Ultron. X-24. Victor Doom. Kaecilius. Hela. Electro. Ivan Vanko. The Sandman. The Rhino. I could go further down the Wikipedia list. What do all these characters have in common? They are all super lame. They’re also all Marvel villains. Being the creative super power Marvel Studios is, it’s amazing to me how consistently underwhelming or flat out uninteresting their antagonists are. Since Disney scooped them up however many years ago, Marvel has put out two to three films a year (which is staggering). That leaves a lot of room for a surplus of super hero flicks. Impressively, the large volume of these films hasn’t seemed to tire any of its fans out as each film makes more and more money, culminating, I’m willing to wager, in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War breaking all kinds of box office records. So the business model’s working for sure, in terms of money, but I do think it’s caused a lack of fresh ideas when it comes to villains. Everything’s been done before, and there hasn’t been a truly great super villain since Heath Ledger’s iconic performance as The Joker. Michael Keaton’s performance this year as Adrian Toomes/The Vulture made an impression on me simply by playing it straight and down to earth. His villain was believable, and more menacing because of it. I hope the studio gives us more like him, rather than repeating the “all-powerful, unbeatable until he’s beaten” model it employs every other movie. Need examples? Name a Marvel movie:

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Image result for ultron

Ultron is the prototype of every lame super villain in a film where super heroes team up. Described as an artificial intelligence with a God-complex and an immense amount of power, he uses this power to destroy everything and everyone. His motives? Because he can (even that sounds more interesting than it was in the movie). The filmmakers need a reason for all members of the Avengers to work together when just one of them is enough for any situation. The solution, apparently, is to create a villain with unlimited power. And they keep coming back to this every movie.

Thor: Ragnarok

Image result for hela thor

Hela is exactly the same as Ultron, except obviously female and played by a two-time Oscar winner in Cate Blanchett. Thor’s sister is the Goddess of Death and simply loves war and destruction.  She declares, ” Our destiny is to rule over all others. And I am here to restore that power. Kneel before me and rise into the ranks of my great conquest.” Where have I heard something very similar? How about Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy?

Guardians of the Galaxy

Image result for ronan the accuser

Ronan the Accuser. A religious zealot who believes his people supreme and wants all other races to serve him, “They call me terrorist, radical, zealot because I obey the ancient laws of my people, the Kree… and punish those who do not. Because I do not forgive your people for taking the life of my father, and his father, and his father before him. A thousand years of war between us will not be forgotten!” Would this be the only time the Marvel Cinematic Universe used zealotry as their chief villainous motive? Nope.

Dr. Strange

Image result for kaecilius

Kaecilius broke free of his mentor, the Ancient One, believing her to be a hypocrite. I actually like some of the subtextual suggestions of the character (you could relate him to Lucifer wanting to usurp God on the throne), but feel the film didn’t do much to make him interesting on the surface. He barely put up a fight.

I will say Marvel Studios, while undercooking their villains, has at least managed to avoid the out and out travesties Sony Pictures has shoved at us. The Lizard and Electro from the two Amazing Spider-Man movies were really bad, and The Rhino, played by Paul Giamatti with a Russian accent is embarrassing. Bottom line is Marvel uses none of its resources and creativity on the villains. Even getting great actors to play the roles, when they’re as underwritten as they are, can’t save them. They’re one dimensional characters, with recycled motives that weren’t engaging the first time. Do better. Will see how Erik Killmonger is in Black Panther come February.

-Walter Howard-



3 thoughts on “Marvel Villains Kind of Suck

  1. BOO! BOO!! How dare you tell the truth!

    Ok, as a comic book fan, Marvel has awesome villains!…..that are never fully realized in their movies. As a fan it’s always cool to see them come to life on the big screen, their usually really cool to look at, there good on action and blowing things up, and they are usually portrayed with a level of flare and personality that harkens to what they are in the funny books. But, yeah….as a result they don’t really make them too terribly complex and they come across more often then not as villains of the week. Ego was probably the most interesting villain they had last year and by the end he still turned into a big blue universe destroying monster that had to be dealt with. So yeah, they definitely have issues with their villains and more than you might realize as a lot of things are lost in adaptation.

