Doctor Doom is one of the most distinct and important villains in comics history. Despite the pedigree of the Marvel villain in comics like Fantastic Four and Avengers, he's been underutilized in live-action films. In all three officially released Fantastic Four movies, a core part of Victor Von Doom was lost in translation on the villain's journey to the big screen.
With Doctor Doom's new comic book series under way and his inevitable introduction in the MCU sometime in the foreseeable future, we're taking a closer look at what makes Doom work in comics, and how his cinematic appearances mistreated him.
Doctor Doom is one of the most quintessential villains of the Marvel Universe and the superhero genre as a whole. Victor was raised as the son of an inventor and a witch, dedicating himself to both fields. He came to America as a foreign exchange student on a massive scholarship. A former friend of Reed Richards in college, Victor Von Doom broke from him while attempting to use a machine to break into Hell to save the soul of his mother. Scarred by the incident and so confident in his own abilities that he blames Reed for the incident. he travels the world on his own, honing his skills.
He became an expert in magic and gained his trademark armor during his travels. He returned to Latveria, the nation of his birth, and took over the king of the isolationist European nation, which he ruled with his ruthless brand of honor. Despite his accomplishments, he is defined forever by his hatred for Reed Richards, the one man who Doom knows he can never outwit. With so much going, Doom quickly eclipsed his status as a Fantastic Four villain to become a foe for the entire Marvel Universe.
His political aspects draw in Captain America and Black Panther, his villainous schemes force the attention of the Avengers. His magical powers draw him towards Doctor Strange, and his technical know-how can make him an enemy of Iron Man. He's even just appeared as a villain for heroes like Spider-Man, the X-Men, Punisher and Squirrel Girl. He's a villain, more so than anyone in the Marvel Universe, and this helps elevate him beyond his nominal place as just a Fantastic Four villain. He can threaten anyone because he's a threat to everyone, making him larger in life and more imposing as a result.
The Doctor Doom of the movies is almost nothing like his comic book counterpart. In fact, he's a far more forgettable bad guy altogether. In the first two Fantastic Four films from the 2000s, he was the CEO of Von Doom Industries, not a king. He's made into a vengeful friend of Reed's who is trying to steal Sue Storm away from him. He's there when the space station is bombarded with cosmic energies, creating organic metal properties throughout his body and giving him the ability to create electromagnetic bursts.
This becomes the stand-in for his armor and magical abilities and reframes him as a lesser version of his comics counterpart. He never becomes king, instead jumping straight to attempting to steal the Power Cosmic from the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. He ultimately was brought down by Johnny Storm, who briefly absorbed the powers of the rest of the team instead of finding a way to work with them to save the day.
It was even worse in director Josh Trank's critically decried 2015 reboot of the title, Fantastic Four. Largely riffing on the concept of the character that appeared in the Ultimate line of comics, Victor is established as more of a hacker and introvert than ever before, proving to be unhygienic and flippant about his own state of well-being.
He follows the team into the Negative Zone after a night of drinking and is also cursed with powers after being exposed to the rays. Victor eventually becomes overwhelmed and insane from his powers and tries to destroy the world so he can remake it in his own image.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Each cinematic attempt at Doctor Doom has aimed to reduce him in some way. He's been brought down to a human level, either becoming just an inventor or a former friend to Reed Richards. The movies reduce the absurdity of him, which kind of defeats his purpose. He's supposed to be the biggest threat ever and his arrogance holds weight precisely because he's so talented in so many different fields. Victor Von Doom encapsulates the absurd lengths of the Marvel Universe better than anyone else as a wizard, tyrant, inventor, supervillain and everything in-between. He's designed to be larger than life so that anyone who faces off against him comes just as memorable from being around him.
The movie versions of Doctor Doom tried to bring him back down to Earth. Like the rest of the Fantastic Four, the massive elements of the franchise are downplayed in lieu of only relying on the in-team bickering and relationships to define the story. While that can work for many characters, the cosmic scales of the Fantastic Four as a whole is baked in with the drama, making it more difficult to translate into a smaller setting. The best Fantastic Four stories, and by extension the best Doctor Doom stories, operate on a level that no one else does, and they all lose something when they're not played as big as they should be.