In article about She-Hulk, three MCU villains with their pictures crossed off
Illustration by Sarah Shin, George Washington University

‘She-Hulk’ Exposes the MCU’s Difficulty With Using Villains to Their Full Potential

The Disney+ series reveals an underlying issue with the cinematic universe’s treatment of its antagonists — they are killed off much too quickly.

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In article about She-Hulk, three MCU villains with their pictures crossed off
Illustration by Sarah Shin, George Washington University

The Disney+ series reveals an underlying issue with the cinematic universe’s treatment of its antagonists — they are killed off much too quickly.

Since its premiere on Disney+, “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” has found itself trending somewhere online weekly, but not because of its popularity — quite the opposite actually. After the first trailer for “She-Hulk” dropped, the show has been drowned in criticism, and following its debut last month, MCU fans have continually scorned the series for its writing, narrative, overuse of CGI, and its portrayal of the once Incredible Hulk. All that aside, there’s another aspect of the show that has remained largely unmentioned among the mounting criticisms of every new episode: its villains.

Some villains of She-Hulk — real name Jennifer Walters — seem more like jokes than enemies that pose a real threat, the most obvious example being Titania. According to Marvel comic book lore, Titania is Walters’ arch nemesis and the two have been battling each other since the villainess’ debut in 1984. She makes an appearance in the Disney+ series but rather than a foreboding threat, Titania is treated as just another cameo, when her comic book history proves that there’s more to her character.

‘She-Hulk’ Exposes the MCU’s ...
‘She-Hulk’ Exposes the MCU’s Difficulty With Using Villains to Their Full Potential

The same can be said about the Wrecking Crew, another formidable supervillain group featured in “She-Hulk,” who have fought other hero teams like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four in the comics. However, they also seem more like Easter eggs than anybody our gargantuan green protagonist should be worried about. To some fans, it seems like a missed opportunity considering the rich comic book history both Titania and the Wrecking Crew share. This ultimately highlights a broader issue the MCU faces when it comes to their villains. It often feels like they miss opportunities to use baddies to their full potential. This also is not the first time MCU villains have come under scrutiny.

When the cinematic universe first began, its roster of rogues was plagued with lackluster, one-dimensional adversaries with the singular goal of power or world domination, like Malekith from “Thor: The Dark World,” whose heart’s desire was to destroy the universe. Yet even when the MCU introduced villains with different personalities, backstories and goals, these characters often had a shelf life of one movie, maybe two, if they were lucky, like Ulysses Klae.

First appearing in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and eventually in “Black Panther” as a secondary antagonist, Klaw easily became a fan favorite thanks to Andy Serkis’ performance that brought a vile charm to the character. But even that couldn’t save him from his unfortunate end in “Black Panther.” The other antagonist in the movie, Eric Killmonger, meets the same fate as Klaw. In the comics, Killmonger is Black Panther’s long-standing rival who has clashed with the Wakandan king on numerous occasions. In spite of their history, the MCU discarded him toward the end of the movie as well and many fans felt it was too soon for such a compelling character.

There are far too many bad guys that have been prematurely ousted, such as Hela, Ronan, Ultron, Mysterio and Crossbones, just to name a few. Whenever a villain appears in a new movie, it seems like their days (or in this case, minutes) are already numbered. It would be a shame to see Marvel’s most iconic supervillains like Dr. Doom appear once and never again.

Admittedly, there are exceptions to this rule so maybe there’s hope. Villains like the Mad Titan Thanos made cameos in other movies before his first major appearance in “Avengers: Infinity War.” Baron Zemo was the main enemy of “Captain America: Civil War” but also wasn’t killed off immediately; he was captured and imprisoned, reappearing once again in the series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” And after surviving her battle with Wanda in “WandaVision,” the wicked Agatha Harkness is set to soon return in her very own series, so it’s great to see that there are a couple of antagonists who manage to survive more than one movie or show.

We don’t just want villains running amok and wreaking havoc like Batman’s rogues’ gallery terrorizing Gotham City. Citizens of Gotham would probably sleep better knowing The Joker was off the streets for good. However, keeping villains around just a little longer could lead to interesting team-ups and new avenues of storytelling. It could also give heroes and villains a chance to become true rivals, battling each other more than once just like they do in the comics. Who wouldn’t want to see Black Panther and Killmonger face off again with even more rage and animosity than before? Their classic hero-villain game of cat and mouse can only exist if they’re both alive.

Allowing adversaries to stay around also opens up the possibility for character development, which some MCU villains desperately need. Then again, it’s Marvel we’re talking about. Their lengthy roster of villains from obscure street-level criminals to malevolent cosmic beings only means they won’t be running short of baddies any time soon, so there are plenty of villains to do this with going forward. It wouldn’t hurt to keep some of them alive though.

Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige seems to share a similar feeling about the potential of villains in the MCU. In a 2017 interview, he admits he would love to see Iron Monger, the main enemy of Iron Man, return. But that would be impossible because Iron Monger is dead. From his death scene, it was very clear he wasn’t going to survive and the writers made sure the character couldn’t come back — so Feige’s comment on the character’s return is surprising to say the least. Regardless, fans would also love to see some of their favorite villains return or stay longer judging from the subreddits that act as monuments for these fallen enemies. Even with villains like Abomination or U.S. Agent John Walker, who have managed to live another day, we can only ask ourselves how long they have left.

“She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” describes itself as a comedy but this doesn’t mean the show’s villains have to be jokes too. Villains can be Easter eggs or cameos. Some enemies are better left like this. But She-Hulk has an expansive history of characters and stories that retain the humorous, fourth wall-breaking quips she’s known for while still taking itself seriously. It’s a shame that some characters in the show, like Titania or the Wrecking Crew, won’t live up to their full potential. At least we’ve got Abomination, a villain who seems to play a bigger role in the story as the show goes on. Regardless, MCU villains may possess super strength and super-intelligence; they may even have the Infinity Stones at their disposal and the fate of the universe at their mercy. However, the one quality they all lack and most certainly need is staying power.

 

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Kwami Maranga

Binghamton University
Philosophy, Politics & Law

Kwami Maranga is Binghamton University alumnus who’s an aspiring creative with a passion for writing and music.

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