One of the most important aspects in adapting a comic book to the screen is the character design. There are a number of questions to consider before finalizing the on-screen look of a character, such as “what are the functional requirements of the costume?” and “should we match the comic look or stray from it?”. The success of the movie could hinge on how the audience responds to the choices in design. As we have seen in the MCU films, there is no specific formula to a successful character design. Sometimes sticking to the comic version has been successful, while in other circumstances a redesign proved to be effective. The current capability of computer generated effects makes any character design possible, which leaves no excuses for studios to have poor character designs.
With no shortage of characters, Marvel Entertainment has to make these design choices with each of its movie adaptations. Among all of the characters in a superhero film, the villains are the most difficult to adapt. Often in the comics the villains can get away with having silly costumes, whereas in a movie the villains need to be menacing and pose a threat to the heroes. This has led to a wide range of villain character designs in the MCU and unfortunately sometimes they misfire. In the following list we take a look at 10 MCU villains that look nothing like they should and 10 that are spot on.
20 NOTHING LIKE: BARON HELMUT ZEMO
Baron Zemo has one of the most mysterious and menacing villain designs in all of Marvel comics. Over the years, Zemo has worn many different outfits, but the one thing that stays the same and acts as his character defining look is his mask, which he wears a purple mask that covers his entire face.
The mask has only two slits for him to see through, which looks menacing and gives him a threatening demeanor. This makes Zemo one of the easiest villains to adapt to the screen -- the only thing that needs to be maintained to identify him is the mask. Unfortunately for fans of Zemo’s original design, the character was humanized in Captain America: Civil War and never donned the mask.
19 SPOT ON: HELA
In comic books, Hela’s signature look is her large, antler-like helmet. The protruding headdress gives the character a commanding demeanor as it looks like a giant crown. To our surprise, not only was Hela wearing the huge headdress in Thor: Ragnarok, but it looked spot on.
A lot of the scenes with the giant helmet were CGI in the film, but a physical version of it was made for Blanchet to wear. Although the character’s origin was changed for the film (she is the daughter of Loki in the comics, but the daughter of Odin in the movie) they definitely nailed her appearance.
18 NOTHING LIKE: DORMAMMU
When Dormammu hit the big screen at the climax of Doctor Strange, fans were a little confused. Although Dormammu had the signature vertical lines running down his face, something in the character design felt “off”. That is because Dormammu is usually engulfed in flames, especially around his head.
The flames have become the character’s signature look over the last 50 years of his existence. This diversion made it hard to connect that the Dormammu which Doctor Strange “came to bargain with” is the same one as in the comics. It makes us wonder why the character designers would drop such a visually defining characteristic.
17 SPOT ON: LOKI
There are a few defining features of Thor’s adopted brother Loki. The most obvious is his helmet which has two large horns protruding out the front of it. Much like Hela, this would be a hard thing to adapt to the screen without looking silly. By changing the color of the helmet from bright yellow to gold, the design of the helmet works really well for the character.
Another defining aspect of Loki is his color scheme. Loki is always wearing bright yellow and green. The costume designers dressed Loki in a dark green for most of the movies, often with gold armor to match the helmet. The combination of the helmet and the color scheme captures the very essence of the character.
16 NOTHING LIKE: NEBULA
In the 1991 comic book series The Infinity Gauntlet, Nebula plays a pivotal role. Initially, she is transformed by Thanos into a zombie-like character on the verge of her end , which Thanos thinks is beautiful. Later, after stealing the gauntlet, Nebula is able to restore her current form. Neither of these forms match the mechanical design of Nebula in Avengers: Infinity War.
The movie is able to keep the same dynamic between Nebula and Thanos as in the comic with her updated design, but can also avoid the ugly zombie form she takes in the early parts of the story. We think Nebula’s design is much improved for the MCU, even though it is unrecognizable from her previous comic design.
15 SPOT ON: IRON MONGER
A logical formidable foe for Iron Man would be someone who uses similar technology to make a more powerful Iron suit. This is exactly what the MCU’s first villain, Obadiah Stane, does. Iron Monger has been a foe of Iron Man since the mid ‘80s, sporting a similar metallic look in the comics to the one we saw on-screen.
