The MCU Needs to Go Smaller
We have an unusual amount of breathing room in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s no current TV shows and this is the longest stretch between films since The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. It’s the first time in a good ling while that we’ve had the chance to look at where we’ve gotten and what might be next. The story so far has been dubbed ‘The Infinity Saga’, with a tidy lid put on the major conflicts and main cast. Now that we’ve got an idea of which heroes to expect, the last big questions ahead of us concerns the next big antagonist. Here’s the important thing though – they need to wind things down.
The Infinity Saga was a 10 year, 20+ movie build up to a gigantic finale. It is quite literally the biggest cinematic event since some workers exited a factory, and MCU managed to deliver. Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame is a galaxy spanning epic bringing together dozens of characters for a showdown between an army of superheroes and aliens. At the centre of it all was Thanos (Josh Brolin), a purple titan who bested our beloved champions and obliterated half of all life in the universe. It was during this battle we saw Iron Man, Black Widow, Gamora and Vision killed.
This will be a tough act to beat, and all eyes will be on the stage. First thing to consider is who would make for a bigger foe than Thanos. Galactus springs to mind, the gargantuan planet eating cosmic force having become an option with the accruement of 21th Century Fox. Mephisto is a literal devil and played sidekick to Thanos during the printed Infinity War. The Celestial are space gods who had a hand in creating the human race. Dark Phoenix, whilst world-annihilating powerful, has already had two failed cinematic outings, is likely to be sidelined for the time being. Adam Warlock is a glam space wizard and already lined up by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Annihilus, Kang, Korvac, The Magus and The Beyonder are yet to show their faces. Epic, galaxy level villains with the ability to rend grand destruction and give Captain Marvel a run for her money.
But they shouldn’t use any of those. The MCU should not try and go bigger than Thanos and the Infinity Stones. That way lies madness. It’s amazing that the Russo Brothers gave us the charge into battle in Endgame whilst keeping it grounded rather than feelings like we were watching a video game.
Instead the MCU should keep things on Earth with a human (or close to) threat. Something relatable and understandable. I can barely explain what the deal with The Beyonder is, let alone make him something tangible that the audience could possibly feel empathetic towards. Let’s not have a villain who can stomp on a planet and defeat our new batch of heroes through brute force or a gigantic army. Let’s have a character is an intelligent, malicious and manipulative opponent who challenges the morality of the heroes. Someone like Zemo, who turned the avengers against each other in Captain America: Civil War.
Whilst its status as part of the MCU is uncertain at this point, the Netflix Defenders series managed this well. Kingpin tightly controlled the criminals and elite of Hell’s Kitchen and The Purple Man held people in his thrall and used them to get what he wanted. Anti-hero The Punisher became one of the most interesting characters in the series because he challenged the very idea of being a hero. Dealing with characters like this will give us more time of the heroes being on the streets dealing with everyday problems as well as tackling the big ones. With Spider-Man, Ms Marvel, Moon Knight and She-Hulk as part of the roster, this will be the best setting for them.
There’s a couple of obvious candidates for a new major villain to take up the mantle. A real left-of-centre option would be the Molecule Man. Owen Reece was a man of deep and complicated anxieties. Distrustful of society and grieving the death of his mother, to whom he obsessively clung to, Reece is involved in a nuclear accident (because of course). This grants him the ability to manipulate matter on a molecular level. Initially Reece couldn’t access the full scope of his powers, having subconsciously placing mental blocks in order to manage them, but he could still manipulate energy and create portals. Eventually his growing confidence allowed him to bend and warp reality to his will.
The idea of a villain without malice, driven not by greed but by a damaged psyche and given powers beyond his full comprehension and control, can a terrifying one. Reece’s anxiety about his abilities and his place in the world could at once be what compels him forward and holds him back. This kind of complex figure would pose a different kind of threat for the MCU heroes.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is, of course, Doctor Doom. Highly intelligent and egomaniacal, Victor Von Doom is the villain’s villain. He’s almost the definitive comic book bad-guy to whom all others aspire. Using his genius and driven mad by disfigurement, Doctor Doom built his techno-armour that grants him super-human strength up to a level where he could fight the Hulk. Not that he needs to go into battle himself, as he’s often accompanied by his Doombots. In addition to his skills as an inventor, Doom is an accomplished sorcerer.
What works best with Doom in the MCU is that he’ll combine elements of our established heroes. He’d carry the strength of their heavy hitters, the technology of Stark and the mysticism of Doctor Strange. It’ll all be wrapped up in a powerful world leader who plays a hand in global affairs and puts the very notion of the American superhero at risk. We’ve had two versions of Doctor Doom in cinemas the past two decades and…well…they were both silly. Pacing him out over a series could finally do the despot justice.
Perhaps we want someone who will be representative of increasingly relevant discussion in the scientific community – genetic manipulation. That brings us to Herbert Edgar Wyndham, who eventually becomes known as The High Evolutionary. Piggybacking of the works of known lunatic Mister Sinister, Wyndham became obsessed with using genetic experimentation to control and advance evolution at a high speed. He started experimenting with London rats and his Dalmatian.
Having been expelled by the scientific community, The High Evolutionary continued his research and began advancing his own evolution. Giving himself a highly advanced, super-intelligent brain and cybernetic exo-skeleton, he eventually achieved a god-like capacity with which he took it upon himself to guide human development on a global level. With forward planning The High Evolutionary could start as a low key mad scientist. Someone Spider-man can kick around for making weird racoon creatures. Then, as his abilities and powers advance and multiply, he becomes a global threat who brings all the heroes together. A creepy threat rather than a wrecking ball. Or maybe he’s already been around. We never did learn where Rocket came from.
These are just three ideas with dozens more options available. If you want to start getting the X-Men involved, there’s dozens more. One thing for certain is that we can’t wait to see what happens. Especially when Ms Marvel lands.