This is a transcript of the above video.
Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is episode six of my video blog, “Go Game, Young Man.” Today’s topic is villains. Specifically, the villains in the 18 films comprising the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m going to rank them from worst to best. Why? Because I’m a geek, and ranking comic book movie villains is something I do to pass the time.
There will be spoilers for all the Marvel films since Iron Man in 2008. I am not including X-Men, Deadpool, the Amazing Spider-Man movies, or the unfortunate Fantastic Four reboot. I am including Spider-Man: Homecoming. Since just NAMING some of these villains counts as a spoiler, do not watch this video if you haven’t seen all the MCU films and don’t want to know what happens.
I am not including minor villains, or antagonists that don’t have much to do with the plot. I am also not including any villains from the small-screen MCU. (Can we still call TVs “small-screen” anymore?) Anyway, I haven’t watched most of the Marvel TV series, so I’m just leaving them all out. Yes, that means no Kingpin or Cottonmouth or the Purple Man, but, I haven’t seen all of them, so they’re out.
All right. Here we go. And, once again. SPOILER ALERT. You have been warned.
If a bad guy (or guys) is missing from this list, I didn’t consider the part big enough to try and rate. For example, Dormammu in Doctor Strange; or, Shocker and Tinker in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Starting our master list at the bottom at number 24 is Emil Blonsky/Abomination from The Incredible Hulk. The Edward Norton Hulk film is just bad. Tim Roth tries hard, but there’s nothing good about this film, so he ends up at the bottom of the villains list.
Also suffering just from being in a bad movie is Christopher Eccleston as Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, who ranks at number 23. There’s not much to say. The movie is bad, and the villain is bad, and, well...only Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston managed to “survive” Thors 1 and 2. Which is good, because they’re both great. Spoiler, Hiddleson will appear later on this list...Much later.
At number 22 is Darren Cross/Yellowjacket in Ant-Man. Ant-Man is a fine film, but Corey Stoll’s Cross is such a milquetoast villain, it’s kind of hard to even root against him. He’s not scary, or threatening, or even particularly “bad.” He’s just...meh. The ONLY meh thing about the film. Ant-Man is one of my favorites.
Speaking of favorite movies, I love the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but the main villain from the first movie, Ronan the Accuser, played by Lee Pace, falls all the way to number 21 in the villain rankings. The problem is, he’s not at all the focus of the movie. The film is all about the Guardians and their relationships. Also, Ronan isn’t the only “villain” in this movie, and the other played much better.
It doesn’t help that Ronan thinks way too highly of himself. Egotistic villains are par for the course, but Ronan can’t really back his ego up. Yes, he gets help from Thanos (who, by the way, is NOT on this list, as he hasn’t been more than an afterthought so far), but without that he’s just a raving lunatic and not very interesting.
Number 20 is Helmut Zemo from Captain America: Civil War. It’s not Daniel Bruhl’s fault. Even though he’s the main villain, he’s just a sideshow. The primary conflict is the Avengers fighting each other. Thus, “Civil War.” It doesn’t help that Zemo’s motivation is weak and his plan makes absolutely no sense. He lands in this spot mostly by default because he’s in a good movie.
Next up is Kaecilius from Doctor Strange ranking at 19. Mads Mikkelson’s evil sorcerer is just a puppet for Dormammu. As such, he never feels like he has much agency at all, and he gets thrust in the background for much of the first half of the film as we get Strange’s origin story. Of note, though, is Chiwetel Ojiofor’s Mordo. He’s much more threatening and scary, and the movie sets him up as the main villain for Doctor Strange 2, and that will be a good thing. Assuming, of course, that Doc Strange 2 ever happens. Right now, nothing is confirmed, just hinted at.
Number 18 is Whiplash from Iron Man 2. Iron Man 2 isn’t quite up to par with the other Iron Man films, but I still like it. And I genuinely like Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko/Whiplash. He’s just extremely underutilized. His big moment occurs fairly early in the film as he utterly destroys an F1 race in Monaco. Shouting “You lose! You lose!” as he’s dragged off by security is quite the setup, but the movie never pays it off. He barely even registers for the final battle, which takes all of a couple of minutes once he arrives on the scene. Sad.
Numbers 17 and 16 come from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which actually has four significant villains. In any order you want, Alexander Pierce, played by Robert Redford, and Brock Rumlow, aka Crossbones, played by Frank Grillo, are great in their roles. They only fall this far down on the list because of the other two villains in the film (coming up later). Pierce and Rumlow are important, but not the main antagonists for Captain America and his team. Yes, Pierce is pulling the strings, but, as we find out in the middle of the film, his strings are also being pulled. So, even though they’re a little far down on this list, Winter Soldier wouldn’t be nearly as good without their presence.
