After a life dedicated to crime and all the trials that come with it, how come movie henchmen so often find themselves killed with a single punch?
Jeff was a normal kid with a normal life. School failed him, crime suited him, and it didn’t take long for evil masterminds like Dr. Terrible to notice. One day, Dr. Terrible appeared to Jeff and asked him to join him as a henchman. Jeff accepted gladly – he didn’t have much else going on – and quickly rose through the henchmen ranks. In no time at all Jeff had risen from Front Line Bad Guy, to Just About Front Line Bad Guy, to Front Line Bad Guy Coordinator, and finally to Doctor Terrible’s Personal Guard Unit.
Often, the life of a movie henchman leads up to one moment: getting killed by a light punch from the main character
One blustery Tuesday evening, Jeff was protecting The Doctor, as his job prescribed, when he was alerted that a team very similar to The Avengers but not The Avengers for copyright reasons were attacking The Doctor’s lair. Jeff leapt into action when the good guys arrived. He pulled his Terrible Staff and spun it in a showy display of pro-henchmanship as he ran toward a character very similar to, but not the same as, Black Widow. Sort Of Black Widow took one step to the side and deftly laid a fist into Jeff’s chest. That was all it took. Jeff fell to the ground and with his last breath gasped, “Killed by Sort Of Black Widow? She’s not even a first-rate super hero!” Jeff died right there on the spot, his entire life leading up to this moment: getting killed by a light punch from a main character.
A few days ago I finally got around to seeing Star Trek Into Darkness. It’s a great film (the new Star Trek franchise is one of the better reboots out there), but there’s a scene in the movie that prompted me to write this article. Specifically, the Khan vs. The Klingon Squad fight scene which is embedded below. Check out the scene and then read on. Seriously, I’ll wait.
So we can infer that as this particular Klingon Squad was dispatched as the vanguard force to deal with these human intruders on the planet that they must have been pretty well trained, right? The best of the best, right? These guys all individually led lives that brought them through childhood, adulthood, henchmen school and all the normal trials and tribulations of life to this one point where they meet the main characters of the story and Captain Kirk dispatches them with a single punch or bullet.
Movie henchmen need guns that shoot Plot Bullets. It could change the shape of the story of a character that’s merely an obstacle
It’s dreadfully sad, and it doesn’t apply to just bad guys; look at Jazz in Michael Bay’s Transformers. All we really get from Jazz is a few bumbling lines before he’s snapped in two by Megatron, yet he was Optimus Prime’s right hand man. So why do these henchmen get offed so easily? Maybe henchmen really are just a dime-a-dozen cheap help. Maybe they’re just cocky and untrainable. Or maybe we should blame the evil geniuses that put these henchmen on their payroll.
Apparently movie villains train their closest bodyguards with nothing more than grade-school level karate moves and guns that fire blanks. A few friends of mine have a theory that what our movie henchmen need are guns that shoot Plot Bullets – you know, bullets that actually have an effect on the plot of the story. Maybe armed with weapons that could change the shape of a story our henchmen could be more than just an obstacle in the path of a superhero. It seems that henchmen really are, simply, an obstacle.
Jeff’s story is not unlike so many poor henchmen we see dying in movies and stories these days. Does anyone stop to think about the henchmen whose lives are ended by a single punch? What’s their back story? What happens to their henchmen families? Is there a person who knocks on the door of that henchman’s house to inform the wife that a superhero sneezed in her husband’s general direction and now he’s dead? Who cleans up all those dead henchmen bodies? Is there a huge funeral business in bad guy land?
There are so many questions about what happens to these under-appreciated baddies. This article should serve as a heads up to all the screenwriters out there: If you’re going to create a movie universe in the digital age where we question what even the road signs in the background of shots could mean for the plot, then we sure need a little more story to the throngs of characters being demolished in seconds. The thousands of Persian soldiers who died at the hands of Leonidas and the 300 at least felt well trained, even if they were not fleshed out characters, and it’s rare that we see henchmen that make sense like that.
All images: Paramount