Anghus Houvouras on Marvel’s villains…
Next year Marvel Studios will turn ten years old. This milestone is being marked with a celebration that Kevin Feige touched briefly upon. There’s certainly a lot to celebrate. Marvel’s foray into feature films has been an unmitigated success financially and with the ticket buying movie public. Whether you love the Marvel movies or have been lulled into a state of ambivalence by their painfully formulaic construction, it’s impossible to argue their success or how much they’ve changed the Hollywood blockbuster.
I’m one of the precious few waiting for Phase Three to end. The exhilaration I experienced with Iron Man ended right around the closing credits of The Avengers. I’ve become tired of the Marvel Cinematic Universe because of the films have been nothing but copy/paste productions for the last five years. Sure, there are a few exceptions. James Gunn created something special with Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange managed to stick the landing with an intelligent third act instead of the usual sensory overload explosion fest.
Like the aforementioned Doctor Strange, I was looking forward to Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, mainly because the excellent source material felt like a springboard into unexplored cinematic territory. The first trailer bolstered my faith in the potential for a Marvel film that deviates from the mediocre Marvel formula. Vivid colors, awesome visuals, cool looking action. This feels like something fresh. But then I saw it… the moment that mule-kicked my anticipation and decimated by belief that Marvel movies can take us someplace new.
It’s in the final moments of the trailer when we see Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger make his power play to take over Wakanda by donning a slightly different version of Black Panther’s costume. This reveal was alluded to earlier this year when the Black Panther toys were revealed. It turns out the villain for Black Panther is once again the evil version of the hero.
Seriously? Sweet lord how many times can Marvel play this card?
It all started with Iron Man, where Tony Stark has to defeat his arch-nemesis Obadiah Stane who has donned a familiar suit of armor. The hero is forced to face down the evil version of himself. The Incredible Hulk has to fight The Abomination… an evil version of the Hulk transformed by the same formula. Captain America squares off against The Red Skull, each combatant changed by a super soldier serum developed by Doctor Abraham Erskine. Thor fights his brother Loki, the evil ‘yang’ to his heroic ‘ying’.
The villains have always been the weakest link of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Phase Two gave us more simple variations of the hero: Whiplash was a copy/paste of Iron Monger. The Winter Soldier is basically the evil Captain America. Ant-Man faced off against copy/paste clone Yellowjacket. There have been a couple of villains who have broken this mold. Civil War gave us Zemo, a very human villain with a nice tragic backstory. But for the most part the villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe feel more like an obligation than a purpose drive character.
The revelation that Killmonger eventually transforms into an evil Black Panther is so deflating. With the rich catalog of characters and villains in the Marvel Universe, couldn’t they find an angle that doesn’t require the dark mirror cliche? Does every Marvel origin story require these uninspired villains emulating the hero they’re out to destroy?
Based on the continued success of these films, it seems clear that I’m in the minority with this particular criticism. However, it still feels like I’m tripping on a fist full of crazy pills every time Marvel wheels out another cookie-cutter, copy/paste villain.
These movies deserve a better class of criminal.