• glorbes

    Yeah, having a strong villain is a tricky thing. The Joker is the greatest villain, but whenever he’s in a Batman film, he throws the balance off. Both Batman 89 and The Dark Knight spend an awful lot of time with the Joker, and it has a strange effect on the hero and the stories of each film. The Joker should be the sideshow in The Dark Knight (as Son of Griff pointed out, Two Face’s struggle is the one that lies at the core of the film), but Joker demands so much attention that the Dent/Two-Face conflict, as well as Batman’s character struggles, seem like a secondary concern. Batman 89 is basically Nicholson’s Joker for most of the running time, and Batman is a poorly defined character that gets second billing in his own movie.

    MCU films, as you say, are about the Avengers roster of characters. Red Skull rises to the top of the heap, mainly on the strength of Weaving’s scenery chewing performance, and the fact that he’s the one responsible for setting up the main human threat for the series. And Loki is about as close as the MCU comes to having a destabilizing villain character like the Joker. But his character and his fate are intertwined with the bland block of cheese that is Thor, so (as you say) Loki is required to make Thor work.

    • DJ JD

      It’s hard for me to even call Loki a “villain,” really. At his “worst,” he’s never the elemental threat that the Frost Giants or Dark Elves are. He’s, well, Loki: the trickster, the wild card, the uncivilizable element within us all. I think his arc is easily one of the most interesting ones in the MCU.

      This is probably a good time to mention that I tend to assume they wanted Red Skull in there for Avengers, because it’s the only time he’s really a mustache-twirling Baddie. Once someone pointed that out to me, I never unsaw it.

      • jroberts548

        This is also present in the Norse myths. In most of the stories he’s just mischievous, trying to trick the gods or giants or dwarves for his own ends. And then he kills Baldr, is tied to a table while drops of acid fall on his face, and then kills all the gods and indeed all living things. Dude’s level of villainy is all over the place.

    • pico79

      I’d argue the reason people are so down on the MCU’s villains (or at least I am) is that they’re complete charisma vacuums, and the films are usually at their most boring whenever they spend their plot-required time on them. That makes the inevitable Big Fight a perfunctory thing (superhero, check. supervillain, check. ‘splosions, check.) that feels even more perfunctory for dragging the film’s least interesting element to the fore. Do I really care about the big fight with Malekith or Iron Monger or Whiplash or Ronan or Yellowjacket or Ultron or … (For contrast: yes, I care about what happens with Doc Oc. He doesn’t overwhelm the film the way the Joker does, but Raimi finds the right balance where he’s also a necessary, intriguing player in the drama.)

      I’m maybe in a minority for appreciating how they used Zemo for that reason: he sets off the final confrontation but then exits the scene, leaving it for the heroes to fight things out (however nonsensical the reasons for that may have been.) The film around him isn’t great, but Zemo’s final scene listening to his voicemail really worked for me, especially since they let it play out quietly and away from the Big Fight. (It’s easy to imagine a worse version of the film, where Zemo plays it over a loudspeaker above the heroes, cackling madly.)

      • glorbes

        Spider-Man 2 is, to this day, my favourite superhero film

        • pico79

          That’s because you are a gentleman of taste and refinement.

          • glorbes

            *bows*

      • Rockingoodfun

        You make a good point, one of the reasons I think all the Fantastic Four films have sucked is that they’ve trivialised Doom too much. He’s a theatrically over the top villain with serious self-esteem issues vis-a-vis Reed Richards in a lot of the comics/cartoons. This should provide a rich source of dramatic tension for a film, but Doom always gets turned into some run of the mill bad guy. Marvel should build a Fantastic Four film around Doom with the FF more like supporting players, it could be really interesting.

  • Babalugats

    I don’t think a good villain needs to detract from a good hero, and I don’t think a good villain needs a lot of screen time to establish. How much screen time does Anthony Hopkins get in Silence of the Lambs? Or Darth Vader get across the whole series? I think Marvel works off a formula, and I think that formula leads to forgettable villains.

    Part of that is a story structure that often leaves the villain’s motivation as a late reveal if not an out-and-out twist. We know that the Joker wants to watch the world burn, that Lex Luthor wants money, and that Magneto wants mutant supremacy. What does Loki want? He wants to be king, but then no, he wants his dad’s approval. Which isn’t really in conflict with Thor. The winter soldier is incapable of wanting anything, because he’s basically a windup toy. The guy from Civil War wants to watch the Avengers fight, and we don’t find out about until we’re two and half hours into the movie. Jeff Bridges wants money like Luthor, but then so does Tony. Which leads to the next problem.

    Marvel villains lack contrast with their heroes. This is both superficially; watching the Hulk fight a different colored hulk isn’t much different than watching a regular fist fight, except for the distancing effect of cgi. And philosophically. Thor’s and Loki’s stories don’t really comment on each other the way that Batman and the Joker do. Magneto’s philosophy is a moral threat to the X-men in a way that doesn’t exist with the guardians of the galaxy and, whoever they fought.

    And finally, Marvel doesn’t allow their characters to be underdogs, which means their villains aren’t threatening. Thor fights his weaker less popular brother. Iron Man fights less talented, less wealthy engineers. “Tony Stark built this in a cave! With Scraps!” is a good line, but it makes Iron Man, not Bridges, look dangerous.

    Jessica Jones is noteworthy because of how much of this it reverses. Jessica is physically strong, but lacks tact, so her villain is supernaturally charming. This draws out Jessica’s underlying morality, (she is honest with people). Killgrave has power over her which makes him dangerous and forces Jessica to make moral decisions (will she kill him) and make sacrifices (she’s not going to be able to talk her way out of murder). We also know what Killgrave wants (Jessica herself) and that puts him in direct conflict with the hero.

    • glorbes

      These are all great points.

    • clytie

      You’re making me want to watch Jessica Jones.

      • Babalugats

        It’s the only Marvel thing that I would recommend. Some of the movies are fun, but I don’t think any exceeded ny expectations and I hated the little bits of Daredevil and Agents of Sheild that I’ve seen.

        But I think Jessica Jones is pretty good for what it is.

    • DJ JD

      Late to the game, but much agreed that JJ is the only show that approached the “Joker comments on Batman by existing” style. Daredevil struck me as a missed opportunity on this point, since Matt and Kingpin could easily have a similar complementing polarity if Kingpin hadn’t been introduced as mild and awkward for whatever reason. (I get D’Onofrio wanting a character arc and all, but it still felt like a miss to me–and since I have no plans to watch season two, there it shall remain.)