Article: Can Marvel fix their villain issues?

Warning: Spoilers for MCU films, Agents of Shield etc. I’ve said repeatedly that Marvel makes consistently good films but that they have one recurring weakness: a lack of good villains. DC has another (a lack of good love-interests) but i’ll do a different article on that. How many of you just went ‘hold on, what about Loki?’. Well Loki fangirls/fanboys don’t worry. He is a good villain, i agree wholeheartedly. But i would argue he’s the exception to the rule. Name one other great Avengers villain? Malekith, Ronan, The Destroyer etc. were all physical threats which lacked Loki’s charisma or moral greyness. The villains in the Iron Man trilogy were pathetic on every level – i don’t care about Stark’s business rivals!!! Lame, lame, lame, lame, LAME! The ruination of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 (who up till that point was a great villain) for a plot twist that wasn’t even worth it was the low point of the Avengers for me.

This isn’t just a problem with the Avengers films either. The two much-maligned Fantastic Four films had Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom. But neither worked (because of a lack of depth and too much predictability with the surfer’s storyline and far too much OTT posturing with Doom – he was simply laughable as a villain). Even the TV spin-off Agents of Shield had the same issue in it’s debut season – no big name villains ever appeared and the villains of the week were continually either underpowered, uninteresting or unthreatening. Only the Shield/Hydra twist brought that show a couple of decently traitorous villains – but it could have been so much better. Even in the X-Men films – the studio has a real lack of confidence that leads them to re-use Magneto and Mystique constantly (while both are great villains, they have PLENTY of others they could try! Not that i mind seeing more of Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique or Fassbender as Magneto – but it’s getting repetive now).

I am more of a DC fan than a Marvel one. After the Christopher Nolan trilogy, the Tim Burton Batman films, the 2 original Superman films and even Man of Steel (which i’m not afraid to admit i really like) very little can break my faith in DC. But i will admit, they’re losing the battle on the big screen to Marvel – the Avengers Universe has been so well structured and is coming together far more smoothly than the rush to create a Justice League that DC is attempting. DC has one advantage though that could swing things back in it’s favour – it’s Pantheon of good villains. Take even a third tier Batman villain (not famous names like Joker or supporting villains like Poison Ivy), someone like Deathstroke or Deadshot. Haven’t heard of them? You will soon. Deadshot is starring opposite Joker in the Suicide Squad movie, being played by none other than Will Smith and with any luck a Deathstroke film won’t be far behind. Both characters have appeared on the TV show Arrow – Deathstroke even being the main villain of Series 2 (played by Manu Bennett of Spartacus fame) – and both are two of the shows most popular villains. They don’t need name recognition – as a couple of master assassins (one renowned sniper, one combat expert) they’re suitably cool, threatening and neither are entirely unsympathetic villains. You know their motivations, their flaws etc. they’re in the same area of moral greyness as Loki.

DC has used the sheer number of great Batman (and other) villains to overwhelm Marvel in both TV and Gaming – nothing Marvel can do can overcome the Batman: Arkham series of games, and i can’t see any of their TV ventures overcoming the DC powerhouse of Arrow, The Flash or even it’s less succcessful shows like Batman prequel Gotham. Not until it sorts out it’s villains. Arrow has Ra’s Al-Ghul, Deathstroke, Malcolm Merlyn (played superbly by John Barrowman), Flash has a whole host of super-powered villains. Gotham has a marvellous version of Penguin. Agents of Shield or Agent Carter? Nothing comparable. So what can Marvel do? It can turn to the one franchise in the Marvel Universe that has almost as many good villains for Marvel as Batman has for DC. Spiderman. Green Goblin, Electro, Sandman Lizard, Doctor Octopus etc. – Spiderman is very good at making sympathetic villains that neither set of films has fully done justice too. Now Sony and Marvel Studios are collaborating it might be time to bring in a few villains – lesser ones like Rhino in Agents of Shield maybe? It also has two villains good enough to be the lead villain in an Avengers film – Venom and Carnage. Venom got a lot of bad press due to spiderman 3’s poor handling of him but deserves a second chance. A group of villains together (the Sinister Six) led by Green Goblin or Doc Ock facing off against the Avengers might also be really cool. You never know: the Fantastic Four reboot might even give us a Doctor Doom or Galactus good enough to pose a threat to the Avengers in Phase 4 or 5 of the MCU.

