The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a whole lot of fun. It’s a testament to how to do a cinematic universe right. However, it’s not perfect. The most glaring issue involves their villains. Sure, there are a few standouts like Loki, and well…maybe the Red Skull? But ultimately, in order to build up their heroes, a lot of character development for the villains is left on the cutting room floor. Even worse, most of them suffered from just being evil versions of the heroes in question.
Thankfully, Phase 3 is just the remedy we need. As we come off the heels of Infinity War, we have to remember that the road to it was just as good. The most recent chapters in the MCU have given us some unique onscreen villains. Marvel seems to be learning from their mistakes, and here’s the proof. In no particular order, let’s walk through a couple of the best villains Phase 3 has given us so far.
Zemo is perhaps the most underrated villain in the MCU. No lie. This man single-handedly split apart the Avengers. If you can’t appreciate that, then you’ve lost sight of true villainy. My guy deserves credit. True, his role in Captain America: Civil War is subtle, but there were levels to this shit. Let’s go through the list:
- Responsible for Crossbones’ attack, leading to the Sokavia Accords.
- He killed King T’Chaka.
- Caught Bucky with the setup and renamed him Reek.
- Had the heroes throwing hands in the back of an airport.
- Made Tony throw the whole superhero thing out the window for a handicap match against Steve and Buck.
Zemo is the perfect storm in a story where the heroes’ actions have consequences. Showing the world that people are affected by what the Avengers do. Hell, he hurt them so badly, these dudes stop talking to each other for two years. Not even Loki can claim that on his resume.
One of the most common complaints about the MCU is that their villains are a carbon copy of the hero, and it’s true. We’re looking at you Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, and Black Panther. Also, the lack of leading female villains and heroes is disturbing.
While Hela is only on screen for a good third of the movie, Cate Blanchet’s time as the Asgardian villainess oozes style, chews up every scene she is in, and wrecks havoc through Asgard like a boss. Hell, she had us excited before she even hit theater screens. If Thor needed a hammer to beat Thanos, let us not forget that he had his hammer and still couldn’t beat Hela.
Wreck shop on the “Warriors Three” in the seconds it took JR Smith to realize that the Cavs weren’t actually up.
Single-handedly sliced through the Asgardian army like Madara Uchiha during the fourth great ninja war on Naruto.
Had little brother (Thor) with one eye looking like his daddy.
For as little as we see her, she’s a walking undead storm and won’t let us forget it.
Okay, remember what I said about villains being a carbon copy of the hero? Well, Micheal B. Jordan’s Killmonger is such a good villain that he gets a pass. In this case, it works because Killmonger being the antithesis to T’Challa is the crux of the story. The two opposing views points are at war with one another and force both T’Challa and the audience to think about what and who is right and wrong. Plus, the amount of quotable lines Killmonger gives us makes him pretty hard to forget.
The best part about the homie Killmonger is that you understand him. Like many of us Black folks, he is just trying to fight through the years of pain and heartache that stretches from our ancestors to now. He wants to see his people free. And even though his methods are misguided, you see where he is coming from.
He’s a villain that makes sense and his character leaves you conflicted when you consider that there’s a certain logic behind his madness. What really puts him over the top is that he cast a shadow over the romanticized version of Wakanda we see earlier in the film. Killmonger constantly calls into question their years of isolation and power while people of color continue to suffer everywhere else. Killmonger is the perfect villain for T’Challa, because he is not a simple villain but a justified one.
Without a doubt, Spider-Man has the best rogue gallery in Marvel. Don’t agree? Come at me. It’s always exciting to see the movies tackle a new villain. For his first solo outing in the MCU, we get the Vulture, and Michael Keaton’s take on the villain doesn’t disappoint. If there is one consistent theme across all three versions of Spider-Man’s cinematic outings, it’s that his villains are sympathetic. These tragic characters work well against Parker’s everyman struggle.
Michael Keaton’s Vulture is just another victim in Tony Stark’s selfish crusade to atone for his own sins. He loses everything, goes to extremes to provide for his family, and will take out anyone in his way. The Vulture exemplifies the struggles of a working-class man trying to put food on the table and survive another day. It’s instantly relatable, and Keaton plays it to perfection.
It’s great to watch him become overly protective of the criminal enterprise that he’s built. He’s menacing when he needs to be and one of the smarter villains who is more realistic when it comes to what he and his crew can handle. He’s not out trying to take over the world or go toe-to-toe with the Avengers. He’s just trying to steal some alien and experimental tech to make it to tomorrow.
Infinity War is the perfect example of why all superhero sequels should focus more on the villain rather than the hero. I came into this movie expecting to see the Avengers’ toughest challenge and ended up getting Thanos’ journey. A journey that not only showed Thanos wrecking shop on the Avengers but took the time to address his motives and get to know his character. By the time the movie starts, he’s already torn through a planet protected by interstellar cops and a ship full of basically gods. He’s more than menacing or a threat. Even without the gauntlet, he’s downright terrifying with not only his power but also his conviction.
It’s that conviction that makes him so scary, because he is just as determined as the very heroes we champion. And in his mind, he is justified in his quest for balance because mass genocide has worked before. What’s worse is that he is willing to sacrifice everything he loves, his loyal followers, and even his humanity for his version of a better world. With the collection of each Infinity Stone, Thanos utterly dominates the individuals who we look for to save the day. What makes him one of the best MCU villains is that without a doubt…we fear him.
P.S. I’m still not over the snap. He took my boy Spidey away. He didn’t deserve that fade. I need him back.
Phase 3 isn’t over just yet, though. We still have three more movies left on the slate. From newcomers like Ghost and the Skrulls to the return of Ronan the Accuser and a second helping of Thanos, what are you looking forward to from future MCU villains?