One of the biggest complaints you’ll always hear about Marvel movies is that the villains are always lacking. They usually have a cliche plan and are only there for the hero to have someone to fight. We’ve seen this all over the MCU with generic villains ranging from the Iron Monger to Malekith. Loki has been the only shining example of a good villain, but I believe something has changed with Phase 3 of the MCU, which started with Captain America: Civil War. The villains have been way more original and interesting. So the question is: Has Marvel fixed its villain problem?
SPOILERS for all the Phase 3 MCU Movies, including Thor: Ragnarök
Zemo Captain America: Civil War
Phase 3 started out with Captain America: Civil War, and I was a little skeptical of this movie even having a villain. The conflict between Tony and Steve seemed like enough to carry the movie on its own, and I was a little worried they would have to settle their differences and team up to fight the main villain in the end. But they took it in a completely different direction. We had never really seen a villain that was just a normal guy before this, and it totally worked. He was able to outsmart the Avengers and play them like pawns. Yes, his plan was based a lot on chance, but he was able to adapt to the circumstances to achieve his goal. What I liked best was that he was the direct result of the Battle of Sokovia from Age of Ultron. The Avengers had to face the consequences for their actions. He may actually be second to Loki as my favorite MCU villain. I can’t wait to see how they utilize him in the future.
Kaecilius Doctor Strange
Okay, this is actually the only villain that I don’t think worked out in Phase 3. He was a lot more generic and similar to other villains, but a lot of that was due to Doctor Strange being an origin movie where the focus is mainly on the hero. Dormammu was great and intriguing, but I can’t really call him a good villain considering he was barely on screen. It looks like they’re setting up for a better villain in the sequel, though, with Mordo turning evil.
Ego Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Ego made for a very different villain. He was first presented just as Peter’s dad, and it was hard to see where the plot was going because halfway through the movie there still wasn’t a main villain. When Ego’s evil plans were finally revealed (while not very surprising) it came as a nice twist that you don’t see in a lot of superhero movies. It allowed for a personal battle with Peter, considering his father essentially killed his mother and was the reason he was abducted from Earth. It also played out well with the theme of the movie where Peter realized that Yondu was the real father figure of his life. While Ego’s plans weren’t necessarily original or well thought out, his personality and charisma made up for it, for the most part. I wish they had gone in a different route for his plan other than to destroy the entire universe, but Ego will definitely go down as one of the better MCU villains.
Vulture Guardians of the Galaxy
Spider-Man’s rogues gallery has some of the most iconic villains in the comics, so I was satisfied to see that Spider-Man: Homecoming would use a villain we haven’t seen on the screen before: Adrian Toomes, the Vulture. Even before the big reveal of him being Liz Allen’s father, the Vulture still had a terrifying presence. This was due to Michael Keaton’s amazing performance. He was more frightening out of the suit than he was in the suit. And that reveal… The scene where Peter shows up on Liz’s doorstep and Michael Keaton opens the door is amazing, and it doesn’t stop there. Peter’s stiff reactions are hilarious when he’s taking pictures with Liz and looking at Toomes with this frozen stare, but it gets even better. Once Toomes finally realizes who Peter is, the tension is high, and you can feel it. This is where we see the Vulture as the biggest threat in the movie, and it’s not even an action scene. Something else that made the Vulture great is that he had good intentions for stealing and selling things. He had to support his family after Tony Stark more or less stripped him away of his job. He also doesn’t have a huge city wide threat. He’s just trying to steal some technology. All of these things culminate in one of the best Spider-Man movie and MCU villains.
Hela Thor: Ragnarok
Hela wasn’t a particularly amazing villain, but she wasn’t bad either. She didn’t get a lot of screen time, but honestly, I was enjoying the scenes without her on Sakaar better. Her plan was more original than most villains, but she would have benefited from having a loyal Asgardian army instead of her faceless skeleton soldiers. This would have added more levity to the film with some people siding with Hela in a planet wide mutiny. The reveal that she was Odin’s first born was interesting, but they never really did anything with it. I never got the feeling of a sibling relationship between her and Thor. She wasn’t all bad, though. She has some badass action scenes like when she takes down the Asgardian army, and I like how she was too strong for even Thor and the Revengers to take down. Like I said before, she wasn’t a bad villain and stands as one of the better MCU villains. There have also been rumors that she may return for Infinity War and I’m intrigued to see how she would be incorporated.
I wouldn’t say Marvel has fixed their villain problem entirely, but they are certainly on the right track. A majority of the Phase 3 villains have been stand outs of the MCU. So what makes these villains better than the rest? What is Marvel doing differently? There is one trend that I have seen. Zemo’s family died as a result of the Avenger’s battle in Sokovia. Ego is Peter Quills’s father and he killed his mother. The Vulture is Peter Parker’s girlfriend’s dad. Hela is Thor’s sister. All of these villains have a personal connection to the hero(es) which makes for a much more compelling story. It adds weight to the hero’s decisions. You need look no further than the greatest villain of all time, Darth Vader, to see that a personal connection enriches the story. I was much more interested in Peter Quill fighting his dad than I was when he was fighting Ronin. And when Captain America confronted Zemo than when he confronted Alexander Pierce. A personal connection is also what made Bucky such a great threat in The Winter Soldier. If Marvel continues to personalize their villains, it will result in much better films.
What else makes for a good villain? Well, my favorite villains on here don’t have a world ending plan. Zemo only plans on tearing the Avengers apart, not destroying the world. The Vulture just wants to steal some technology, not take over New York. We’ve seen so many villains that have the paint by numbers “destroy/ take over the world” that it isnt interesting anymore. Ultron, Apocalypse, Steppenwolf. They all essentially had the same plan. If Marvel continues to have more ground level villains, it will result in much better films.
So what will this look like going forward? Let’s take a look at Marvel’s next to films to find out.
Erik Killmonger Black Panther
I’m a little conflicted on Killmonger. Michael B. Jordan looks as though he’ll give an amazing performance, but he may fall into some Marvel villain tropes. While his suit does look great, it is very similar to several other Marvel movies where the villain has the same powers as the hero (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Ant Man). He also sounds like he may have another cliche plan. In the trailer, he says, “The world needs to start over. I’m gonna burn it all.” This sounds a lot like the plans of some other villains we’ve seen. I’m still holding high hopes for him, though. They could still find a way to make him a compelling villain despite falling into some tropes. If they give him a personal connection to Black Panther, we would be much more invested in his plan.
And now, the big one.
Thanos Avengers: Infinity War
I highly doubt Thanos will have a grounded plan that doesn’t involve destroying the universe, but it looks like Marvel will mix it up. His plan in Infinity War looks like it will mostly consist of gathering all the Infinity Stones, so he will have some work to do before executing his plan, though. But something Marvel has already succeeded on is establishing a personal connection between Thanos and some of the heroes. We already know that Thanos is the one responsible for the death of Drax’s family, so there will be some tension there (even though Drax will get his ass whooped). And we know that Gamora and Nebula are the adopted daughters of Thanos. Not only that, we learned of his brutal and abusive nature when Nebula described him replacing her body parts with robotics limbs in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. These personal connections will help add more depth to his character.
Now, I’m not saying a villain has to have a personal connection to the hero or a grounded plan to be “good”, but I do think those help the audience be more invested in their actions. The most important thing, though, is giving the villain enough screen time to become fully developed, and I think Thanos will be done justice.
Avengers: Infinity War releases in theaters on May 4th, 2018.
An unprecedented cinematic journey ten years in the making and spanning the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War brings to the screen the ultimate, deadliest showdown of all time. The Avengers and their Super Hero allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Avengers: Infinity War stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jerem