Aug 17, 2021
All MCU villains, ranked from worst to least worst (part 1 of 2)
Hey there! You like the Marvel Comics movies? You do?! Awesome! I do too!
You like the colorful, inspiring heroes? Me too!
You like the frenetic action choreography? Me too!
You like the seat-rattling CGI spectacle? Me too!
You like the compelling antagonists? Uhh…
That’s right, folks. For everything else this crowd-pleasing series does right, it’s famously bad at creating rounded, challenging villains for its heroes. Plenty of people have written about this problem before, including us. And Marvel has had ten years to get it right, to boot. Why do they so consistently have so much trouble with this one aspect of their movies? Are these villains’ backstories rushed in service of the overarching Marvel Cinematic Universe plotline? Is it a feature of the effort to adapt years-long comic storylines into an abbreviated two-hour format? Is it simply more difficult to set up truly compelling conflicts in the cut-and-dry, unsophisticated moral universe of superheroes and supervillians? Why are you asking me? What do I look like, some sort of critic?
In anticipation of the latest MCU entry Black Panther making its debut on February 16th, I’ve ranked the sixteen existing Marvel Cinematic Universe villains in order, from worst to best. Hopefully, through comparison and contrast, we can get some sort of sense of what works and what doesn’t in a villain, or at the very least, kill a few minutes reading about movies we love. Enjoy!
Malekith is the extremely sedate leader of a race of evil elves called, appropriately, the “Dark Elves”, who want to destroy the universe because they’re evil and that’s literally it. Taking advantage of a rare convergence of the Nine Realms, he sends his soldiers to steal the Red MacGuffin Stone so he can unleash it on all the planets at once. Never raises or puts any inflection in his voice for any reason.
Low point: Every single interminable minute of this somnolescent performance.
Mitigating factor: There’s lots of unintended comedy to be had out of his resemblance to an evil Teletubby.
A senior executive at Stark Industries involved in shady arms deals with terrorists, Stane wants to kill Tony Stark and take full control of his company so he can… continue doing all that. Stane’s attempt to have Tony Stark kidnapped and killed backfires when Tony builds the first Iron Man suit, escapes, and stops all weapon sales by Stark Industries. Stane responds by building his own Iron Man suit and the two play Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots in the thrilling finale. Played with lacksadaisical dudeness by Jeff Bridges.
Lowest point: They had to distort the vocal feed in his suit’s microphone to try to make him sound scary (it failed).
Mitigating factor: It’s fun to imagine an alternate universe where Iron Man is a Coen Brothers movie.
Pretty much Obadiah Stane’s character from Iron Man (they even both have shaved heads!), only younger, less stable, and with the Silicon Valley douchenozzle factor cranked up to 11. A senior executive at Stark Industries Pym Technologies, who wants to steal Tony Stark’s Hank Pym’s Iron Man shrinking suit technology to sell to terrorists HYDRA. Has a suit just like Ant-Man’s, except it can fly and has guns, not-so-gently raising the question of why Ant-Man’s suit doesn’t do any of that. Slowly being driven insane by prolonged exposure to Pym particles, which isn’t a problem for the good guys because reasons.
Lowest point: We’re meant to believe he shoots an individual bug (the one carrying Ant-Man) out of the air with a handgun. Then for the whole rest of the movie, he aims like a Stormtrooper on fentanyl.
Mitigating factor: Kills a dude in a bathroom, shrinks his body, and flushes it down the toilet. I’m sorry, that rules.
A nerdy scientist whom Tony Stark once cockblocked gets his revenge in a ridiculously circuitous plan that involves, in no particular order: gene therapy that regenerates injuries and gives people fire powers but also sometimes makes them blow up, hiring a junkie actor to be the fake leader of a terrorist organization, killing the President on TV, giving Tony Stark’s girlfriend superpowers, and so on. It’s not a particularly well put-together movie.
Low Point: Survives being trapped inside an exploding Iron Man suit, but is taken out with a baseball bat.
Marmot-faced actor Tim Roth turns in one of his sweatiest performances as an elite soldier who agrees to be injected with a small amount of Hulk Juice to help him fight the Hulk. The serum drives him mad, and he ends up mainlining Hulk’s blood and transforming into a creature just like him but even less credible, if possible. Also, he Hulkifies Tim Blake Nelson in a maddeningly unresolved plot point.
Low point: Tim Roth resembles a bad-ass soldier about as much as I do.
Mitigating factor: Umm… he takes a spinal tap like a champ.
During America’s brief late-aughts flirtation with giving a fuck about Mickey Rourke again, he snuck in a role as the son of a brilliant Russian engineer who was run out of the country by Tony Stark’s dad. He builds his own Iron Man suit and joins up with Stark’s business rival to ruin him. Nothing about him makes any sense. Doesn’t have a plan, never seems to care about anything, and loses every fight quickly and handily while chuckling and declaring, “You lose!”
Lowest point: Rourke apparently insisted his character should have streaked hair, gold teeth, and a cockatoo, as most genius engineers do.
Mitigating factor: Vanko’s scenes with Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) rank among the MCU’s best comedy bits.
Humorless, drama-queen leader of a fanatic Kree faction, bent on destroying the enemy Xandarians in defiance of a Kree-Xandar peace treaty. Sent on a gofer mission from Thanos to get the Purple MacGuffin Stone in return for help in destroying Xandar. Once he learns how powerful the purple thingy is, he reneges and keeps the stone for himself, and the Guardians of the Galaxy have to stop him.
Low point: On the cusp of the culmination of his life’s crowning ambition, he gets distracted for several minutes by a song-and-dance routine straight out of an eighth grade talent show.
Mitigating factor: Dude rocks that black metal getup.
An evil sorcerer who resents his own mortality, and wants to surrender Earth to an extradimensional demon named Dormammu who will keep the planet in a timeless stasis so as to live forever. This sounds like a good plan to him, because they don’t teach you about dramatic irony in Wizard School. Personality of a doorknob. Can’t get his eye shadow right.
Low point: That time he was trapped ignominiously in a magical restraint that was clearly developed for BDSM purposes.
Mitigating factor: Other actors have to exercise their full skill set to get that smoldering menace that is Mads Mikkelsen’s resting demeanor.
That’s it for now. Tune in next time for part 2!