Marvel’s Phase Two Villain Problem (…And How to Solve It In Phase Three)
“Marvel has a villain problem” – it’s a common refrain amongst many fans and even some of the geekier film critics. While Marvel Studios has done a fantastic job of transforming little known comic book superheroes into pop culture staples that feel both human and iconic, it has been less successful at creating compelling or memorable villains. While it could be argued that Phase Two, in particular, was about exploring the darker side our heroes and challenging their core beliefs – a theme which was very successful – it’s undeniable that the villains who forced our heroes to confront their ideals were one of the weakest elements of Phase Two, particularly when it came to setting up long term villains that could develop and serve as recurring threats (indeed, every single major villain in Phase Two dies by the end of the film).
So what’s at the heart of Marvel’s inability to craft compelling villains, and how can they establish more iconic bad guys in the future? In this piece, we take a look back at the villains of Phase Two, exploring why for the most part they failed to excite, as well as possible options for Phase Three villains – and how Marvel can make them as thrilling and dynamic as they have made their heroes.
Malekith – Thor: The Dark World
As we’ll quickly see, a recurring theme amongst the MCU villains is that their evil ambitions are very much a consequence of past events. Indeed, it’s one of the most iconic tropes in any superhero story, and equally as applicable to most heroes – the “secret origin” that makes them the character they are today. Malekith, the villain of Thor: The Dark World, awakes after thousands of years of slumber, and is arguably not so much a product of his past but rather that past character brought to life once more. Perhaps it’s for this reason – that the character has no discernable arc or growth – that Malekith is widely considered the worst of MCU villains.
Christopher Eccleston brought the ruler of the Dark Elves to life (to strain that turn of phrase to its breaking point) in a very brief, very unsatisfying turn. Believed to have been killed by Thor’s grandfather Bor, Malekith is awakened when Jane Foster (the true villain of both Thor films – Natalie Portman’s talents are wasted on such a dreadful character) comes across the Aether – later revealed to be one of the six Infinity Stones, namely the Reality Stone (we think) – a weapon that Bor hid away and that the Dark Elves have sought after since the beginning of time. Malekith’s plan is to use the power of the Aether to consume all of reality in darkness (another recurring theme: the villains are rather uncreative in their use of the almost limitless power of the Infinity Stones, content for the most part to use it simply as a fancy laser gun and end of the world McGuffin), but is ultimately thwarted in classic superhero fashion by a team-up between Loki, Erik Selvig, and a last ditch, deus-ex machina heroic effort by the titular Thor, leading to the demise of the king of the Dark Elves.
Malekith, while not one of Thor’s best known comic book villains, is certainly one of his most cunning and worthy, and (following his film appearances) has been used to great effect in Jason Aaron’s recent runs on Thor: God of Thunder and Thor (featuring Jane Foster as the new Thor). Malekith’s film treatment in The Dark World anything but effective, transforming Malekith into a rote villain who makes Shakespearean-esque declariations that even the talents of Eccleston can’t save. Malekith’s appearance in the flashback does nothing to engender sympathy and while his final battle with Thor is visually kinetic (albeit bordering on silly), his death leaves no emotional impact on the audience. Indeed, if you were to ask anyone but a hard core MCU fan to tell you who the villain of The Dark World was, you’d likely draw a blank.
It can certainly be argued that Thor: The Dark World is principally a film concerned with the hero’s journey – in this case, Thor learning to care for others, his continued quest for greater humility, and the recurring theme of grappling with the burden of legacy and his role as a warrior – but the hero’s journey is always most successful when the villain provides a contrasting mirror. Of course, Loki will always be the true antagonist of the Thor series, and Hiddleston’s scenes with Hemsworth are easily the highlight of the film, allowing for both witty banter and real character growth for both Thor and Loki. The consequence of Loki’s machinations – he fakes his death and, as is revealed in the final scene of the film, has now taken the throne of Asgard impersonating Odin – remain to be seen, and are likely to be explored his Thor’s third solo outing, 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. Compared to Loki, Malekith was always going to be operating at a handicap as a memorable antagonist to Thor, but his treatment in The Dark World leaves him as little more than an afterthought even in the relatively week pool of MCU villains.
