Fun with Franchises EXTRA: The Marvel Universe – Ranking the Villains
All right. So over the last ten weeks, we went over all the Marvel films. (Not counting Age of Ultron, since that’s too new. So all as of 2014.) We watched them, we made fun of them, we did our usual thing. And now, since this is a formidable universe, we’re gonna rank them. Like we did with Bond, and like we did with Disney.
I’m not doing this because I consider them on par with either of those two, but because it’s Marvel, and apparently that’s like web traffic gold. So, while we work in a Fun with Franchises break to allow us to get ready for the next set of franchises, I’m gonna throw up some of this bullshit, because I’m not opposed to whoring myself out for small periods of time. Look, it was either this, or nothing gets posted. I don’t have a problem with turning tricks on Hollywood Boulevard, but you don’t get to see that for free.
Today we’re ranking our favorite villains.
It took me half the movie just to learn this guy’s name. I have no idea why he wanted to to what he wanted to do, or even what that really constituted. Was it destroying the universe? Was it just making it dark? Why did Natalie come across the Aether at exactly the right moment? That is, where was the Aether buried, and why was the wormhole she walked through in London going right to it so she could touch it and set off Malekith’s Space AIDS radar? This character is wholly forgettable, makes no sense and offers nothing of quality to the franchise. I honestly think, with that opening sequence, that Marvel thought they had a Sauron, and they were way off.
What a useless villain. His only memorable characteristic is that he has an AIDS radar. The only thing he accomplishes is killing Rene Russo… who I legit thought died in the first movie. Otherwise — he can randomly control an Infinity Stone, which is never explained, and wants to bring the universe back to darkness. A plan that required… pretty much just waiting for hundreds of years. A completely forgettable villain. It’s appropriate that Marvel’s worst villain comes in its worst movie.
I legitimately didn’t remember this character. I only remembered Djimon Hounsou. Sort of like how Dave Bautista’s character is, to me, just Dave Bautista, this character is in a bad way only Djimon Hounsou. He says cool things, but I honestly don’t remember who he was working for, what he was supposed to do and what consequences his presence had. I like Djimon Hounsou, but you take him out of this movie and it doesn’t change at all.
I legit forget this character is in that movie until he shows up to fight Drax. Djimon Hounsou is cool and all, but this guy disappears for most of this movie. His only real memorable moment is this reaction. Everything else is from people playing off of him. “Star-Lord.” “Finally.” And “Finger to the throat means death.” All people playing off of him, and not him.
Why is everyone a supervillain? This guy showed up and hijacked a ship. He fights with Captain America and gets away. And yet, Marvel calls him a supervillain. I think he ranks here only because he had a good fight that was mostly real and not horrible to watch. He also convinces Steve to get rid of the shield to fight, which was nice. But the guy’s in one movie for about two minutes. You can’t rank him very high.
This guys holds his own against Cap for a little while. Which merits at least this much. Otherwise, he’s a guy who hijacks a ship and is pretty much just there for a boss fight for a while. He does also convince Steve to (stupidly) fight him without a shield or a mask. The shield was because he taunted him. The mask is just cause Steve is an idiot. Otherwise he disappears. They don’t even give him his nickname of The Leaper. Which might have earned him an extra spot. I want “The Leaper” as my nickname.
Also forgot about this guy. He’s the black Dark Elf who turns into a weird rage monster. They have a DBZ fight, which was whatever. Is this guy ranked this highly because he stabbed Rene Russo? Does stabbing Rene Russo get you ahead of three villains in Marvel? At this point, we’re still just parsing through the shit heap.
Not particularly memorable. But here’s what he accomplishes: turns into a fire monster, pushes a guy’s head through a forcefield, has a “real recognize real” moment with Loki in the prisons, and he beats the living FUCK out of Thor on Svangletheim or whatever. Oh, and he’s played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. He actually accomplishes quite a bit, villain-wise, considering who’s below him.
