Marvel Studios started leasing its characters out to studios in the late 1990’s starting with New Line’s R-rated Blade series. We then saw Fox releasing X-Men in 2000, a franchise that is going strong to this day with the upcoming release of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Emboldened by this success, Fox also tried its hand with Daredevil and the Fantastic Four. Sony got into the act with the Spider-Man franchise in 2002, now rebooted and with 4 more movies staked out till 2018. Sony also produced two Ghost Rider films with Nicolas Cage. Meanwhile, Universal released a couple of Hulk movies in 2003/ 2008 and Lions Gate jumped in with two R-rated Punisher films in 2004/ 2008. By 2008, Marvel was producing its own films with the first two Iron Man films plus Thor and Captain America being distributed by Paramount before Marvel was bought by Disney.
In all these years, I’ve never known Marvel to make a movie with a really lame villain, until now.
Of course, this observation excludes duds like Daredevil in which every aspect of the movie is so laughable that it hardly matters whether Colin Farrell’s Bullseye and Michael Clarke Duncan’s Kingpin are more ridiculous than the superhero or not. Ang Lee’s Hulk also came very close. The military led by potential father-in-law General Ross was Bruce Banner’s primary adversary and produced some great action set-pieces, but other than that, the big guy had to fight three mutant dogs (shouldn’t they leave that for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?) and his own dad who becomes a big err…energy thing at the end. While the Weapon XI/ Deadpool hybrid character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine was certainly a powerful foe, I thought ‘pretty boy’ Ryan Reynolds was the wrong choice to play him, not to mention the incredible conceit of bastardising Deadpool into a multi-powered character called Weapon XI just to set up a climactic fight scene with Wolverine. I had also mentioned recently that The Winter Soldier in the recent Captain America sequel looked pretty tame. Luckily, the audience had all the SHIELD/ HYDRA intrigue going on to keep them on the edge of their seats.
But none of these misadventures can compare with the ultimate ‘loser villain’ that I just saw on the big screen last week in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Jamie Foxx was completely miscast as Electro, looking bloated and middle-aged (he is 46 and looks cooler in real life) and nothing like the sleek super-villain from the comics or Disney’s Ultimate Spider-Man animation series. The script writers, the director and casting director must all take the blame for this mess. Having taken so much time to set up Max Dillon’s character as an introverted and socially insecure engineer (complete with comb-over), the film-makers just could not change that personality overnight once he gained his powers. Fortunately, with the film so packed with villains, we had Dane DeHaan to save the day…equally disturbing as both Harry Osborn and the Green Goblin.
But as I said at the beginning, Marvel is better known for getting it right than getting it wrong. That brings me then to my top villains in the Marvel cinematic universe thus far, in chronological order of appearance in movies over the years:-
- Magneto/ Erik Lensherr – No one can match the evil mutant for his ultimate combination of brains and mutant brawn, not to mention a genuine belief that he is fighting for the future of humankind. His tragic experience in the Warsaw camp (depicted first in X-Men and in greater detail in X-Men: First Class) only add to the pathos of the character. Brilliantly played first by Sir Ian McKellan and then by Michael Fassbender, I can’t wait to see them both in the same film in a couple of weeks’ time.
- Green Goblin/ Norman Osborn – Willem Dafoe is one of the busiest actors in the industry, but he rarely signs up for the kind of meaty lead character roles he had in Platoon, The Last Temptation of Christ and Mississippi Burning in the mid-80s, having switched to interesting supporting roles instead. In his Oscar-nominated turn as Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire (2000), he showed how well he could play ‘scary’. Two years later, he showcased this talent to a much wider audience as Norman Osborn in Spider-Man. My favourite scene – the Thanksgiving lunch at Peter’s place when he gives Aunt May a murderous look after she slaps his hand for reaching out for the food.
- Doctor Octopus/ Otto Octavius – As played by the incredibly talented Alfred Molina in Spider-Man 2, Doc Ock is the most tragic of Marvel’s cinematic villains. The loss of his wife during that fateful experiment and his own self-sacrifice and redemption at the end of the film certainly elevate him above the typical evil super-villain.
- Loki – Everyone’s favourite bad guy has now graced three Marvel films – Thor, The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World. Loki has the perfect mix of brains and brawn, with charming good looks and a sense of humour thrown in. Played by 33-year-old Londoner Tom Hiddleston, there is little doubt that he will return in future Marvel films. He even gets the best CGI scenes – who can forget the pummeling he receives from the Hulk (“Puny God!”) in The Avengers or his switch to Captain America in The Dark World!
- Sebastian Shaw/ Dr. Klaus Schmidt – Kevin Bacon is absolutely hateful as the cruel and slightly mad Dr. Klaus Schmidt in the Warsaw concentration camp scenes of X-Men: First Class. Later in the film, he re-emerges as the suave Sebastian Shaw. Only an actor of Kevin Bacon’s caliber could pull off the transformation believably.
- Green Goblin/ Harry Osborn – Like father, like son. In the just released The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Hollywood’s new ‘disturbed young man’ Dane DeHaan is truly creepy as Harry Osborn aka Green Goblin. Who wouldn’t be with a dad like Norman Osborn (played equally creepily by Chris Cooper)? I actually thought he was scarier as Harry than after the transformation to Goblin!
I am hoping that in a couple of weeks I will be adding Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask to this list. Fingers crossed that X-Men: Days of Future Past will not disappoint.