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Villainous Valour
aka: Villainous Valor

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Did they really think that Darth Vader would yield?

"I will not yield,
To kiss the ground before Young Malcolm's feet,
And to be baited with the rabble's curse.
Though Birnam Wood be come to Dunsinane,
And thou opposed, being of no woman born,
Yet I will try the last. Before my body
I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff;
And damned be him that first cries: 'Hold, enough!'"
Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 8.
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This is one method for avoiding doldrums from having an Invincible Hero. Scenes of Villainous Valor show the antagonists to be outmatched, forcing them to rely on daring, cunning, skill and determination to hold their own against the heroes, or at least go out with a little dignity. They sometimes even continue a hopeless battle for higher reasons than spite! This often results in a tense back-and-forth as the heroes' raw power is set against whatever the villains brought.

Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, but the mark of Villainous Valor is that it sees the "bad guys" using tropes that you wouldn't expect from them. In fact, if you were just tuning in, you might even be confused about who you're expected to root for. A fight between the Knight in Shining Armor and The Dragon with his Spikes of Villainy will often leave you cheering for The Hero, but what if The Dragon locks swords with the hero and gets between the hero and his master, to allow him time to escape? The scene changes completely.

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This often appears in shows where the villains are sympathetic or the heroes questionable. Nevertheless, this is not a trope about viewer sympathy so much as bravery, ingenuity and skill on the part of a villainous underdog. If the villains are acting more like the soon-to-be-slaughtered protagonists of a horror film, we might be looking at a Mook Horror Show instead. Contrast David vs. Goliath, where the hero is the weaker one.

This valour may show up more easily in an Evil vs. Evil fight. The Badass Normal villain may be arrogant, determined, sure of himself and Defiant to the End against the Badass Normal hero, but what if he has to fight against an Eldritch Abomination? Perhaps he is defeated easily, just to prove that the eldritch abomination means business. Or perhaps... he will be arrogant, determined, sure of himself and defiant to the end, even in the face of armageddon. In that case, he may earn our admiration, and if he even manages to punch out or scam the eldritch abomination, even more so.

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Compare Worthy Opponent. See also Evil Virtues. This sort of behavior is the staple of the Noble Demon.

This trope also has a complicated relationship with Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work, wherein villains are capable of being depicted committing actions that are from a logical point of view beneficial to the protagonist and also entirely necessary, but would conflict with a protagonist's moral code; when the villain does this in a self-sacrificing or at the very least supremely cool manner, then it combines the two tropes. However as often as not, the villain really is doing actually reprehensible things that just also happen to require astonishing resolve and bravery to pull off.


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    Comic Strips 
  • In Chester Gould's Dick Tracy, once the villains' evil plans have been foiled, they often end up going on the run, and are usually quite ingenious in their attempts to get away. This sometimes makes them seem sympathetic, even if we've seen them acting like monsters earlier in the story; Gould was certainly savvy enough to play this up deliberately (such as when the injured Brow is taken in by Gravel Gertie, or when Sleet gets blackmailed while hiding out), but then the villains usually get a couple of Kick the Dog moments during the chase, just so we don't forget who we're supposed to be rooting for.