16. Ellen Brandt
I do not like Extremis. I find it to be a stupid means of getting powers, and I’d rather that it had never been introduced. That’s why Ellen, the most boring of the Extremis crowd, goes here. She has actual lines and fights Tony while he’s without his suit, so there’s that to consider. But she’s no more than a scary lady who briefly turns orange until she gets blown up and winds up hanging from a telephone line.
She’s not a particularly memorable villain either. You might notice a trend here. She gets points for killing a cop in the presence of everyone else, and then otherwise is better looking than most henchmen. So she’s got that going for her. Otherwise, she ends up here because there’s some playfulness to her fight with Tony, and she reminds me a few women I’ve known. And also — not much else to choose from.
We really were supposed to think he was the main villain in Thor, but he got super murdered really fast. His only contribution to this franchise is producing Loki, and exploding. I guess I like him for having snarled at Thor and particularly for his moment of telling a comatose Anthony Hopkins of the murder he’s about to commit, but he’s really only just this side of Ellen.
Honestly, I’d have put him lower had it not been for him whispering into a dude’s ear that he’s gonna kill him. I think his subtitle is Super Murdered Really Fast. But that whisper gets him here because I don’t like anyone below him enough to put them higher.
14. Eric Savin
This is another, where…you’re James Badge Dale. I know Dale, but I don’t know this character. Dale’s pretty cool in a lot of stuff, but I’m not into this character because he’s an Extremis guy who gets thwarted by a child with a snowball. Weirdly, the moment I best remember is when we meet him in the Stark building, where he’s sitting with a leg draped over the chair’s arm. That sort of introduction tells you something about the kind of character you’re dealing with, and the way that Dale plays it gives him more gravity than the character really deserves.
Yeah, he doesn’t do a whole lot. But I like the attitude the character has of nonchalantness. Plus the random behavioral things he has. Like sitting on the chair like this in a place of business, or the thing with the coffee, where he just tosses it for like, no reason. He’s only this high because of how Dale plays him. Because by the time he gets in the Iron Patriot suit, I don’t give a shit about him.
13. Heinz Kruger
This guy is just Nazi Thorin, because he’s played by Richard Armitage. The character himself isn’t anything special, but he has a great chase in the taxi and gets thrown out of the water by Captain America, which is pretty good. He’s yet another minor henchman who we can look back on as having been somewhat memorable, which is funny because his two minutes of screen time make him immediately better than Malekith.
Not a particularly memorable character, but I give him props for being involved in a good chase and for being a double agent for so long. That takes skill, to do that successfully. He serves a good purpose and accomplishes nearly everything he was given to accomplish.
12. Ronan the Accuser
The only reason I went with Mike’s choice to put Ronan here is because he’s a major villain who turns on Thanos. I don’t want to be super generous and call that a major plot twist, but it isn’t quite as mind-numbing as Malekith. My overall issues are with his poorly laid out religious grievances and how he’s just another random alien looking to destroy stuff with an infinity stone, but we have reasons to enjoy him, too. I mostly look back to his “fight” with Dave Bautista, in which we got TWO Tuesday moments. So he could have been less useless, sure, but he had just enough thugnificence about him for one scene to make me appreciate him.
The reason he’s this high is because who the fuck goes higher than him from the rest of this list? He sleeps in the blood of his enemies, his nickname is The Accuser, which is fucking badass, he has both daughters of Thanos working for him, he tells Thanos to go fuck himself, “Tuesday,” and has that great moment at the end where he’s staring at Quill like, “What the fuck are you doing?” I consider his problems as a villain as missed opportunity than anything else. There’s enough here to have a good villain. It just doesn’t add up in the end. He’s actually not the worst villain. But I also can’t put him higher, even though with just a little more work, he could have legit been six spots higher.
