Marvel’s Villain “Problem”

Tomorrow, hundreds, maybe even thousands, of nerds from around the country will open their doors for the UPS man or flock their way to the nearest Best Buy to get their hands on Avengers: Age of Ultron. Age of Ultron will mark the second time some of our favorite Marvel heroes have banded together to face another threat facing our world, and for many it will mark the end of Marvel’s phase 2 (with Ant-Man acting as more of an epilogue to the last two years of Marvel movies). This movie, just like every other Marvel movie, has only shown us that the superhero movie isn’t leaving anytime soon, and there is still plenty of fun to go around. But one complaint still rings out amongst fans and critics alike: Marvel has a villain problem.

While many people praise Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, many more complain about every other Marvel cinematic villain. Every single one of them has come across has stale, two-dimensional, and even sometimes comically so. I had such high hopes knowing that the man who made me a whovian was playing a villain to Thor, only to be disappointed that he came across as boring and under developed. The same can be said about just about every other villain. My one excitement for Iron Man 3 was watching Ben Kingsly act out the famous mandarin. All of the trailers made me giddy watching this mashup between a terrorists and southern baptist preacher take down the seemingly impervious Tony Stark. I then left the theater disappointed that he was only a decoy for the real (once again two-dimensional) “mandarin,” Aldrich Killian. I had even higher hopes with James Spader playing Ultron, only to leave the theater feeling that Ultron’s plan seemed really convoluted, and his motives like that of a stereotypical teenager found on any MTV show.

While Marvel’s villains suffer, the movies themselves are still relatively fun and enjoyable. I have not yet regretted spending the $20+ to take my wife and I to see these movies on opening night. I would however suggest that Marvel’s cinematic villain problem is not necessarily a problem, it is simply an extension of their comic book universe.

I wish I could remember where I had read it, but in an article I had read a long time ago the writer suggested that the major difference between DC comics and Marvel comics doesn’t lie in what heroes or villains either one has, it lies in how each one interprets worldly struggles and how they chose to emphasize it. The writer said Marvel chooses to focus on the internal struggles their heroes experience, while DC focuses on the external struggles that their heroes experience. For example: Peter Parker is an intelligent kid, bitten by a radioactive spider, trying to juggle responsibilities of every day life, protect his secret identity to protect his loved ones, and be a hero. Tony Stark struggled (struggles?) with alcoholism. Where is Batman’s alcoholism? Where is Flash’s struggle to protect those he loves and balance work and saving lives (I will admit the new show does a pretty decent job on showing some of his struggle of balancing various aspects of life)? We all know that Batman lost his parents and that is why he does what he does, but all of that is secondary when he is fighting crime. He spends more time hunting the Joker and the Court of Owls than he does trying to balance the responsibilities of a job and saving Gotham.

By extension, I believe the MCU is only following the same formula is since the 1960’s. The entirety of Ant-Man focused on the relationships between Hank Pym and his Daughter, as well has Scott Lang and his daughter. In all of this Darren Cross is painting as some two-dimensional scientific sell-out looking for fame and money. The Winter Soldier focused on Captain America’s belief’s about government safety and surveillance. Iron Man 3 examined Tony Stark’s PTSD after the first Avengers. Guardians of the Galaxy saw a bunch of thieves, outcasts, and loners find family. We aren’t supposed to care about the villains. While it would be more enjoyable to get more Loki’s with every new Marvel movie, I don’t think we have the time in a 2.5 hour movie to delve into the intricacies of what motivates both our heroes and our villains without forcing one of those to be static. Did we want a better Ultron? Yes. Did we want a better Mandarin? Yes. Maybe Marvel’s villain problem isn’t necessarily a villain problem, but a writing problem.

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6 thoughts on “Marvel’s Villain “Problem”

  1. Good points. By “…the man who made me a whovian was playing a villain to Thor” you were talking about Loki, right? While I think that his character is getting a little exhausting (seriously, how many times is that guy going to die?) I don’t see how he’s boring and under developed. I’m not trying to be nit-picky, I would just love to see an expansion on that point. Always nice to see a good superhero review!

    1. No, I was referring to Christophr Eccleston. Sorry, should have clarified that. I thought that his Malekith was boring.
      I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Loki. Not as much as some people, but still enough to say he is probably the best written Marvel villain. Seeing what happens to him on the throne of Asgard is the only reason I am excited for the new Thor movie since I’ve never been a huge Thor fan.

      1. Thanks for the clarification. Yeah, I didn’t like Malekith, either. He just didn’t intimidate and had a pretty weak stage presence. I completely agree on your points on Loki.

  2. Marvel doesn’t have a villain problem. They made 12 movies. Of those 12 movie, at least three have an outstanding villain, Thor and The Avengers with Thor, and The Winter Soldier with Hydra/Alexander Pierce. Granted, Hydra is not as flashy as Loki, but its a gift which keeps on giving and Robert Redford played a wonderfully sympathetic villain.

    6 Movies have a villain which is perfect for the story they are trying to tell. The Incredible Hulk is one of the weakest movie of the MCU, but neither Blonsky nor General Ross are the problem in it. I never understood why everybody complains about Ronan in GotG, aside from it being currently en vogue to be dissatisfied with the Marvel villains. Iron Man, The first Avenger Ant-Man, Age of Ultron, those are all movies with good villains, which are only “bad” if you compare them to Loki. But that is like complaining that Penguin or Raz-al-Guhl is not as good as the Joker.

    The villain of Iron Man 3, well, it really depends what you think about the twist.

    In the end, Marvel has created exactly two movies with bad villains, Iron Man 2 and Thor 2. 2 out of 12…nope, that is not a villain problem.

    1. I am inclined to agree with you. Saying that the Marvel villains suit their purpose within each contained story is a great way to summarize most of what I was trying to say in my post.
      I do think Hyda as an entity has been a great foil to the Avengers (especially Captain America). I thought Alexander pierce was a great villain. However, Marvel keeps killing off the better villains. I would include Ronan in this. He was by far one of the better written villains (mostly because of the allusions to Darth Vader). I would have loved to see Ronan stick around so we could explore more of his comic arc where he becomes less of a villain and more of a “hero” type where he works alongside many of the Avengers during the more cosmic stories.
      Again, I don’t think Marvel has a villain problem. I think they have a writing problem. They write villains that serve the purpose of each movie, and the villains who are better written and we’d like to see more of are killed off before we get the opportunity to see how far the character can be taken.

      1. Ronan was great (it is kind of funny that he was based by Darth Vader because Darth Vader is inspired by Dr. Doom), but I really didn’t see another solution for him than getting killed. Drax wouldn’t have allowed it. Plus, they already have Yondu as ambiguous character.
        I think Marvel is very aware that it is worth to allow villains stick around now. That’s why Nebula survived.

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