    Fan Works 
  • This is the focus of The TSAB – Acturus War. The Democratic Republic of Acturus cannot win against the Bureau, but it will do its best to bleed the enemy out as far as possible.
  • In The Service has more than one comment on the bravery and discipline of the common New Belkan soldier. No matter how badly the situation around them goes, no matter how little chance there is they will survive the effort, they will carry out their orders. Some characters think them brave far beyond the point of stupidity. Others think they're the finest soldiers the universe has ever seen, with some of the worst training and leadership.
  • Inner Demons: One must give Trixie credit — she will do anything to fulfill Queen!Twilight Sparkle's orders, no matter what. This is best demonstrated during the Battle of Fillydelphia, where Trixie takes on all of the protagonists at once, invoking the Storm Avatar spell to fight them. Even after the spell drains her and she's been knocked down by the heroes, she — beaten and barely conscious — forces herself to keep going long enough to at least partially fulfill Queen!Twilight's orders by nearly killing Rarity.
  • Two cases occur in short order in the very first episode of White. First the titular character (A hollow Ichigo) fights an entire shinigami squad and two captains both as revenge for his fellow hollows they slew and to protect Raptor, an adjucha who was leading them. After White and Raptor escape, the latter asks the former to eat him, acknowledging himself as "just a stepping stone on [White's] path to greatness", only asking that White use his power to destroy the shinigami.
  • In Team Four Star's Hellsing Ultimate Abridged, after Walter and Seras subdue Jan Valentine, there's this exchange:
    Walter: Now, you are going to tell me everything I want to know.
    Jan: Alright, what you do is, you go down to the local pharmacy, you ask for something called Viagra, and it'll help you GO FUCK YOURSELF!
  • Eugenesis: When Siren and Death's Head corner Haxian to retrieve the Matrix, he seemingly shoots himself rather than fight them. Than they go to get the Matrix and Haxian's body violently explodes, mortally wounding Siren; Haxian had known he was done for and rigged himself to explode in a desperate attempt to keep the Autobots from stopping his leader.
  • Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters has an example in Bartholomew Chang, who absolutely refuses to let the Guardians defeat him during the fight in the subway tunnels. It takes Nimue shattering his Gauntlet of Indra for him to finally cut his losses and run.
  • In My Huntsman Academia, one particularly driven White Fang grunt rushes at Izuku after he knocked out the White Fang's commander at Fisk Port. Izuku expects the grunt to go down in a couple of hits like the others had, but this grunt somehow manages to deflect Izuku's 10% Full Cowl attacks with sheer determination. The grunt continues to rant about the Fang's cause and doesn't let up until Sun and Blake knock him out from behind.
  • Hellsister Trilogy: At the end of "The Apokolips Agenda", Darkseid's plan has been ruined, his army has been routed and he has been surrounded by a squad of powerful heroes. What does he do? He decides to take all of them out. And he nearly succeeds.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the film Mulan, there's a reason why Shan Yu is nowadays considered one of the most badass of Disney villains: he's strong enough to easily break down a barricaded door or effortlessly slice through a massive pillar with his sword. He's also very proud of his army, as shown at the beginning when he thought it was perfect that all of China knew they were coming after the signal fire was lit, and when he flatly refused to avoid the Imperial troops and instead opted to take them head on, knowing that they are the elite of China's armies.
  • Frozen: The two soldiers sent by the Duke of Weselton to kill Queen Elsa. They go up against a virtual demigod with nothing but crossbows. Then, Prince Hans of the Southern Isles saves them from the wrath of Elsa's cryokinetic death spikes, even as his real intent is to secure the throne of Arendelle by getting rid of Elsa.
  • Yzma in The Emperor's New Groove is a comedic villain, but at one point she pursues the heroes down the high sheer wall of a castle via improvised bungee-jumping.
  • Another comedic example is in Incredibles 2, with a raccoon who will not back down from his garbage-can raiding, even when facing a superhero baby whose powers include laser-beam eyes, turning into a miniature ogre, and bursting into flame.
  • Ruber in Quest for Camelot is a psychotic (but quite human) murderer who faces down and kills an enormous threatening dragon with his bare hands.
  • Megamind certainly qualifies, at least according to Roxanne Ritchi:
    "The Megamind I knew would never have run from a fight, even one he knew he had absolutely no chance of winning. It was your best quality. You need to be that guy right now."
    • Played with here, however, in that she says that as Megamind is about to complete his Heel–Face Turn, but it is still an accurate description of his past behavior.
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns has the Mutant Leader. When Batman shows up at the mutants' lair in his giant tank of a Batmobile and begins taking out his minions, the Leader discovers that he's been using rubber bullets, which prompts the Leader to walk up to the Batmobile... and start mouthing off to Batman, calling him a coward for not being willing to kill and challenging him to fight man-to-man and in the ensuing fight, he would have nearly killed Batman had Robin not intervened, and even in their second fight where Batman has the upper hand and begins fighting strategically, the Leader still holds his own. He may be a violent psychopath, but anyone willing to take on the goddamn Batman has some serious brass ones.
    Mutant Leader: All this metal, and you don't even use it to kill! It's just a shell to keep you safe?! What's the matter? Ain't you got the stomach for it?! I call you COWARD! Come out here and face me like a man! I kill you! I Eat. Your. Heart! Prove you can take me! Prove you can fight with your hands! Come on, man! You're boring me!
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Frollo gets a small moment of this in the climax, when the cathedral is under siege. He takes a sword off one of his mooks and uses it to hack through the (considerably heavy) wooden doors of the cathedral, braving a torrent of molten lead being poured down from the top by Quasimodo in doing so. When he gets to the top, he briefly wrestles with Quasi (who is half his age and demonstrably strong enough to shake the entire cathedral with his exertions) and he fights Quasi and swings with enough force to crack solid stone. Not bad for a lecherous, insane old creep.
  • Professor Zoom in Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is a despicable sociopath who has his own self preservation as top priority, and also happens to be dying due to having his brains blown out by Thomas Wayne in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. As such, he is using every ounce of the Speed Force to stretch out his death as long as possible so he can live a little longer, which makes him a determinator in his own right.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Almost certainly the reason for Spike's early popularity on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, being simultaneously the first vampire adversary of Buffy to be depicted as more than a soul-less monster, and the first to avoid the Curb Stomp Battles that were endemic in season one.
  • An episode of the classic World War II series Combat! called "The Cossack" had the most tenacious German soldier of all time. In the teaser, he fails to blow up a strategically important bridge during the German retreat, and tries to complete the task before the rest of the American army comes through. He infiltrates the local Church and disguises himself as the town priest. He manages to keep his disguise with all the Americans around him, making up cover stories for his German accent ("I'm Swiss.") and being near the bridge ("I'm going fishing.") on the fly, even managing to get away with killing the young Catholic GI who sees through him without anyone seeing. It was almost disappointing to see him fail in the end, he'd worked so hard up to that point.