11. Aldrich Killian
I want this placement to be a statement of how absolutely terrible Killian is as a villain. Like, he’s not Malekith, but he’s the lowest of the main villains who aren’t space morons. I was so pissed about this guy. Need I repeat myself? He’s a nerd who interrupts an epic New Year’s Eve party and cockblocks a drunken billionaire playboy on his way to getting pussy, and he’s so stung by the rejection that he creates a new race of super-human terrorists and wants to take over the United States. Like, there’s nothing wrong with that statement. It’s all accurate. Even beyond the fact that they ruined Ben Kingsley’s involvement in the movie, this was a character who was supposed to be MASSIVE in this franchise, and he just sucked. I had no liking for him at any point, even though I like Guy Pearce. What about this guy is likeable? I don’t even like that he breathes fire or that he got blown up and then showed up clearly not blown up at all. No, this guy sucked and he brought down the entire movie.
Terrible villain. Honestly, the only reason he’s here is because I know how much Colin hates Ronan. Everything about him pre-Extremis is annoying. He’s Randomly Disabled and Otherwise Kinda Gross, cockblocks our hero and is just a fucking idiot to boot. Then he shows up later, clearly a villain, and his only real villainy is having money and being the face behind what would have been a way more interesting villain. Sure he breathes fire, but he should not have crazy Extremis abilities. I don’t want to see you fight. I want to see the Mandarin legit done well. He’s an awful villain, and it says something about this universe that he almost cracked the top ten. He should have jumped.
Another guy whose name we don’t know. Oh well. He does fight well, he does threaten SHIELD staffers with violence, and he does offer condolences for Nick Fury before they all start to beat the shit out of Captain America. It’s really the second point that got me going because the moment where he’s telling the guy to launch the helicarriers is tense. We don’t know or care about this guy, but at the same time, he’s so helpless with a gun to his head. Things get tense. This guy is one of the few minor villains where I felt like he’d actually murder someone and that I didn’t want that to happen. Most everyone else, you’re kinda like, “Yeah, you can murder that guy.”
You know why he’s here? Because this guy puts in a day’s work. He goes on missions, legit gets into the shit, actually fights for real. That elevator fight is no joke. He’s willing to kill a motherfucker. I like that he’s slightly complex (at least, for Marvel), because he apologizes to Cap in the elevator. I don’t like that he switches to villain so completely and out of nowhere. That’s weird. But there’s the hint at complexity there, so that’s nice. And I like that he fights with his hands, and is willing to punch it out with people if need be.
If he was more major as a villain, I’d want Raza ranked higher up. He’s a learned terrorist, first of all, which I think really represents the sort of enemy we all thought we were dealing with when Iron Man came out. He has the monologue about the bow and arrow, he threatens Yensin with a hot coal to the mouth, he fires a grenade launcher at Tony, and then he chills in the sand dunes with his bros, wearing some cool ass goggles and getting sand in his head wound. Too bad he was paralyzed and then maybe not killed. We’re not sure. You know they left it ambiguous so he can potentially come back, even though he won’t at this point.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about this guy. But he does have presence. That earns him this much on this list, given how mediocre everyone below him is.
8. Emil Blonsky / Abomination
This character was written horribly, and I don’t even like that they got Tim Roth to play him, even though I like Tim Roth. Why was there a random British guy doing top secret missions for the US military? Why do there have to be random British people involved in all these things that would normally be limited by nationality? I don’t get it, but anyway. The only reason that Blonsky goes this high is because we see his desire and how much he needs to be fighting. That’s the only way you can accept him wanting to transform into Abomination. He got punted by Hulk, which was a crazy kick, and healed up fast so he could get some more. Good work.
I can’t believe he’s eighth. Jesus, Marvel. He’s so one-note. There’s really nothing great about this character at all. I just like that he’s willing to fight the Hulk on his own. And then he gets punted, which is hilarious. But otherwise, they do sort of show you why he’s doing what he’s doing, but otherwise isn’t particularly memorable in any way. And then as Abomination, we don’t give a shit. It’s just someone for Hulk to fight. Though I guess he gets points for being eloquent as a monster.
7. Arnim Zola
Zola’s okay. Mostly I like him for being Toby Jones in dark glasses, but it’s also because he’s not physical in any way. He doesn’t need to fight and he even cringes at stuff — he’s here to do science and we can expect him to come up with some creepy shit. I don’t particularly love him in The Winter Soldier, but his whole thing in The First Avenger, where he plays the Red Skull sidekick who isn’t really ready for world domination — that was fun.
