One of the most common criticisms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been its lackluster villains and the failure to properly develop them over multiple films. However, while the MCU proper could use a bit of work in developing its baddies (with one glaring exception; see below), a number of big-screen films based on Marvel Comics have managed to paint the villains as compelling and even sympathetic figures.
We’re not saying that we want to see these despicable men (there’s a severe lack of female Marvel movie villains at the moment) emerge victorious by the time the credits roll. Still, the performances of the actors portraying these villains and the strength of the material they’re given, lend insight into how their minds work and provide a greater understanding of their perspective in the epic battle between good and evil. Let’s delve into this rogues’ gallery, shall we?
1. Blade (1998)
Director Stephen Norrington’s Blade was the first big-screen success of a film based on a Marvel Comics property. Some fans still consider it the best of the Blade trilogy. Much of the films popularity can be traced back to Stephen Dorff’s half-blood vampire, Deacon Frost. The character’s attraction to vampire history results from his obsession with proving himself worthy to the council that governs the vampire nation. Moreover, his ideological differences with those in power make him a political allegory and his surprising connection to Blade himself (no spoilers here) help Frost retain his status as one of the strongest villains of any comic book film to date.
2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Across five different Spider-Man films (not counting Spider-Man’s supporting appearance in Captain America: Civil War, of course), no villain our hero has come up against can compare to Alfred Molina’s Doctor Ock. Granted, part of the reason the character is so great is the fact that he shows up in the best Spider-Man film, but more than that, the gravitas the veteran actor brings to the role — and the sympathetic angle the script provides — makes him so much damn fun to watch. Mind-controlled by his own technology, Otto Octavius is just as much a victim of a experiment gone awry as his dearly departed wife Rosie. Only his fate, takes much longer to play out.
3. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
Okay, this one might be a bit of a cheat, seeing as the real villain of this sequel is the shapeless cloud that the film attempts to pass off as Galactus. However, for most of the runtime, the Silver Surfer — voiced by Laurence Fishburne but performed through motion-capture by Doug Jones — is perceived to be the Fantastic Four’s real threat. Considering that he is being forced to serve as a harbinger of sorts for Galactus, the Silver Surfer ultimately emerges as a sympathetic figure, a fact which no doubt contributed to the failed development of a spinoff film.
4. Thor (2011)
We bet you had a feeling that Loki would make an appearance on this list. Tom Hiddleston’s adopted Asgardian prince quickly became a fan favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although he would become a full-fledged super-villain in The Avengers, his role in Thor was a jilted son desperate for acceptance, and, yes, hungry for power.
As he stages his first attempt to gain the throne, the character is far more than just evil for evil’s sake, and viewers are offered a glimpse into Loki’s fractured psyche. The best villains are the ones who believe they are on the side of good, and it’s easy to see how Loki’s warped perspective makes him believe he is the rightful ruler of Asgard.
5. X-Men: First Class (2011)
Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) might be the true villain of the prequel to the X-Men film franchise, but Michael Fassbender’s version of a young Magneto is by far the standout character. His inclusion offers an even more troubled backstory for the team’s longtime arch-nemesis. Out for revenge, the film’s Magneto is painted in far more shades of grey than the one played by Ian McKellen in other installments, giving us the chance to actually root for him to take down a mutant far more nefarious than he. No wonder X-Men: First Class began development as X-Men Origins: Magneto.
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