Most people would agree that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a great movie franchise. The box office numbers don’t lie and, on the whole, the movies themselves have been fantastic – but most people would also agree that the villains in the franchise have generally been very poor.
There have been a few notable exceptions; Loki is arguably the second most popular character in the franchise, James Spader gave an eerily good performance as Ultron, and the MCU’s take on Helmut Zemo was an interesting one. But most of the bad guys have come up short (Thanos has been disregarded, because even though he hasn’t been great so far, he obviously will be in the future).
In this article, we’ll prove that the villains have been poor by listing no fewer than seventeen depictions of comic book villains that were poorly adapted by Marvel Studios. Here are seventeen times the MCU got its villains badly wrong.
This entry is a little bit different from the others on the list, as the Leader hasn’t actually appeared in a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie yet – and that’s actually the reason it was handled so badly.
Samuel Sterns – the man who would become the Leader in the comic books – appeared in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. He was an ally to Bruce Banner, and attempted to cure him of his Hulk “problem”. At the end of the movie, however, some of Banner’s blood dripped into an open wound on his head, causing a mutation to start taking place – and yet, eight years on, there’s still been no sign of the character reappearing in his telepathic villainous form.
He has appeared in the MCU tie-in comic books, but most movie fans don’t bother with those, so he’s essentially faded into obscurity and been forgotten – and there’s little chance of him being brought back onscreen now. Essentially, Marvel totally wasted this opportunity, because Tim Blake Nelson would’ve made an awesome Leader. Why tease him if he’s never going to appear?
Time to move onto another villain – from the same movie, in fact.
Tim Roth is a great actor and it was actually quite exciting when he was cast as Emil Blonsky – the soldier turned super soldier turned Hulk-level Abomination – but, as it turns out, he really wasn’t right for the role.
The result was a very drab, unmemorable villain – and that’s about all you can really say about the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of the Abomination. He was simply very easily forgettable.
There was no character development, he was very unlike the version in the comic books and he was actually outshone by William Hurt’s General Ross by quite a large margin. Literally, the only purpose he served was being something for the Hulk to punch.
This next character only had a small role – and that was his main problem.
Batroc – known as Batroc the Leaper in the comic books – appeared in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That was a great movie, but Batroc added nothing to it at all – thanks largely to his extremely minor appearance.
He was completely unrecognisable from the comic books – which is probably a good thing, in this case – but it also rendered him completely unmemorable and boring. He could have been any random goon, to be quite frank.
Played by mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre, he did perform some fairly cool stunts during his brief fight with Captain America, but “brief” is definitely the key word and he was defeated in short order by the titular hero.
Now for the only character from an Marvel Cinematic Universe television show on this list.
The only Marvel Cinematic Universe television character to make this list (on the whole they’ve been great on the small screen) is Franklin Hall – the character known as Graviton on the comic books – although he wasn’t actually a villain in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
That being said, he was a complete waste of a potential villain and, therefore, he makes this list. Graviton is superb in the comic books – a villainous character who can manipulate the very gravity around himself and others – and to waste him like that in the MCU was a crime (he was a decent man and a former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist known for his work on the element known as Gravitonium).
Granted, there is a possibility that he will return – he was dropped into a mass of Gravitonium and his body was seen moving around inside it – but it’s probably been too long for the show to do anything worthwhile with him now.
Our next entry sees us discussing a popular villain’s father.
Played by Colm Feore, Laufey – father of Loki – is a Frost Giant who appeared in 2011’s Thor. Unfortunately, his appearance just wasn’t substantial enough, and as a result, he wasn’t portrayed as being anywhere near as powerful as his comic book counterpart.
The character looked great – of that there’s no doubt – but he was brushed aside by the Asgardian characters who invaded his home realm of Jotunheim far too easily. This reflected badly on Loki.