He’s Toby Jones. In the first movie, he’s not much. It’s really Winter Soldier which is where I like him. I like that he’s uploaded to a computer and calls people assholes. I do like that he’s not totally on board with Red Skull in the first movie, though. That is pretty nice. Kinda wish they did more with him. I like the idea of him on the train, Still weird that with 14 out of 20 Marvel villains, the best we can say is, “Yeah, he’s okay.”
6. Ivan Vanko / Whiplash
I might even kick Vanko up to five. People hate on Vanko, but we can at least understand what his problems with Tony are and how he plans on getting to him. The other thing is that he plays Hammer like a fool, which is something we don’t regularly see in Marvel. It’s not often that a villain plays his patron like that — it reminds me of old gangster movies where the young up-and-comer starts as a hired gun but ends up muscling in on the boss. And then it’s Mickey Rourke. He looks like he’s having so much fun! And he feeds vodka to an exotic bird! Why do people shit on this character? He could have been much better, but Marvel has a VERY shallow pool to draw from when it comes to decent villains.
This is a pretty good villain in a muddled film. Underdeveloped, as most villains are. My main problem with him is that he spends the majority of the film sitting in a factory in Queens typing on a computer. But he has an acceptable backstory (the timing of when it comes out is questionable, though), he feeds vodka to a bird, and then there’s this shot, where he just murdered and strung up two guys. Plus he gets that nice introductory action sequence at the Grand Prix, which is nice. I think he’s one of those villains who needed a bit more to do for me to really consider him higher than this. Plus Mickey Rourke is a bit miscast as a nuclear physicist.
5. The Winter Soldier
Yeah, I might put him here, though I can switch him with Vanko and be fine. Bucky’s cool mostly because he doesn’t speak much and because it’s implied that they basically take him out of a box to go murder people. The arm is okay — better because of the red star. I do like the idea of a henchman who just follows orders and is effectively brainwashed. And now that he’s on his own, it’s pretty much the closest thing Marvel has to Jason Bourne.
I put him over Vanko because he gets good guy backstory before he becomes a villain, plus he handles his shit. He shows up and murders people. He’s involved in a great action sequence on the highway, and we don’t get bullshit scenes with him in the middle of the film to remind us of him. Every time we see him, it’s for a purpose. No one thinks about how important that is to a good villain.
4. Alexander Pierce
Aw, man. It’s Robert Redford. That gets you top five, right there. But they could have done better with him, when you think about what the movie was sort of trying to accomplish. As we said, the movie would have been better if it had been about finding out the truth rather than killing everything that moves, so if Redford had been given more scenes with Steve and Natasha to be a sort of ally or to be trying to get after them the way Cliff Robertson did in Three Days of the Condor…and then Bucky’s the Max von Sydow? I have no problem with that. Like, just completely rip off Three Days of the Condor and add superheroes and I have no problem with that at all. It would have been welcome. But even as it is, Redford’s acting and the gossamer-thin background his character gets is enough to put him in the upper echelon of Marvel villains. I love Robert Redford.
I wanted to downgrade him for actually saying “Hail Hydra,” but it’s still Robert Redford. Though I do wish he was presented slightly differently. I like how all of our explanations in why these people are great villains we talk about how disappointed we are with all of them. But I do like that Redford doesn’t give a fuck. Just straight up murders his maid and talks about his boss’s daughters being raped in a soccer stadium.
3. Obadiah Stane
Something I noticed about our top four villains — it’s not even so much that I love them, but rather that I like who plays them. That’s not even to say that I thought the casting was brilliant; I’m not sure everyone was perfect for the role they got, but all four of these actors do well with what you give them. Jeff Bridges, however — I might even put him at number two. Seems crazy, but the way they set him up as the sort of father figure with Tony’s best interests in mind was really quite good by Marvel standards.
