Some classic movie bad guys have great motivations, like Darth Vader ("corrupted by the Force"), Voldemort ("I don't have a nose") or the shark from Jaws ("I am a shark"). Others are just crazy, like the Joker.
But in a lot of cases, the bad guy is just an excuse for the hero to do stuff, and so the writers are forced to come up with some flimsy explanation for why this particular guy has chosen to do things that are bad ... even when there are much better and easier ways to accomplish what he wants. Like ...
5Up -- Charles Muntz
During the first few minutes of Up, we are introduced to the bad guy, Charles Muntz. He's a famous explorer who falls into disrepute after allegations that his latest find -- a skeleton of a never-before-seen bird -- was a fake. Muntz vows to prove his detractors wrong by capturing said bird and disappears into the South American wilderness. Some 70 years later, an old guy named Carl ties a bunch of balloons to his house and floats away in it.
It's a complicated film.
Carl, his floating house and a Boy Scout named Russell somehow make it to South America and inadvertently befriend the same strange-looking bird Charles Muntz has been looking for all these years. As a result, Muntz sets Carl's house on fire, kidnaps Russell and then tries to kill them both by sending an army of talking dogs to shoot them in little planes.
There's a pun somewhere in here.
The Pointless Evil:
And don't say, "Because he was evil!" Even in terms of carrying out an evil plan to kidnap a rare bird, it doesn't make sense.
Things turn ugly at first because Muntz thinks Carl and Russell have come to steal the bird and rob him of his discovery, but Carl's story should have been verified once Muntz realized that he really did travel to South America in a floating house (if he was telling the truth about that, we'd believe literally anything else he said).
It's because he's old. Once you lose the ability to poop, everyone must pay.
But even if Carl and Russell turned out to be black market bird dealers or something, Muntz could have easily negotiated an arrangement with them, since he only needed the bird temporarily (that is, long enough to show it to the public). He was only making things harder for himself by antagonizing the only people who actually knew where the bird was.
And they brought along their entire kitchen as a warning.
Even if he was afraid Carl would take the bird to civilization and claim credit, he didn't need to worry -- all that would do is vindicate Muntz's discovery from 70 years earlier (remember, he had a skeleton of one -- he was unquestionably the bird's discoverer). Also, at one point Russell casually tells Muntz about the bird's weakness for chocolate bars (literally the only reason it befriended them) and he does exactly nothing with this information. It would have made a lot more sense to rig a few chocolate-laden traps, sit back and wait for the bird to wander into one.
"I don't understand. When do the flying dogs come in, exactly?"
It doesn't make sense from any angle for him to chase and terrorize the bird's friends for half the movie. If he had bothered thinking this through instead of instantly jumping to canine homicide schemes, he could have saved himself a lot of trouble and a lot of money in ammo and doggy parachutes.
Also, teaching dogs to pilot aircraft is arguably a more significant achievement than finding any bird.
4First Blood -- The Hope Police Department
First Blood begins when Vietnam vet John Rambo wanders into the small town of Hope looking for a place to grab a bite. He happens to run into the sheriff, who makes fun of his jacket and tells him to go away. When Rambo refuses to leave the town, the sheriff arrests him for vagrancy. Things escalate, and soon the National Guard is shooting at Rambo with a rocket launcher.
In most other states, vagrancy warrants a small fine.
It's pretty clear that the sheriff is the antagonist here, but he was just trying (in his own assholish way) to protect his quiet little community from shady drifters, right? How was he supposed to know things would get so out of hand?
The Pointless Evil:
Actually, if that were the sheriff's motivation, the movie (and by extension the entire Rambo film franchise) would have lasted about 20 minutes. You see, after the cops start taunting and abusing Rambo in the police station, triggering his 'Nam flashbacks, he makes a run for the hills, and that should have been it: Rambo was no longer in the town. The sheriff got what he wanted. He could have turned around and gone back to, you know, actually doing his job.
"Time to give parking tickets to people without cars."
But no, for some reason he decides to keep going after Rambo in a Dukes of Hazzard-esque chase sequence through the outskirts. Maybe the sheriff wanted to get back the motorcycle that Rambo stole during his escape? Nope: Rambo drops it right before going into the woods, and as far as we know, the cops just left it there for the rest of the movie. But we're still within the realm of normalcy: The exact moment when things get out of hand is when the sheriff brings in a freaking helicopter to capture one guy whose only crime up to that point was defending himself from police abuse, borrowing a motorcycle and wearing a jacket with an American flag on it.
Didn't Arlo Guthrie write a song kind of like this?
At this point these small town cops are cracking jokes as they scour the area for Rambo with their high-powered rifles and killer dogs -- the only one who seems to think that devoting all their resources to chasing a hobo might not fall under his job description is the rookie played by David Carradine. It's perfectly possible, based on what we've seen, that all the others have made a habit of hunting drifters for sport.
And then, of course, the cop in the helicopter falls to his death while trying to shoot Rambo and all hell breaks loose. Rambo's jungle survival programming kicks in, and now he's the one hunting the cops ... but it really took a lot of effort on their part to even get him to this point.
"OK, let's all just take a breath and discuss what I believe to be a series of slight overreactions."
First Blood is a poignant tale about the American institutions' failure to reintegrate war veterans into society, and about how we shouldn't chase them with dogs and helicopters for absolutely no reason. We agree, movie!
Actually, this isn't the only Stallone villain to lack any kind of motivation for what he does ...