Marvel villain number 15 is Ultron, voiced by James Spader. Ultron is tough to rank. As a villain, he actually has a really good motivation...he’s been tasked with protecting humanity and decides humanity is the problem. And he has a really good plan to wipe out humanity. And Spader does a fantastic job voicing the character. It’s just...the physical presence of Ultron is not at all menacing. In some cases, it’s actually rather comic. I’d like to have Ultron higher on this list, but the CGI artists really let him, and fans, down. A more threatening physical manifestation of Ultron would have elevated the whole movie.
Coming in at number 14 is Aldrich Killian from Iron Man 3. Killian is really just kind of a bland villain. He manages to come in this high on the list because he does, essentially, own Iron Man. Tony Stark can’t beat him and has to get a helping hand from his lady love. That’s tough. That’s double tough.
At unlucky number 13, appropriately, we have one of our first truly menacing supervillains, Red Skull from Captain America: The First Avenger. Hugo Weaving’s accent is a little over-the-top, but his performance is spot on. Skull is Cap’s equal in every regard except loyalty and goodness, which is why, of course, Cap wins in the end.
Number 12 is the first villain from the MCU: Obadiah Stane, aka Iron Monger from the first Iron Man film. The Iron Monger armor and final battle scene are a bit creaky given ten years of increasingly good special effects, but the true grit of Stane is Jeff Daniels’s performance BEFORE he gets the armor. Daniels, and the script, really pull the wool over our eyes. The first time I saw the movie I thought Stane was a little creepy, but he seemed to have such a warm spot for Tony that I figured I was mistaken. But when he’s revealed as the criminal mastermind behind everything, his performance doesn’t even change and suddenly you buy just how nasty this man is. The original Iron Man doesn’t often get enough love. Yes, it kickstarted the MCU. But it also has a great hero’s journey and an underappreciated bad guy. That’s a solid foundation for everything that’s come after.
Coming in at number 11, just outside the top ten, is Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Really, this is all about Kurt Russell. Even more than Obadiah Stane, he really sells the “I’m a good guy” persona before turning completely evil without so much as squinting his eyes. The casual way he discusses the carnage he’s waged across the universe and the utter destruction of all life he has planned, is creepy and a little horrific. If only Ego had been slightly more interesting as a character...Russell’s performance saves Ego as a villain, and saves Guardians 2 from becoming an also-ran in the MCU.
So we come to the top ten villains from the MCU. And we’ll kick off the top ten with a sort-of newcomer, Ulysses Klaue. Klaue first appeared in Age of Ultron, but also makes a big splash in Black Panther. Andy Serkis is, pretty much the sole reason Klaue is ranked in the top ten. Klaue is really a minor character in Ultron, and just a sideshow in Black Panther. But, who cares. Serkis chews scenery with such glee, giggling maniacally as he does so, that you can’t turn away. You don’t want to like him, but you want to see more of him. It’s a shame Marvel hasn’t given him more screen time. I think he can go toe-to-toe with any of the Marvel heroes. Acting-wise, at least.
Tony Stark’s business nemesis, Justin Hammer is number nine on this list. Outside of one other villain a few spots higher, Hammer’s villainy is played purely for laughs. And it succeeds wonderfully. His bumbling ineptness is a constant refresher against the grim implacability of Whiplash. Also, he gets the best scene in the movie when he’s trying to sell arms to Colonel Rhodes for the War Machine armor. And the payoff of the “Ex-wife” at the end of the movie? Perfection.
At number eight is Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes, some of you are protesting right now that Yondu isn’t a villain. But, he is. At least, in the first Guardians movie. As head of a Ravagers clan, he’s a galactic bad guy. No, he doesn’t want to take over the galaxy or anything, but he’s not out to help anyone but himself. Though, in the end, he does help the heroes, for purely selfish reasons. Of course, without Michael Rooker’s inspired performance, Yondu would be a footnote. But, because of Rooker, Yondu is a bit more frightening than the guy who is supposed to be the main villain. And, we’re all very thankful that he does, indeed, turn out to be Mary Poppins in Guardians 2.
Klaue’s sometime henchman, and true villain of Black Panther, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, weighs in at number seven. Michael B. Jordan’s performance is a trip. He’s intense, scary, and a true threat. Unfortunately, Killmonger’s story, while sympathetic in its origins, goes way overboard. I think I would be a lot more accepting of his character if his reaction to the murder of his father and abandonment by Wakanda was just to take over Wakanda. Maybe turn the country into an arms supplier or something. The, “you abandoned me, so now I’m going to take over the world!” schtick is just too much.