  • Happens to Davros, of all people, in the Doctor Who story "Revelation of the Daleks". Even though he's as nasty as usual, it's hard not to respect him for having apparently found himself completely alone on the planet, with none of his usual allies, and still got himself into the top position.
    • This could apply to the Daleks themselves. No matter what The Doctor does to them, they still manage to keep themselves going.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Ramsay in the show is even more dangerous than the Ramsay of the books, as he has not only butchered his way through Yara's fifty best ironborn reavers, leading from the front without a stitching of clothing protecting his vital organs but also runs roughshod over Stannis's admittedly demoralised and outnumbered army and all without a single scratch on his person to show for it.
    • The battle sequence in "Spoils of War" is full of this. A Lannister warhost led by Jaime up against Daenerys and her Dothraki. The affair is a Curb-Stomp Battle for the Lannisters due to Drogon, but the Lannisters still manage to look awesome. Standouts include Bronn wounding Drogon with a ballista and nearly ending the war then and there, and then Jaime, seeing Daenerys dismounting Drogon and trying to remove the bolt, charging against the fully-grown dragon on horseback to strike her down. Ethically questionable incestuous dick he might be, the man is still a knight and a Living Legend.
    • Whatever his faults, Euron has no problem with getting his hands dirty and leads his men into battle from the front.
  • The villain team of every Power Rangers season usually has at least one member who gets this, although it's often during infighting. Several seasons have an evil General with a Dark Knight gimmick who takes his honor and principles very seriously.
    • A good example is Treacheron from Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, who keeps fighting against Leo despite being been badly injured and having his sword broken.
  • Bully Beatdown pits bullies against pro MMA fighters for the chance to win $10,000. Nobody likes bullies, but the deck is clearly stacked against them, and one can't help a twinge of admiration for those who hold their own and don't get stomped outright.
  • Alphas had a one-off villain called The Caretaker whose job it was to look after Mitchell, an Alpha with the ability to store anyone's memories inside his brain. When Hicks and Cat remove Mitchell from his holding location, The Caretaker comes charging after them. In terms of pure fighting ability, he's outmatched: Hicks has Super Reflexes and Kat, due to her superhuman muscle memory, has a number of devastating fighting moves (and has recently completed the entire FBI Academy course load in about two weeks, meaning she is now trained in the use of a firearm as well.) The Caretaker has one advantage though: A Healing Factor. The guy shrugs off getting shot, having his neck broken, and being rammed with a Mack truck all in the name of taking care of his charge. He only dies because Kat exploits the fact that he can't swim while healing.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Most people who face HHH or the Undertaker. Especially Undertaker. In general, this applies to whenever a beloved mid-carder with perceived superior skills goes up against an opponent they could not legitimately be expected to defeat for story reasons.
  • The best example for pro wrestling has to be the match between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Bret Hart at Wrestlemania XIII, where Austin went in as the heel. The sheer balls he showed throughout the entire match, fighting dirty like a heel but never acting cowardly like one, earned the fans' respect. When he refused to tap out to the Sharpshooter, face covered in blood and eventually passing out from the pain, the fans switched, and in one night, a Face/Heel Double-Turn was completed in one legendary match.
  • Subverted with Muhammad Hassan in 2005. A radicalized Arab-American from Detroit (although played by Italian-American wrestler Mark Copani), he certainly had good reason to be angered by anti-Arab prejudice at the height of the Iraq War. He denounced other Arab-Americans as Uncle Toms for being ashamed of their native culture, and would enter arenas in a Bedouin headdress and wailing loudly like a muezzin just to outrage bigoted audiences. He even seemingly had the courage to challenge Undertaker to a match for the Number One Contendership to Batista's World Heavyweight Championship at the Great American Bash in July, but Hassan was a lot more cowardly than he appeared at first glance: he took on Undertaker, yes, but only after garroting him with piano wire and having several black-clad, faceless "sympathizers" beat the tar out of him. 'Taker finally punished him by powerbombing him through the Buffalo arena's entrance ramp, apparently killing him (which was actually a result of Executive Meddling, since WWE thought that the character was in bad taste after a terrorist bombing in London).
  • Done twice with The Shield in 2013 alone; in both cases with Roman Reigns as a focal point:
    • On September 23rd the Authority (Triple H and Stephanie McMahon) essentially threw the Shield to the wolves by attempting to placate the aggrieved faces with an eleven-on-three elimination tag team match... though the Shield had tried to stack the odds by attacking members of the eleven-man face teamnote  beforehand, they too had to recover from a pre-match attack by the Rhodes brothers as well. Nevertheless they almost evened the odds with quick eliminations of five faces, with Reigns in particular eliminating Titus O'Neill, Justin Gabriel and Zack Ryder with spears in less than a minute without tagging out. It would take Daniel Bryan dropkicking Ambrose and Rollins to isolate Reigns before the faces were able to outnumber him just enough to pin him, the sheer Oh, Crap! look on Ambrose and Rollins' faces at the sight of this — the only time that Reigns was pinned in his time on the main WWE rosternote  — signalling that the tide had irrevocably turned; Ambrose and Rollins would go on to eliminate Darren Young, and after Ambrose's elimination Rollins eliminated R-Truth as well before finally being overwhelmed by the remaining Ziggler, Uso brothers and Bryan.
    • On November 24th at Survivor Series, the Shield were paired with The Real Americansnote  against Jimmy and Jey Uso, Cody and Dustin "Goldust" Rhodes, and Rey Mysterio. When Dean Ambrose argued with the ref over a call, Cody Rhodes rolled him up for a quick elimination after which The Real Americans were dispatched in short order as well, leaving Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins alone against a still-intact face quintet. Cue Reigns going on a tear by single-handedly taking out Cody Rhodes and Jimmy Uso with spears, Seth Rollins taking out Jey Uso with a curbstomp before himself going down, Reigns quickly avenging Rollins by spearing Goldust, and then intercepting an attempted 619 by Rey Mysterio with... you guessed it, a fourth spear, leaving Reigns the sole survivor.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Though the Imperium is most often presented as crumbling, it is still the most powerful faction in Warhammer 40,000. In stories set from the 'Evil' faction's POV, we can often see just how much firepower the Imperials can bring to bear against them, and the fact that it's a Crapsack Galaxy for them too.
    • In the Inquisitor guide Using Space Marines, the author recommends this as a way to deal with ludicrously powerful Space Marine PCs. We are reminded that Space Marines don't sneak about, so the enemy will likely have plenty of chances to lay ambushes and traps before the rampaging behemoth.
    • The Lost and the Damned get this a lot. At least the Imperial Guard can claim to have the backing of a galaxy-spanning superpower. The Lost and the Damned are just the dregs and scum of the universe, fighting with ramshackle equipment for patrons who would just as soon as use them as Human Sacrifice. That takes a lot of guts... or perhaps just a lot of insanity (which is more likely given this is Chaos we're talking about).
  • Tucker's Kobolds are a textbook case. Even though they were no match for the high-level adventurers in a straight fight, they used the terrain to their advantage and set up a variety of clever traps to make the PCs' lives hell.
  • Most Rocket Age villains tend to have some very admirable traits, even the Nazis. One is an absolute gentleman for example, while another might be unspeakably brave despite his cruelty. However their deficiencies in... other areas tend to leave them somewhat less palatable.

