the evil sorcerer known as the Man in Black (Matthew Mc Conaughey) and stop him from bringing down the tower.
When director Nikolaj Arcel came on to the film in 2015, he felt McConaughey was the perfect actor for the antagonist, drawing parallels between the character's shape-shifting abilities and the Oscar-winning actor's talent for doing "anything." Arcel, 44, recently opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about McConaughey's reasons for taking the role after receiving the script for the film:
He loved there's no excuse for his badness. He is pure evil. He wants chaos. That is something he grabbed onto and felt was fun.
McConaughey, 47, has very few villain roles under his belt, the most recent being the titular role in the 2011 Southern black comedy Killer Joe as a contract killer/police detective who takes alternative — and disturbing — methods of payment when his clients don't have cash. While the few bad guys he's played usually have understandable motivations for their actions, the actor was drawn to the Dark Tower role for the opposite reason:
What was fun for us was [the Man in Black] is — and always will be in all the Stephen king movies — just plain effing evil. There's no excuse.
In an age of comic book and horror supervillains being fleshed out to have redeeming qualities, this characterization of pure evil on screen without any justification is not only a fresh sight for viewers, but also staying true to the nature of the novels. Most recently, Spider-Man: Homecoming's Vulture has been lauded by critics and fans for being a very relatable character with motives that kind of make sense. Keaton opened up in a Variety article about how his character both was and wasn't a villain, mentioning there were moments the audience could "see his point."
Even recent gruesome adaptations of graphic novels have done a great job of delivering villains whose dastardly deeds have a sense of morality behind them. One key example is Fox's newly blossoming spy franchise, Kingsman, loosely based on the graphic novel series of the same name by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. In the first film, villain Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) may have brainwashed people to kill one another, but his motives were actually honorable: hoping to cure the world's overpopulation problem before it's too late.
In the upcoming sequel, Kingsman The Golden Circle, set to release on September 22, co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn sought to bring this same sort of logic (however twisted) to the British agency's newest antagonist, Poppy (Julianne Moore). Vaughn illustrated Poppy as "Martha Stewart on crack" in an interview with EW:
She has a speech where she goes, ‘Sugar is 10 times more addictive than cocaine. It causes more death and misery in America. Yet one is legal. Peddle that s— and you’re in the Forbes 500. Peddle coke and you’re in jail. What the f—!’ So the points she’s making are not insane.
Despite its notorious reputations as a rough start to Universal's Dark Universe, one of the positive aspects 2017's The Mummy had going for it was its attempts at making the titular villain a sympathetic character. She wanted to reclaim the throne that was rightfully promised to her in life. Although killing her father, his wife and their child might seem a bit barbaric, the motivations behind it are something many people can sympathize with her for.
As for The Dark Tower, although a villain without any kind of justification or motivation — just evil for the sake of evil — might go against the recent trend, the Man in Black's lack of any redeeming qualities will make him all the more intriguing to watch when The Dark Tower hits theaters on August 4.
(Sources: The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, EW, EW)