Loki is the best villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We all know it, and we all love him for it. 😉
But what about everyone else?
The MCU has often been criticized, even by me, for having some rather lackluster villains. Loki is almost always everyone’s favorite, but the rest get written off a little too easily in my opinion. In recent years, especially, and expanding beyond the films to the shows on Netflix, Hulu, and television, I have found that there are a plethora of decent villains for us to love to hate. They have become, quite often, much more developed and well-rounded both as characters and in their philosophies. Not to mention, of course, how evil they are! Mwahahah!
In honor of the end of Phase 3, with an eye to look forward to the future, I decided to round up a dozen of my favorite MCU villains and share some thoughts. And what better month to discuss evil than October, eh? 😉
Here are my top twelve favorite MCU villains (besides Loki). Enjoy! 🙂
Starting things off, we have a classic antagonist of Daredevil fame (he was in the movie with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, after all). His is a very simple superpower: he hits whatever he wants to hit, with whatever he is using to hit it. It may be a small, subtle ability, but one with surprising potency. It makes him a physical threat unlike most others. This single skill enables him to wipe out entire teams of enemies, to mow his way through anyone in his path, and to defeat, handily, fellow supers like Daredevil, despite the latter’s lifelong sharpening of his body and skills.
I suppose that’s why I had to include him. He’s more than a little unhinged, mind you, and his display of such, as well as how malleable of an underling he is, make him come off as a little weak in the mind and heart, but dang if he isn’t dangerous physically! With the right tools and timing, he could easily pose a threat to super-people far out of his own weight class, not to mention everyone around them.
Cloak and Dagger
Andre Deschaine. He is one of those wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing villains. He appears, at first, to be a selfless, giving soul, but, in truth, he is the very worst sort of parasite. He literally feeds on people’s misery, like a psychic vampire, robbing them of all hope and leaving them in despair. And he does it so easily, so nonchalantly. He wears such a carefully-crafted mask, and luring in his victims with promise of psychological help and healing, but delivers horror and devastation to his unsuspecting prey.
Not only is he evil and treacherous, but the harm he does can, in its way, be even more devastating to his victims than anything merely physical. Physical injuries either kill you (and can’t hurt you anymore) or they don’t. They can heal, or, if the damage is permanent, they can be adapted to. (Not to diminish the suffering and courage of those enduring such hardship, of course) But injuries to the soul, meddling with a person’s mind and heart, is a whole other level of intrusion. Physical obstacles can be met in a variety of ways, but they always require the force of one’s own will. But what can one do when that very force of will has been harmed?
The Scarlet Witch once beat the Avengers by assaulting them in their minds, but D’Spayre utterly devours the minds and wills of ordinary people.
Agents of Shield
Aida begins as an android, and an ally of Shield’s agents. But, over the course of the fourth season, she becomes one of their most formidable enemies, leaving devastation in her wake. She outwits and outmaneuvers the agents, and her own creator, driving them past their limits in every way, and that’s before she becomes more powerful and independent. It takes the Ghost Rider, one of the most powerful beings in the multiverse, to take her down.
In addition to her power, her insanity, and the devastation she leaves in her wake, Aida is also fascinating.
She provides excellent fodder for discussions of humanity, intelligence, and more. Her behavior is, at first, directed by her programming, even when she appears to be in pain, but she learns and incorporates ideas from the humans around her. She begins to think, in a way, and work around the limits of her programming. She and those like her display various degrees of awareness, behaving in ways which conform to their programming, but also deviating from it once their instructions have been fulfilled, in ways which we normally associate only with fully intelligent life forms. They’re so convincing that normal humans have to wonder if they aren’t robot copies as well, thrusting the audience into the heart of the age-old question: “Who am I?”
And Aida’s answer to that question is to become something more than she was made to be. The problem is, first, that she does so with no regard for who gets hurt and, second, when she gains godlike power at the very same moment she loses whatever self-control her programming once gave her, alongside a complete inability to deal with her emotions. Result: even worse devastation.