    So I liked Ultron. He’s one of the cooler villains from the books and it was cool to see him realized and especially with and army of his replicant robots with is a reference to how he famously menaced the Avengers in Ultron Unleashed. My problem with Ultron is he doesn’t act or sound like Ultron at all. He comes across as random Joss Whedon number 470. Anything Ultron quips the Avengers I could just as easily see him saying to Buffy. And part of the problem in how he sounds is connected to his motivation which I’m glad you brought up. Ultron’s motivation in the comics is to annihilate all organic life on Earth and replace it with artificial life which he believes is superior. Essentially he’s Lore from Star Trek with admantium skin. Now as you point out, he never bothers to explain his motivation in the movie and it’s further complicated by his origins in the movie. In the comics he was built by Ant Man, not Iron Man, and Hank Pym had based Ultron’s brain and personality on his own, so Hank Pym’s own personality disorders translated into his creation and it went insane. In the movie, of course, Iron Man creates it or more accurately extracts it and modifies it from the Mind Gem. So one must assume that if Ultron was an artificial intelligence that was always a part of the Mind Gem then one must assume that he is aware of Loki and Thanos. So what I think his motivation in the movie was he was aware that Thanos is coming for the Infinite Gems and mankind is ill equipped and inferior to stop him. So he was going to use Sokovia to annihilate all life on earth and create a civilization of robots that he believe could survive and defeat Thanos. Also, his personality this time is taken from Iron Man so it’s all a perverted version of Tony’s ideas about how to better protect the universe and the march of progress. It’s similar to Tony’s plan to have the Iron Legion replace the Avengers and I think that might be why he bases his first wave of robots off them. Anyway, I think my head cannon explanation is accurate but, yeah, it would have been nice if that was actually in the movie. Either was being too subtle with Ultron’s motivation or not at all. I’m not sure.

    I agree, Hela is similar to Ultron. She looks fantastic and oozes menaces. Kate Blanchet really puts her all into the character and makes he memorable. But I had issues with her too. To be fair I had issues with all of the villains in Thor Ragnarok, even though I like the movie and I liked them over all. All of them are wildly different than they are in the comics or the myth. I think my first issue with Hela comes from the structure of the movie. The movie spends to much time having fun adventures on Sa’kar that when we cut back to her it’s like “Oh, yeah! Asgards in trouble. We need to go save them, I guess.” Thor Ragnarok is more based off a Hulk storyline called Planet Hulk where the planet Sa’kar, the gladiatorial competitions, and the War Bound (the rock and bug guy) come into play. Ragnarok has nothing to do with that. She’s kindof just evil because….we need a villain. In the comics and myth, Hela is not Thor’s sister, she’s his niece, Loki’s daughter. And she’s just basically the Lord of the Dead, the Norse equivalent to Hades. She occasionally does evil stuff for more power and what not but as a rule, she’s a goddess and has a role to play in the universe. Now I don’t read enough Thor, so I don’t know if her sword throwing power is an actually thing that she does but I found it a little distracting. I thought it was pretty cool but it kindof got tiresome; her go to ability was just launching infinite swords at people. Now Surtur on the other hand….he’s a major villain in the comics and the myth and although his seen was a fun little action seen he was basically punked out in the first 5 minutes of the movie. The Grandmaster is NOTHING like he is in the movie. In the movie he is just Jeff Goldblum. In the comics, he is an incredibly powerful cosmic being that can threaten the entire Avengers team, he forces beings from throughout the universe into all different types of competitions and games for his own amusement, and he has nothing to do with planet Sa’kar. The Executioner is pretty badass warrior god in the comics and I was really looking forward to him actually, you know, fighting Thor, which he never really did. He didn’t really do much except be Hela’s bitch and turn against her in the end. I did like his redemption though as he got to fight and die as an Asgardian.

