As I watched Thor: Ragnarok, I found myself picking apart Hela’s motivations. This has become standard practice for reviewing MCU films over the past few years, viewing the villains under a microscope. Critics and fans alike lament about shallow, dull baddies; just Google “MCU villain problem” and you’ll see what I mean. But is the “problem” as bad as the internet would lead you to believe? Or have we blown it out of proportion?
Now, there are certainly some bad Marvel villains. Malekith, Whiplash, Yellowjacket…these guys are all terrible. But I would argue that their problems have little to do with their actual characters and their motivations. Many of these guys suffer from unmemorable performances by their actors in movies that are themselves bland and unmemorable. Or, in the case of Yellowjacket, they were sidelined in a movie that put a much heavier emphasis on the hero.
Then there are the “others”. The Iron Mongers and Red Skulls. The Ultrons and Alexander Pierces. Loki. These are the guys that catch heat because “well, they’re only evil for the sake of being evil.” And to that I say, “so what?”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying a more complex villain isn’t a better villain. Hell, I think Kilgrave is the best bad guy in the MCU because he’s more complex and sympathetic. But at the same time, isn’t there something familiar about evil for the sake of being evil?
Aren’t the people we vilify in real life those that ruthlessly seek power and money simply because they want to and they can? The CEOs and politicians that step all over the little guy just to inflate their already oversized bank account? The dictators and world leaders that invade and conquer, spreading war just because they want more land than they already have? This is real life villainy.
So when people complain, “Iron Monger is lame. He’s just a rich guy in a suit,” my initial thought is, “yea, but don’t some bad guys actually look like that?” And Jeff Bridges actually gives a pretty menacing and memorable performance in that flick. Why sweep it under the rug so quick?
I mean, Red Skull is a literal nazi. Hitler’s whole schtick was world domination for no real reason. (And don’t @ me about how Hydra aren’t Nazis.)
Fans shouldn’t have to settle for villains that are just ok. Take Kaecilius and Ronan and flush them down the drain. But when you have a character with the charm of Loki, or the menacing voice of Ultron, with the writing and performances to back them up, who cares if they’re evil for evil’s sake? As long as you enjoy the film, and the bad guy leaves some kind of impression on you, shouldn’t that be enough?
I’m genuinely asking, because I don’t know the answer. Maybe there isn’t one. Perhaps the MCU villains are just victims of this new toxic age of film criticism, where things are either the best or the worst with no middle ground. But sound off with your thoughts in the comments below!