The acting is obviously there, too, because it’s Jeff Bridges. I mean, think back on when pure acting from a villain gave you chills in a Marvel movie, and for me, it goes all the way back to that scene with Gwyneth in Tony’s office. “What are we going to do about this?” “Tony always gets the good stuff, doesn’t he?” “You…are a rare woman, Pepper.” That was terrifying, and then the way he stares at her as she’s leaving the office and finally how he’s watching her leave with Coulson! That was spectacular.
I feel as though we need to be close to a villain and to witness their hospitality to really appreciate how much of a sociopath they are. That’s why Bond movies always feature the villain in a social setting with Bond — there’s something magnificently alluring about scenes during which both parties know the villain is lethal, but everyone’s playing it cool for whatever reason. And nobody else really has that in this franchise the way we had it with Jeff Bridges.
Say what you will of the ending, which could have been much more cleverly executed, but there isn’t a whole lot about his character that I don’t like. The pizza, playing Salieri on the piano, showing up on the red carpet with a tuxedo and scarf, riding a Segway with a goddamn cigar. The man is great. In fact, on my personal ranking, I might even put him first in terms of sheer enjoyment because I have more fun watching him than the other two villains in the top three, who get more screen time.
TONY STARK BUILT THIS IN A CAVE! WITH A BUNCH OF SCRAPS!!
He’s actually really great here. He gets fun scenes as Tony’s friend, like when he’s lounging in bed without a shirt on as he talks to Tony. And he gets to ride a segway, and cover for Tony when he goes off the rails. And then he becomes a villain, which is both out of nowhere and completely expected. And he gets great moments of menacing, like with Pepper inside the office. He’s one of those guys who is dangerous without being overly dangerous. I like that. And it’s Jeff Bridges. He set the standard for the villain with just enough to not seem underdeveloped. Iron Man really was the high point of this studio.
2. Johan Schmidt / The Red Skull
You know we love us some Hugo Weaving. If we were to do a Fun With Franchises master ranking of franchise characters, we’d have him down as at least two (probably three) villains and one hero. My only issues with this character going here and not below Jeff Bridges is that he stops being as entertaining once his face goes CGI and he turns into a less interesting character. Like, when you think about all the moments in the movie that are worth watching for more than his voice, they occur in the first half, when he has dialogue and flashback montages and stuff. Once he takes his Face/Off, he mostly punches things and shoots people until the final sequence, when he flips switches and flies away, only to be confronted, fight and get vaporized.
No, Hugo Weaving is awesome in this movie for the first half or so, and then I think he falls off quite a bit. I want him for the Hugo Weaving faces and the Hugo Weaving faces. Watching the second half of Captain America, if you had never seen the cast list, you’d probably bet money it was Willem Dafoe. But, it’s Hugo Weaving, and the great parts are REALLY great, as a result, so he does crack the top three. Though I do put him at three, myself, I guess.
Hugo Weaving with a German accent. I love that simply because it’s Hugo Weaving, he gets to keep his face on for the first half of the movie. And then when he becomes the Red Skull, it’s awesome, because it looks like they made him up rather than CGI’d the whole thing. I kind of wish we saw more of his instability. But there’s a lot to like about him. He has a lair that’s set to blow in the event of intrusion (or pretty much anything, really), he calmly kills Nazis because they don’t share his “ideals.” This dude created the single greatest evil organization in history (according to the universe). That’s pretty good. And he has fun acid trips. I do wish he did more in the latter part of this movie, but he is really good. There’s no way you don’t rank him in the top three villains in Marvel.
Kills me to do this, you know. I think it’s only possible because at this point he’s been a sort of villain in three movies, which gives him enough context and screen time that he can’t really be ignored. Loki isn’t a great villain in the first movie, and in the second movie I don’t particularly love him either. They screw up his motivation between the films (“I just wanted to make you proud” to “Fuck it, let’s enslave a planet” in like…five minutes) and fail at making him appear as intelligent as he’s supposed to be.