Number six is The Mandarin from Iron Man 3. Yes, this guy. Trevor Slattery. An actor. Also a drug-addled loser who is cast by Aldrich Killian to draw suspicion away from Killian’s nefarious plans and focus everyone on a mysterious terrorist. Here’s the thing, Slattery is a BRILLIANT actor. Is there anyone who DIDN’T buy The Mandarin before the big reveal? I certainly bought it. I thought Killian was working with Mandarin sure, but when Stark busts in on Slattery coming out of the loo...Still one of my favorite scenes in any MCU movie. I know it upset a lot of people, but Ben Kingsley pulls this off so well and it’s so subversive, that it has to rank right up there with the best bad guy plots of any MCU film.
And. Now. The top five. Number five is Winter Soldier from the eponymous second Captain America film. I kind of don’t know what to say about him. Bucky Barnes as played by Sebastian Stan is now a fixture in the MCU. And though, yes, he is a hero now, he was very much a dangerous and menacing villain in his first appearance. Well, second appearance. First appearance as Winter Soldier. Whatever. It feels a little...off...to only have Bucky at number five, but, he’s really only a villain for one movie. He’s made his mark on the MCU as a hero, and, possibly the next Captain America? That’s what happened in the comics, so, we’ll see...
Number four started as a sidekick, but, when you examine his overall resume...I had to put him in the top five. Armin Zola from Captain America films one and two. He’s the weaselly assistant to Red Skull in First Avenger; but, in Winter Soldier we find out he’s programmed himself into a computer and spent the past 70 years turning S.H.I.E.L.D. into HYDRA. That’s...impressive. He guides everything that S.H.I.E.L.D. does so covertly that S.H.I.E.L.D. thinks it’s protecting the world all while Zola is using them to take over the world. It helps that Toby Jones strikes just the right balance between snivelling creep and mad genius.
Number three is another recent addition to the MCU, Hela, played by Cate Blanchett in Thor: Ragnarok. Yes, Hela’s goal...domination of the known universe, or, in this case, universes...is rather trite. But, Blanchett just amps up the sleek menace of her character to about 11. And you do have to credit her with helping Thor unlock his full potential. Not that that did any good. She’s just too powerful. Any big bad that can only be defeated by unleashing an even BIGGER bad has to rank highly on any list.
And here we are at the top two. Number two all-time MCU villain is Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. One of very, very few bad guys that has actually survived. And not once, but several times, even when facing off against all the Avengers. That’s gotta count for something. It doesn’t hurt that Hiddleston makes Loki very appealing, even if he is evil.
Which actually raises a question. Is Loki “evil?” He certainly lives up to being the god of mischief, but just how evil is he? He shows that he likes to have power, but he doesn’t actually seem to crave the death and destruction that so many villains are after. He just wants to rule. OK, that’s bad...yeah, Loki is evil. He’s still a fun character to watch. Which is why he keeps coming back. And occasionally lending a hand to the good guys. I don’t know what kind of deal Hiddleston has with Marvel or how much he still enjoys the character, but I know fans want to see more of him. People watching the Ragnarok trailers reacted more positively to Loki than Thor. Tells you why he’s number two.
So if Loki is number two, who can possibly be number one? Well, if you’ve been counting bad guys on your fingers, you’ve already figured this one out. This guy. Yeah, THAT’S the face of a true villain. What makes Vulture so scary, besides Michael Keaton giving Peter Parker THE LOOK, is his motivation. Vulture doesn’t want to take over the universe, or the world, or the country, or even New York. He doesn’t want to sow death and destruction. He doesn’t want to rule over everyone. He just wants a nice house in the ‘burbs and to pay his employees a decent wage with good benefits. He’s almost not even a bad guy.
Except when he threatens to kill Peter and everyone Peter loves. And then, like any adult lecturing a teen, forces Peter to say “Thank you,” and then tells him to go have a good time at the dance. That, my friends, is pure villainy. I am so glad they didn’t kill Vulture off. I can’t wait for him to come back into the Spidey universe. And, hey, maybe some other MCU films. Can you make that happen, Marvel?
Like this video? Didn’t like it? Click the appropriate response below. Don’t forget to subscribe for updates when I post new blogs. You can also sound off in the comments and tell me how X should be ranked Y, etc.
Don’t forget, I have written a couple of fantasy novels, which everyone who has read has enjoyed. They are both available online in print and digital, and you can find out more about them at bettysterlingbooks.com. You can keep up with me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram...links in the description. Until next time, go game, young man.