In my original entry, I argued that complex, shades-of-gray villains are more interesting than "I'm evil because I'm evil" villains. Star Swirl pointed out several exceptions to this rule - the Joker, Sauron, and the Emperor from Star Wars. I decided to address each of these one by one to take a closer look at how they fit into my initial theory.
Firstly, the Joker (to be clear, we're talking Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight). Brilliant villain. A complete psychopath, whose sole goal is to cause chaos for the sake of chaos. Now, I'd argue that the Joker, being a character in a movie, is completely different from a book's antagonist. For me as a viewer, Heath Ledger made that movie the masterpiece it was. It was his physicality, his way of moving and speaking, that really brought the Joker to life. I don't think it could've been done in a book. Also, I think The Dark Knight isn't really about the Joker as a villain. The real villain is the corrupting force of evil....the way the Joker is able to corrupt what's-his-name (hey, I'd look it up, but Wikipedia is down) and turn him to the "dark side."
Star Wars. Honestly, I don't consider the Emperor to be the villain of Star Wars. When I first saw the movies I never gave a rat's ass about the Emperor. In fact, I found him quite boring. I'd argue that Darth Vader is the real villain of Star Wars. He's the one we care about, especially during the latter films, and he's quite a complex character. Vader supports my original theory - complex antagonists are more interesting than simple ones.
And then we have Lord of the Rings. This is the one that really stumped me. Is Sauron purely evil? Sure. Is he scary? Hell yes. I thought about it for a long time, and the conclusion I came to is that Sauron functions more as a symbol than a villain. He represents everything evil in Middle Earth. In cases like these, I think a fully evil antagonist can work, so long as there are other evil characters who are more complex. When it comes to Lord of the Rings, we have Gollum and Saruman. Both evil, both swayed by the influences of Sauron. Sauron is basically Satan (makes sense, given Tolkien's Christian background). He doesn't really appear in the books at all. However, his influence can be felt through both Gollum and Saruman, who are tremendously intricate characters driven to darkness by some outside malevolent force. So in a sense, I think Star Swirl is right. Purely evil antagonists can be highly effective if utilized correctly. Sauron may be a one-dimensional villain, but considering Saruman and Gollum are basically extensions of Sauron's power, Tolkien manages to add depth and shades of gray to an otherwise black and white scenario. These two characters don't define Sauron, but they make the book a lot more interesting and thought-provoking by implanting the idea that anyone can be corrupted by evil.
So what do you guys think? Am I totally off base? Love hearing your opinions!!! And thanks to Star Swirl for encouraging me to look deeper into the issue :).