That said, Tom Hiddleston should be highly praised for doing so well with the character, because the man can act. I’m not going to list all the moments of his that I enjoyed, but he plays a range of emotions that come out in scenes like when he’s sitting around the trashed prison cell in his filth. Dude has some variety, and we like watching him be shitty to people.
He’s the only major villain who can also be kind of good. So well done, Thor mini-franchise, for being so bad, and still producing the “best” villain that Marvel has, even though scene for scene, I still prefer Jeff Bridges.
He has three movies to develop himself, he gets to sort of play ambivalent most of the time, and he’s just fun. He laughs at the idea of genocide. His entire character is to just fuck around. Plus, when he does get to play straight villain in Avengers… well, he’s just as underdeveloped as the rest of them. But he does get some fun stuff in Stark Tower. So there’s that. I like the first movie, because as the overall villain, he does get the most motivation of any of the villains we’ve seen. We understand everything about him. And then in Avengers, they just completely shift gears to make him full on crazy evil (which I assume is that comic book convention of, “That was that story, this is this story”), and then he comes back to Thor, and they get to play both sides of him. It’s funny because this is more about how Hiddleston plays Loki than Loki the character. They still haven’t crafted a perfect villain. Comic book movies in general still haven’t crafted a perfect villain. The closest we’ve come is… well, everyone knows (Venom). But at least as a villain he’s enjoyable and gets emotional moments and legit arcs. He’s come a long way from John Jacob Jotunheimer Schmidt. (Which… this means the blue guy and the red guy are also related, right?)
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By the way — Thanos does not appear on this list because Thanos has done nothing in this franchise except sit on a throne and make other people do shit for him. Thanos is not a villain thus far in what we’ve seen of this franchise.
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Tomorrow, we’re gonna rank more shit.
(See the rest of the Fun with Franchises articles here.)
It always annoys me when The Winter Soldier is put on the villain list. He is not a villain, he is a hero who fell victim to brain washing. Saying that he is a villain is like claiming that Hawkeye was one during The Avengers.
Otherwise…I refrained from commenting the last posts, but honestly, you should change the intro to your articles. There is obviously no love lost on the MCU whatsoever. You are approaching the movies not with a sense of fun, but with a sense of “let’s proof that they are not that good”, which basically means that you are not really giving them a fair shot in the first place. The only “fun” part of your articles are the beautiful screenshots (which actually made me appreciate the Thor movies a little bit more….the script for both of them needed at least two additional rewrites, but there are some really great sets in those movies, CGI or not).
The only thing I took away from your articles is “CGI is awful” (which it isn’t, it’s a tool which can be overused, but I hardly want Marvel to blow up New York in reality – The Winter Soldier shows, Imho, a really good mix of CGI and real action and stunts) and “The MCU is a bad concept because no movie stands alone”. Which, you know, is kind of the point. It is an experiment. It is pretty pointless to complain about it, it’s like saying “why did Disney animate Snow White, cartoons are not made for the theatres” or “Sequels are bad on principle” (and what would the world be without a Godfather 2?). What is so bad about Marvel trying to create an universe instead of a string of loosely connected movie? Sure, there are downsides, but the upside is that it feels more like a complete world in which everything has an effect. A normal Action Blockbuster would never spend time on “what does it mean when suddenly your city gets destroyed”. Marvel has a whole TV show which deals with the long-term consequences of such an event, how it pulls neighbourhoods down, and how people adjust to it.
What sealed the deal for me were your assessment of The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. Those are the two movies in the MCU which don’t deserve to be treated that way. The Winter Soldier tells a very intricate story which addresses a very current question and does it well. At the same time it is a great character piece. And I like Falcon, btw. One of the great things about The Winter Soldier is that Black Widow gets the role of the co-lead, the friend of Captain America, while Falcon gets the role which is normally reserved for some female (usually the love interest) in being his emotional support. And I think it is great on every level for this fact alone. The action scenes…I am getting easily bored of action scenes, but in this case I can’t decide if the elevator or the fight on the bridge is better. I can watch them all the time. And the villain…Alexander Pierce deserves the place after Loki. The thing is that I pegged him the most likely villain from the get go, but he played his role so convincingly, I actually started to doubt myself. Unlike, for example Stane, who is so obviously a villain that I don’t get how Tony couldn’t see it (which makes him the biggest weakness of Iron Man, but then, all the Iron Man villains disappoint in the end for different reasons).
