The Marvel Cinematic Universe's Lack of Original Villains (for no Reason at All)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has expanded through mainly the medium of cinema and television, and has proven that it has a lot of successful stories to offer. It can be viewed as an immense palette containing a multitude of colors, and the potential combinations that can be produced are limited only by the creativity of the directors, screenwriters, artists and the rest of the staff involved with the creation of the films, TV series, shorts, as well as tie-in comic books associated with the universe. Its immense success is the product of inspiration, talent, and specific recipes which have been established as standard textbook rules that are followed by almost every film, due to their proven appeal to the audience. But is playing safe a guaranteed solution for the viability of the MCU in all cases?

It started in 2008. Iron Man was released in theaters, and it thrilled most critics with its charismatic lead, the chemistry between characters, its witty script, and its impressive action sequences and CGI, which still look good 7 years after the release of the film. It was the perfect introduction to a world of infinite possibilities. The villain of the film was the second-in-command of the Stark Industries, a mentor to Tony Stark, and a character motivated by greed. It made sense at the time for him to be the mirrored version of the lead: The Universe hadn't expanded yet, the focus of the film was on a new technology which allowed for new but specific possibilities, and overall it was an interesting visual idea. When the Incredible Hulk, the second film of the franchise, was released about a month later, it provided with the first hints of Marvel's formula on the structure of the films: The villain was again a ''negative'' version of the main character. The Abomination had similar appearance, size and powers with Hulk, but lacked the morals of Bruce Banner, as he was motivated by finding the perfect opponent and nothing seemed to matter compared to that need. The movie was generally considered to be unsuccessful, and the reasons for that vary. Most of them are creative, but the fact that the movie was a reboot of an also unsuccessful attempt at bringing Hulk to the big screen maybe is a contributing factor as well.

Despite the lukewarm reception of The Incredible Hulk, Marvel moved on and didn't alter its recipe by much. Iron Man 2 was released in 2010, and once more the villain had powers which were a product of the Arc Reactor technology. Thor and Captain America were both origin stories, and their villains were again the evil counterparts of the lead characters. Loki in particular turned out to be a very interesting character and a fan-favorite, but that has probably more to do with the charisma and talent of Tom Hiddleston than the fact that he was a mirrored version of Thor. In the Avengers, the company's most successful film to date, the character made his return, proving that the creative minds behind the films had their eyes and ears open to audience feedback.

Phase 2, which launched with the release of Iron Man 3, was a mixed bag when it comes to the reception by fans, but none of the films were considered to be overall bad. Despite negative feedback regarding some of the film's choices, Iron Man 3 turned out to be financially and critically successful. Turning the Mandarin, a famous character from the comic books, into a fallen actor who was the mirror for the sinister activities of another character in the film. One of most controversial choices made by Marvel, but was bold nonetheless. Thor: the Dark World introduced Malekith, a character who bears little resemblance to Thor, as the main villain, but the movie had a number of weaknesses, with the most notable being its script. Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Guardians of the Galaxy were both great creative and financial successes, with the latter introducing a whole new aspect and a multitude of new characters of the MCU, and the former again using the formula of the villain being a copy of the main character.

Now, with the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man to mostly positive reviews, the road opened for the films of Phase 3 to be released to the world. Age of Ultron's flaws were not associated with its villain, but rather the notions that the film attempted to include too much information, and was generally perceived as a transitional movie, rather than a stand alone film. Moreover, Ant-Man merits again were not associated with the ''baddie'', who was once more formulaic, but rather with the fresh approach, the humor of the script, as well as the charisma of its lead. The accumulating data from all these observations indicate that Marvel's approach to most villains of the franchise has little to do with the great or moderate success of its films. Netflix's TV series Daredevil and Jessica Jones provided with character development, compelling atmosphere and freshness, and enjoyed success despite the fact that the villains bared no similarities to the leads. In addition to this, The Guardians of the Galaxy proved that bold moves can be rather rewarding if they are creatively inspired.

Playing it safe might guarantee a relative security when it comes to numbers, but apparently it doesn't seem to be connected to the appeal that a story is going to have. On the contrary, it could lead to franchise fatigue in the near future. The Marvel Cinematic Universe can be a multi-structure of immense variety and creativity, while remaining successful at the same time. William Faulkner, during his Nobel speech, implied that a good story is always about the human heart in conflict with itself, and that can be implemented along with the introduction of new elements, which could potentially keep the MCU relevant, entertaining and fresh.

by Aggelos Loukatos