Warning: The following articles on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s lack of a supervillain team contains spoilers for pretty much every MCU project.
The MCU has been on a strange trajectory since Avengers: Endgame. The certainty of success of a Marvel property has declined over the years. Many put it forth that all the heavy hitters are gone, but that doesn’t really make sense when one of the biggest stinkers recently was Thor: Love and Thunder and She-Hulk (which involved Hulk) was met with a lot of divisive thoughts.
There are other camps that believe that with no North Star, there is no guiding force to head towards for all the stories to converge onto. I don’t believe it’s that either, because some of the best stories have nothing to do with the greater MCU. I am talking about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and the surprise hit Werewolf by Night. Then of course there is everyone who blows the trumpet of superhero fatigue. I’m not going to entertain that, as long as a story is well-written and well-acted it should work.
What I come to think is this: We need a supervillain team. The best part of team-ups in the comics and the films is seeing all the heroes working together, combining powers and bantering back and forth. This is the same, if not even more so, with supervillains. The best part of Avengers was Loki. His back-and-forth with each of the heroes was fantastic. Now imagine if Ultron had made it past his film and they worked together with Zemo, Killmonger or Emil Blonsky. If you think that would be cool, you like me see the opportunities for fascinating scenes giving more character to these wicked individuals.
Unfortunately, the focus of the majority of MCU films has always been the heroes. This is usually to the detriment of the villains, who are pushed to the side. It started for me, with the lack of the cinematic right-hand man or the posse of weirdos. In older action films, the lead villain was usually surrounded by a posse of character actors who were usually bonkers. Then to round them out there would be the enforcer, somebody akin to a mini-boss who the hero would face. They’d all have personalities and quirks and each of their defeats would be memorable. I look to films like The Running Man and Die Hard. Since the MCU began there has been no real posse, no right-hand man. Simply a gaggle of faceless goons to topple and then our hero kills the villain.
The issue began with the death of so many big names. I worked out that in the entirety of the MCU, not even including the shows, 18 out of the 32 films have had their villains killed by their respective heroes. 7 villains have made it out of their films alive. Several of these villains have ended up being redeemed by the end of the film. And if they show up again down the line they become a meme (Zemo dance anyone?).
This brings me to the current “solution” the MCU has come up with. They’re bringing together the Thunderbolts to do … something. The narrative for The Thunderbolts has been up in the air for a long time. Between them finally claiming the corpse of Tiamut to battling Sentry, no one is quite sure what they’re doing. Kevin Feige and Marvel I believe are hoping to have the same level of success that Gunn had with The Suicide Squad.
Unfortunately unlike the Suicide Squad, who were villains that turned against their masters due to the horrendous nature of their mission, the Thunderbolts in the MCU are comprised of no true villains. Every single member is either a villain who has turned to the side of the angels or is just a superhero with a darker-hued backstory. There are no wild cards to worry about, no one that could turn on a dime. By killing their biggest threats the MCU has shot themselves in the foot. After all the light of the hero only shines as bright as the shadows the villain casts.
Without the Dark Avengers, Hydra, or the Masters of Evil we won’t ever get those iconic moments that could easily elevate every element of every comic book clash.