If Marvel needs inspiration they should also look at the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance videogame – which combines the villains from Avengers, Fantastic Four and X-men together in an alliance headed by Doctor Doom – the kind of storyline that could be an ideal end to the franchise. But until Marvel either starts placing more focus and screentime on the villains or using more big name ones from other franchises, DC has a trump card it can play again and again. Fingers crossed Ultron in Avengers 2 or Thanos in Infinity War might finally be a match for Loki!

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3 thoughts on “Article: Can Marvel fix their villain issues?

  1. swanpride

    Does Marvel even have a “villain problem”? Okay, the Iron Man Villains were not really good (though I liked the Mandarin Twist, I don’t think that they pulled it off particularly well) and Malekith is definitely the worst villain of them all, but Marvel also has Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford was so good in the role that even though he was the obvious candidate for the villain, I was starting to doubt if he might not be a decoy after all), Loki (naturally) and Nebula (who is only in the built-up stage, but very promising). And I really enjoyed Red Skull, Zola and Ronan in a way you enjoy a Disney villain, someone who is suitable dangerous but doesn’t need a lot of layers to fulfil it’s role in the movie. I also disagree strongly concerning the TV shows. Agent Carter had with Dottie and Dr. Faustus two really creepy villains, AoS shines especially in the second season with Raina, Whitehall and Sky’s Murder-Daddy. And then there are a bunch of antagonists like Talbot and General Ross.

    Next up is Ultron who at the very least will fulfil the creep factor and I really look forward to what they’ll do with Thanos. I also look very much forward to the Kingpin in Daredevil.

    All in all Marvel has offered a lot of different villains, some with layers, some which were just supposed to be suitable threatening, and some which hit the mark better than others, but the only “problem” I see is that it will be hard to go more powerful than Thanos as long as Galactus is owned by Fox. But that won’t be an issue before 2020.

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    1. knightrider42 Post author

      Good point about Pierce, he was a better villain than most, even if i’d guessed he would be a villain while watching the trailer for The Winter Soldier. I’m not saying i didn’t enjoy them – Ronan, Winter Soldier and Red Skull were all fun to watch, but they could have been so much more or had more screen time. You don’t have to class it as a ‘problem’ but it is undeniably a weakness and the biggest inconsistency in the quality of the Marvel films – for me it’s what limits them to being consistently good rather than great. Some say a hero is only ever as good as the villain opposite them – it’s why Batman is (for me) arguably the greatest superhero (he has the Joker, Two-Face, Catwoman, Ra’s al Ghul etc. – all of whom are either dark reflections of him or have a deep connection with him). Thanos and Ultron should be a step up, but i’m not convinced that Doctor Strange, Ant-man or Black Panther won’t have similar issues when it comes to villains.

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      1. swanpride

        I think it depends on the movie. For GotG it was a really good decision to go with a simple yet powerful villain (while setting up a more complex one for the future), because the movie already had a lot going on with all the characters and the world which has to get introduced. Same for The first Avenger – it was about Steve, first and foremost. The Red Skull is not the main villain to Steve, he is just the face of Hydra.
        And if you look at the Joker: He isn’t complex either! The less you know about the Joker, the better he works. The only thing you have to know about him is that he is the personified chaos. Case closed. I agree though that the Batman rogue gallery is particularly colourful – followed by the one of Spider-man, followed by the one of the Fantastic four and X-men. But one shouldn’t forget that Comic-book Loki is not half as compelling as the movie version. In the end, it will depend on how they interpret what they have. They have the advantage that nobody really knows much about Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and Black Panther, which gives them a lot of leeway for reinterpretation.

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