The comic book movie genre has been the most popular genre in the film industry for the last decade. From Iron Man to the Man of Steel, people have flocked to the cinema to watch their heroes and heroines.
As much as the heroes are great, what has happened to the villains that have made the heroes great?
“This city needs a better class of criminal. And I’m going to give it to ‘em.” – The Joker (The Dark Knight).
Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the clown prince was the last time the genre had a villain that lived up to the title. Nolan’s version of The Joker is arguably the best villain of all time in the genre and Tim Burton’s Joker being second. It is concerning that the top two villains are separated by 20 years.
It’s even more concerning that it is the same villain in a different era. The Dark Knight was the last movie to depict a villain that terrorised the hero and the people. The Joker was out to prove a point and this required the entire city to prove him right.
And The Joker improvised at every turn to continue to question the humanity of the people of Gotham. He stretched Batman to lengths no other villain has done on the big screen. The Joker made Batman lose.
On Marvel’s side, Loki was once considered to be the best villain in the MCU. As the MCU rolled out its movies, the Justin Bieber of villainy has developed to be a pop star as opposed to a villain.
The Green Goblin, featured in Spider-Man, is the top villain in MCU’s roster. Established in the early 2000s when Marvel Studios began its penetration, Spider-Man’s nemesis stands out as the definition of villain.
A villain with no limits, no disregard for human life and with no care in the world, proved to be a handful for a hero that just got his powers. Spider-Man and the Green Goblin are very similar but their choices led them to different paths. The Green Goblin made Spider-Man lose.
Where have the villains gone?
Since Ledger’s Joker, villains have taken a back seat to their hero counterparts. Not to fault the attempts of Ultron – created by Tony Stark (an adaptation that fell on its face) or Lex Luthor – who’s wig was the real threat to humanity.
Villains are a dying occupation. Which is a pity as the villain makes the hero. Ask The Joker or the Green Goblin.
One may argue Bane was a standout villain. Fair! But there is a difference between a villain and a henchman. Bane and Loki were henchmen. As much as they are loved, they were just carrying out someone else’s plan.
Like any Austin Powers movie, a henchman always steps up and fails to carry out the plan of the master. Bane broke Batman’s back and threw him in a pit, only to make Batman stronger.
Loki frightened the world by bringing an army of aliens, only to unite The Avengers.
The Future of Comic Book Movie Villains
Villains are becoming a mere shadow of their hero counterparts and Hollywood has noticed. This has given birth to a new direction. Suicide Squad was an attempt to give new life into the villain industry only for the attempt to face itself in the mirror and lose.
Sony had scheduled Sinister Six – a movie that would bring together 6 of Spider-Man’s villains. Due to Marvel’s intervention, the world was denied the project but in its place, a standalone Venom film starring Tom Hardy as Venom (and possibly Riz Ahmed as Carnage) has been green lit.
Spider-Man’s iconic villains are featuring in movies giving the world a genre that could hold its own.
With Justice League coming up as well as Avengers 3 and 4, will we see villains? The Justice League speaks nothing of the villain (a direction Marvel took in Avengers 1) and is promoting the heroes more than the villain.
Avengers is yet to release official footage but as it stands (based on the leaked footage), Thanos looks to be causing havoc. There are exciting villains to come. The most notable is Thanos who needs 63 Marvel characters to appear just for him. In all of the 40 plus Marvel movies, only one death has occurred – Quicksilver.
In actual fact, that death was a prop. Should all 63 characters come out for this 2 part movie alive then the solution is simple – The Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye) could have saved the day with no causalities.
They have done it before and it’s evidently clear they can do it again (The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron). For Thanos to join the league of The Joker and the Green Goblin, the heroes will need to lose.
It is of concern there are no quality villains on the big screen. The arch nemesis of a hero is announced only for the movie to just come and go. The best comic book movies need the villain to be a villain and not a prop.
When the villain is a prop, the hero becomes an afterthought making the movie flirt with mediocrity. With villains being a dying occupation, the comic book movie genre loses its appeal.
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