Ronan the Accuser – Guardians of the Galaxy
While Malekith may be the worst of Phase Two’s villains, Ronan is arguably the most disappointing one. A rich and wonderful comic book character, Ronan as depicted in Guardians of the Galaxy is a bundle of tropes and mad villain stereotypes thrown in to give the Guardians a reason to unite, and represents one of the most underutilized characters in the MCU. While Lee Pace did a fine job of portraying the character he was given, Ronan falls very short of expectations both as a villain and as a comic book adaptation.
Again, Ronan is a bad dude because of bad things in his past, in this case the violence of the long standing Kree-Xandar war – a conflict that has recently reached a peaceful resolution, but one that Ronan does not accept. Instead, he is hell bent on the destruction of Xandar, and allies with Thanos, believing that the Mad Titan can help fulfill his genocidal vision. When he learns that the Orb contains an Infinity Stone (the Power Stone), he rightly realizes that he can destroy Xandar on his own. Quite frankly, he’s little more than a power hungry goon, with the added trope of the henchman who turns on his boss and pays the price.
Ronan is of course the reason the Guardians unite as a team, and that’s ultimately the crux of his problem as a villain – he exists merely as a something to propel the plot forward, rather than a fully developed character in his own right (an issue common amongst blockbuster films in particular). Ronan’s genocidal agenda is what inspires the Guardians to overcome their individual issues, learn to work together, and embrace their heroic potential. Indeed, it can be argued that for the first two-thirds of the film, the principal antagonist of the film is not Ronan but the Guardians themselves – their inability to get along is the central conflict. Of course, neither of these elements – the villain as the reason our heroes unite, and the tension between heroes as a driving confict – is unique to Guardians. In fact it’s precisely the same structure of The Avengers. The advantage that film had is that most of the characters, including Loki as the villain, had been previously established in prior films, while James Gunn had the challenge of introducing five new heroes – characters who only the most hardcore of Marvel nerds had ever heard of – and transform those characters from scrupulous rogues to inspiring heroes in the space of two hours. That Gunn managed to do so beyond anyone’s wildest expectations – Groot is now a household name – but didn’t also manage to introduce a truly memorable principal villain is a pretty reasonable “fault” in an otherwise superlative film. And Guardians does do a great job in its depiction of dubious allies such as Yondu and The Collector as well as supporting villains such as Korath and Nebula – the latter of whom may well be the principal antagonist in 2017’s sequel, recently confirmed to be titled Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.
Honestly, while I was supremely disappointed by the way Ronan was depicted and discarded in the MCU (I had the highest of hopes of seeing a grand Inhumans/Kree saga unfold), his simplicity as a villain is easy to understand because of the film in which he appeared. He also was important in a number exposition related roles – providing our first proper introduction to Thanos, and effectively by establishing the long-standing feud between the Kree and Xandarian cultures, two alien races we’ve certainly not seen the last of. But as a fan of the cosmic realm of the Marvel comics – one of those few hardcore fans who knew Ronan before the film – I can’t help but be disappointed in seeing one of Marvel’s most exciting cosmic characters used so briefly and unceremoniously wiped off the map.
Aldrich Killian – Iron Man Three
Almost every bit of marketing for Iron Man Three served drive home a key point – that Tony would be facing off against his iconic comic nemesis The Mandarin, portrayed by Ben Kingsley. Of course, that turned out to be a ruse, and in one of Marvel’s greatest ever reveals, we learned that Ben Kingsley was in fact playing Trevor Slattery, a buffoonish British actor who had been hired to pretend to be The Mandarin. The real villain was in fact Aldrich Killian, played by Guy Pearce, and it was he that was the mastermind behind the various terrorist attacks that are the central conflict of the film. This deception is one of the reasons Iron Man Three is among the most divisive films in the MCU – the one shot All Hail to the King seemed designed in part to mollify fans by assuring them there was indeed a “real” Mandarin – but the change provided the chance for Aldrich Killian to be a truly surprising and threatening villain. Unfortunately, Killian was ultimately little more than another megalomaniacal goon, and another casualty of Phase Two’s forgettable villain pattern.
