AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON Highlights Marvel Studios' Need to be More Careful With Villain Irrelevancy and Death

Now that it's Monday and AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON has released in the U.S., and in most major worldwide markets, The Daily SuperHero spoiler embargo on the sequel is officially over. You've had your chance to see the movie and if you haven't then stop reading and get to the theater, then come back and read this.

Editorial: AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is an onslaught on your senses. If not for just a few down time moments between the heroes it's pretty much non-stop action. This isn't a bad thing and this makes Age of Ultron highly entertaining and very fun to watch but the sequel is not without its minor flaws.

I can go on and on praising writer/director Joss Whedon for his witty moments with Thor's hammer Mjolnir, the Vision, Hawkeye and so on... but I'd like to focus on a major issue that is brewing for Marvel Studios.

A lack of villain character development is a problem that has been ignored for many films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But before I dig into this, let me clarify that the MCU has Loki and Thanos, both who are the only villains who have and are getting legit character development. Loki has had multiple movie appearances and his character development is just as solid as any one of the Avengers. Thanos is more of a slow burn with his development and this is fine because he is going to be the main villain for the 2-part AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR movies.

But let's look back to this issue of villain development in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting with Phase 1.

Starting with IRON MAN, there was Obediah Stane who become Iron Monger. This is the first MCU villain and he is also the first to be killed. In the comics, his son is equally crazy so there's a chance further character development can occur but through the son so it's more of family character development because the Stane's simply hate Tony Stark.

In THE INCREDIBLE HULK the villains are Emil Blonsky, who becomes Abomination, and General "Thunberbolt" Ross. By the end of the movie, Ross becomes more accepting of Bruce Banner and the Hulk so he's a villain who had his perspective changed and there is still potential character development for the future, if Marvel Studios brings back General Ross. The Abomination wasn't killed and was captured so further character development can occur if he's coming back in any future movies.

IRON MAN 2 is when villain character development really started taking a hit because Ivan Vanko (a.k.a. Whiplash) was just a plot device for the film's other villain Justin Hammer. Both of these guys were using each other for their own personal agenda and while Hammer was put into prison, Vanko was fried by both Iron Man and War Machine at the end. Vanko was more or less an irrelevant villain who also hated Stark, which also is now officially a trend in the MCU.

When THOR released, it was hard to tell if fans like the hero or the villain better because Loki is simply magnificent. Not so much for the Frost Giant because they were beaten up by Thor and his crew and then decimated by Loki when he kills King Laufey. Surely, the Frost Giants could make future appearances but they were poorly used as a plot device by Loki to further his own agenda.

Then came CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER and one of comic book fans' favorite villain, the Red Skull. Actor Hugo Weaving is one-and-done with the role but Red Skull was a fascinating villain whose character development was cut short when he was sucked into, or transported by, the Tesseract to another planet/dimension/plane. Fans are eagerly awaiting the return of a (re-casted) Red Skull sooner than later.

THE AVENGERS has Loki returning and becoming even more of the MCU's favorite villain. Loki uses the Chitauri alien race as "Hulk SMASH fodder," which is fine because you need lots of bodies for Hulk to SMASH, but also introduces Thanos and his slow character development begins.

Now onto Phase 2.

IRON MAN 3 starts things off with more villain irrelevancy as Aldrich Killian is the head of A.I.M. but then reveals himself to be "the real Mandarin." Killian is just a behind the scenes villain who doesn't expose his agenda until ACT III of the film and he is killed at the end. The real star "villain" of this film is Trevor Slattery because he is just a pawn in the Mandarin twist but later in the One-Shot ALL HAIL THE KING, it's revealed that there is an actual Mandarin who exists in the MCU. Hopefully, this reveal/retcon of an actual Mandarin comes to light sometime in the future.

Villain irrelevancy and death is maximized in THOR: THE DARK WORLD with Malekith the Accursed and his Dark Elves. Malekith's mission is just a plot device to introduce one of the Infinity Stones, the Aether. A much needed plot device but not when the majority of the Dark Elves are wiped out, along with Malekith and his right hand man Kurse. What a waste because the Dark Elves are one of the creepiest and coolest villains races introduced into the MCU. Loki is in this this film for even more character development and steals all of his scenes, of course.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER put villain character development back on track with the Winter Soldier. You know the story of him being Steve Rogers' old friend Bucky Barnes so there's not much else to tell except that the Winter Soldier's development will continue in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. However, Alexander Pierce was just a plot device for the Winter Soldier and while most fans hoped he was going to be revealed as the Red Skull in disguise, Pierce's death is not that big of a deal as other prior villain deaths are. Brock Rumlow was introduced and his development will evolve into becoming Crossbones in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Marvel also introduced Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker in the end credits and we'll get to him when we get to AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.

Next up is GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. More Thanos character development at a slow burn pace, as well as the introduction of Nebula means this father-daughter relationship will continue to be developed in the sequel. Ronan the Accuser met his quick end. And Korath the Pursuer met an even quicker end with irrelevancy as his purpose was to be a joke device for Star-Lord ("WHO?!"). Whether you're one of the conspiracy theorists who think Ronan didn't die and was transported into the Infinity Stone Orb or not, the bottom line is that he was a weakly developed villain who wasn't as much of the badass that he is in the comic book universe. He needed to be more intimidating and his incredible fighting abilities needed to be showcased a lot more. Maybe Ronan will be back for a showdown with Thanos, via retcon, but as of right now it seems unlikely which is a damn shame because he was another wasted villain (if he is indeed dead).

This all brings us to Ultron and Baron Strucker in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. Baron Strucker was a five minute villain who was killed before anyone could love or hate him and he's just another throwaway villain in the MCU. But then there is Ultron, who is menacing, insane and borderline a horror character in the comic universe. His death became a sad reveal because Ultron should be a villain who comes back to cause chaos for the Avengers over and over again. With Vision locking Ultron out of the Internet so he can't download himself into another body, it pretty much brings an irrelevant end to one of the Avengers' greatest comic book villains. Maybe, just maybe, Ultron already had a backup of himself hidden somewhere on the Internet that Vision couldn't find, but that's just speculation and probably one way to retcon Ultron back into existence in the MCU. Also, Ultron was just another plot device to help move the long form storytelling of the MCU from Phase 2 to Phase 3 by setting up CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, THOR: RAGNAROK, BLACK PANTHER and the AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR films.

So here's a breakdown of dead villains (or at least I think this is all of them):

  • Obediah Stane - IRON MAN
  • Ivan Vanko / Whiplash - IRON MAN 2
  • King Laufey - THOR
  • Aldrich Killian - IRON MAN 3
  • Malekith the Accursed and Kurse - THOR: THE DARK WORLD
  • Ronan the Accuser and Korath the Pursuer - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
  • Ultron and Baron Strucker - AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

While the villain death toll isn't as bad as it seems, Marvel Studios needs to tread lightly on killing off villains, unless they think they can make C-and D-level villains in the comic universe become more prominent villains in the MCU. And fingers crossed that Marvel is saving villains like Red Skull and Mandarin for larger roles after AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, in Phase 4 of the MCU.

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