This iteration of the Vulture, one of Spider-Man’s classic enemies, is a man trying to provide for his family when the world seems set against them. He has access to exotic technology and a brainiac in his employ, and with this he leads his operation into illegal waters, arming everyday criminals as well as himself, all right under the Avengers’ noses. When things go bad for him, including the part where the tech he is meddling with is highly dangerous, he gets bolder and flies higher, nearly pulling off the heist of the century, one which would endanger more and more innocent people as a result. It’s pretty much a miracle that Peter Parker is there to stop him.
What I love so much about Vulture: he is what many real-life villains are: a good man, gone bad. What he wants isn’t bad, but his pursuit of it is warped. He fails to think of all the people who are hurt in the fallout of his actions, telling himself that it’s all for his family. It’s terrible, but relatable in a way most supervillainy isn’t. And still, through it all, there is some honor left in him. When he fails, and goes to prison, he does not pursue revenge, though he certainly could. He even protects Spider-Man’s secret identity, though it profits him nothing to do so. He loses, and he is guilty of serious crimes, yet he retains a certain dignity. That, right there, makes him one of the most complex and human villains in the MCU.
Speaking of honor among thieves…
Cornell Stokes, aka Cottonmouth, was a primary antagonist of Luke Cage. Prior to his untimely death, he was Harlem’s local crime boss and a major player in New York’s seedy underbelly. Born and raised to it by his family, especially his aunt, Cottonmouth became a criminal practically by default, forced into it by his family’s legacy. He did well at it, though, and there was a certain peace in the community under his reign. He was brutal and unforgiving towards those who crossed him, but he carried himself with a degree of honor and dignity.
I really hate that they killed him off, and so soon. He had only half a season, but he was great. To see a villain with some actual honor and caring to him, especially considering how he had been forced into his role for his entire life, was a refreshing change. Had his life been just a little different, he probably would have made a life out of his love for music. Instead, the story of his life is entirely a tragedy, from beginning to end.
I just really liked him, you know? His actions may have been intolerable, but he was a bad guy… who wasn’t really an entirely bad guy.
As we move up, we move deeper into the abyss. Unlike the previous two, Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, has no honor whatsoever. He does whatever he does solely to suit his own agenda.
Kingpin is a classic enemy of both Daredevil and Spider-Man, the ultimate king of New York’s criminal underworld. In the MCU, he is at first a shadowy, ominous figure, and we only begin to know him from the moment he meets the woman he eventually marries. Over the course of three seasons, he proves to be a cunning, dangerous, calculating man, made even more terrifying by murderous fits of temper against those whom he perceives as having wronged him or threatened those close to him in some manner. He is beaten, and gets back up, slowly rising even higher than before, and turning the lives of all the heroes who would oppose him into bloody, living nightmares.
The fact that he can be so zealous in protecting and avenging his own at the same time he is so cavalier in threatening and murdering others is staggering. He even justifies himself in the first season by saying he was trying to make the city a better place, with not a care that it would be atop the bodies of its own people. The third season portrays him as even more dangerous and destructive, and more honestly evil, as he ascends to his throne without any pretense at all at being good.
Agents of Shield
Initially introduced as a specialist attached to Coulson’s hand-picked team, Grant Ward was soon revealed to be an agent of Hydra under the command of one of their senior members. Over the course of two and a half seasons, he was demonstrably one of the most dangerous enemies that the remnants of Shield would ever face. He was a highly skilled operative, smart and lethal, and mentally unstable, highly so. He left a wake of destruction a mile wide behind him, wriggling his way out of countless tight spots like an eel, until, finally, at long last, Phil Coulson got a grip on him, and crushed the life from him.
