Marvel has come a long way since Robert Downey Jr first donned the Iron Man suit in 2008 and took on Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane, with a wide range of villains coming and going throughout the course of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s realisation. Every protagonist needs a worthy antagonist, and many directors have tried (sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing) to bring a comic book bad guy to life effectively on the big screen.
The MCU has gifted us some enduring villains (like the brilliant Loki) and completely forgettable ones (remember Whiplash in Iron Man 2? No?). Some of these bad guys were merely temporary foils for our favourite superheroes to gleefully slap around in a few big-budget action sequences and ultimately played a small role in any build-up before the film was released. Some, however, were absolutely critical to the plot and featured heavily in trailers and publicity material prior to making their anticipated appearance on screen.
As we complete our series on Villains, let’s take a look at two Big Bads in the MCU, one of whom hit the nail on the head, and one who ultimately proved to be a let-down.
Part Three: Marvel Villains
Ultron – so much potential, so little payoff
Calm down, this is just my opinion.
When the first teaser trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron dropped and I heard James Spader growl “I’m going to show you something beautiful”, my instant reaction was…..oh yes. Spader has one of the best voices in Hollywood, and I thought he was the perfect choice to play the evil, evolving robot hell-bent on destroying humanity and the Avengers. And of course, he delivered every line exquisitely – better, in fact, than some of his fellow actors in the movie.
There is, however, only one word to adequately describe what Age of Ultron turned out to be – meh.
I’m probably in the minority here, but I was disappointed with this movie in the end. The first Avengers is just so good, one of the most enjoyable Marvel movies by far, perhaps with the exception of Thor: Ragnarok. Joss Whedon had set the bar pretty high in 2012 and had a lot to live up to with his 2015 sequel. His previous villain had been Loki, after all – not an easy act to follow.
But Ultron, in spite of everything he appeared he would be in the trailers, was ultimately a pretty two-dimensional villain. Yes, he had some complex daddy issues with Tony Stark and his actions resulted in the necessity for the Sokovia Accords, which caused the fallout in Captain America: Civil War, and yes, he helped create Vision, but Ultron just didn’t do it for me in the end. Age of Ultron itself isn’t written as well as its predecessor either and becomes a bit muddled towards the end – maybe if the film as a whole had been more successfully executed, Ultron would have reached his full potential.
Thanos – well worth the decade of anticipation
I’m a huge fan of how the Russo brothers brought Infinity War to life on the big screen. It was a monumental challenge given the sheer number of characters involved, all of whom had their own personal backstories, but they pulled it off. You can read my glowing review here.
And one of the primary reasons for the success of that film is, I believe, its antagonist.
Marvel had been building steadily towards the big reveal of Thanos since his first cameo appearance in Thor in 2011. And when the titan finally appeared, he did not disappoint. In his first scene, he bumps off two of those enduring MCU characters we talked about and beats Hulk in a fist fight, which very few others can claim to have done. And that’s just him getting started.
I was always a little worried that Thanos would be just another two-dimensional villain driven by an unwavering desire to take over the universe, and while cosmic annihilation is indeed on his agenda, there’s something that very clearly sets him apart from all other villains in the MCU – he actually achieves his goal and defeats the good guys.
There are some pretty great villains in Marvel’s grand project, but for me, Thanos is the one who absolutely nailed it and very much lived up to the hype.
The bottom line
So there we have it – the movie villains who were worth the wait, and those who ultimately let us down (or let me down, anyway). Hope you’ve enjoyed my little rants, even if your opinion differs completely. But I’m sure we can all agree on one thing: a really great villain can raise the bar for any film.