Given that Loki inherited his father’s species’ physical attributes – strength, durability, and more – how were we expected to believe that he was a threat to the entire Avengers’ team in 2012’s The Avengers when his father and his fellow Frost Giants were so easily defeated? In order to make Loki seem like a viable threat, Marvel Studios should have made Laufey and company more formidable. Fortunately, Tom Hiddleston still managed to make Loki great – but he certainly wasn’t helped by the portrayal of his character’s father.
Let’s move on to one of the villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most popular hero.
Raza was really the first villain to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008’s Iron Man. Played by Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir, Raza is essentially a standard Middle Eastern terrorist proxy for Osama bin Laden – which could actually be easily considered offensive by some.
Regardless, there was really nothing to him and he was completely undermined anyway, when it was revealed that he was nothing more than a servant of the movie’s real villain – Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane, who became Iron Monger.
Considering that Iron Man was a brilliant movie and, arguably, the single most important reason that the MCU has been so successful, one of its antagonists was extremely underwhelming.
Let’s continue this list with another villain in an Iron Man movie.
Whiplash, aka Ivan Vanko, had the potential to be very good – he had a beef with Tony Stark and was being portrayed by Mickey Rourke – but, in a nutshell, he really, really wasn’t.
This version of the character was a weird amalgamation of the comic book versions of Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo (with possibly even a hint of Omega Red) and it just didn’t work – although this was, clearly, in no small part due to Rourke’s own indifference towards appearing in the movie (he hated the experience, citing the fact that Marvel Studios didn’t allow him to be creative with his portrayal as the main reason).
And what was with the bird? Vanko had a pet bird that he was obsessed with, which was weird. Whiplash was an all-round failure as a character, quite frankly.
We will now move on to a character who was simply underutilized in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Frank Grillo first appeared as Brock Rumlow in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In that movie, he was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was revealed to be working for HYDRA, after it was also revealed that the evil organisation had been growing inside S.H.I.E.L.D. itself.
At the end of the movie, he was badly injured – suffering burns to his face and body – and he reemerged in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War in his more familiar Crossbones outfit from the comic books.
Unfortunately, the character turned out to be nothing more than a glorified suicide bomber, blowing himself up in an attempt to also kill Captain America.
Now let’s move on to a character who was utilized to an even smaller extent than Crossbones.
Baron Wolfgang von Strucker is a classic villain of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers in the comic books, so when the brilliant Thomas Kretschmann was cast as the character in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, it was very exciting. Unfortunately, there was nothing to get excited about, so that excitement was extremely unfounded.
Everyone knew Ultron was the main villain in the movie (hence its title), but they at least expected Strucker’s role to form the foundation of a more prominent future appearance – but the titular robot killed him off at the start of the movie.
It was a complete waste of both a brilliant actor and a classic character, and you have to wonder what Marvel Studios was thinking. It would have been great to see Strucker in more movies in the future.
We’ll now move on to the first (and only) entry on this list that isn’t an individual.
In 2012’s The Avengers, Loki was the main villain – of that there is no doubt – but he wasn’t alone. He came to Earth equipped with an army – the Chitauri – to unleash on the planet and we, as an audience, were expected to see them as a plausible threat to the Avengers themselves.
It was, therefore, pretty disappointing when Black Widow and Hawkeye were able to take them out in hand-to-hand combat. How on Earth were we mean to believe they could possibly harm the likes of Hulk, Thor and Iron Man when they were losing out to ordinary humans?
The hilariously convenient way in which they were defeated – and every single one of them accounted for – was ridiculous too. Destroying their mothership made them all fall to the ground dead…okay…
From an army of space aliens, we now move onto their commander.
The Other was an original character created solely for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (he was never in the comic books) and was portrayed by an unrecognisable Alexis Denisof, but he was really rather pointless.
First appearing in The Avengers, he was a sort of intermediary between Thanos and Loki, who also provided the Chitauri as Loki’s army, but with Thanos, Loki and the Chitauri already in play, he was completely unnecessary.
He later appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, but was quickly and brutally killed by Ronan, further proving his pointlessness. The character wasn’t even mentioned by name at any point and it was down to the credits of the movies he was in to tell viewers who the hell he even was!
