The Marvel Cinematic Universe has largely received high marks from critics and a more consistently enthusiastic response from audiences overall than competing superhero mega-franchises from Warner Bros and Fox. However, what's also consistent is a frequent criticism of MCU features not being able to create memorable villains, instead opting to focus on the personal and/or internal conflicts of heroes with bad guys mainly serving as incidental aspects of the plot.
While it doesn't appear to have hurt the films' box office, fans remain divided as to whether or not this has been the best use of Marvel's iconic villains. Marvel Studios' leader Kevin Feige offered his take on the villain controversy - and whether or not it will change going forward
As part of a conversation the producer had with Screen Rant and other press outlets for the upcoming release of Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 conducted back in April of 2016 when we visited the set, Feige was asked about the role of villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the process that goes into creating them; revealing a complex look into what goes into deciding how to use an antagonist within the now firmly-established "Marvel way" of crafting a big-budget superhero tentpole:
"Well, I mean, it always varies, but it always starts with what serves the story the most and what serves the hero the most. We’ve been criticized, if a big criticism of ours is that we focus on the heroes more than the villains, I think that’s probably true. I don’t think it will always be true and I think some of you spoke to Chris and Steve at the Civil War junket. When the heck was that, yesterday? Last week? And they talked about, in appropriately oblique terms, Thanos. Thanos in Infinity War is, you know, in a movie that has a lot of characters, you could almost go so far as to say he is the main character, and that’s a bit of a, that’s a bit of a departure from what we’ve done before, but that was appropriate for a movie called Infinity War."
While this is unlikely to "shut down" the debate over Marvel's use of villains versus their use of heroes, it does shed an interesting light onto the way Marvel has thus far conceived it's villains versus its heroes - one that would seem to be very much in keeping with the legacy inherited from the original Marvel Comics as envisioned by creators like Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee when setting up the foundations of these characters in the early 1960s: Whereas rival DC Comics had held to the "golden age" tradition of heroes being morally-righteous avatars for the reader to project onto, most Marvel heroes were designed to be more complex and face relatable human foibles and insecurities.
Many comics historians credit Marvel's rise to prominence and the cultivation of a broader readership throughout the 60s and 70s. However, in the much more recent era of superhero cinematic universes, both entities have presented their heroes in more three-dimensional terms. While Marvel's decision to center its heroes during its early 'Phases' so far is clearly working for them in terms of box office take and critical praise, many fans will likely continue to prefer the DCEU approach of devoting equal (or greater) narrative time to developing its villains - and the debate over which method is "better" appears to have no end in sight.
Of course, Feige also hinted that this may be changing and perhaps it's already beginning to with Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) surviving Captain America: Civil War for a potential return, and Doctor Strange's Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) clearly being setting up for a larger rule in the future. Thanos may be the main character of Avengers: Infinity War Feige also revealed to us so now that the MCU and its Avengers are established, they can start to spend time planting seeds for long-term payoffs and character arcs when it comes to the antagonists.
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Set to the all-new sonic backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is written and directed by James Gunn and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, featuring Vin Diesel as Baby Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Tommy Flanagan, Laura Haddock, with Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell. Kevin Feige is producing, and Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Jonathan Schwartz, Nikolas Korda and Stan Lee are the executive producers.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) release date: May 05, 2017
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018