I enjoyed Hattori Hanzo’s warning at the tail end of Kill Bill Part 1: “Revenge is never a straight line. It’s a forest, And like a forest it’s easy to lose your way… To get lost… To forget where you came in.” That is, it’s easy to lose at revenge. Not only could you be overwhelmed by a cast of colorful antagonists, but you might just start half-assing it, get bored, get distracted. Then at some point you’ve made a few new movies and forgot about the director’s cut where you were going to assemble part one and part two into a single movie and sell it.
Darth Sidious in Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Good ol’ Sidious is one of my favorite villains in movies. He has spent years (decades? centuries?) pulling strings and manipulating the weaker-willed. He’s gained considerable political power, all under the noses of his greatest enemies. And those guys are assholes, they kill all of his friends on sight. No wonder he wants some revenge.
Most importantly he has managed to get into a position where he has molded every conflict in such a way that any outcome can benefit him. One apprentice lives, another dies, a secret plan is discovered, another isn’t, the enemy’s prize pupil is corrupted to his ends, war is declared so the strength of his enemies’ armies is wasted against another potential rival. It’s all good.
It’s no surprise that by the time of Episode III, when he is pulling some major triggers, not to mention slaying the galaxy’s mightiest heroes without a sweat, he’s feeling pretty good about himself. He’s giddy! He’s gleeful! He’s having the time of his life! What’s the point in revenge if you can’t enjoy yourself while you’re getting it?
Lady Kaede in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran
Speaking of machinations, speaking of kingdom-shattering revenge, I love Kaede’s persistent efforts to undermine the kingdom. She had been in a family that had rivaled this version of King Lear, and made to marry one of his sons. She set son against son and doddering dad, wiping out nearly the whole family. Scorched earth to answer for scorched earth. She lived just long enough to see her efforts come to fruition.
Tommy gets whacked, eventually, for killing Billy Batts in Goodfellas. Henry Hill wanted to be a gangster for as long as he could remember because they got do whatever they wanted. Turns out there are consequences for doing whatever they wanted. Revenge!
something something Jim Caviezel in the Count of Monte Cristo. Revenge!