The early and middle installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have villains that are considered by many critics to be rather boring. If I list off characters like Iron Monger, Abomination, Whiplash, Malekith, and Ronan the Accuser, you might have difficulty remembering who these characters are or even what movies they’re from. Did you even notice that I left the villains from Doctor Strange or Captain America: Civil War off that list? And that’s my point.
But in terms of villains, Marvel Studios is on a bit of a hot streak. And with Avengers: Infinity War coming at the end of the week, the Avengers are going to come face to face with Thanos, At what point does the “Marvel Villain Problem” stop being a problem?
In January I wrote a post that argued that Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is one of the franchise’s finest villains. In fact, I argued in that post that Ego was an even better villain than Loki, which made him the definitive best villain in the MCU up to that point…
…which was true for about half a month after I made that post, until Black Panther came out, and had an even more compelling villain in Killmonger. Killmonger’s best attribute as a villain – aside from perhaps his great character design and an excellent performance from Michael B. Jordan – are his compelling motivations. Killmonger rises up against King T’Challa because he thinks it is wrong that Wakanda has not shared its resources with the outside world, which in his eyes makes them responsible for all the disenfranchisement of black people around the world. And if I were black, I might very well feel similarly. That’s what Killmonger had that characters like Malekith or Yellowjacket lacked – real-world relevance and compelling motivations. Killmonger’s strengths as a character are so strong that you forget that he has all the same powers as the hero and a goofy arch-villain name.
Between those two movies, there was also Spiderman: Homecoming and its villain, Vulture, brought to life by the prolific Michael Keaton. And Vulture is similarly sympathetic, propelled by the struggle of a working-class developer suddenly thrown out of sorts by the imposing government. It’s a regular big-guy-bullying-the-little-guy-and-turning-the-little-guy-into-a-supervillain story.
There was also Thor: Ragnarok, which gave us Hela, who wasn’t particularly compelling, but it also had variety, with Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster. He’s funny an interesting blend of funny and ruthless that doesn’t really come up anywhere else in the series.
So with this excellent of a hot-streak, there’s a lot of pressure on Avengers: Infinity War to keep it up. The new villain of this next installment is Thanos, who appeared briefly at the end of the first two Avengers movie, and had a scene in Guardians of the Galaxy. However, audiences really don’t know much about him or his motivations.
Whether or not the “Villain problem” becomes a mark on the legacy of an incredibly successful and influential franchise will be determined in Avengers: Infinity War. If they can make Thanos into enough of a compelling and formidable antagonist will affect the way this franchise is viewed in the future.
That being said, the next two movies are Ant-Man and the Wasp (from which I don’t expect anything great) and Captain Marvel. (Which might; Ben Mendelsohn will be in it, and he’s particularly good at playing uninteresting villains like in The Dark Knight Rises and Rogue One and probably Ready Player One.)
To answer the question in the title: we’ll have a pretty good idea after Infinity War whether or not the Marvel Villain problem is still a problem. The world has been eagerly awaiting Thanos’ arrival since 2012. Now, let’s see what he’s all about.
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