There’s an old saying amongst people who compulsively read comic books that heroes are only as good as their villains. The Marvel Cinematic Universe just churned out MCU #12 with Ant-Man (click here for review), and now we’re on a sad break until Netflix’s Jessica Jones in the fall. If there’s a systemic flaw in the franchise it is that, while the heroes have been cast and developed near-perfectly, the villains have not gotten the same treatment.
Sadly, this is-in part-because a lot of Marvel’s best villains are locked into the X-Men and Fantastic Four lots that are owned by other studios. The Red Skull was completely mishandled in Cap 1, and I don’t believe for a second he’s dead so hopefully they’ll give him his due the second time around. In fact, if Tom Hiddleston hadn’t nearly stolen Phase 1 from Iron Man, we’d be talking about this as a real problem. Hiddleston’s Loki is so good that the temptation is to overuse him because he’s SO GOOD. Norse gods don’t age though, and Hiddleston will, so the smart move is to spend more time developing antagonists with depth equal to the heroes. That will probably have to start with Dr. Strange, because in Captain America: Civil War, the heroes are going to be pounding on each other.
1. Wilson Fisk (Daredevil)
I think, and we’ll see if the fall’s Jessica Jones proves me right, that the best villains are going to come out of the Netflix shows. They have what the movie villains lack: time. The Kingpin doesn’t appear until the end of the fourth episode of the series, but his presence is there from the pilot. D’Onofrio didn’t just make him a thug or a refined crime boss or a bully. He made him a scared little boy trying to mold his world like a child building a train set. Nuanced, brilliant and explosively dangerous, the Kingpin is the new standard for what a Marvel villain can be.
2. Loki (Thor, Thor: The Dark World, The Avengers)
I know, I know, you think he should be number one. He certainly was until April. He’s been in the most films of every villain (he was cut from Age of Ultron or he’d have been in four) and we’re certainly going to see him again. Loki is a character, like all the Asgardians, that could have come off corny and dumb, but Hiddleston just ate scenery like a mulcher every time he was onscreen. The best part about him, though, is he’s NOT pure evil, he does love his brother, he just also wants to rule the world. He has depth that only D’Onofrio topped and he had more time to develop it.
3. The Winter Soldier (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Oh he’s not much of a talker, but for sheer menace and ability, The Winter Soldier hit Cap and company like a freight train. I did not like Sebastian Stan in the first Cap film, but I will give him all the props in the world for making TWS a foe that made the Red Skull look like a pussycat (which is actually a problem, but not Stan’s fault).
4. Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Between Ultron and The Blacklist, I live in a world where I like James Spader. However did that happen? Spader did a great job with Ultron. He’s a child, learning at an exponential rate and if he sounds like Stark….you have to remember he kind of is. That is the scary thing and that, I think, will lead us to Civil War.
5. Whiplash (Iron Man 2)
I know Iron Man 2 has its detractors, but rewatch it and look how much it sets up for Phase 2. If you had told me that Whiplash was going to somehow be made cool, I’d have passed you some very tasty pills, but Mickey Rourke managed to put actual menace in him and the scene where he compares his family to the Starks while Tony visits him in prison is one of my favorite in the MCU.