Guardians of the Galaxy is popcorn kino, but it is very, very good in what it does. I like all the characters, including Gamora, who certainly has the least quirky role, but being not quirky doesn’t automatically mean boring (Captain America is my favourite Avenger – and I loathed this character before the MCU). I know that at some level The Winter Soldier is the better movie – but GotG will always be the one I watch the most. I love everything about it. After countless of boring spacebattles in Star Wars and Star Trek it actually managed to get me invested in one. Who cares that they hunt some sort of McGuffin? The use of the McGuffin is an old tool in cinema which has been used by the masters. Or it “The Maltese Falcon” suddenly a bad movie? Marvel’s use of the infinity stones is actually very clever because it allows movies to be connected with each other without the need of direct contact between the characters. Keeping track of where the stones currently are is fun.
June 30, 2015 at 1:58 pm
There’s much to discuss here, but I’ll try to brief.
The flaw about making multimedia universes is that they forget what makes cinema special. Films, in their scale and their impact, are designed to stand alone. We accept TV shows don’t have to have standalone stories for every episode because they can carry an arc over an entire season without watering down the stakes.
Film, on the other hand, inherently loses stakes and thus dramatic impact and quality when it depends on other mediums and even other films to be seen properly. Sam Peckinpah once said that film is the medium that closely resembles a human being and a human life. You can’t have an integrated human when its arm or, worse, its heart or brain is distributed in a related but separated TV series. The Wachowskis and Warner Bros. tried to do this with The Matrix sequels, the Animatrix, and the video game Enter The Matrix and they failed miserably. However, that was atypical material from the start.
Marvel and DC, on the other hand, are beloved properties that have gotten away with alternative storylines and successive incarnations for decades. That’s worked for the medium of comic books, but once you adapt to film, the rules must change. To not accept this is naive. The characters don’t have to be the same as they were in the comic books (which is why it annoys me to death whenever a moderate character change is announced prior to the film’s release and people get angry). If we’re supposed to be angry when Marvel does it, why don’t we get angry when Alfred Hitchcock lowers the age of Norman Bates for Psycho? We love the cinematic character because the writing, direction, and the performance overcame any potential issues that would come from changing the character from the source material. A film character qua a film character. You can’t get that when the MCU and any unique creative forces are pressed by the studio on all fronts.
And, as Mike and Colin have proven in their extensive articles, a proper examination of these franchise films qua films just reveals how shoddy most of their film constructions are. Take away the pop culture cushion and most of these films are quite mediocre. And if there’s a true challenge for the media consumer of today and especially the patron of geek/nerd/pop culture, it’s to appraise these films as films.
As for the MacGuffin trope, the reason why it works in cinema of the past is that the MacGuffin is inherently something not important to the film’s proper plot. The Pulp Fiction briefcase and the Maltese Falcon themselves aren’t the point of the films, but rather the interactions of the characters in their pursuit of it. The Infinity Stones, on the other hand, are treated as both useful tools and as MacGuffins in the MCU. The films render them unimportant (so far) and the end-all weapon at the same time, which hurts their development of the characters.
June 1, 2016 at 1:40 am
First of all, the stand-alone-movie was the standard for cinema for a very, very short period of time at best. Going to the theatres used to be about newsreels, shorts and serials and THEN moved to the stand-alone movie when TV started to cover this area. And even then it didn’t take long before every really successful movie got a sequel or became a trilogy. Neither was the overreaching story arc typical for TV for the longest time, that is a development which became common in the late 1990s, beforehand most shows took the “case of the week” approach. I have the feeling that exactly this will become the standard for Network TV again, while the overreaching story arcs will become common for the streaming services. I also wouldn’t agree that I get only pieces of characters in the movies. What I get is seeing the characters at different points at their life, being able to see how what happened to them impacted them. Which is certainly better than getting told the same story again and again in a number of sequels….It’s a different kind of storytelling and it doesn’t deserve to get dismissed off-hand just because it is different.
