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
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.
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
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.
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.