There has been plenty written on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “villain problem.” The discussion has pretty much hit at all the expected stops on the “warm-to-hot take” express—initial declarations, suggested fixes, contrarian positions and some perspective from the MCU’s point of view … they are all there.
Beyond acknowledging the obvious—the formula for MCU films has to this point relied heavily on B-List villains—let’s tackle that other dominant tendency of Marvel films in general: looking across the pond and to the Land Down Under for its arch-villains. At some point, Kevin Feige and his counterparts at Fox will run out of British stage vets and Aussie A-Listers, so here is some Grade A, American-made, high-caliber acting talent to look to when they do—as well as the villain they’d be a perfect fit to play.
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We’ve recently discussed how the MCU regaining, at least to some degree, the rights to the Fantastic Four is necessary (and therefore, given Mouse muscle, inevitable). But in addition to Doom retrieval, the other desirable by-product of the FF returning home (or of a forging some sort of agreement with Fox like was reached with Sony on Spider-Man: Homecoming) is the chance to redo, and do well, the introduction of Galactus.
How Fox could have so completely fumbled the classic story arc from Fantastic Four #48-50 remains a mystery. The script practically writes itself:
Act I – We see the FF at the height of their popularity, perhaps even an opening or montage that throws out a few callbacks to early encounters with the likes of the Mole Man and the Frightful Four. At the end of the act, the Silver Surfer arrives.
Act II – A confident, capable team tries to defeat the mysterious herald. They repeatedly gets their superpowered asses handed to them. Finally, the Surfer’s certainty is shaken by a chance encounter with a human (Alicia Masters or anyone else). The act ends with the brief respite/victory revealed to be hollow, as the herald’s master arrives—the big G himself, dressed just like he is in the comics. (This last part is important, since I’m convinced a large part of the second FF movie’s careening off the rails stemmed from a studio exec balking at the thought of this working on the big screen.)
Act III – A long, seemingly doomed battle against a being so powerful its servant was already more than a match for the heroes, with an ending that’s less “good triumphs” than “we won’t be so lucky next time.”
But no, instead, all we got was the answer to the age-old question: “Are large clouds scary?”
Michael C. Hall would not be called on to show much range in the role—at least not initially, but one of the great things about Galactus is how unmoved and dispassionate he is. Humans, even superpowered ones, are no more threatening or worth commenting upon than a few ants at a picnic. (It’s not personal—a cosmic entity’s gotta eat.) Still, as Hall showed in his run as cable’s favorite serial killer, “dispassionate destroyer of life” is well within his repertoire.
The MCU’s bait-and-switch-and-bait-again with Mandarin in Iron Man 3 was frustrating for many reasons. Despite his Fu Manchu/stereotyped past, the modern Mandarin is the clear “arch” to Tony Stark’s shellhead. Unlike the parade of pissed off industrialists and “I’ve got a suit, too” villains that occupy the sub-arch levels of Iron Man’s rogue’s gallery, Mandarin has ten alien rings that together have all kinds of “now you’re screwed, Stark” powers. Mandarin also comes with the standard “Arch-villain suite” of secondary qualities—immense wealth, a large organization at his command, unbridled ambition, martial arts know-how, etc. To play the role, the MCU can take a page out of its own book and look to someone who already has played a character in one of the Fox properties—Will Yun Lee from The Wolverine. There should be no trouble discarding some of the racist tropes lurking in the character’s origins while putting a character on the other side of the scales that legitimately outclasses Iron Man/Tony Stark in power and represents a menace that doesn’t have to be helped at every turn by a combination of script-jujitsu and viewer suspension of disbelief. Not to be dismissed, the role is also one with plenty of room for nuance—and Marvel Studios would do well to let more of its villains have a range that’s less Ronan the Accuser and more Loki Odinson.
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Granted, as a time-traveling villain, Kang’s continuity is messier than than the X-Men’s. But that also enables him to be a bit of a Swiss army knife when it comes to arching a character or team. Though there would be potential for an “Apocalypse-ing” of an actor like Crudup with Kang’s makeup, Billy Crudup has already shown he’s not afraid to go blue with Dr. Manhattan. Granted, he may never want to play a cyan-shellacked role again, but Crudup is
one of the best actors working today, and perhaps the allure of an MCU paycheck coupled with a chance to play a character who dominates the scene (like every good villain should) instead of just floating, glowing and “monotoning” could convince the actor to give it another
go? Frankly, I’d be pleased to see Crudup in virtually any role—he’d be a good choice for an array of older heroes, as well—but the introduction of Kang would also mean the prospect of a Legion of the Unliving would be one step closer.
Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty
This is cheating a bit, since Arcade 1) is not really an arch villain and 2) would belong to Fox’s mutant-based rights folio. Still, since part of this piece’s goal is to highlight potentially compelling comic book villains yet unseen on the silver screen (to any degree that matters), as well as U.S.-born actors who deserve a shot to get some of that sweet, sweet comic book-based moolah, let’s highlight Arcade and the actor who would be perfect to play him—Walton Goggins. For the uninitiated, Arcade is basically an assassin with about the most unnecessarily complex approach to bumping off his targets this side of the Hunger Games. He’s flamboyant, gleefully murderous, yet also chaotic enough in his approach to purposefully leave a small chance for his victims to escape. Beyond actually looking quite a bit like the character, Goggins has so amply demonstrated his chops in portraying villainous characters who are, nonetheless, complicated that the prospect of him chewing the scenery as he runs some heroes through a cinematic version of Murderworld is delicious to ponder.
Michael Burgin is Paste’s Movies Editor.