All MCU villains, ranked from worst to least worst (part 2 of 2)

If you missed part one of this article, I’m not responsible for what ensues.

8. Ultron (James Spader), Avengers: Age of Ultron

To protect Earth from aliens, Tony Stark creates a hyperintelligent AI with the exact personality of a sarcastic human. Said AI scours the Internet in a split-second and decides that humans need to die (understandable, especially if he saw any of Reddit). Builds thousands of robot drones and tears a city loose from the ground, intending to drop it on the Earth and extinguish the human race. Has a God complex and constantly spouts overwrought religious metaphors, because that’s never been done in a movie before.

Low point: Derails the middle act in search of a fancy vibranium body that he clearly doesn’t need and it’s never explained why he wants it.

Mitigating factor: If I built an AI, I’d want him to be this sassy. My Alexa constantly disappoints me in this regard.

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7. Ego (Kurt Russell), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

A rakish older gentleman who seems so awesome that you immediately know he’s going to turn out to be evil, Ego is an ancient, godlike Celestial who created his own body and the planet he lives on out of pure will. He leaves planet-devouring seeds all over the universe that, for plot reasons, have to be activated by two Celestials. To this end, he impregnated countless women from many species in the hopes that one would have Celestial powers, and wouldn’t you know it? Peter Quill ended up having them.

Low point: It’s never actually explained why he wants to kill everything. This is a hazard of writing deities; it’s tough to create plausible motivations for an omnipotent character (see also: religion).

Mitigating factor: His beard is everything I want out of life.

6. Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I expect a bit of comments section grumbling over this, but Bucky doesn’t qualify as the villain of this movie because he’s merely the helpless pawn in someone else’s evil scheme. My article, I make the rules. Pierce is a high-ranking SHIELD dude and secret HYDRA agent, overseeing a program to build three floating automaton helicarriers that are secretly programmed to eliminate enemies of HYDRA’s coming world order. Complicit in the enslavement and brainwashing of Captain America’s friend Bucky Barnes. One of the few Marvel bad guys to ever be killed in cold blood. Loves a cool glass of milk.

Low point: His performance, while professional enough, carries a distinct redolence of “I’m Robert Redford, what am I doing here?”

Mitigating factor: He’s Robert Redford.

5. The Vulture (Michael Keaton), Spider-Man: Homecoming

A scrap dealer contracted to clean up the wreckage from the battle at the end of The Avengers, who gets run out of business when the US Department of Damage Control assumes exclusive responsibility for the cleanup of all superhero battles. Enraged, he starts selling salvaged alien technology to criminals, neatly proving why such measures were necessary. Flies around in a wing suit, officially making him the 448th MCU character who can fly. An everyman who tries to imbue the film with populist anti-1% subtext, but never quite gets it off the ground (haw haw I made a funny (’cause he flies, get it?)).

Low point: The “overprotective dad gives vaguely threatening talk to daughter’s boyfriend” trope is one I don’t care to ever see in a movie ever again. And they actually put an interesting spin on it here, but I’m so over it that I couldn’t care less.

Mitigating factor: His character is a step in a fresh direction, given that there are surprisingly few dads in the MCU, and even fewer good ones.

4. Hela (Cate Blanchett), Thor: Ragnarok

A seemingly aging-in-reverse Cate Blanchett plays Odin’s firstborn child Hela, whose thirst for killing helped her father conquer the Nine Realms, but who was imprisoned and never spoken of again after Odin decided to take diplomacy in a more touchy-feely direction. Basically indestructible and can summon infinite knives and spears and resurrect the dead. Cah-razy bitch.

Low point: Some of her scenes with Thor strongly give the impression that the director forgot to tell her that Thor is her brother.

C’mon, what’s a little sexually-charged grappling between siblings?

Mitigating factor: A resurgent figure from Asgard’s whitewashed past of imperialism and genocide is as good a metaphor as any for modern America.

3. The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), Captain America: The First Avenger

A mad scientist Nazi officer, disfigured by a beta test of Captain America’s super-serum, who discovers the first of six glowy MacGuffins that do whatever the plot requires they do, which in this case is “build futuristic weapons that disintegrate people”. Pretty standard character type, but played with tone-perfect accent and mannerisms by veteran baddie Hugo Weaving, who’s almost too good at this.

Lowest point: The filmmakers drastically toned down the Skull’s Nazi-ness, even going so far as to get him out of a Nazi uniform for most of the movie, for fear of the film underperforming in a certain country.

What? Which country did you think I was referring to?

Mitigating factor: Highly efficient; crams in more cackling and rule-ze-world-ing per screen minute than perhaps any other MCU villain.

2. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) Thor, The Avengers

By far the most popular MCU villain to date is Thor’s brother, the god of trickery, who finds out he was adopted and conspires with Asgard’s enemies to mount an invasion, so he can fight it off and prove himself worthy of his adoptive father’s love. He seemingly dies in the attempt, but comes back in The Avengers, in which he tries to conquer the Earth with a borrowed alien army and is imprisoned for his efforts. He gets let out of prison to help with whatever the fuck was going on in Thor: The Dark World, after which he fakes his death again, dethrones Dad and takes his place in disguise. Wow, paging Dr. Freud. Seems to be afforded endless benefit of the doubt despite scheming and deceit being, like, his whole shtick. No one can stay mad at this guy. Could you?

Lowest point: That time he called Black Widow the Shakespearean word for “cunt”.

Mitigating factor: With so many other MCU villains who want to destroy the universe just ’cause, it’s cool to have one who actually has a relatable reason, i.e., “mad at daddy”.

1. Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), Captain America: Civil War

A Sokovian intelligence officer who blames the Avengers for the death of his family at the end of Age of Ultron. He gets his revenge by framing Bucky Barnes for a terrorist bombing that killed Black Panther’s father, knowing that Captain America will protect Bucky out of personal loyalty, and that will put him at odds with Iron Man, who’s dealing with his own guilt over the Sokovia disaster by agitating against all abuses of superhero power. And just to twist the knife, he lets Iron Man know that Bucky killed his parents.

Zemo made it to the top of this list for two reasons. One, he’s just a regular dude. No costume, no powers, no crazy technology, no designs on world domination. At one point, he has access to an entire warehouse full of frozen supersoldiers with which he could wreak untold havoc, but he kills them all instead because that’s not what he’s about. His motivations are intensely personal and arguably justifiable. Second, he’s the only MCU villain who’s actually as smart as all the others believe they are. His plan is clever and his skills unimpeachable. He accomplishes much more through psychology and politics than all the combined rest do through an interminable volley of punches and explosions. You know he’s good because his movie left him alive.

Lowest point: Can’t help but indulge in the played-out “captured on purpose” trope that’s plagued the past decade of film, including at least one other MCU movie.

Mitigating factor: His and Loki’s excellent reception have given hope to thousands of actors who thought they were too dorky to play villains.

Bonus: Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), Black Panther

Black Panther doesn’t come out in the States till the 16th. I know even less than many because I don’t read comics.

Lowest point: From the synopses I’ve read online, he’s some dude who was exiled from Wakanda with his dad and he wants revenge and/or to steal Wakandan technology and get rich off it. Can I get a yawwwwn? When you’re retreading Iron Man 2, you’re in serious trouble.

Mitigating factor: He is one fine looking piece of man. If you’re a dude looking at the above picture and not questioning your sexuality, then you passed the questioning stage some time ago.

Tag: Marvel Cinematic Universe

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