Killian’s principal motivation for world domination is revealed to be little more than bitterness towards Tony Stark, who embarrassed him at New Year’s Eve party. His plot involves him manufacturing the threat of a terrorist organization, kidnapping the President of the United States (seemingly with help from the Vice-President), and seeking his revenge on Tony by abducting Pepper Potts. To quote Tony Stark, “it’s, well, not a great plan.”
The kidnapping of Pepper – the one thing Tony Stark “can’t live without” – made the story embrace the familiar damsel-in-distress trope, and while Pepper ultimately disposed of Killian, nothing in the film’s third act felt as if it had any real stakes. It was great to see Tony be the hero both with and without the suit(s), but when it came down to it, it was really hard to care one way or the other about Killian’s ultimate fate – he was neither a villain who could be understood and possibly redeemed, nor was he so unbelievably evil that you couldn’t wait for him to die (a “Goldilocks” villain if you will – who the hell wants lukewarm porridge anyways?). Pearce is an incredibly good actor, far too good to have been wasted on what amounted to a throwaway role. Ultimately the story of Iron Man 3 wasn’t about contending with an external foe, but about Tony Stark fighting to become a better man for those he loves. This pretty much rendered Killian an inert sideshow, due at least in part because he was overshadowed by Kingsley’s performance both as the menacing terrorist and the drug addled loon. While Kingsley was certainly a gift to the MCU, it’s a shame that the “real” villain of Iron Man Three didn’t have more bite.
Darren Cross/Yellowjacket – Ant-Man
Having only seen Ant-Man once (and very recently at that), it’s hard to look at Darren Cross, (portrayed by Corey Stoll) with the same perspective as the other Phase Two villains. However, after one viewing, I found very little to complain about with Ant-Man’s antagonist. A hand-picked Hank Pym protege, Cross and his mentor grew distant over the years as he tried to dig up and solve the mystery of the Pym Particle. Eventually, Cross and Pym split ways, but the events of Ant-Man show Cross perfecting his version of the Pym particle, and Pym’s desire to stop Cross from weaponizing the Pym Particle for mass distrubition – in the form of the Yellowjacket suit – serves as the principal conflict of Ant-Man. From the opening, we can sense that something is not quite right about Darren Cross. This initial feeling is strongly reinforced when a vocal opponent to his Yellowjacket suit is turned to a puddle of pus and goo, cementing to the viewer that Cross is willing to do what he thinks is necessary to achieve his goals. At no point in the film does Cross back down from that line. His willingness to push the boundaries goes beyond scientific experimentation and into the realm of psychopathic obsession. He also serves as a nice parallel to Pym’s daughter Hope, who is also driven by her bitterness towards her father. Of course, Hope is able to reconcile with her father, while in classic villain fashion Cross’s resentment towards Pym consumes him entirely.
Stoll is basically playing an old-school bad guy and he does it well. Stoll is coming into his own as an actor and his performance makes what in many ways is a rather hammy character threatening and compelling. The only problem I have with what Marvel Studios’ did with Cross was that his death made them a perfect 6-for-6 in the villain killing (admittedly, his death was done very theatrically and excellently) To be fair, Cross’s death was a key part of Scott Lang’s origin as Ant-Man in the comics – he first appears in Marvel Premiere #47, also featuring Lang’s first appearance as Ant-Man, and dies in the very next issue (though to coincide with the movie, he has recently returned to life). While it’s likely that, much like in the comics, Cross wouldn’t have had much to offer to the MCU in the future, Marvel is going to have a big problem on its hands if they keep killing every villain.
