Marvel Studios has become one of the biggest creative outlets in the film industry. Producing at least two blockbusters a year, racking up billions in box office revenue and a road map made public until at least 2020 there’s no stopping the juggernaut of comic book movies just yet. However, do they have a problem with how they treat their villains?
Loki, Red Skull, Thanos, Iron Monger, Whiplash, the Mandarin, Ronan the Accuser, Ultron, some of Marvel’s greatest villains that we have seen grace the big screen to take on Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk & the Guardians of the Galaxy so far… but, only Loki and Thanos (who hasn’t even appeared in vain yet) have lasted more than a quick and a less than challenging battle within a solitary movie for our Avengers.
Now, this is not to say these villains have been portrayed badly. Hugo Weaving was a great Red Skull, Lee Pace was brilliant in the role of Ronan the Accuser & Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger was quality too! The casting & acting is not the problem. The problem is how these characters have been brushed aside and so far & presumably in future instalments to have no involvement.
Red Skull, despite being one of the more iconic Marvel villains & a vital part of Captain America’s history has yet to reappear as we head into our third Captain America movie and quite possibly the last featuring Steve Rogers, depending on if Chris Evans wishes to stay on past Infinity War. He is MIA, after the Tesseract transported him to parts unknown. But presuming the Hydra Leader has survived his stint in the vast unknown, if a spaceship can pick up a young Peter Quill in the 1980’s, surely one can drop the Red Skull back to Earth at some point in the seventy-dd years since 1945? Of course, Red Skull may come back to play a vital part in Infinity War or even Civil War, but we wouldn’t hold our breath!
Many fans will point to Iron Man 3 and The Mandarin. Arguably Iron Man’s fiercest nemesis and ringleader of the terrorist organisation the Ten Rings. While Iron Man 3 was a solid instalment in the Iron Man franchise, it greatly upset fans of the Iron Man comics with its treatment of The Mandarin. While Sir Ben Kingsley throughout the trailers and early parts of the film played an intimidating and sinister Mandarin, he is reduced to a meer distraction when it is revealed that he is in fact a stage actor named Trevor Slattery. This infuriated Iron Man fans worldwide how the creative minds behind Iron Man 3 could reduce the Mandarin to little more than a laughing-stock of an actor posing as the Ten Rings as a front for Aldrich Killian and his Extremis work.
The backlash seemingly forced Marvel into a retcon of the Mandarin plot. The Hail to the King One-Shot insinuated that the Ten Rings are in fact more than what was depicted in Iron Man 3 and that there is a possibility the real Mandarin is out there. However with the direction the MCU is headed down the path of Civil War and in to Infinity War with no solo Iron Man movie confirmed, it may be a long time, if at all, before we see the Mandarin and the Ten Rings again.
Even looking at Age of Ultron, Ultron who was meant to be the biggest threat faced by the Avengers, one that would break them apart and leave them scattered (ok, AoU did that, but not necessarily in this way) was dispatched after two hours by Vision as if he was no more than a nasty Trojan file your laptop’s anti-virus found and picked off.
Compare this to Loki, who has been the focal point of both Thor movies & The Avengers and Thanos who despite not having appeared in any capacity more than fleeting cameos, he is guaranteed to be a major factor through Phase 3. With Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Captain Marvel & The Inhumans all relevant movies for Thanos to make an appearance and then Infinity War part 1 & 2. Loki will appear again in Thor: Ragnarok also, leading to his fourth appearance and counting in the MCU. These two are held on a higher pedestal than the other villains we’ve seen in the MCU, despite the fact that the others have all the potential to match them.
Well, to be honest, we’d hate to say that Marvel isn’t concerned about its villains, we don’t believe that they simply don’t care. It could be put down to the attraction of the heroes of their movies. The original appeal of The Avengers movie, and the other Marvel movies is the excitement for audiences of seeing their favourite heroes star in big screen adventures. Marvel spends so much time on the development and screen time for Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, the Guardians, Scott Lang etc. that the villains have to take a back foot.
Marvel heroes and their respective villains aren’t always equals in Marvel movies the way that let’s say, Batman & The Joker are. Look at The Dark Knight & The Dark Knight Rises and you’ll see The Joker & Bane getting as much if not more screen time than Batman. We had two villains who for the most part equalled the appeal for the audience of the titular hero. There’s not always that equality between hero & foe in the MCU, aside from Loki & Thanos, mostly due to Tom Hiddleston’s performances as Loki & the overarching role of Thanos in the MCU.
So are the heroes hindering the villains in more than just foiling their schemes? It certainly seems so. For many who go to see a Marvel movie the appeals are first and foremost the titular character. We want to see how Tony Stark is coping with dropping back through a wormhole, or how Steve Rogers is adapting to modern-day life, or how Scott Lang becomes Ant-Man. We’re also looking out for references and easter eggs and how that movie connects in to the greater MCU. Then we’re on the look out for the fabled end-credits sequence. The villain, despite the excitement of the likes of Ultron or the Mandarin or Red Skull are reduced to a plot device because the Avengers need someone to fight.
Of course, this still does not diminish the quality of the movies themselves. The likes of The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers have been some of the best & biggest blockbusters of the last few years regardless of whatever issues they had with their villains. Marvel Studios & Disney are still going to rake in articulated lorries full of cash, but maybe they will start to give a bit more credence to their upcoming villains like Klaw, Baron Mordo and whoever we see face Spider-Man and maybe even bring back Red Skull & Mandarin to be greater & fiercer than before. It would make a refreshing change from great villains who get dismissed quicker than you can spell Hydra.