Kevin Feige says it’s all about the heroes, but why can’t the villains get some love?
Let me preface this by saying that I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), so I write this with the best intentions. What Kevin Feige has crafted with this film universe is unparalleled. It is my favorite movie franchise, and I think Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best comic book film ever made. That being said, there is one glaring problem consistent throughout almost all MCU films: The villains.
So what exactly is this “villain problem”? Well, so far almost every MCU villain has ended up being one dimensional and inconsequential, acting as more of a presence working against the heroes rather than an actual character. They lack any real motivations other than world domination/destruction or to simply oppose the hero. The villains show up to fight the hero once or twice in the first two acts of the film before they have a climactic fight in the third. They are then quickly killed off to neatly wrap up everything for the sequel. Marvel’s villains are simply wasted.
Here’s a list of villains that adhere to this formula: Obadiah Stane, Whiplash, Red Skull, Aldrich Killian, Malekith (worst offender), Alexander Pierce, Ronan, and Yellowjacket. For the most part, they were all cookie cutter villains that had fairly similar motivations, and were ultimately killed or disposed of at the end of their respective films, never to be heard from again. This villain formula is growing a bit tiresome.
While I personally enjoyed Ultron as he at least had a lot of personality compared to the rest of the characters on this list, his potential was wasted once he was (supposedly) killed off at the end of Age of Ultron. Marvel needs to learn to stop killing off their villains before they really have a chance to grow as characters and leave an impact on audiences. Case in point: Loki.
Loki is the most effective villain in the entire MCU. He has relatable motivations, he’s had time to grow and change as he has appeared in three movies so far, and he has a real personal connection with Thor. He is a fully fleshed out character unlike the majority of previously mentioned villains and is widely considered to be the best part of the Thor films. Why Marvel has made Loki the exception rather than the rule is unknown to me.
Ultron had a lot of wasted potential. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoyed Ultron as a character and consider Avengers: Age of Ultron to be one of my favorite MCU movies. But the advertising for the film promised a much more menacing and threatening Ultron. He had the potential to be as great a villain as Loki, if not even better. He was created by two of the Avengers which provides a more personal connection with the heroes than even Loki.
But his creation and connection were quickly glossed over in the first act of the movie, which made the father/son dynamic with Tony feel rather lackluster. This could have been the core emotional conflict of the movie, similar to Thor and Loki in his first standalone film. But unfortunately it’s not, it’s a fairly minimized conflict in the film and overall leaves Ultron as a weaker villain. However, Joss Whedon and James Spader were able to breathe some life into Ultron with his sense of humor and god complex he possessed. Ultron’s personality made him more interesting than the majority of Marvel villains, but that still isn’t saying very much.
While Captain America: Civil War seems to be rectifying this problem a bit by making the main antagonist of the film be Iron Man, which automatically solves a lot off the problems I listed earlier, that is still only one film. In a previous article I discussed how Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 could provide an interesting villain, but Marvel’s biggest test lies with Avengers: Infinity War.
Avengers: Age of Ultron received a lot of criticism for being too similar to the original Avengers, which is a big reason why Infinity War needs to be different. Infinity War needs a threatening and compelling villain to distinguish itself from Age of Ultron. Marvel has been building up Thanos as the end game villain for the Avengers. In order for this build up to feel worth it, Thanos needs to be a great villain. One that is menacing, interesting, and poses an actual threat to the Avengers.
If Thanos falls flat, there is a good chance Infinity War falls flat. If Thanos ends up being just another cookie cutter Marvel villain, than what would be the point of all the build up? Thanos will be Marvel’s last chance to get their villain right. If they succeed with Thanos and he lives up to the hype that Marvel has been building, then Infinity War will be a home run. If Thanos fails however, much of the time spent setting up Infinity War will have felt wasted. Thanos needs to be a great villain in order to justify uniting the entire MCU against him, and if he isn’t I fear Infinity War will end up a major disappointment.
Don’t mess this up Feige!
Disagree with my assessment? Let me know in the comments below!