Can Avengers: Infinity War Overcome the MCU’s Villain Problem?

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is famous for having incredibly lovable and awesome heroes, and typically flat, underwhelming villains. It mostly boils down to the fact that so much of the movies’ time is spent with the protagonists, not the antagonists. Marvel Studios works hard to make you really embrace and empathize with the heroes, and that’s partly why its movies are so successful. The fact it under-serves the bad guys has been noticed and criticized by viewers, though, resulting in the idea that the universe has a “villain problem.” Will Avengers: Infinity War manage to make Thanos, and his servants, an exception to this problem? Or will they just add to the franchise’s long list of boring, CGI villains?

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So Many Villains

Thanos, the big bad that’s been teased ever since we saw the post-credits scene of Avengers, will not be the only powerful being going up against the Avengers, Guardians, and friends in the movie. The Black Order, comprised of “children” of Thanos, will be doing a lot of Thanos’ dirty work to retrieve the Infinity Stones.

The Black Order includes Corvus Glaive, Proxima Midnight, Ebony Maw, and Cull Obsidian (renamed from Black Dwarf, as he’s known in Marvel Comics). Only introduced in 2013 in New Avengers, the Black Order is a group of intergalactic, deadly worriers that each boast their own specific skills and abilities.

Infinity War will have to spend time with each of these members for the audience to connect with them on any level. Even Thanos, who we’ve seen a couple of times in post-credit scenes and cameos, is undeveloped and mysterious to those who haven’t read any comics with him.

The film will really have to work hard to establish Thanos as a character that the audience can invest in, or he’ll just fall flat. His motivation is relatively simple: he wants to level and rebuild the Universe on his own terms, and he needs the six Infinity Stones to do so. He has familial ties to Gamora and Nebula, and Drax has a personal vendetta against him, so hopefully these dynamics will be explored to replicate the success of Hela in Thor: Ragnarok.

So Many Heroes

Avengers: Infinity War is going to feature the largest roster of Marvel heroes in a single movie to date. Combining the ever-growing Avengers members with the Guardians of the Galaxy already results in almost 30 heroes, but adding Spider-Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and supporting characters to the mix means there’s a ridiculous number of heroes to juggle. Joe and Anthony Russo, directors of the Avengers: Age of Ultron sequel, have a huge task on their hands doing justice to these heroes as there as just so many to use.

There’s no point bringing in popular characters such as Spider-Man if they’re not going to be utilized properly and given an ample amount of time to shine. The problem with balancing so many heroes is that there’s a lot less time for the villain, or villains in this case, to shine. How can Thanos and his Black Order be developed and interesting if so much time is given to the people they’re facing off against? There’s a chance that Infinity War will have a hero problem, not a villain problem.

The positive thing for Marvel Studios is that most of the heroes in the flick have been well established, so they don’t require as much character development for audiences to root for them. This doesn’t account for any surprise inclusions that we’re not yet aware of – we’re looking at you, Captain Marvel – but fans have all seen how well Captain America: Civil War introduced Black Panther, so they should already have faith in the directors to introduce any new characters properly.

Also, this colossal line-up will be split into teams, each group seemingly facing off against a different villainous child of Thanos. Establishing these groups will require a good amount of time from the movie for their assembly to feel organic and natural. We already know from the trailer that Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy will cross paths, but space is a big place so it will require a good dose of explaining for their meeting to really be believable.

Recent Track Record

It’s worth looking at the last few movies that Marvel Studios has put out to see if the villain problem is still actually a problem. Thor: Ragnarok is the studio’s latest offering, and that boasted an amazing perfomance from Cate Blanchett as the incredible Hela. The long-lost, secret sister of Thor and Loki, Hela had simple, but clear, motivations and she was given plenty of time to shine. No villain problem there!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was very family-orientated, with Peter Quill finally meeting his dad – who just happened to take a villainous turn towards the last third of the movie. Kurt Russell was a great choice to play Ego, the Living Planet; he was convincing when portraying both the good and bad sides of the character. The twist with Ego, in which he actually put the tumor inside of Peter’s mother’s head, was genuinely sickening. This was another home run on the villain front.

Spider-Man: Homecoming has arguably one of the best villains in the MCU to date. Michael Keaton’s turn from hero (as Batman) to villain (as Vulture) was better than most people could have imagined, with a very human and realistic take on an antagonist in a Marvel movie. Adrian Toomes ran a business cleaning up after incidents that happen in New York – such as the Chitauri invasion in Avengers – until Tony Stark took over. Down on his look and trying to provide for his family, the character did what he thought was best to look after his wife and daughter, who just so happened to be Peter Parker’s love interest, Liz. Yet again, another win for the MCU.

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So as it appears, Marvel Studios could well have rectified their so-called villain problem – but our concerns for Avengers: Infinity War still stand. There’s one movie before the ensemble piece premieres, and that’s Black Panther, which features Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger. Unfortunately, a trailer revealed that he has a suit similar to that of T’Challa’s, and he could well be just another copycat villain like Yellow Jacket in Ant-Man and Iron Monger in Iron Man. We’ll have to wait and see, but the two movies are only a handful of months away!


Debuting May 4, 2018, director Anthony and Joe Russo’ Avengers: Infinity War stars Robert Downey Jr., Josh Brolin, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Olsen, Sebastian Stan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Bettany, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Benedict Wong, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Holland and Anthony Mackie.