We have heard it before: the biggest issue with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is the treatment of its villains. Either they are too underdeveloped or killed too early. At some extent, that's very true and classic characters end up as no more than footnotes or plot points to keep the machine moving.
But I am not writing this piece to add to the complaints, in fact I have always said that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it. And if you are going to voice your opinion, then do so by adding something positive. A critique is not always a negative one.
There are numerous villains in the MCU at this point stretching from movies, TV and streaming services like Netflix. TV characters have been explored and we have been following their development like Wilson Fisk in Daredevil or Grant Ward in [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.](tag:722469) and sometimes the thinking is that these characters have the advantage of being part of a on-going series and that they have the luxury of time to develop. My opinion is that is not a great excuse; a good point but not a valid reason to have a character like Malekith The Accursed just stand in the background like a prop.
With the third phase of the MCU upon us and with it, a new batch of super-villains, we are going to have high hopes (again) for our favorite characters to meet our ridiculously high expectations. The first thing that we have to understand as fans is that these characters are comic book characters, which means that they can have numerous interpretations. We all have our favorite version of our favorite characters; take Venom for example.
There have been numerous versions of Venom (Agent Venom, Thunderbolts' Venom) and the original Eddie Brock version, which for me personally has been the best version of the character and has the best storylines.
My point is that we have to respect the vision of the directors and screenwriters and wait until we see the final product. We should realize by now that the MCU is another version of our favorite characters and their universe. Just like DC's "NEW 52" or Marvel's own "Marvel NOW!".
Which takes me to the meat of the article. Yes, the villains haven't been that memorable and that's a problem, especially in cinema. Film adaptations have given us exquisite performances from villains and even the best characters have been the antagonists (Hannibal Lecter, comes to mind right away) . In short, film is the biggest stage with the brightest spotlight and some of these characters didn't take advantage of either.
You don't need a trilogy to fully develop a villain or a TV series to understand their motivations. The best villains have been a one-shot affair and that's what I want to share with you in this article. What if the MCU villains had been portrayed or based on some of our favorite cinematic villains?
I will leave out TV characters and on-going characters (Loki, The Winter Soldier, Zebediah Killgrave) and focus on the main antagonists on film that had a chance to be memorable like Ultron or Ronan The Accuser.
5. Malekith The Accursed - Thor: The Dark World
Villain Makeover: The Shark - Jaws
If your villain is supposed to be an intimidating force without uttering a single word, you better take a page from one of the most ruthless villains in film history: The shark in Jaws. Malekith's whole motivation was to destroy everything in his path but you never feel threatened and he had an army at his disposal!
The shark was a one man (fish, maybe?) army and no one could stop it. The movie put in evidence that we as the supposed dominant species will always be at mother nature's creation's mercy. We as human beings, with all our technological advancements and progress, cannot match the primal ferocity of instinct. Malekith was supposed to make us believe that even the God of Thunder could do nothing against his resolve. Malekith and his people were borderline extinct so survival should had been the driving force behind his motivation. Granted, Malekith's purpose was to destroy the universe but even if you want to bring the universe only darkness, you should show a little bit of emotion at least.
4. Ronan The Accuser - Guardians of the Galaxy
Villain Makeover: Nurse Ratched - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Ronan The Accuser exercises his authority with ultimate judgment and hate. He is a zealot and his goal to exterminate a whole race based on his fanatical beliefs is a legitimate way to show how power corrupts, but power has to have a perspective as well. You can't give us a character and expect us to take your word for it that this guy is someone you shouldn't mess with and at the same time, try to justify his actions. Sometimes you can't have both and Ronan is lost in the transition.
That's what makes Nurse Ratched one of the most memorable villains of all time. She is the ultimate expression of how power ultimately corrupts. She desires order, she craves ultimate power and she uses her hatred to achieve her goals. In short, she is not a good person and in her little universe (the hospital) she is a destructive force and shows no remorse.
