There's no stopping Marvel, the undisputed king of superhero movies now that Disney is moving to purchase Fox's film properties. But no matter how the studio figures out how to add the X-Men into the Avengers universe, they may not figure out how to keep their movie villains from disappointing. Even though the reason why is staring them in the face.
It's not a question of how 'evil' a movie villain is shown to be, since a desire to "kill everything" is common across Marvel movies (and the genre). No, the challenge we're spotlighting is making a villain, and their conflict with the hero, more satisfying and memorable to fans. Because it's something Marvel has managed more than once.
The bad news? The most effective way of writing a good villain isn't the kind of thing Marvel seems interested in. The good news? When a superhero script is built with this one principle in mind, audiences get villains like Loki, Killmonger, or the X-Men's Magneto. Hopefully Marvel will take notice, since those praised villains are the exceptions that prove this disappointing rule.
How does Marvel fix it? Easy: take note of the ONE thing good villains all have in common.
- This Page: Why Marvel Villains Are So Boring
- Page 2: The ONE Thing Marvel's Best Villains Have in Common
Why Do Marvel Villains Want Such Boring Things?
To really understand - or to actually give proper credit to - villains like Black Panther's Erik Killmonger or Thor fan-favorite Loki, fans need to recognize why they stand out in the first place. From a distance, casual observers (or devoted MCU defenders) may claim that MCU villains are trending upward, or that Marvel's movie villain problems are a myth.
But judging by these sixteen Marvel movie villains, it's clear the writers and directors only have so much time to spend away from the hero. Usually, that means a villain created in a generic, formulaic mold. Laid out in succession like we've done here, Marvel has clearly found the villainous motivations audiences are most willing to accept:
- Obadiah Stane - wants to make money selling weapons.
- Abomination - wants revenge on Bruce Banner.
- Whiplash - wants revenge on Tony Stark.
- Red Skull - wants to take over the world.
- Loki - wants to take over the world.
- Aldrich Killian - wants to make money selling weapons.
- Malekith - wants "darkness" to take over the universe.
- Alexander Pierce - wants to take over the world.
- Ronan - wants revenge on Xandar.
- Ultron - wants to take over the world.
- Yellowjacket - wants to make money selling weapons.
- Helmut Zemo - wants revenge on the Avengers.
- Kaecilius - wants "darkness" to take over the world.
- Ego - wants to take over the universe.
- Vulture - wants to make money selling weapons.
- Hela - wants to take over the universe.
None of this is to say that an antagonist motivated by greed, revenge, or power is inherently a bad one. After all, these are archetypes for a reason. But they're not the most interesting, thought-provoking, or satisfying, either. At least, not any more than any villain motivated by such an urge would be by any movie studio not leading a genre.
These motivations may be serviceable - a fact proven by their films' box office and critical success, and Marvel sticking to what clearly works. But they're also so divorced from anything unique to the hero, they can't really reveal anything other than the fact that the hero, whoever he or she may be, isn't evil.
The result is painfully bland: Ronan wants to kill innocents, the Guardians don't want to kill innocents. HYDRA wants to enslave mankind, Captain America thinks that's wrong. Hela wants to kill everyone, and Thor, Hulk, Valkyrie, and Heimdall would rather everyone not be killed. It works to establish a conflict, but relies on a black-or-white morality that is, if nothing else, not that interesting.
Which leads movie fans to applaud villains like Killmonger and Loki, and wonder why Marvel can't make every villain as compelling. These antagonists win their own fandoms because they don't want simple, boring, or generic things at the end of their mission.
What do they want? That's simple... they want the same thing as the heroes.