Everyone loves a redemption story, right? That’s why, over the years, the movies have offered redemption arcs for some of the worst characters imaginable, be it the priest-killing hitman of In Bruges to an actual real-life Nazi in Schindler’s List. And now DreamWorks Animation brings us a tale of redemption for what it assures us are the worst characters in the world, The Bad Guys.
Okay, it’s an animated kids’ movie, so The Bad Guys aren’t anywhere near as horrible as hired killers or Hitler supporters, but in the movie’s fictional setting they are the most wanted criminals in the world. The Bad Guys, as the police and press have dubbed them, consist of roguish leader Big Bad Wolf (yes, that Big Bad Wolf), his right-hand man Mr. Snake, tech expert Ms. Tarantula (aka Webs), lunkheaded muscle Mr. Shark, and the short-tempered often flatulent Mr. Piranha. If those names give off Tarantino vibes, rest assured that is absolutely on purpose.
However, unlike in Reservoir Dogs, these are not really code names. The Bad Guys are anthropomorphic animals whose very appearance adds to their menace. Being representatives of some of the most feared creatures in existence, The Bad Guys have embraced their various species’ reputations and now live for nothing but crime, profit, and mayhem. Go bad or go home is their motto, or at least it is until circumstances surrounding their biggest caper yet causes some doubt to creep in.
Goaded by a personal insult, The Bad Guys have decided to steal the hereunto un-stealable Golden Dolphin, a statuette awarded to the winner of the annual Good Samaritan Award. To pull off this theft which all others have failed at, they conceive an elaborate Ocean’s Eleven stye heist which comes oh so close to succeeding. Everything falls apart at the last second though, leaving The Bad Guys in the hands of the authorities for the first time in their careers.
Quickly devising a scheme to avoid prison, Wolf appeals to the good graces of Professor Marmalade, the winner of the Good Samaritan Award whom the press insists is second only to Mother Teresa in his philanthropy (Marmalade insists he’s actually tied with the Saint, but who wants to pick hairs?). Wolf alleges The Bad Guys have only pursued evil because people expect them to do so based on their physical appearance. He claims that with the professor’s benevolent guidance The Bad Guys can leave their evil ways behind and become instead… The Good Guys.
So begins the redemption story for our titular non-heroes. Or does it? Like any caper movie worth its salt, not all is as it seems in The Bad Guys. There are twists and turns, including unexpected betrayals and some unlikely alliances. For the youngsters it’s a nice primer for the tropes of the caper genre. For grown-ups who have seen more than a few such flicks, the ‘surprises’ will be seen coming a mile away. Even so, the movie can still be enjoyed for the occasional laugh and the many callbacks to everything from The Italian Job to Mad Max (which isn’t really a caper movie but does have a very cool car).
It’s not all about the action, though. Scattered amongst the snarky humor and numerous chase scenes, there are moments where various characters experience pangs of conscience, a growing awareness of others, and the need for penance. And yes, in the end, there is redemption.
In a 2019 article in Psychology Today, Josué Cardona M.S notes how vital redemption stories are. “We need them,” he writes, “to help us see the potential in others, and ourselves, to grow, move beyond our mistakes, and not let past actions hold us back.” Christians will naturally see an even deeper meaning in this inherent need for redemption stories. Thanks to the events of Holy Week, redemption isn’t just about the simple atoning for a fault or mistake, it’s about complete freedom from the bondage of sin and the possibility of eternal life in the presence of God. Of course, The Bad Guys doesn’t go anywhere near that deep into the subject; it’s still a Hollywood movie after all. All things considered, though, redemption is at the heart of the movie’s narrative, and that makes The Bad Guys a fairly decent family movie for the Easter Season.