The thing about Ward is that he is so complex. We see him first as a good guy, then we learn he’s a bad guy, then he’s a bad guy who might, possibly, maybe be redeemed a bit, and then he’s straddling good and bad in an intriguing way, and then he’s straight-up evil and insane, and then he’s a vile villain with a warped cause, and, finally, he’s dead, with his face stolen and worn by something much worse. And through it all, he’s very personal. We know this guy. We’ve liked him, and hated him, and rooted for and against him. It’s a wild, interesting ride, more so than most villains provide.
And, in his final appearance, we see him as he might have been. With just one, small difference in his life, he could well have been a magnificent hero, and a leader of men. It’s hard to entirely hate him, knowing that.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Alexander Pierce, one of Hydra’s heads, and the political official set in charge of Shield as a whole, alongside Nick Fury. Indeed, he, himself, appointed Fury to the role of Director. Fury considered him one of his closest friends, allies, and confidantes. But when Fury finally got a whiff of the truth of Hydra lurking within Shield like a cancer, Pierce tried to have him killed without hesitation or remorse, just like he shot his own housekeeper, whom he’d known and employed and smiled with for years on end. He directed Shield, and Hydra, in the hunt for Captain America and Black Widow, and guided Shield to the very cusp of its destruction, with Hydra poised to conquer the entire world in one fell, bloody swoop. He murdered the World Security Council, fomented chaos across the world, slaughtered and traumatized countless innocents with Shield’s name. A villain for the record books, this one.
To top it all off, just before his death, he stood against Fury as if he had some kind of higher moral ground. That’s what’s so interesting to me about him. When he makes his case to Fury, it’s a “for the greater good” appeal. “Our enemies are your enemies,” he says. He offers a means to bring order and safety to the lives of billions of people, “By sacrificing twenty million.” It’s an argument we would later find magnified by Thanos himself, and ultimately flawed, severely, in both cases. I wonder if he didn’t believe in something better at some point, but if he ever did, it became warped at some point.
Basically, he is a cold-blooded, two-faced murderer who appears to believe what he’s saying, that what he’s doing is actually good for humanity. That, I would argue, makes him a much more dangerous enemy than a villain who is just interested in power for the sake of power, as so many are.
Killmonger is the cousin of T’Challa, the king of the African nation of Wakanda. He manipulates things a bit so he can make a grand entrance and lay claim to the throne. He takes revenge for a father murdered by his own brother, the previous king, T’Challa’s father, by defeating and seemingly killing T’Challa in ceremonial combat. He ascends the throne, and is barely prevented from unleashing chaos and destruction across the world, all in the name of throwing down the oppressors in power and making Wakanda a worldwide empire.
Part of what I love so much about Killmonger is how he, in just a slightly different light, could be considered a cultural hero, or at least a pivotal figure, in the annals of history, if his plans had succeeded. He would have been much like Vlad the Impaler, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Sun Tzu, Genghis Khan, and George Washington: all leaders, with competing virtues and flaws, whose accomplishments on the field of battle would turn the world on a hinge. Killmonger’s arguments are compelling, though also very flawed, and, whatever else might be said, he did not hesitate to risk himself for his plans, and he met his end with more grace and dignity than most others.
In short, he had a certain charisma to him, and a powerful backstory, and grand dreams. It was just unfortunate that he was also a brutal, savage murderer, and that his cause was as unjust as he himself was.
Captain America: Civil War
Zemo is apparently making a return in the upcoming Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. For now, however, he has appeared only in the one movie, and, it must be said, he is the only villain thus far whose scheme was an unqualified success. He succeeded in delivering exactly the right blow, at exactly the right moment, to shatter the Avengers as a unit, turn the world against them, drive most of them into hiding, and those that remained had little more than the name to their credit. All of this, and he was practically a nobody.
Much like Odysseus was “Nobody” to the cyclops whose eye he poked out.
And that, in a nutshell, is why he’s one of my favorites.
