With the recent success of Doctor Strange grossing over $600 million worldwide, needless to say, Marvel and Disney have yet again another victory. Although they succeeded financially, #Marvel Studios has yet to master the art of villainy. Visually, the movie is stunning, especially in IMAX 3D. As far as story went, it was rather mediocre. Coming to realization, Marvel is owned by Disney. When I think of Disney, what comes to mind are their animated films, the cable network, the Disney Afternoon block that ran on UPN in the '90s, the theme parks and their villains — the latter being the most prominent component in this here discussion.
Disney is the master of villainy. The fact that Marvel fails to deliver a great cinematic villain is becoming more and more frustrating. Doctor Strange's villains, Kaecilius and Dormammu, joined the ranks of Ultron, Whiplash, Yellow Jacket and Malekith. Honestly, a few of those I had to look up, because they were easily forgettable. I'm disappointed in the fact that their parent company, Disney, has yet to see the problem. I conjured up a few things that Marvel Studios could learn from Disney.
A key element of Disney's villains is that all of them stand out with their own personalities and musical numbers ("Be Prepared" by Scar), such as Hades from Hercules with his shady car salesman personality, Scar with his Shakespearean mannerisms and Jafar with his rigorous stature. The problem with Marvel's cinematic villains is that they have no life and are very one-dimensional. One can argue about Loki, but he's more of an antihero than a straight dastardly individual. I don't know too many villains that will aid the hero.
If Marvel wants a standout villain, don't just give them cool-looking weapons or make them evil for the sake of the movie. For example, Whiplash (played by Mickey Rourke) from Iron Man 2 was as stale as two-week-old bread. Don't get me wrong, his electrical whips were something astonishing, but aside from the Russian accent and bulky stature, he really had no personality. Anyone can be a muscular Russian with whips.
Another prime example would also be Malekith. Malekith literally had no charisma. Just because you have an army of dark elves, a dark aether and a giant ship, doesn't make you a threat, let alone memorable. Yes, it's fine for villains to crack jokes here and there (Hades, Scar and King Candy), but don't engage in it for the remainder of the film. Sure one can bring up Joker from the DC Universe, but remind me what his name is again?
Not every villain wants to follow the lyrics of a Tears for Fears song. Some long for revenge, some want money and some want victory. With all of Marvel's cinematic villains, all of them want the same thing: "To rule the world." We've seen it with Loki, Red Skull, Dormammu, Hydra and Ultron. We get it: You all want to conquer the world. What else's new? At least with Captain America: Civil War, Zemo took the revenge approach because of what occurred in the events of Age of Ultron.
Now if you look at the catalog of evil tactics created by the Disney villains, each had their own distinctive plans:
- Scar wanted to replace his brother as king.
- Hades wanted to destroy Olympus after being humiliated by Zeus.
- Jafar yearned to be a sultan, a sorcerer and an all-powerful genie.
- Gaston sought to win the heart of Belle from the Beast.
- Bellwether needed to be mayor of Zootopia to rid them of predators.
- Shere Khan wanted to rid the jungle of humans.
Even if that was just a select few, notice how they all had different schemes? In most of the Marvel movies, the third acts always have some sort of city or property destruction. I give Doctor Strange credit for its original approach to the status quo, by reversing the destruction of Hong Kong while Strange battled Kaecilius and his minions. Moviegoers go to the movies to be entertained, not to feel bored with plots recycled over and over again. If Marvel wants to succeed with cinematic villainy, their villains need to be more original with their plans.
Another problem with the Marvel villains is that they're too sympathetic. Moviegoers, myself included, felt bad for Loki for being lied to his entire life, Zemo for losing his family, and Aldrich Killian because he was rejected by his idol: Tony Stark. With reasons like that, it kind of makes one root for the bad guy, right? Over at Disney, you're suppose to loathe the villains. There is absolutely no room for sympathy on the dark side of the Magic Kingdom. Who wants to vouch for a lion killing his brother and framing his nephew?
The problem with that is, Marvel makes you care about both the protagonists and antagonists. Moviegoers do not want to go against the hero. I'm sure we all had that feeling growing up. If Marvel wants to succeed, don't make moviegoers feel sorry for the bad guy. Could you imagine walking out the theater saying, "Man, Thanos should've killed the Avengers."? Make them pure evil, like they were born with devilish blood.
Also, give them equal screen time. Guardians of the Galaxy suffered because Ronan (played by Lee Pace) was hardly in the movie, and for the scenes he did show up in, he didn't really pose as a threat and his motives weren't very clear.
Well, now that Marvel has access to Spider-Man's rogues gallery, another set of villains that are popular worldwide, and an upcoming slate of films with heroes facing vile individuals, they have every chance to get this done right. No one wants to root for Vulture or cheer on Killmonger in Black Panther.
What advice would you give to Marvel about their villains?