The films and TV shows in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are widely acclaimed for the most part, except for one aspect about them: the villains. Aside from Loki, Wilson Fisk, and Kilgrave, most of the villains introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been criticized for being a bit on the dull/forgettable side.
Some of the blame has to do with the scripts that oftentimes overemphasize the heroes in the films and TV shows. But a closer look at the antagonists in many of these productions will reveal that the foes are actually worthy opponents, ones deserving of a bit more respect than they’ve received. Here are 12 Most Underrated Villains Of The Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Unlike the TV shows on ABC, the Netflix Marvel TV shows have had remarkable villains, ones that rank amongst the best comic book villains ever to appear in live action (notably Wilson Fisk and Kilgrave). They’re so good that they outshone some formidable bad guys and even their respective heroes in Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
The best of this bunch is Nobu, of the enigmatic ninja order called the Hand. Not much is known about him except that he is a ninja that resurrects himself and came dangerously close to killing Daredevil. Nobu is already a daunting opponent with his martial arts expertise and skill in hand weapons, something Daredevil learned the hard way. Now add to that combo the fact that he keeps coming back from the dead, and you have one malicious villain that can even give Wolverine and Deadpool a run for their money in terms of fighting skills and toughness.
11. Eric Savin
Carrying out Aldrich Killian’s evil deeds as his right hand man in Iron Man 3, Eric Savin is a former veteran who underwent Killian’s Extremis experimental procedure and gained fire-based powers. Able to regenerate himself and with an explosive temper to go with his powers, Savin is a particularly vicious foe that truly tested Iron Man. Other ignoble acts that he committed in the film included carrying out terrorist acts, nearly killing Happy Hogan, and kidnapping the U.S. president. He’s a total jerk.
There isn’t anything subtle or three dimensional about Savin. He is brutish and ferocious without any remorse. Basically, a classic henchman without any redeeming values, but Savin is unnerving and frightening, and seasoned actor James Badge Dale brought a wild ferociousness to the role that was overlooked by fans . With the way he displayed his fiery superpowers as he caused explosions, melted armor and regenerated lost limbs, we wondered if Iron Man, who now faced an opponent that was not in a modified armored suit, would get out of the confrontation in one piece.
10. Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones
Brock Rumlow was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but was later revealed to be a member of the terrorist organization Hydra that had been buried within the agency. Even though he was supposed to be one of the good guys when he first appeared in the opening moments of that film, we knew something was off with him. Rumlow seemed reckless, insensitive, and carefree as he blasted away at his opponents. He just had tool written all over him.
His true intentions became evident in the famous elevator fight in the film, when he and a small army tried to apprehend Steve Rogers to no avail. Despite the fact that his prize escaped, Rumlow showed how brutally capable he was in a fight, even though he was far from Steve Rogers’ equal. In his brief appearance in Captain America: Civil War, he had become the deadly armored mercenary Crossbones, and his actions served as the match that started the fire between Captain America and Iron Man.
9. Arnim Zola
When we first meet Arnim Zola in Captain America: The First Avenger, he just appeared to be a creepy mad scientist and a lackey for the Red Skull. But over the course of the film, Zola turned out to be quite the survivalist while creating futuristic munitions for the Red Skull’s Hydra army.
As revealed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Zola was instrumental in transforming Hydra after World War II into a worldwide terrorist organization responsible for several atrocities. He was also behind the brainwashing of James “Bucky” Barnes and his transformation into the lethal Winter Soldier. Zola managed to do all this throughout the decades even after his physical death, after he downloaded his mind into a supercomputer. As a behind-the-scenes villain, Zola excelled in his long-term goals of world domination by seeding chaos and terrorism. These actions made it clear that despite his meek appearance, Zola is more capable at world domination than his bombastic mentor, the Red Skull.
As the adopted daughter of Thanos, Nebula quickly proved herself to be a sadistic and chaotic lieutenant for Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy, one who enjoyed being bad. With her bald head, cybernetic implants and blue skin, the fearsome Nebula clearly delighted in instilling fear and pain in her opponents, especially her adopted sister Gamora. The two had a sibling rivalry that was aggravated by Gamora joining the Guardians of the Galaxy and turning her back on her family’s evil ways, a betrayal that likely infuriated Nebula.
Surprisingly tough and a deadly hand-to-hand fighter, Nebula is the opposite of Gamora in that she is irredeemable; she simply refuses to see reason. Despite the insanity of Ronan’s genocidal ambitions, she went along with the Kree warrior because she did not care about the consequences of his actions. Throughout the course of Guardians of the Galaxy, Nebula was a consistent and formidable thorn in the side of the main characters as they tried avoiding Ronan and when they finally confronted him. Look for her to continue her antagonistic ways in the sequel.
7. Justin Hammer
In the mess that was Iron Man 2, it is easy to overlook the film’s best villain, Justin Hammer. If the film was not too busy juggling multiple subplots and setting up the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it could have instead focused on the only bad guy worth talking about it the film, because he had one of the most memorable storylines. A second-tier business competitor to Tony Stark who couldn’t get any respect from anyone — especially Stark, who enjoyed belittling him — Hammer’s character was boosted by the always wonderful Sam Rockwell.
As funny as it was to hear Stark’s trademark snarky comments towards Hammer, it was those quips that drove Hammer to outdo Stark by trying to replicate and surpass the Iron Man armor. That alone helped the film and Hammer’s situation resonate more with audiences, many of whom could probably identify more with him than a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist that also happens to be a superhero. We’ve all been in his shoes and discounted by others at some point, so his animosity towards Stark was understandable given the circumstances.
