Film Discussion

Viewpoint: are Marvel films only as good as their villains?

If you're as excited for Thor Ragnarok as we are, it's worth remembering one key flaw with the previous Thor films...

A regular criticism of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is its inferior villains to their DC’s counterparts. Ahead of the release of Thor: Ragnarok later this week, it’s worth looking at how a weak villain can often hinder a solo outing.

Whenever anyone asks you to reel off a list of comic book villains, the first name that comes to mind is generally DC’s The Joker who has long been a fan favourite with comic book fans; but was also catapulted into the consciousness of the wider population thanks to big screen performances from the likes of Jack Nicholson, the late Heath Ledger and more recently Jared Leto in 2016’s Suicide Squad. But DC have had a wide spread of popular baddies, including The Riddler, Bane and Lex Luthor, who were most prominently brought to life by Jim Carey, Tom Hardy and Gene Hackman respectively.

However, Marvel have often struggled to establish their bad guys, opting instead to further explore their heroes and while this strengthens our relationship with our lead characters, it does occasionally weaken the film itself by under developing their foe. The major criticism of the likes of Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2 is the lack of screen time given to Malekith and Whiplash; the Thor sequel also completely wasted actor Christopher Eccleston under a mask of prosthetics restricting him from using one of his strongest qualities – his face!

Even the second Avengers team up Avengers: Age of Ultron was let down by a poorly written AI villain, despite James Spader’s best efforts. Sure Age of Ultron had lots of problems such as bad pacing, Aaron Taylor Johnson’s dodgy accent and the lacklustre final showdown, but ultimately it’s Ultron that stops this film from even competing with 2012’s The Avengers.

Which brings me to Marvel’s unlikely “best villain” – Loki!

Sure the comic books have an abundance of possible candidates including Red Skull, the Green Goblin, Victor Von Doom, The Mandarin and Ultron himself to name but a few; however, sadly these mostly failed to make a mark on the big screen. Hugo Weaving’s iteration of Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger came closest to making a lasting impression but his performance wasn’t a patch on Tim Hiddleston as Loki that has almost singlehandedly kept the character around and even earned him more screen time then perhaps the producers ever initially envisaged.

If you are to ask a Marvel fan what they thought of Thor, more often than not you’ll get a lukewarm response. Despite Loki proving to be an extremely popular character, many believe he was the saving grace of Thor’s debut solo film. For example, our very own Set The Tape rankings found Thor very low down on most people’s list, certainly one of the worst performing first of a trilogy film.

Dana Stevens over at Slate puts it into words almost perfectly in her review:

“Thor’s very competence is dispiriting—it gets the job done, I guess, but what job?”

Granted he’s not the major villain of the piece but Loki also appears in the sequel Thor: The Dark World, which is about as compelling as listening to a speech by Theresa May, so to say “a good villain makes a film worth watching” is perhaps a stretch. There is no denying that Loki’s presence makes these films better; but better than what? Take him out and what do you have left?

Like Avengers: Age of Ultron the first two Thor films struggle with pacing and a lack of direction and not even Loki can save that. Equally in DC’s case most are of the belief that Jared Leto actually gave quite a strong performance in Suicide Squad but despite that (and the misleading Academy Award to its name) it was panned massively by critics and audiences alike.

Whilst having a strong villain can add to the overall piece, if the fundamentals of the movie itself aren’t right then it doesn’t matter whether you have a Loki or Malekith; the film is still going to struggle to hit the right notes.

Let’s just hope Thor: Ragnarok and can reverse the trend set by its predecessor in the Thor trilogy!

Thor: Ragnarok is now on general release. Let us know what you think of the movie.

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