    Theater 
  • The title character in Macbeth gets a moment of this at the climax of the play. Despite being subjected to two No Man of Woman Born moments in rapid succession (including the Trope Namer) leading him to realize that his opponent would probably win and Macduff's offer of clemency, he refuses to stand down. This is appropriate since while it does not undo his horrific acts it does confirm his status as a Tragic Hero.

    Webcomics 
  • In Cheshire Crossing, The Wicked Witch Of The West repeatedly faces off against Mary Poppins. Poppins is depicted as a stern, overpowered witch who flattens her opponents with brute force, and shows off in both magical matters and mundane with little flourishes that let others know just how in charge she is. The Witch of the West on the other hand is made out to be a bitter underdog, defeated before at least once, who spends her time in search of arcane secrets and power sources. When they encounter each other for the first time while in Oz, Poppins is able to knock the Witch of the West around until the Witch of the West gets the drop on her with a bucket of water. Oz has special rules, and Poppins hasn't done her homework.
  • In A Miracle of Science, one may find it hard not to root for Doctor Haas as he strives to take over the world despite being hunted down by not only the police, but also a godlike Hive Mind. (It helps that the comic is the Trope Namer for Science-Related Memetic Disorder, providing an explanation for his actions beyond simple two-dimensional villainy.)
  • In Drowtales, althought not villains per se, the dvergar who choose to fight the drow rather than trading with them shows this. Even after being reduced to a remnant by the desperate, fleeing dokkalfar (and later outright invading drow) and having no mana, they still are a real danger to drow trade caravans and get in a few good blows against the Highland Raiders. The last is a bit like Somali pirates attacking a US battleship in terms of power levels.
    • Also demonstrated by a leader of the Hermiones, a humanoid race that's been moving into the areas once controlled by dokkalfar. Despite first getting his people burned and then subjected to an Emotion Bomb that knocks everyone (including the other two elves) out cold he keeps attacking and is only stopped by a two-sided attack via a sword to both the back and the noggin, and even though his dialog is left untranslated it's implied he gets out one final curse against the elves.
      • Of course, he is not the villain, but a human who only wanted to save his family from being enslaved. It's debatable whether he is even a villain, made more dissonant(if not outright bad plot writing) by our main character Ariel who became against cruelty and slavery a few episodes earlier ending up butchering humans who merely wanted back their families which the "innocent" Drow would sell to slavery.
  • Caliborn in Homestuck. Though he may be a petulant, sociopathic Jerkass, he's also a Determinator who defeats his session of Sburb despite nearly impossible odds - including his own implied mental issues.
  • Tweedle in Girl Genius is an arrogant, ruthless, would-be conqueror of Europa, but he certainly has no lack of courage.