Alexander Pierce–Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Solider gives us our best principal villain in a Phase Two solo film in the form of Robert Redford‘s Alexander Pierce. Just as for Iron Man Three, his role as the central villain was disguised both within the film and film’s marketing. Though Redford accidentally let it slip he was playing a villain well before the film’s release, the major reveal – that HYDRA had long been operating as part of S.H.I.E.L.D., with Pierce as its leader – remained a secret and was arguably the most shocking and influential twist in the entirety of the MCU. For the first two-thirds of the film, we believe Pierce to be on the side of righteousness, until it is revealed that Project: Insight is in fact a HYDRA plot designed to kill over 20 million people who are deemed a threat to world stability, now or “in the future.”
Of all the Phase Two films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is arguably the most well-constructed, so what’s the problem with Pierce as the villain? Not much to be honest, but here’s something to chew on: though his betrayal of Nick Fury was well-done and founded in the type of 70’s espionage films that The Winter Soldier took inspiration from; though Redford was brilliantly cold and calculating; while Pierce never hesitated to wipe someone out, whether it be his “best friend” or his housekeeper; and even though, in classic espionage film fashion, he was ultimately outwitted by THE spy Nick Fury (having seemingly been prepared for just this type of thing), I’d argue that Pierce was no more the villain of this film than Nick Fury was.
Pierce himself makes the same point, telling Fury “our enemies are your enemies Nick… I can bring order to the lives of 7 billion people, by sacrificing 20 million. It’s the next step Nick – if you have the courage to take it.” Is that really so different than when Fury tells Steve “we’re gonna neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen,” and responds to his objections by saying “S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be”? While their desired end games are different, the rationales they use to justify those ends are no different. Pierce, like Fury, lied and kept secrets to all those around them, and Fury’s use of the Avengers to help shape the course of events mirrors Pierce’s use of the Winter Soldier. Pierce (HYDRA) and Fury (S.H.I.E.L.D.) are opposite sides of the same coin, a theme we’ve seen repeatedly throughout Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and will likely see again in Captain America: Civil War.
While Pierce was a solid villain, especially given the genre of the film, in the end he was not the one standing in the way of Steve Rogers and his team achieving their goals. Sure Bucky was the one going toe-to-toe with Steve, but when you break it down, Rogers wanted truth and freedom, his vision of the American dream. The man who stood in the way the longest of that was Nick Fury.
Ultron–Avengers: Age of Ultron
One of the great threats to the comic book Avengers, Ultron was guaranteed to show up at some point and did not disappoint when he did. James Spader’s portrayal of the rogue A.I. in the titular Avengers: Age of Ultron was incredible, giving Ultron’ cold, clear logic the voice it deserved.
Ultron succeeded as a villain because he was terrifying. Terrifying because of what he represented and because he was RIGHT. He represents one of the basic fears of all humanity: failure. You really can’t fail much harder than building a planetary defense system that intends to destroy the things is was designed to protect. For all of Tony Stark’s good intentions, his greatest creation is his greatest failure. Ultron says a lot about Stark, who for all his protests about Nick Fury’s secrets sure has decided to keep a lot of his own.
Even more terrifying to us than failure is being forced to think about how our place in the world might not be the comfortable one we wish it to be. Ultron has always made salient the idea that man is the biggest threat to Earth and the MCU version did not disappoint on that count. Ultron was designed to protect Earth and it didn’t take him long to see the threat that humanity, and especially the Avengers, posed to it. It’s not incidental that their battle with Ultron will serve as one straw that stirred the drink on the way to the Superhero Registration Act that will spark Civil War. While all of the Avengers always have the best of intentions, their actions are demonstrably destructive and their presence in the Cosmos will be the primary threat to Earth as it begins to attract the attention of the rest of the universe. Ultron was right: humanity is endangering the Earth.
Just because he was right doesn’t mean we have to like him and his plan to cause a mass extinction event, but it certainly gives us a reason to stop and think. While a lot of people weren’t entirely thrilled with that plan, it played well and it was clever enough. Sure we knew the Avengers would stop it, but at a pretty high cost for all of them.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a film that I think people will appreciate more over time as its place in the larger picture of the MCU becomes clear. To that end, Ultron will likely become a greater villain in the minds of fans as well once it’s clear the actual lasting damage his time up against the Avengers has done. I don’t know that Joss Whedon gets enough credit for this, but in Ultron he’s created his second excellent on screen villain along with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s “The Operative” from Serentiy. Both those villains are excellent on screen because they carry out simply monstrous tasks with single-minded focus that while it makes us uncomfortable, we can understand.
