What Marvel Needs to Do To Fix Its Villain Problem
Much has been said of the heroes composing the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The anticipation surrounding every upcoming installment is always based around whether a particular hero can carry their own feature-length film. Is Ant-Man interesting enough to keep us engaged for two hours? Can Captain America be more than a one-dimensional Boy Scout? Can we please put off seeing the Hulk carry his own movie until he goes to space (looking at you, Planet Hulk)? These are the sort of questions that people often find themselves asking. Unfortunately, they’re the wrong ones.
A superhero movie is only as good as its villain. It’s why The Avengers is by and large the best of the MCU, and why many recent movies have gone decidedly stale. Recently George R.R. Martin published a post on his personal blog expounding on his thoughts concerning the MCU and this problem.
I am tired of this Marvel movie trope where the bad guy has the same powers as the hero. The Hulk fought the Abomination, who is just a bad Hulk. Spider-Man fights Venom, who is just a bad Spider-Man. Iron Man fights Ironmonger, a bad Iron Man. Yawn. I want more films where the hero and the villain have wildly different powers.
Looking back on all of Marvel’s movie villains, it’s hard to disagree with Martin. Each hero more often than not battles their evil inverse: Ant-Man and Yellowjacket, Captain America and The Winter Soldier, Thor and Loki, the list goes on. It’s a problem endemic of a large majority of the MCU, and while it may not be sinking the franchise, it’s something that leaves audiences feeling as though something’s missing the second the credits roll.
Even with all this, it’s not like there’s no future for intriguing baddies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: Civil War will pit our heroes against each other, blurring the line between good and evil. The upcoming two-part Avengers saga will feature Thanos, a being that will challenge everything our main characters hold dear. A slew of new heroes in Doctor Strange and Black Panther are set to carry their own movies. All this amounts to something of a tectonic shift in the MCU, spurred by the official end of Phase 2 marked by Ant-Man.
Each Phase of the Marvel universe has been marked by a major change. Phase 1 brought the Avengers together for the very first time. Phase 2’s exclamation point was the fall of SHIELD in The Winter Soldier. Phase 3 will hit the ground running with Civil War, and wrap up with the high-stakes Infinity War movies. Each of these major events denotes a major turning point and evolution of the franchise, something we hope translates into some more nuanced villains.
For now, we’re left to hope for better things in the future. Two phases of the MCU are officially behind us, and for this franchise to truly remain entertaining five years from now, they’ll need their villains to evolve along with their heroes. The MCU is a train that Disney will likely attempt to keep running for as long as they possibly can — they wouldn’t have devoted an entire studio to it otherwise. In order to fuel that train, it’s time for the Avengers and co. to fight some truly interesting foes.
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