This web series featuring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day, and Simon Helberg was excellently executed as a comical look at how we define a hero and a villain. The characters are well crafted and demonstrate the stereotypes we are used to while also showing a shift in perception of them. I’m going to analyze the characters to show this shift.
The movie was written in three parts by writer/director Joss Whedon, his brothers Zack and Jed Whedon, and writer/actress Maurissa Tancharoen. Since this was written for the web the characters are easy to read. The dialogue is succinct and to the point. Not much subtext. You can tell right away what they are feeling and what they want. On the surface the characters are stereotypical. Their personas are very clearly defined: Super villain, Super Hero, Damsel in Distress. Their dialogue and even their body language suggest this. Dr. Horrible starts the movie with an evil laugh. He uses words like nemesis and he also uses a skulking posture. Captain Hammer has the chest puffed out posture of the garden-variety super hero. He often stands with his arms to his side. He talks with a confident swagger. Penny has the mousey gentle nature of innocence when she moves and talks. Her entire motivation is to help the homeless.
Dr. Horrible is our protagonist and his motivation and ultimate goal is to make it into the Evil League of Evil so he will gain the respect he desires and finally be good enough for Penny. Captain Hammer is the antagonist and main obstacle to meeting his goal. However, because Dr. Horrible has romantic feelings for Penny, she affects him on a mental and emotional level. He loses confidence around her and this causes him to lose focus. She becomes an obstacle for him as he is trying to get into the league, he begins spending time stalking her and Captain Hammer on their dates. It could also be said that she could even talk him out of joining the Evil League of Evil. She showed disgust when he mentioned that he wanted to be like Bad Horse the Leader of the League. He had to quickly change it to Gandhi.
From the very beginning we find out that Dr. Horrible is not really evil he just wants to change the world because he doesn’t like the way people are treated. As he says, “The status is definitely not.. quo.” He is shown to be sensitive and caring through his interactions with Penny and his first song about her. Also, when he tells Johnny snow that there are kids in that park, and when he shows disgust at Moist’s suggestion to kill a kid or strangle an old woman. Dr. Horrible becomes evil at the end. Penny’s death changes him. He has become unfeeling. He is shown robbing a bank with moist. Then he is shown in a new red lab coat and black gloves. This is a stark contrasts to his all white costume.
By the end of the story Dr. Horrible has a new place of rest that reveals what he has lost to be in the Evil League of Evil. He is focused and more adept at robbing as he we see in the successful bank heist mentioned earlier. He has confidence and respect of his peers as he enters the private chambers of the Evil League of Evil. The faces of the other members show admiration and respect. In the last shot we see Dr. Horrible in normal clothes in his lab where he does the video blog. He looks lost and unfeeling. His eyes look haunted as he sings the last line, “I won’t feel a thing.” Before in his blogs we could see his hope fullness as he spoke of his future. Now there is nothing for him to look forward to. Penny is gone.
Penny, the damsel in distress, chose the wrong character as her hero. From the very beginning it is clear that she has chose wrong. She loses some of her innocence to Captain Hammer. She is taken by his outward exterior and because she thinks he saved her life. She does begin to see he isn’t what he seems. He embarrasses her at the dedication when he says they totally had sex. She sneaks off stage. However, she still trust him because right before she dies she tells Dr. Horrible it will be ok Captain Hammer will save us. Ultimately her trust leads to her death.