My only complaint about Ultron as a villain is that it appears he, like Ronan, is gone for good. That’s a symptom of Marvel Studios’ that I’d like to see remedied. Great comic book villains like Red Skull, Ronan and Ultron may indeed come back to haunt the Avengers again, but they may also be gone for good. My first thought about an Avengers sequel was that it needed to have Ultron in it. My next thought was that Ultron, as a consciousness, can never truly be destroyed and could be a way to unite the Avengers and the Cosmic heroes. It seems that’s not in the works.
The Future of Villainy in the MCU
Having taken a look at some of the weaknesses of Marvel’s Phase 2 villains, let’s reflect on arguably their best villain and why he worked so well.
Loki is nearly universally praised as Marvel’s strongest cinematic villain. It’s hard to argue with that because we spent so much time in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor learning his past and beginning to empathize with him. It’s hard not to empathize with someone who, as a baby, was kidnapped by a power-hungry, egomaniacal warlord who murdered your father and then attempted to raise you as his own. Mix in Loki’s affection for his adoptive mother and his redemptive tendencies and you’ve got yourself a villain that’s easy to love. Everyone, at some point, thinks about Loki winning and that’s part of what makes him so great.
Modern movie goers shouldn’t expect to see solely the classical evil villain. While a monstrous threat to all life on earth is always entertaining, sometimes good antagonists make us wonder if they are truly bad or, if looked at through on objective lens, maybe their goals aren’t so terrible. Maybe, if circumstances had been just a little different, they might have been the hero…or we might have been them. Sure it’s fun to have a guy you can just kick the hell out of, but that’s what a good, top-level henchman is for.
In the modern world, morally ambiguous characters whose motives aren’t clearly defined can make for some pretty great villains, or heroes: in today’s world, wading through shades of grey can make for better stories than clearly defined black and white. We don’t hate Darth Vader, Magneto, Harvey Dent or Spider-Man 2‘s Doc Ock (possibly the greatest CBM villain ever) because we can see the circumstances that drove them to the places where they did what they had to do; that’s what makes them good, intriguing antagonists just like Loki. That’s not to say we couldn’t have some great, old-school villains in the MCU (and I think we will) but Marvel has some characters that could be positioned as GREAT villains going forward.
An overpowered villain with a proclivity for deeply introspective monlogues, Thanos is Marvel’s most dramatic villain. Having spent his life pushing the boundaries of science and society, Thanos became one of Marvel’s most violent villains breaking both matricidal and genocidal ground before he set out to kill the entire universe.
We have seen Thanos teased since the end of Joss Whedon’s Avengers, but have yet to see him do anything other than smile, offer threats and pick up an glove. This is, according to Kevin Feige, by design, making Thanos the shadowy figure in the background, similar to the Emperor in the Star Wars films.
Hopefully, when we do see the full power of Thanos, it is something magnificent to behold as he has always been one of the most powerful beings in Marvel’s vast stable. However, if Thanos is to live up to his comic book reputation, he’ll have to be shown to more than just an over-powered bully. Thanos is a master of strategy, a scientific genius and one of two beings (Adam Warlock being the other) that seemingly cannot be confined by the otherwise rigid confines of the universe.
Josh Brolin was brought in and given a chance to turn Thanos into a legendary villain. In order for that to happen, we need to know a lot more about Thanos and I think we will begin to learn more in each Phase 3 film before getting at least a partially Thanos-centric film in Avengers: Infinity War-Part 1. Thanos gives the MCU its best shot at a grand, Shakespearean villain: a monster saturated with nearly even human flaw imaginable.
