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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a long running problem with creating a truly memorable, layered, intimidating villain. I mean, look what they did to Malekith for Odin’s sake. He was like Thor’s Joker (in that he was a joke-making psychopath) and they turned him into a posturing cardboard cutout.
Point being, each time a new entry of the MCU rolls out, I hope to be wowed by a villain. And even though it did happen with Daredevil‘s Kingpin, more often than not, I’m left wanting more. I had hope after seeing the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailers, but now… now I’m not so sure we’ve broken the slump.
Let me explain (beware the SPOILERS below)…
Here’s the deal with Avengers 2‘s Ultron. James Spader preformed the hell out of the character and every technical detail was very well done. I wouldn’t say he was a bad character by any means, he was just… look. Let me put it this way. I believe the Ultron we got was much… lighter than one we may have been better off getting.
In the trailers, Ultron was made out to be this off putting, creepy, overbearing force of insane robotery. Like the comics, I had the the impression that this Ultron was going to be an intimidating genocidal maniac, a maniac that can’t be truly killed.
In the movie, it turns out Ultron was psychotic, sure, but he was much more quippy, more more of a Bond villain. He also seemed to sit out of the action more than his comic book counterpart. A truer-to-form Ultron would be constantly on the attack, constantly devastating the world’s forces until he gets what he wants. Here he seemed content to sit around and crack wise while our heroes regrouped on a farm.
This is what I’m talking about. Ultron was okay, but he didn’t leave me wanting more. I was “oh, that was nice” instead of “holy crap, now that’s an Ultron!” He didn’t have any moments that solidified him as a great villain. He may of uprooted a city, but he never had a Kingpin-esque “car door decapitation” scene. And it’s important we get those. Why?
We’ve talked about it a million times before. With the oncoming glut of comic book movies, it’s going to be important to try to stay fresh with audiences. I know its impossible to tell what exactly an audience will be into, but I’m guessing it’s not a parade of less-than-okay to slightly-more-than-okay villains.
Marvel has a huge advantage in recognition, but they’re also the biggest in the spotlight. This means that the public will turn on them the fastest. So, in a way, they need to step up their villain game the most. You have the most to lose, guys. Seriously.
And I want Marvel to survive. I think there are a lot of cool stories yet to tell and a lot of nostalgia to dredge up and sell to me at a premium. I need another good Spider-Man movie, damnit. So what do we do?
I think Marvel has done a commendable job of sticking close to the tone of the source material. Sure, the MCU Guardians of the Galaxy were different from their comics counterparts, but on the whole they’ve stayed more than they’ve strayed. So to solve this villain issue, I’d recommend just following this path.
There are a ton of great Marvel villains still waiting to be unearthed in the comics. Baron Zemo, for instance, could be great in Captain America: Civil War. A ruthless, strategic-minded despot who also happens to be a raging culture snob? Lot of ground to be a cool villain! What about Surtur for Thor: Ragnarök? A gigantic, unstoppable fire demon? Maybe a little one dimensional. Flesh out Klaw for Black Panther, he could be a cool sub-villain at least. There’s a myriad of cosmic-scale villains for Guardians 2. Don’t even get me started on Spider-Man villains. Even skipping Norman Osborne, you’ve still got a whole other host of time-tested villains.
The point is, an entire ocean of competition is coming up fast around your ankles, Marvel, and like it or not you’re going to have to get even better. That means villains we remember, villains we respond to. It doesn’t have to be some kind of grim-dark frownfest, but they do have to raise stakes and they do have to matter.