I also don’t get what you mean that “the characters don’t have to be the same”, since I didn’t mention anything in this direction at all. I actually think that one of the advantages of basing your movie on comic book properties is that you have decades of lore, you can pick out the best parts of it and disregard others, as long as the end result works out. Is Peter Quill an a-hole who stole another guys destiny in the MCU? No, but who cares, the story they built for him is way better. Is Scott Land a poor thief who only stole to rescue his deathly sick daughter? Again, no, but what they built here is way better than the cliché story of the Comic books.
No reviewer ever “proofs” anything. I could take apart every movie ever made if I really wanted to. There are always small plot holes (or even big ones, like building a whole movie around researching the meaning of the last word of a dying man which nobody heart because said man died alone!!!!), but what really bothers me here, is that some really great aspects of those movies are simply ignored. For example, James Gun is really good when it comes to staging movement in scenes. There are some really brilliant moments in GotG in this regard. And that is what bothers me…not that they call out movies which, yes, I agree are more on the mediocre side, but that they also call out movies which definitely aren’t as well as not giving credit where credit is due. Ie I agree that The Avengers has a very stale staging and all the blue-screen makes a visually kind of boring setting. But The First Avenger is beautiful to look at, for multiple reasons. It is set up in a way which deliberately reminds the audience of old photo albums in order to evoke a sense of nostalgia which is in turn the one reason why an outright war-adventure movie even works in a time at which we moved away from the notion hat there is anything heroic about war.
I don’t think that the quality of the McGuffin has anything to do with the quality of the character development…especially not since character development is something the MCU usually excels in.
June 1, 2016 at 3:10 am
“Thanos does not appear on this list because Thanos has done nothing in this franchise except sit on a throne and make other people do shit for him. ”
Heck, Thanos doesn’t even do that well. At least Blofeld managed to have some personality while playing the whole “mastermind in the shadows” thing. Think From Russia With Love when he laments that the venom used to kill Kronsteen doesn’t work fast enough or in Thunderball when he zaps a goon who was embezzling SPECTRE’s money.
June 30, 2015 at 2:06 pm
Here’s a pretty comment from when I shared this article on one of my Facebook film groups:
“Once again it’s like reading a Tesla review written by Chuck Noland. The part that really made me laugh was Colin referring to Rumlow (a.k.a. Crossbones!!),
Another guy whose name we don’t know. Oh well. He does fight well, he does threaten SHIELD staffers with violence, and he does offer condolences for Nick Fury before they all start to beat the shit out of Captain America. It’s really the second point that got me going because the moment where he’s telling the guy to launch the helicarriers is tense. We don’t know or care about this guy, but at the same time, he’s so helpless with a gun to his head. Things get tense. This guy is one of the few minor villains where I felt like he’d actually murder someone and that I didn’t want that to happen. Most everyone else, you’re kinda like, ‘Yeah, you can murder that guy.’ ‘
A little bit of knowledge/research would inform you Rumlow (a.k.a. Crossbones) isn’t dead and plays a major role in the Civil War storyline when he kills Captain America. Whether or not they follow that in the film, Frank Grillo who plays Crossbones was on set for the filming of Civil War.
Anyways, like with the last article there’s too much here that isn’t research, but I just wanted to point out the most glaringly obvious fun fact.
With an opening of, “I’m not doing this because I consider them on par with either of those two, but because it’s Marvel, and apparently that’s like web traffic gold. So, while we work in a Fun with Franchises break to allow us to get ready for the next set of franchises, I’m gonna throw up some of this bullshit, because I’m not opposed to whoring myself out for small periods of time. Look, it was either this, or nothing gets posted.”, I at least expect well written pretentious garbage, but toward the end I’d settle for even regular garbage…”
Charming, isn’t it? Your thoughts?
June 30, 2015 at 6:37 pm