While we are sure we are going to get Baron Zemo in the MCU, we are not sure what we are going to get out of Baron Zemo. Daniel Bruhl is a very talented actor and he may be faced with the challenge of finally bringing one of Captain America’s great villains to the screen and making him count. We’ve been given a big screen treatment of the Red Skull and Baron Strucker, but both were too quickly gone. Zemo is the kind of villain (and Bruhl the kind of actor) that could stick around and cause long-term chaos in the MCU. While a lot of focus will be on Cap vs. Stark, it’s important to remember that Zemo will be the real bad guy in Captain America: Civil War.
We are likely going to see Bruhl portray Helmut Zemo, the second of two Baron Zemos to cause problems for Cap. While in the comics Helmut was the son of Nazi scientist Heinrich Zemo, the ever widening gap between World War II and today dictates a change in that relationship.
It’s likely that the Zemo we see could be a grandson to the original, but one who still carries the hatred towards Captain America. While the Nazism will probably be toned down as it was in Captain America: The First Avenger, there are plenty of other despicable things to have Zemo doing.
Zemo is a strategic mastermind and it’s likely that we’ll see the Avengers falling into one of his traps early on in Captain America: Civil War. Beyond that, I have grand imaginings for the places an interconnected MCU could go with villains like Zemo and Norman Osborn running around. I’d like to see Baron Zemo pulling strings and getting away with it while the Avengers fall apart, setting the table for a potential Thunderbolts project in the future. Having the heroes know they are chasing someone without ever figuring out who they are chasing could lead to a satisfying set of future circumstances.
When Marvel announced its deal with Sony to work together to bring Spider-Man into the MCU, fanboys EVERYWHERE (including this one) were overjoyed. In the moments after my initial reaction, I had another fanboy-joy moment: Marvel Studios was going to get to take a crack at getting Norman Osborn to the screen the way he should be. We’ve had two rounds of Norman Osborn so far and neither of them amounted to the man that terrorized the Marvel Universe for a good portion of the late 2000s.
I love Willem Dafoe and his Norman Osborn was ok for me. Given the time period and the way comic book films were done at the time, Dafoe did an honorable job in the role. I have no problems with his portrayal. The issue is that in a Spider-Man only universe, such as the one in which the first five Spider-Man films were made, we can never get more than one part of who Norman Osborn really is. He can only ever be the Green Goblin, never able to fully realize his capabilities as a larger scale, universe-wide threat. It’s hard to say whether or not we’d ever have had a clearly defined role for Chris Cooper’s Norman Osborn had Marc Webb made more Amazing Spider-Man films since he was reduced to a cameo and a head in a jar.
So we’ve seen one portrayal of Norman as the insane Green Goblin and one portrayal of him as Futurama’s Heads in Jars. In neither of those interpretation (one obviously even less than the other), do we get to see Norman Osborn utilized to his fullest. Norman Osborn is no longer JUST the Green Goblin that tormented Peter Parker. Under the watch of Brian Michael Bendis, Osborn, in the wake of Secret Invasion, became a terror to the entire Marvel Universe.
After helping turn back the Skrull invasion, Norman Osborn was named the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and began using his power to assemble his own team of Dark Avengers and even brazenly (though through Loki’s manipulation) attempt to lay siege to Asgard. It is this Osborn that may be a best fit for the MCU. We know that Spider-Man has already been operating in the skyline above New York so it’s possible that his grand confrontation with the Green Goblin has already taken place. A Norman Osborn in charge of Oscorp and beginning to subtly apply his influence to become a man of great importance would be provide a fresh cinematic take on the the twice-used villain.
Maximus the Mad
A villain that could hit big along the lines of Loki, Maximus provides another slighted brother with whom audiences can sympathize. The brother of Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans, Maximus has long sought to overthrow his brother and take the throne, though he’s often been known to aid the Inhumans in their struggles against the outside world.
Written with textbook Antisocial Personality Disorder, Maximus has always been manipulative, indifferent and impulsive and has hatched any number of schemes to bring down his brother. Maximus’ exposure to the Terrigen Mists gave him psionic powers which enable him to control the minds of others. In combination with his extraordinary intellect and scientific genius, his powers have made him one of the most dangerous Inhumans to date.