What made Darren Cross so interesting in Ant-Man was not the capabilities of the Yellowjacket suit that he built. Rather, it was the subtle side effects of the shrinking technology that he copied from his former mentor, Hank Pym. Careful viewers noted that Cross was slowly becoming mentally unstable from the technology, that the film didn’t have him portrayed as an over-the-top lunatic. Rather, his character has an actual arc, a journey he underwent on the way to becoming a full-fledged baddie. Though, he was a ruthless and cold businessman who thought nothing of taking over Pym’s company and selling the dangerous shrinking technology to criminals.
Still, Cross was struggling within himself and losing the battle while we wondered if the suit made Cross evil or if his feelings towards Pym were what made him so hostile. More depth was added to Cross in his resentfulness towards Pym for not fully trusting him in the past. This leads one to ponder if Pym had treated him differently, would Cross have turned out the way he did?
5. Ronan the Accuser
Guardians of the Galaxy was celebrated for its quirky space heroes, but little love was paid to the film’s antagonist, the mighty Kree warrior Ronan the Accuser. Many dismissed him as a one-dimensional lackey to Thanos. Ronan was actually a fanatic who hated his people’s enemies, the Nova Empire, and felt betrayed when the Kree made peace with them. Armed with an Infinity Stone embedded in his hammer, he sets out on a rogue holy quest – defying the Mad Titan himself – to destroy the heart of the Nova Empire, the planet Xandar.
At the film’s start, Ronan was already a frightful and intimidating presence thanks to his scary face painting and brutish appearance. Then, once transformed by the Stone, he became a nightmarish juggernaut that was nearly invincible and ready to wage war across the galaxy. Ronan was a great foil for the film’s heroes because he so outclassed them in terms of raw power that it made the Guardians seem like natural underdogs when they fought him.
4. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross
In The Incredible Hulk, General Thaddeus Ross was obsessed with capturing Bruce Banner/the Hulk. His rapid and blind devotion to this goal fractured his relationship with his daughter Betty and led him to be instrumental in the creation of the Abomination.
After a few years out of the spotlight, Ross resurfaced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War. Now the U.S. Secretary of State, Ross seems to have moved on from his Hulk obsession and instead has turned a distrustful eye towards the superhero community as a whole. He uses recent tragic events such as the Ultron attack on Sokovia to help draft a UN accord demanding that the Avengers and other superhumans be under government control. This creates disharmony within the Avengers and turns Earth’s Mightiest Heroes against each other, as Ross eggs Tony Stark to bring Steve Rogers in to justice. Even after the calamity and heartbreak that he’s caused, one can’t help feeling that Ross is not done yet with the superhero community.
3. Aldrich Killian
Poor Iron Man 3 doesn’t get its due respect because it is mired in controversy, the latest being that the big bad of the film was supposed to be a woman, an idea scrapped over toy sales(???). Despite this revelation Aldrich Killian is the best villain Tony Stark has faced in all the Iron Man films.
In previous films, Iron Man confronted baddies who were, for the most part, evil versions of himself wearing variants of his armor. This time, although the villain in Iron Man 3 was another corporate leader, his powers were different, as was his motivation. Aldrich’s drive for success was so potent because of Stark’s pre-Iron Man behavior toward him. We could empathize with Aldrich, who was belittled and stood up by Stark in the past. It was also admirable how he remade himself from a nerdy scientist into a suave and successful businessman, albeit through nefarious means.
Aldrich used his success to hatch an insidious plot that threatened to topple the U.S. government and destroy Tony Stark. Whether or not fans liked the film’s twist about the true villain, Aldrich has to be lauded for his evil, but brilliant machinations.
2. Alexander Pierce
One thing that can be said for the U.S. government in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that it is a fertile ground for great villains. But Secretary of Defense Alexander Pierce in Captain America: The Winter Soldier wins the prize for the most evil government official.
Pierce spearheaded the S.H.I.E.L.D. project called Insight that utilized special helicarriers to preemptively assassinate potential threats around the world. He was literally seconds away from causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Charming and poised on the outside, Pierce actually has a cold and brutal interior that explained his involvement in Hydra’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., which led to its dismantling.
His scenes perfectly echoed the ’70s political thrillers and injected the film with a sense of paranoia. What made him so intimidating was that he had the forces of the law on his side who either didn’t question his actions or were unaware of his true motives. With that kind of power and clout, Pierce is one of the most frightful and disarming villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
1. Helmut Zemo
Many miss the point about Helmut Zemo in Captain America: Civil War. Yes, he was radically different from his Nazi counterpart in the comic books; by comparison, he actually seems rather ordinary. Instead of doing what would have been a Red Skull knockoff, the filmmakers rewrote his back story, which remade him into a former member of an elite military force with a tragic background that further twisted him into an undeniably evil person.
His tragedy, which gives credence to the events of Age of Ultron where Sokovia was decimated, led him to harbor a deep hatred for the Avengers and into the ultimate long-range revenge plot. Knowing that he lacked the raw power to confront the superhero team directly, Zemo engaged in a complex and ultimately successful plot to get the heroes to destroy themselves.
Zemo is the most underrated villain in the MCU because out of all the foes, his plan actually worked. In this case, he got the Avengers to turn against each other, which broke the team and forever altered their relationships. In doing so, he may have doomed the Earth to a fiery end (an Infinity War is brewing, after all), but whatever.
What do you think of these villains? Do they deserve a second look, or are there other baddies that deserve the love? Leave your thoughts in the comments.