From one alien to another, we now move onto a character whose only appearance was in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Korath, a member of the Kree species, appeared in 2014’s brilliant Guardians of the Galaxy movie. He worked under Ronan - who, in turn, worked under Thanos - and was a relatively minor supporting character as a result.
There really wasn’t anything wrong with this version of the character, but the problem was that the less-than-prominent role he had in the story meant that the brilliantly talented Djimon Hounsou was totally wasted in the role.
Hounsou is a two-time Academy Award-nominated actor and he was reduced to a bit part. Once he was cast as Korath, the character should have been given a much more prominent role in the movie. Instead, he had only a few lines and was killed by Dave Bautista’s Drax.
And now we move on to one of the aforementioned villains under whom Korath was working.
It’s a good job that there were so many great things about 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, because its villains were terrible – including its lead villain, Ronan, played by Lee Pace.
To put it simply, Pace’s Ronan was just boring. He was underdeveloped, had no real motive other than “he was a bit of a d*ck”, and he was killed off after being distracted by Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord doing a silly little dance in front of him – hardly the most fearsome of bad guys!
Thankfully, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax – as well as the teasing of Thanos – made up for this lackluster Kree warlord.
Now let’s move on to a villain who was even more boring, bland, and vanilla than Ronan.
2013’s Thor: The Dark World introduced the Dark Elf villain Malekith. He was so boring that there’s very little to say about him, other than the fact that…well…he was boring!
Played by Christopher Eccleston, this role was nothing more than a waste of a fantastic actor. Eccleston did what he could with the material he was given to work with, but Daniel Day-Lewis himself would have struggled to make this character interesting.
The villain never really looked like he was a threat to the titular hero – even when he was wielding an Infinity Stone – and that’s never a good sign. Ultimately, he was killed when his own ship toppled over on top of him – epic failure at its absolute worst.
Kurse was Malekith’s underling in Thor: The Dark World – and that’s one of the only things worse than actually being Malekith himself.
Played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kurse started the movie as Algrim, before Malekith turned him into the last Kursed One by using a Kursed Stone. Algrim was dull, but the transformation into Kurse only made someone equally dull who happened to be virtually indestructible.
He gave Thor one hell of a fight – even overpowering the Asgardian on several occasions – but his appearance was brief and he was sucked into a black hole by a black hole grenade. Given that he didn’t say a word, he was wholly forgettable.
Now let’s move onto a supporting villain from the start of Phase Two.
Eric Savin (along with Brandt, who essentially falls into the same entry here) was a supporting villain in Iron Man 3. Given how terrible the main villain was, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that means he wasn’t great.
More than anything else, he was just unnecessary – and he spoiled what could have been a big reveal of his boss’s powers at the end of the movie by displaying them near the start.
He was, of course, Extremis-powered, but his comic book namesake – who also goes by the name Coldblood – was actually a cyborg with great combat skills and a much more interesting character. It seemed weird to use that character’s name for someone so drab.
That takes us to our final entry on this list, the absolute biggest misstep by Marvel Studios in terms of its franchise’s villains.
Who else? 2013’s Iron Man 3 had fans excited that Iron Man’s classic arch-enemy the Mandarin would be appearing in it – but the depiction of the character was absolutely NOT what we were expecting (and we obviously don’t mean that in a good way).
As it turned out, the Mandarin we were expecting was actually a clumsy, bumbling British actor named Trevor Slattery, played by Sir Ben Kingsley. He was nothing more than a ruse for Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian, who was able to go about his nefarious business unchecked while Iron Man hunted a villain who didn’t really exist.
The Mandarin is to Iron Man what the Joker is to Batman, what Lex Luthor is to Superman, and what Magneto is to the X-Men. If any of those characters were changed in such an extreme way for a movie, there’d be hell to pay. The same applies here.
That’s all, folks! We hope you enjoyed this article!
What do you think? Were these villains terrible? Did any others deserve to be placed on this list? Have your say below!