They don’t, however, call him Maximus the Mad for nothing and his madness is as much a part of his character as his genius. While scheming with the Kree to take the throne as a young boy, Maximus was caught by Black Bolt. In an effort to stop the escaping Kree, Black Bolt unleashed the full power of his voice for the first time. Too near to the scene, Maximus’ brain was greatly damaged, causing the lasting “madness” that has helped define his character.
While Marvel Studios’ Inhumans won’t be coming along until 2019 and very little is known about it, it’s hard to imagine that the film wouldn’t feature Maximus and that it wouldn’t take the opportunity to set him up as a long-term antagonist. While it’s worth noting some might think the Maximus/Black Bolt relationship is too similar to that of Loki and Thor, the characters of Maximus and Loki are different enough that the right actor could hold down the role of a big time villain throughout Phase 4.
Simon Williams, aka Wonder Man
Simon Williams is one Marvel character a lot of people would lay big money against ever appearing on screen. I’m sure you’ve all read Joss Whedon’s comments about never figuring out what Wonder Man was for. Cracking Wonder Man could actually prove to be very simple: to provide a very interesting, very empathetic antagonist in the next installment of the Iron Man franchise.
His comic book origins were nicely portrayed in the gone-too-soon-series Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and would translate very well to the big screen. In both iterations, Williams was the son of wealthy industrialist whose company was about to go under because of Tony Stark. Faced with hitting rock-bottom, Williams accepts a proposal from Baron Zemo to undergo an experimental procedure that imbues him with incredible powers which he is expected to use against Iron Man and the Avengers. A good person at his core, Williams betrays Zemo and seemingly sacrifices himself to save the Avengers. After laying catatonic for sometime, Williams’ powers helped restore him to life and he ultimately joins the Avengers.
While Williams was originally an Avengers foe in the comics, his story could make for a wonderful onscreen adventure for Tony Stark. It could help return the story to Tony’s industrialist roots and help change the focus of the next film: I’m thinking Marvel’s There Will Be Blood with some superheroes in the mix. It would also give Daniel Bruhl’s Baron Zemo another place in which to do some damage as a scheming mastermind (I’m sure hoping he doesn’t go down with the ship in Captain America: Civil War).
Namor, the Sub-Mariner
Marvel’s oldest anti-hero, Namor entered into the comics as an antagonist and his entry into the MCU should be no different. While Marvel Studios have revealed they have some issues to work out with distribution before we can expect to see a solo Namor film, it’s entirely possible that they can use him in other films without paying out to Universal. If that’s the case, I know just where Namor should land when he leaves the seas.
While Namor’s interactions with the Fantastic Four have defined much of his time in the comics, his recent clashes with T’Challa have been incredible to see unfold. With Wakanda now officially on the MCU map, a battle with the forces of Atlantis straight from the pages of the comics would be an amazing sight to behold. Two of the most powerful monarchs from two of the Earth’s most advanced civilizations going at each other would make for an incredible action epic. Namor’s hatred for mankind has always been at the core of his story. The destruction of the Earth’s marine ecosystems by man is certainly a salient point that could lead to Namor’s attack being well-founded and his cause believable.
Similarly to Simon Williams, Namor often teamed up with the other heroes in the comics but his position was always tenuous and he often only stood alongside them while his interests were being met. Assuming nobody could possibly kill Namor, it would be intriguing to see him team up with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes under some very uncomfortable circumstances in a future cross-over event.
With films reportedly planned through 2028, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will live on long beyond Phase 2. If they are to continue to thrive, they must adapt and part of that needs to be a treatment of their villains. DC has taken a bold step with Suicide Sqaud, a film with a group of villains as its protagonists, and may turn out to kickstart the next evolution of comic book movies. With characters like the ones mentioned above, it’s time to stop using the villains as one-offs and start developing them as the long-standing threats they have always been in the comics. This is something Kevin Feige is undoubtedly in touch with and that I expect to see happening as we go through Phase 3. Much like their great villains, Marvel Studios will have to change over time in order to stay ahead of the game.