Ultron. Baron Zemo. The Mandarin. What do these antagonists have in common? All had evil plans, all were defeated at the hands of the #Avengers, and all were forgotten faster than a cheap, under-seasoned chicken caesar salad.
Yep, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a problem with low-calorie villains — you know it, I know it, and Kevin Feige knows it. The creative overlord of the #MCU has been hyping what's to come in this universe in his own, inimitably vague way this week, and while doing so spoke about what #Marvel could do better — namely, its bad guys:
"It always starts with what serves the story the most and what serves the hero the most. A big criticism of ours is that we focus on the heroes more than the villains. I think that’s probably true. Loki, a great character, serves [Thor] in a lot of ways. Zemo served that conflict between Cap and Iron Man. Taserface and Ayesha [of 'Guardians Vol. 2' are less grandiose in their ambitions than Ronan was, for instance. Ayesha just wants to kill them for slighting her, and Taserface wants to lead the Ravagers and thinks that Yondu got soft."
There's a slightly worrying edge to Feige's words in that, despite acknowledging the villain problem (in a sense), he really doesn't sound particularly bothered about fixing it. He traces the decision to focus on the heroes back to 2008, when Iron Man came out alongside Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight for DC:
"In 2008, two superhero movies that came out. One focused on the villain, one focused on the hero, and we at Marvel looked at them, like ‘Yeah, we focus on the heroes. We don’t mind that. We like that.' Please don’t start a flame war. Nobody wants that. But, again, it really always is what serves the story."
Feige says that Marvel's bad guys exist to serve the heroes — but superheroes exist squarely because the world they occupy is being terrorized by villains. They're a reaction, and so the event or the individual that they're reacting to needs to be big. Using The Dark Knight as an example of what Marvel aren't necessarily aiming for feels strange considering the Joker in that movie did such a good job of adding shade and layers to the character of Batman.
And, in another sense, Feige doesn't really acknowledge the problem at all — it's not the level of "focus" on a villain which determines how memorable they are, it's the strength of their motivation and the deplorability of their actions. Even Loki, who's certainly a great character, often feels like a comedy villain. Marvel want us to like him so badly that they won't commit to making him truly evil.
More Marvel madness:
- Kevin Feige Says Thanos Is "Almost" The Main Character Of 'Infinity War'
- Is 'Infinity War' Told From Thanos's Perspective, Like In The Comics?
- Is Hela Of 'Thor: Ragnarok' The MCU's Own Mistress Death?
Perhaps all is not lost, though. This year, Cate Blanchett's Hela becomes the MCU's first main female villain in Thor: Ragnarok. It's hard to imagine Marvel would cast one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood in another cardboard bad guy role, particularly since Hela is also one of the more powerful villains in the Marvel universe and could enact actual ragnarok on Asgard. She has to be great.
And, of course, there's Thanos. The purple one has been teased in post-credit scenes and brief cameos for so long that for him to be anything other than the most fearsome villain in the entire cosmos would not just be a major let-down, but it would also be confirmation that Marvel truly don't have any ambition when it comes to the bad guys.
Feige actually states in the same interview that Thanos is "almost the main character" of Avengers: Infinity War, which is big talk but also a good omen that the heroes of the MCU might finally engage with a nemesis who lingers in the memory far beyond the end credits. We'll know soon enough — Thor: Ragnarok arrives November 3, 2017, followed by Avengers: Infinity War on May 4, 2018. Here's hoping they give us a more calorific crunch in our chicken salad this time.
Will 'Infinity War' and 'Ragnarok' solve Marvel's "villain problem", or will the MCU never bother to aim higher with its bad guys?