    I have nothing to add for Ronan the Accuser. You summed him up pretty well. Also, I don’t know too much about Ronan. He’s a Kree Zealot. I’m sure there’s more to him than that but I’m not the right one to ask.

    Kaecilius is to me the perfect example for this discussion because I feel he is the most generic of the generic Marvel villains. As much as I liked Doctor Strange, Kaecilius was incredibly boring to me. He was every single complaint I’ve heard about Marvel movie villains in a single character. I can give credit to every single character above as they did something to impress me. Not Kaecilius. He is generic evil guy. I also don’t know anything about him. He’s an evil sorcerer. That’s all I’ve got. Is he a character from the comics? I don’t know. Probably. He was a perfectly serviceable villain but not at all interesting; he is the perfect thesis for this blog. For my money, the star of the film was Baron Mordo played beautifully by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is the ultimate counter thesis. Here is a character that makes a rich and interesting villain. I feel like Mordo and Loki are probably some of Marvel’s best villains because there’s something more going on there than “I want to destroy the world for no reason”. Loki may not be trust worthy but for better or for worse he’s Thor’s brother, he’s family. Regardless of the threat he poses he’s reluctantly come together with his brother to save the day in two movies now and his motivations and personal demons were laid out very well in the first Thor. Mordo for me is the Lucifer character. He is a brother and an ally that falls from grace when everything he believes in is found to be a lie and his feelings of betrayal push him to darkness. He’s actually much more complex and interesting than the original comic book character who is just an evil sorcerer who wants power and to take over the world.

    All I can say to you about Amazing Spiderman 1 and 2 is they suck and I assure you the Lizard, Electro, and Rhino are really great villains in the comics. Please believe me >.< Mind you they are not very complex villains. Most Spiderman villains motivation amounts to "I've got superpowers now so I'm going to go rob a bank". That definitely applies to Electro and Rhino. Lizard is a little more complex. His story is basically a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story or a werewolf story. He was a well meaning scientist who was trying to do something good and he became a monster.

    As for miscellaneous villains, Doctor Doom is awesome in the comics just….not in the movies…..any of them….including Roger Corman one…… Sandman is interesting because he falls into the same trappings as the other above Spiderman villains; he has really cool powers but at the end of the day he's a common criminal. He robs banks. But he's actually been given a little bit of complexity in the comics as that he's occasionally reformed himself and worked as a hero as part of his parol. He worked as a heroic mercenary with Silver Sable and her team the Wild Pack and even though I believe he's back to being a villain he still maintains friendships with those characters. The many problems with Spiderman 3, I actually really like his interpretation in that movie as he's just straight up sympathetic. Vanko in Iron Man 2 is….ok. He's a very good example of the point you've made and I guess I leave it at that. I still think he's an enjoyable largely due to Mickey Rourke's portrayal of him. He's actually a fusion of two characters from the comics, Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo. And X-24 does exist in the comics…..as far as I know. X-24 I believe is a reference to two Wolverine characters, Albert, the robot replica of Wolverine, and Daken, Wolverine's son, also known as Dark Wolverine. Also, I believe X-24 was symbolic of Logan's greatest enemy, himself, or more accurately the raging berserker within him. X-24 was all of Logan's rage and none of the control or compassion that made him a better man, his own personally demons made flesh. And sparring with that is what did him in in the end as he could only conqueror his demons in death.

    Great blog as always dude. Hope you enjoyed my perspective from a comic book fan. I need to get off my butt and write some more myself. Thinking about doing a Last Jedi review…. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. P.S. I almost forgot. Zemo from Civil War. I love that actor (I’m spacing on his name at the moment) but personally I think that’s one of the worst adaptations they’ve done. In the comics Baron Zemo is one of Captain America’s greatest villains and he’s a nazi. He’s not some bitter dude that lost his family in Sokovia. I feel like they missed a huge opportunity to make his awesome and memorable. I actually didn’t even realize he was supposed to be Baron Zemo until like 2 months after I saw the film. So he’s my pick for a lame villain.

    Liked by 1 person

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