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As popular as Marvel’s movies are among both hardcore comic book fans and regular moviegoers, there’s been a regular complaint about the MCU as a whole: its villains. With a few exceptions (Loki being the most cited), Marvel’s antagonists are frequently cited as being one-dimensional, underwhelming or just plain forgettable. While each of these villains have their own unique problems, one of the common problems is that they’re killed off too early. By only appearing in one movie, it robs these villains of the chance to develop in any meaningful way. That’s why it would be nice if Marvel wasn’t so eager to pull the trigger on the bad guys during their upcoming Phase Three slate of films. Let them develop as characters!
Not every evildoer in the MCU has met a grizzly end. As far as the major villains go in the films, Loki, Abomination, Justin Hammer, Crossbones and Nebula all survived their encounters against Marvel’s heroes. (Winter Soldier also survived, but since Bucky Barnes is back to being a good guy next year, we’re not counting him). Throw in Thanos and Ulysses Klaue, both of whom haven’t directly participated in battles, and you have have a neat assortment of antagonists left over, though in Abomination and Justin Hammer’s case, we’re unlikely to see them on the big screen again.
Still, that does’t make up for the lost opportunities. Imagine if Obadiah Stane had been allowed to be Tony Stark’s recurring nemesis in the Iron Man movies. What if Ultron had left one drone behind during Avengers: Age of Ultron and lived to fight another day? With more time to grow, these villains aren’t just reduced to being the "threat of the day." They have the opportunity to become multi-faceted characters that are (ideally) just as complex as the heroes.
Just look at Loki’s enormous success. Thor did a great job setting up the God of Mischief as a son desperate to win his father’s approval, The Avengers showed him as a would-be conqueror and Thor: The Dark World showed him taking another path in his quest for power... while also fooling his brother into believing that he had redeemed himself. There has been progression and evolution with this character, and that personal journey is going to continue for him (we assume) in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. Other antagonists should be afforded this opportunity, and with Phase Three kicking off next May, this is the perfect opportunity to turn a new page and give future villains the "Loki treatment."
Is this no-killing goal achievable? Yes, but it will be challenging. Instead of relying on favorites like incineration or dropping an entire ship on a villain (to be fair, Malekith deserved it), the films will have to find non-lethal ways for its heroes to neutralize their foes and lock them away. However, that’s easier said than done. It will be especially tricky for Thor: Ragnarok to pull this off given that the whole movie is about the Asgardians being wiped from existence. Death is practically that film’s theme! We also suspect that Thanos’ defeat in Avengers: Infinity War Part II will end with his destruction, whether it’s due to the Infinity Stones or another force. Still, we remain hopeful that Marvel will take it easy with the villain killing. Sure this fictional universe might be better off with these troublemakers dead, but for the audience watching these stories unfold, we would prefer to have them be more than just sinister schemers.
At minimum, we ask that the new villains who already have been announced for Phase Three not be snuffed out. I’m talking about the two Barons: Zemo in Captain America: Civil War (played by Daniel Brühl) and Mordo (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) in Doctor Strange. Both characters have to potential to be engaging antagonists beyond just their theatrical debuts, and could easily pose to more than just their respective heroes (Captain America and Doctor Strange). Their reigns of terror could easily stretch across multiple movies, and with each new installment, we could learn more about what makes them tick or see their motivations shift in ways they didn’t imagine. That’s good storytelling! They’re not just tools to set an evil plan in motion, they’re unique people with their own strengths and weaknesses, and we want to see them evolve with each new story, whether it’s later in Phase Three or beyond.
To adjust a line from The Dark Knight, "No more dead Marvel villains!" The Marvel superheroes have been getting excellent treatment and character development, so let’s extend some of that courtesy to their adversaries.