We all love a fictional villain. Darth Vader, the Daleks, the Joker, Khan, Agent Smith, Villanelle, Megatron, Kent Mansley, the Overlords, Hela, Yubaba, Kylo Ren, Thanos, Cersei Lannister, Biff Tannen, President Snow, Moriarty, WICKED, Voldemort, Mr. Burns… the list goes on and on and on!
You may have noticed how many of these are from science fiction, a genre that is recognised by Will Becher, co-director of A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon) for “its iconic villains”. Therefore, as a family film with a sci-fi theme, Farmageddon has followed in these footsteps with Agent Red: a suit-wearing boss lady who works for an alien-obsessed organisation.
On the surface, the character of Agent Red draws inspiration from Men in Black, Agent Smith (The Matrix), Kent Mansley (The Iron Giant) and E.T.—especially the last two, in which the villains are government agents hell-bent on capturing and exposing extra-terrestrial activity. So let’s take a closer look at Agent Red and her complexities, and see where she fits into the sci-fi tradition.
Firstly, Agent Red is a girl. Traditionally speaking, there are much fewer female sci-fi villains than there are male. The few that came to mind for me were Missy or Cassandra (Doctor Who), Mystique (X-Men) and maybe the Bene Gesserit sisterhood (Dune). I’d love to see more female villains so Farmageddon is definitely a step in the right direction.
Another aspect of Agent Red that is really interesting is her three-dimensionality. Richard Phelan, co-director, states: “She’s not cruel, she’s driven. She’s misunderstood.” Plain baddies are fun, yes, but complicated villains are also interesting (and perhaps more realistic!). Take for example Robert Callaghan from Big Hero 6 who, driven by the trauma of losing his daughter, turns into the supervillain Yokai to seek revenge. There is an understandable motive which fleshes out his character a bit more. Similarly, throughout the X-Men franchise there are several complex characters such as Wolverine or Mystique. In X-Men: First Class we see Mystique on the side of Charles Xavier and the series of events that led her to join Magneto. In revealing backstories like these, characters gain more depth. Therefore, the emotional connection that motivates Agent Red makes her a more rounded character, maybe even more understandable.
Finally, villains just aren’t as much fun without a useless sidekick. Although it’s not science fiction, I think the reason that The Emperor’s New Groove is one of my favourite films is because of the charmingly hapless character Kronk (wrong lever!!). In Farmageddon we have the Hazmats, described by editor Sim Evan-Jones as “a comedic troupe that acts almost like a single character […], like idiots.” Frustrating Agent Red at every turn, they fulfil this role perfectly by providing comic relief and lots of fun.
From continuous classic sci-fi references to silly Hazmat clowning, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is fun for all the family. The film is in cinemas now.