People used to say the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a "villain problem." They weren't wrong. After all, with characters like Malekith, the main antagonist of Thor: The Dark World, it seemed as if the MCU didn't have a clue how to write a good villain. Sure, Loki and Red Skull were pretty intense antagonists, but Malekith? Bland motivation. Bland design. None of it seemed to stand out in any way.
However, what makes Malekith all the more disappointing is how close he was to being a good antagonist and a worthy foe for Thor. He had all the makings of a great villain, but a few creative decisions ruined it all. Why were these decisions made? You probably know the answer, but it's important to remember them so it doesn't happen again.
Let's get this out of the way right now: Christopher Eccleston is a fantastic actor. When people heard that Eccleston, most famous for playing the ninth Doctor in Doctor Who, was going to play an MCU villain, they were reasonably intrigued.
But Eccleston is first and foremost a dramatic actor. His work with Danny Boyle especially is intense. He is one of the scariest parts of 28 Days Later. Shallow Grave is an often overlooked thriller masterpiece where Eccleston manages to blow audiences away yet again.
The point is that Eccleston can play a terrific antagonist. And has. Many times. He's a Shakespearean caliber actor who should have been able to blow audiences away even with a sloppy script (see: GI Joe: Rise of Cobra).
However, Eccleston is never given time to really act in the film. He barely has any lines, the script never gives him a chance to explore his character, and, worst of all, most of his lines are generic "Darkness!" and "You jerk!" villain lines. So... what happened? Why didn't the script work?
On Paper, a Great Villain
To make matters more intense, on paper, Malekith has much in common with some of the MCU's best villains. Many of the MCU's best villains seek to change the world for the better. They seek one way to do this. And, because of that, they do bad things to get their perfect world.
This can just describe either Killmonger, Thanos, Alexander Pierce or Malekith.
It can also describe Hela.
But what all these villains have in common is that we know precisely what they want. We know what world they desire. Their goals are made clear, as is what they lost or could lose. Malekith wants to return the world to darkness because it is the world his people thrived in, but we never know what "darkness" means. Is it the true absence of light? Is it a metaphorical darkness?
Furthermore, how is the Aether -- the Reality Stone -- going to fix that? The Reality Stone's powers are never described in any meaningful detail in the original film. It's only in Avengers: Infinity War that the Reality Stone's potential is outlined. Without a clear sense of what the villain wants or where the villain came from, Malekith comes across as forgettable.
Even Ronan the Accuser, another "generic" villain, has motivation and desires that are clearly defined in the film. Ronan is under-developed in order to devote more time and focus on the Guardians, who are the center of the film.
So, if Ronan's development time was given to the Guardians, where did Malekith's go?