While the suits slightly differ in color (the MCU version is gray while the suit is blue in the comics) the film’s adaptation of the character design captures many of the essential features. From the large mechanical joints to the bolted-on shoulder pads, Iron Monger looks spot on in the MCU’s first film.
14 NOTHING LIKE: SHOCKER
There are a few surprising moments in Spider-Man: Homecoming. One of the funniest moments of the movie is when it plays with audience’s expectations of the villain Shocker. Without giving Logan Marshall-Green the signature Shocker mask, the costume designers had him wear a very similar, but modernized, vest and jacket.
After Marshall-Green’s character Jackson stands up to Toomes, he is eliminated and the real Shocker, Herman Schultz, is appointed to the position. It was a clever moment of the film that takes advantage of the audiences visual assumptions of the character, but in the end the man who plays Shocker looks nothing like his comic design.
13 SPOT ON: SURTUR
Surtur is a villain of Thor and based on the fire giant Surtr from Norse mythology. In Thor: Ragnarok, Surtur eventually destroys Asgard as he brings on Ragnarok. In Marvel comics, the character is completely engulfed in flames, which makes it difficult to pick out any defining features, besides his horns.
The horns, which start between his eyes and and angle upwards, are blackened so they are noticeable among the flames. The design of Surtur in Thor: Ragnarok managed to capture this one unique feature while also immersing the character in flames which gives him the defining characteristic an MCU villain needs.
12 NOTHING LIKE: VULTURE
The Spider-Man villain Vulture looks very similar to a bird in the comics. He has feathery looking green wings and a tight green bodysuit with a white furry collar. Spider-Man: Homecoming decided to take a more modern approach to the character design which turned out to be very successful.
The movie transformed the character into an alien tech arms dealer which gave him access to high tech equipment to construct his suit out of. Not only did this make the character more realistic, it is aesthetically pleasing. We prefer the MCU design over the classic bird-like look from the comics.
11 SPOT ON: EGO THE LIVING PLANET
For most of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Ego the Living Planet is played by Kurt Russell. Upon first glance this may not seem like a spot on representation of Ego, but there are a few different comic stories where Ego appeared in human form and Russell does resemble that version of the character.
However, there is a moment late in the film when the Guardians are escaping the planet that we see Ego’s true form. The image was only on-screen for a brief moment, but it was a spot on representation of Ego from the comics. It is a little off-putting to see a planet with a face, which is what made that climactic moment of escape so effective.
10 NOTHING LIKE: THE MANDARIN
It would be hard to adapt The Mandarin to the screen and avoid the racial stereotypes the character exhibits, so when the film creators adapted the character in Iron Man 3 they took an alternate approach. First, they designed the character to not be an Asian stereotype, but instead a mix of a number of racial stereotypes to make the character’s ethnicity ambiguous.
Secondly, they turned the character into a washed-up English actor who was making propaganda films just to cash in a paycheck. The reveal of this character polarized fans, but we think they smartly avoided the problematic character by drastically changing his look.
9 SPOT ON: CROSSBONES
The design of Crossbones for Captain America: Civil War is one of the more genius moments in the film. The comic book character Crossbones always wears a black mask with a white skull-like face. The MCU Crossbones wears a version of a black tactical helmet with face protection and the front of this helmet is spray painted white.
The white paint outlines the protruding features of the helmet, which makes it look like the skull emerged unintentionally. The result is a villain that looks less like he is putting on a comic book character costume, but still maintains every aspect of the original Crossbones in a subtle manner.
8 NOTHING LIKE: ULYSSES KLAUE
Ulysses Klaue has a strange design in the Marvel comics. His costume is very similar to Magneto’s with the same red and purple coloring, although it does not look as interesting as Magneto’s. It would be quite difficult to adapt this design to the screen and avoid any costume comparison to the X-Men villain.
The MCU avoided this comparison by ignoring the costume for the films, which is why we are big fans of the movie design. The character changes are not only in the design -- in the comics Klaue has actually been transformed into solid sound but in the movie Black Panther, he uses advanced weaponry to mimic the characters abilities.