Oh, there’s also the part where he is consumed by vengeance, in the worst way, because he lost his entire family (father, wife, and son) in the midst of the terrible conflict of Avengers: Age of Ultron. There’s how patient and precise he was in pursuing his revenge, with skills he acquired and used in service to a corrupt government before his country was practically wiped out alongside his family. We are sympathetic towards Hawkeye, who also lost his entire family and then went around murdering bad people, but Zemo? Zemo is still practically a nobody, despite being one of the most sympathetic and successful of all the Marvel villains, ever.
I rather look forward to what they do with him. 🙂
Avengers: Infinity War
Speaking of villains who win, Thanos is probably the most famous example of such right now.
The chief, overarching, and final antagonist of the MCU’s first three phases, also known as the Infinity Saga, Thanos is a being known and feared throughout the stars. He is even hailed by some as the most powerful of all, and that’s not even including his vast armies, the Black Order, and the Children of Thanos. He is on a mission to annihilate half of everything alive in the universe. In the comics, this is a tribute to Death, whom he wants to court and copulate with. In the movies, it is because of some mad, insane drive to supposedly save all life in the universe with a massive cull.
It completely ignores all reality, but it’s what he believes, and so he seeks, and obtains, the Infinity Stones, and does battle with the Avengers and the armies of several worlds, and, finally, he succeeds. Then, when that doesn’t work out, he alters his plan in favor of simply annihilating the whole of the universe and all life within it and starting anew, making a universe that will forever praise him. It takes everyone working together to stop him, and it takes the sacrifice of the very heart of the MCU, even the life of the first Avenger we ever met: Iron Man.
All things considered… well, there just isn’t a villain badder than the Mad Titan, as of yet.
So, who is my number one pick, and why?
Spider-Man: Far From Home
No, it’s not just because he’s the latest one. 😉
Mysterio was once an employee at Stark Industries. He created a technology most useful for making illusions, which, while clever and useful in its way, is inherently dishonest. Small wonder Tony Stark, a man of honest action, discarded the idea, and even publicly spurned the tech. Offended by this, by being deprived of his chance to enter the spotlight, he would eventually rally a group of fellow employees who felt stepped on, underappreciated, and entitled to more. As leader, he made to abscond with Stark’s legacy and become acknowledged as a great hero, though it would all be a lie. Mysterio and his followers did a lot of damage, hurt a number of innocent people, nearly took out some of Earth’s best protectors, and did not hesitate to specifically target children, all in the name of petty grievances at a time when the world had already been severely upset by apocalyptic events. And it was all based on the lie of their own self-entitled importance.
Mysterio represents everything which is fake and false. He also represents the sin of pride, which is often the source of the lies we tell, that we are somehow greater (or lesser) than we really are. He has a charisma and a force of will to him, both when he is deceiving others and when he is leading his little cult. He manages to strike at the very heart of a young hero, and nearly defeat him with what amounts to little more than a mountain of lies. It’s just glorified smoke and mirrors, yet he is surprisingly formidable.
Oh, and even when he lost, like most villains, Mysterio delivered a final, parting shot to Spider-Man which has serious ramifications for the young man’s life and well-being. How many villains manage to ruin the hero’s life from beyond the grave?
…not counting the one who can’t seem to *stay* dead, I mean. 😉
Soooo glad that you spared some love for Zemo and Pierce (arguably, Hydra in general is the greatest villain in the MCU). Aida is a little bit low for my taste, though, few villains put their victims through so much emotional heartbreak.
Mysterio? Eh…he is fine, I guess….
LikeLiked by 1 person
I would have put Aida and Kingpin higher. I think they were two genuinely creepy villains who really did not show any redeeming qualities.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Glad you included Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! There’s some might fine work in that show that went mostly unremarked. Speaking of Aida, I wish Agents of HYDRA had gone a full season. There’s so much to explore there.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Eh, I dunno. I might’ve gone mad if they’d stretched it out *that* long. 😉
LikeLiked by 1 person
Pingback: The Seven Sins of Marvel’s Netflix Villains | Merlin's Musings