The Bad Guys Comes with a Great Message. (And It’s Fun, Too.)

The Bad Guys Comes with a Great Message. (And It’s Fun, Too.) April 22, 2022

From The Bad Guys, screen shot courtesy Universal Pictures trailer

The Bad Guys are just the worst.

The Ocean’s Eleven-like crime team is made of the sorts of critters we’ve always known were up to no good. Mr. Wolf and his kind have huffed and puffed their way into many a story—and never as the hero. His best friend, Mr. Snake, comes from a lineage that’s been looked down on (literally) since the Garden of Eden. Mr. Shark, Mr. Piranha and Ms. Tarantula (known to her friends as “Webs”) round out a team that would give many a human the heebie-jeebies.

Everybody always thought of them as villains. So why not live up to the label? And, in a land that seems populated mostly by humans, these anthropomorphic critters are the most feared crooks and ne’er-do-wells around.

They’ve gotten their share of ill-gotten gains. Now, Wolf has his beedy little eyes on the team’s biggest heist yet: The Golden Dolphin, a gleaming award set to be given to a philanthropic Guinea pig, professor Marmalade.

But a curious thing happens as the Bad Guys try to cement their place in the villainy hall of fame: Wolf discovers the curious joy of doing something good.

As wolf tries to pocket the purse of an old woman attending the philanthropic gala (where the Golden Dolphin will be given), the woman nearly takes a tumble down a flight of stairs. Only Wolf—and his hold on that purse—saves the woman from injury. He sets her upright and the woman is deeply grateful. “I may be dizzy, but I’m alive,” she says. “Thanks to you. You’re such a good boy.”

That little bit of praise sets Wolf’s tail a-wagging—a new sensation for Mr. Wolf. And from that point forward, this big bad villain wonders what it might be like to be good.

The Bad Guys isn’t a particularly deep movie. And you don’t want to get too theological with it, either: If you follow the redemption arc of Wolf and his cronies, it’d lead you to believe that doing good is the same as being good. And while there’s some truth to that, we also know that it goes deeper than that.

But what I especially like about The Bad Guys—in addition to it being just flat-out fun—is that redemptive story arc itself: The idea that people (and anthropomorphic animals) can change.

The movie tells us that our Bad Guys didn’t have much of a shot at being good. They were looked at as bad guys from birth, because of what they looked like.

But we have to remember that they lived up to their looks. They leaned into what people expected of them.

And yet, they weren’t beyond saving. They weren’t beyond redemption.

“Even trash can be recycled into something beautiful,” Wolf is told. That, in my eyes, is the line in which the rest of the movie revolves—and where we can take its most important lesson. The thing is, biblically, we’re all trash.

Some scholars believe that Gehenna—a word synonymous with hell—was, in Jesus’ day, a Jerusalem trash dump, where refuse was perpetually being burned. That’s what folks do with trash quite often: They burn it. Why? It’s not good for anything.

That’s what we are without God’s help: Trash.

But God salvages us from the trash heap and turns us into something better. Something beautiful. And being that beautiful thing involves what Wolf and his friends eventually uncover on their own: Turning our backs on our old, bad ways. Doing good. Making the world a better place, be that in little or big ways.

The Bad Guys reminds us that just because we repent of our formal evil habits, that doesn’t mean we’ll escape punishment. There are still consequences for our actions. But it does tell us what “being good” looks like—both culturally and biblically.

At one point, Snake gives Shark a little something to make him feel better. The other gang members are aghast: That’s doing good, they say.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Snake says. “I was simply making a sacrifice so that Shark could be happy.”

“That’s the actual definition of good,” Webs tells him. And so it is.

Being good is about being sacrificial. It’s about putting someone else’s needs above our own—just as Jesus did for us.

The Bad Guys doesn’t invoke the name of Jesus, of course. But it gets at what it means to be good, and more importantly, what it means to be saved.

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