7 SPOT ON: RED SKULL
Red Skull has one unique feature that we can discern from his name: the character’s head is red and looks like a skull. In Captain America: The First Avenger, Red Skull made his on-screen debut and we can’t argue that he looks just like he does in the comics. However, unlike Crossbones, Red Skull’s appearance doesn’t look natural.
While Crossbones’ design played with the negative space to create the skull look, Red Skull’s design utilizes facial prosthetics to accentuate the protruding features of a skull. Unfortunately the prosthetics are visible to the audience and look more like silicone than bone. Despite the difficulties in creating the look of this character, one thing is certain: it is undeniably Red Skull.
6 NOTHING LIKE: YELLOWJACKET
The movie Ant-Man made a big improvement on the design of Yellowjacket. We would be hard-pressed to say that the comic book design of Yellowjacket is menacing. In fact, it is a little goofy looking, with very accentuated shoulder blades and a big yellow bee on the chest.
To make Darren Cross a foreboding foe and match Corey Stoll’s performance, his costume was designed to look much more technological and resemble the Ant-Man suit. The suit’s helmet also looks very menacing with large yellow lenses for Cross to see out of. Finally, the film’s costume has four sharp appendages coming from Yellowjacket’s back, which visually makes the costume scarier and adds to the character’s combat prowess.
5 SPOT ON: THANOS
After being teased in the mid-credit scene of the first Avengers movie, anticipation was high to see what Thanos would finally look like in Avengers: Infinity War. We were pleased to see that The Mad Titan looked spot on.
For most of the movie, Thanos was wearing a vest of armor which resembled the armor his character wears in the comics, but he was missing the signature golden shoulder pads and helmet. However, fans were pleased when seeing a flashback sequence that had Thanos wearing both the shoulder pads and helmet. The design was perfect and Josh Brolin’s portrayal of the character had us in the palm of his gauntlet-covered hand.
4 NOTHING LIKE: MALEKITH
A lot of Malekith’s comic design is in his face. The character is a mischievous Dark Elf who wields a lot of dark magic and takes much pleasure in the struggling of others. In the comics he often has an evil smile on his face, one that would usually be accompanied by a laugh. This became such a recognizable look for the character that the Malekith action figures would come sporting the same evil grin.
In Thor: The Dark World, Malekith was basically a stone statue, devoid of emotion. He was depicted as a somber version of the Dark Elf ruler and he lost many of the character’s original traits in the process.
3 SPOT ON: DESTROYER
The 2011 movie Thor did a fantastic job introducing the world to Asgard through its character designs. It was wonderful to see many of the characters in Asgard looking so similar to the way they do in the pages of Thor comics. One of the characters that looked spot on is the film’s villain, The Destroyer.
He is an Asgardian suit of armor that has been animated by magic. The character is large, spiky and metallic; all of these characteristics were designed perfectly for the film. The Destroyer looked like he walked right out of a comic book onto the streets of New Mexico.
2 NOTHING LIKE: KILLMONGER
In the comics, Erik Killmonger is unreasonably large for a human. He has muscles growing where we didn’t think muscles could grow. He also has spike studded armbands and boots to go along with a necklace of skulls. These were all design choices were left out of Black Panther.
Instead, Killmonger has a number of self-inflicted scars on his body to indicate the number of people he has defeated. The scars work much better in the film than the necklace of skulls would, because of the sympathetic arc Killmonger has. A necklace of skulls conveys evil, while a self-inflicted body conveys tragedy.
1 SPOT ON: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Bucky Barnes has spent a lot of time as a brainwashed super soldier and an enemy to the Avengers. Starting in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Bucky has been a spot on representation of the character in the comics. From his long hair to metallic arm, the MCU has captured the comic look perfectly. The biggest difference between the two designs is that the comic book character often wears a black domino mask and the MCU character does not.
However, in a few scenes the character design gave a nod to the comic version by surrounding Bucky’s eyes in black paint to introduce the illusion of a domino mask. Bucky has one of the best character designs in all of the MCU.