    Web Original 
  • The Salvation War has shades of this. As horrible as the demons might be, they fight heroically against the humans' modern technology and get pasted. Later, it causes divisions between those humans who respect this and those who do not.
  • In this video that is violently opposed to the Skyrim arrow to the knee meme, a short, fat, nerdy guy goes to type the joke into a YouTube comment when the game's main character bursts out of the screen, kneecaps the nerd with arrows to both knees, then begins to strangle the nerd and tell him how much he sucks for liking meme jokes. He goes to make some gory and violent death threats should the nerd ever do it again. The nerd responds by making an arrow to the knee joke. Sure, it gets him Killed Mid-Sentence, but as the top-rated comment on the video says "I have to admit, the nerd has balls."
  • Displayed by Adolf Hitler of all people during his second appearance in Epic Rap Battles of History. He's ready to rap (against Darth freakin' Vader) only seconds after having been thawed from carbonite, a process that is agonizing, debilitating, and blinding. He then goes on a veritable roll, hitting every single one of Vader's Berserk Buttons, culminating by declaring the Sith Lord's life to be a giant Epic Fail and referring to him as both "Annie" and "The Emperor's Whore." It gets him dropped into the Rancor Pit, but damn.
  • Worm:
    • This is regularly displayed by supervillains who show up to battle the Endbringers, which are steadily killing humanity as a whole and generally kill one-fourth of the capes that join the fight against them per battle. Villains are generally less coordinated than the heroes, so they take more casualties, but they keep showing up.
    • On a more personal level, there's Skitter, who in one case spends two minutes sparring with Mannequin, a Serial Killer who has turned himself into the perfect counter to her powers and is one of the most deadly people on the planet, in order to protect civilian refugees.


 
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Alternative Title(s): Villainous Valor, Valiant Villainy

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Avengers: EMH - Doom vs everyone

Doctor Doom shows that no disadvantage is enough to make him back down.

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