Both are strong presences on screen but the difference is that Nurse Ratched managed to make an everlasting impact after the credits rolled. Nurse Ratched convinced us that, although she is not the ultimate evil (society being the real enemy), she was capable of leaving her mark by tearing you apart. She made her time count. Ronan was in the same position but couldn't decide what to do with all that power at his disposal.
3. Whiplash / Ivan Antonovich Vanko - Iron Man 2
Villain Makeover: Max Cady - Cape Fear
Revenge. So simple yet so difficult to express. Whiplash's whole arc was solely to exact revenge on the Stark name for ruining and humiliating his family. Max Cady had a similar grudge against the attorney that sent him to jail.
So what went wrong with Whiplash? Revenge for the sole purpose of getting even does not have the same impact as making the object of your contempt learn all about loss. Max Cady is a horrifying villain for the sole reason that his attacks are aimed first at the ones that Sam Bowden (the attorney) loves the most.
Both men lost something and their motivations were payback but where Max Cady managed to stand out is in the way that, even with him out of the picture, you actually don't think there's a happy ending. Cady takes away your sense of security and mentally scars our main character. Whiplash devolves into a battering ram with the sole purpose of destroying instead of teaching a lesson. Shame, since Whiplash is one of the better looking villains in the MCU.
2. Aldrich Killian / "The Mandarin" - Iron Man 3
Villain Makeover: Roger 'Verbal' Kint / "Keyser Söze" - The Usual Suspects
"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist." - Roger 'Verbal' Kint
Yes, there was that Marvel One-Shot that showed that apparently the "real" Mandarin was still out there but why ruin the surprise that soon?
Aldrich Killian was a great character and made even better by the acting of Guy Pearce. Already a believable threat, he didn't have the need to become more powerful than what he was. I wouldn't have had a problem with the reveal of him being The Mandarin if it hadn't felt so bland and so rushed. An after credits scene would had been amazing in my opinion. The Marvel One-Shot felt just like a knee jerk reaction to the backlash that the reveal brought.
And that's why The Usual Suspects excelled in concealing its biggest secret even if it was in plain sight. The reveal is one of the best twists in film history, even if you saw it coming a mile away. Why does it work then? It's all in the narrative. Halfway in to the movie you already know that Verbal and Keyser are the same person but you are invested in how all unfolds and you want to be convinced.
If Aldrich had not said anything at the climax of the movie and in some way managed to survive, revealing that he was The Mandarin all this time after the credits rolled, would have been one of the best twists in comic book film history and a legitimate threat in the future of the MCU.
"A man can convince anyone he’s somebody else, but never himself." - Roger 'Verbal' Kint
1. Ultron - [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](tag:293035)
Villain Makeover: Alonso Harris - Training Day
What's more depressing than seeing something pure and full of good intentions become corrupted with no chance of redemption? A peace-keeping A.I. that becomes self-aware and realizes that the best way to fulfill his purpose is to get rid of the entire human race. After all, he was a suit of armor to protect the world from anything or anyone. It's not his fault human nature is the very reason of his existence. He is overwhelmed by the notion that humans tear the world apart just to justify its defense.
Detective Alonso Harris might have been a good cop once but the pursuit of control over crime sunk him in the very depths of the world he decided to pursue the moment he decided to wear that badge. It got to a point where Alonso treats everyone with the same criteria. Every single person he interacts with is just a means to an end.
Both characters are not only corrupt but they decide to influence everyone around them (good or bad). The twins, good in essence, were in need of guidance and Ultron used that to his advantage. Alonso used rookie Jake Hoyt to further his goals and just plain abuses his authority on him and tries to manipulate him at every turn.
Both characters succumb to their own ambition and what makes them both memorable villains is the fact that they ultimately leave this world thinking that they were doing the right thing.
Well, there you have it. Thank you very much for your time and I hope you enjoyed the read.