Avengers: Infinity War is just a few weeks away and fans are getting excited to see what kind of a threat the ultimate villain, Thanos, will be. Directed by the Russo Brothers, who did Captain America: Winter Solider and Civil War, Infinity War promises excitement and intrigue as the Avengers team up yet again to save the Earth. But will it offer a good villain? We don’t know much about the Mad Titan on the screen so far aside from the snippets in trailers and press releases. He’s appeared in a few after credit scenes, briefly in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and now he’s about to be the primary antagonist in two films. For those who have read the comics, they’ll know that Thanos entering the narrative is a big deal and will have a huge impact on the MCU. But how fleshed out and compelling will Thanos be? Will he be able to carry the weight of a villain over that runtime? The MCU is known for having some pretty weak villains, but there are some diamonds in the rough. Here’s the first part of a companion series, detailing the best and worst of the MCU villains in anticipation of Thanos’ arrival.
Naturally, spoilers ahead!
The primary antagonist in 2018’s critically acclaimed and commercially successful Black Panther, Killmonger is one of the MCU’s best villains. They say that to make a good villain, that character has to be relatable and be convinced that whatever it is that they are doing is the correct course of action. Killmonger definitely fits that mold, as an American born Wakandan who wants to use the technology of his ancestral country and use it for the betterment of persecuted people around the world. He thinks Wakanda is being selfish, keeping their gifts to themselves and wants to liberate the world from oppressors. Of course, he’s going about it the wrong way and means to use violence and murder to achieve this goal. Killmonger’s intentions were noble, but misguided and that’s what made him so interesting to watch. We understand him and may even agree with him, but we also can’t let him hurt innocent people.
Zemo got some flack from critics when Civil War came out for being a weak villain, but I must humbly disagree. His plan may have been convoluted, but the character as a whole was an interesting one. He’s the only villain in the MCU to date to not have superpowers, costumes or a desire to destroy the world. His family died during the carnage in Sokovia during the finale of Age of Ultron and was crushed when the Avengers didn’t assist with the clean up, despite being directly or indirectly involved in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. Knowing he couldn’t physically take on the superpowered team, he orchestrated a plot to divide and conquer, something Tony mentions in passing in the first Avengers film. Zemo was consumed by revenge, but he’s grounded like the rest of us and did what he was doing out of love for his family. He’s not a bad person, just grieving and broken with nothing left to live for. In his mind, the world is better off without the Avengers and he set off to do what he thought was right.
You knew he’d be on here. While Ragnarok turned him into something of a punch line, Loki is one of the best villains of the MCU. Heck, he’s probably the best. In the first Thor film, director Kenneth Brannagh brought Shakespeare to Marvel and allowed family conflict to flow through his actors in a way that echoed Hamlet. Loki is the tragic villain and played masterfully by Tom Hiddleston. He’s cruel but he’s also conflicted. You can tell he wants to be loved by his family and feels persecuted for being second in everything. When his true lineage was revealed to him, it really sends him over the edge. But Loki, based on the god of mischief in Norse mythology of the same name, takes his downfalls in stride, often finding a way to rise above them. He tricks, betrays and deceives anyone around him for his own benefit, which makes him extremely dangerous as he doesn’t care about anyone but himself, despite his yearnings for family life. In The Avengers, in his final confrontation with his brother Thor, he momentarily considers abandoning his crusade against Earth and returning home before rejecting the idea. Family is still something he wants but can’t bring himself to catch it, for he knows he’ll never feel accepted. The loss of his adoptive mother in The Dark World had a real emotional impact on him, but despite the pain it caused it he still ended up betraying his famliy again. Who knows what role he’ll play in Infinity War, but we know he’s in the film.
Vulture is the silliest and most straight forward villain on this list. Honestly, he would’ve not been on this list if it weren’t’ for one reason: Michael Keaton. Forget the man in the mechanical bird suit, that man is simple and tired at this point. But when the man comes out of the suit and it’s Keaton, the tone of the film shifts. He commands the screen in Spider Man: Homecoming and we begin to understand him a bit more. He’s calm, yet terrifying. He was jipped by the system not long after the New York Incident (otherwise known as the first Avengers film) and held a grudge on Tony Stark and other big corporations since. So he planned for years, working with alien tech to become the Vulture and destroy those who hurt him. But unlike most villains, he wasn’t hurt physically. He’s a blue collar worker, he was a family and employees who have families of their own. Without city contracts, they couldn’t provide for them families. So radically, they turned to crime. It’s a bit drastic and it happens VERY fast, but it’s enough for what this movie is. The scene where Keaton discovers Peter Parker is Spider Man though-whoa. See below.
The villain in the first Guardians film was pretty weak, lets be honest. An angry, religious extremist who wanted to destroy a planet because, reasons? Yeah, not very compelling. At least Ronan was still better than Malaketh from The Dark World. But thankfully, James Gunn gave us a much more compelling villain in Vol. 2. Ego is none other than Peter Quill’s father, and we get a lot of time with him throughout the film as he mentors Quill in the ways of being a Celestial, or a space god for lack of a better comparison. He’s charming, proud, egotistical on a cosmic level which in turn makes him incredibly dangerous as his plan is to become the galaxy. It’s really silly, but due to the familial bond with Quill and what Ego did to his mother, Ego becomes a much more layered character and more importantly, makes Quill a more interesting character. Without Ego, Quill wouldn’t have been abducted into space, nor would his mother have passed away. In short, Ego defined Star Lord and to see him in the flesh, trying to warp his son’s mind and how Quill bounces off of that makes him a better villain than most.
Winter Soldier, in my opinion, is the best MCU film to date. It offered real world conflicts, tough questions and stellar direction with grounded characters. The film felt like a political thriller from the 70s with a superhero charm to it and some of the questions this film asks are pretty heavy. Do we give up our freedoms for security? Is free will better than order? Should terrorists be executed before the crimes even happen? These are relevant questions to ask in the 21st century and the villain at the tip of that spear is Alexander Pierce. Played by Robert Redford, who is in no way phoning it it, Pierce is cool and collected but what makes him so compelling is how confident he is with his beliefs. He 100% thinks that holding a gun to the world and killing off millions to create a New World Order is justified. Like Zemo, he has no powers but it’s his ideology that makes him compelling as a man in a suit can be just as impactful to society as a monster with powers.
Who do you think the best MCU villain is to date and why? Let us know in the comments below and check out our post on the Westworld Season 2 trailer!