Ever since the industrial revolution there is one term that has been widely used to make things move forward: progress. Progress is what pushes and encourages people to challenge themselves and go beyond the limits in order to create the next big thing. Take, for example, the telegraph, the telephone and cell phone. One following the other was not only a matter of progress or improvement, it was a matter of evolution. By now you are surely asking yourself, what's that stuff got to do with Marvel movies anyhow? You're about to find out.
If you're a Marvel comics fan then you may recall seeing yourself screaming with anxiety and excitement when you heard Nick Fury telling Tony Stark about The Avengers initiative. We went nuts about it for one fine reason: we were going to see our beloved characters meeting each other on-screen. Something that would have been impossible, far-fetched and completely out of question one year earlier. No studio would have committed itself to make movies about superheroes, yet here we are and luckily for us there's an entire Marvel Phase Three ahead and DCCU has started to gain momentum. Nonetheless, Marvel movies have reached a point where they need to not only progress but evolve. Most importantly, Marvel movies must evolve one of their weakest aspects... their villains.
It all starts with fantasy and adventure. For a superhero film, the plot isn't that complicated if it follows the three basic arcs: presentation of the problem, the villain challenging and defeating the hero and the resolution of the conflict, whether the hero succeeds or not. Marvel movies have ALL followed the same pattern film after film and it gives the impression that the studio, rather than the filmmakers, is more interested in keeping its movies in the same line. That doesn't allow them to move up to the next level. The only franchise in the Marvel movies that has truly evolved is Captain America.
From The First Avenger to The Winter Soldier, the character and story have matured. If in the first entry we witnessed the origin of the hero in the sequel we saw how our hero had to face the ugly truth of the free world. Captain America is an incredibly interesting figure to analyze in terms of politics, ethics and morality. In the First Avenger, Steve Rodgers only wanted to serve his country. He wasn't pursuing glory or recognition. He only wanted to fight the bad guys that were menacing the freedom of the people. The first film of Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe used all the elements that made the Captain America comic books great: it dealt with fantasy, patriotism, addressed the character as war propaganda but, most importantly, it maintains and sustains the spirit of the honorable man that would do anything for his country, even sacrifice himself.
For the sequel, the story got more complex. It wasn't a matter of good guys versus bad guys. Now it was time to know who the bad guys really were, even of they were among his friends. The Winter Soldier is, alongside The Dark Knight, a movie in which you can take off all the sci-fi or fantastic aspects and it's still functional as a crime movie or thriller. That is the biggest accomplishment made by the Russo Brothers. In the Winter Soldier we can feel the air of the spy movies of the 70's, the incidence of politics of the actual world playing a role in the story and the consequences of the wars in the absence of the Captain. And for Civil War we really expect the Russo Brothers to top and surpass the success of Winter Soldier. And what about the villains?
Red Skull and the Winter Soldier have been perfect to embody the threats that the Captain should face. Both represent the worlds and ideals the Captain is fighting against. If Red Skull represents the Nazi threat then Bucky Barnes is the symbol for the threats the threat of terrorism. What's more, Nick Fury embodies the psychological terror and menace of a world under surveillance. If at least the other Marvel movies had villains like those the movies would probably have been greater. Malekith, Whiplash, Aldrich Killian, Ultron. Name whichever you want but none of those villains are really convincing. Their motifs and what drives them doesn't exactly justify their actions. The villains of the Marvel movies feel plain and unappealing.
So that is why Marvel has to change the route and start making stories with substance and significance. It's cool that superhero movies deal with fantasy and adventure, containing a high dose of good action sequences, nevertheless audience may get bored if they keep watching the same formula over and over again. And that won't happen without the figure of a villain. A superhero is as good and important as his nemesis. Like it or not, Man of Steel has a great character with General Zod and for what we have seen and heard from the upcoming DC films, those appear to be darker and bolder. Will that be enough to beat Marvel in their own game? Or will Marvel finally decide to change its agenda?