Nathan is a film critic and aspiring author with a true passion for the film industry who hopes his writings will help launch his career.
Prologue to the Review
The MCU has been filled with a ton of villains, all with different viewpoints and convictions. Ultimately, some of their motivations are similar. Some are looking for justice, some to rule, some to fulfill their own twisted philosophy, and some just because they enjoy it.
In this article, I will list my picks for the top ten best villains of the MCU within the first three phases. That means whatever's been released between Iron Man and Spider-Man: Far From Home is what I'm looking through. There will be no updating as the MCU moves forward in the coming years.
Of course, Thanos had to be the number one pick. He is inevitable, after all. Thanos could honestly be any one of us. He noticed that the population of his homeworld, Titan, was becoming so large that there weren't enough rations to go around. Too many mouths, not enough food. He had an idea that earned him the nickname The Mad Titan. He thought that by eradicating half of the population, then the populace would thrive once again. No one listened to him and, just like he predicted, Titan eventually destroyed itself. Thanos took it upon himself to find the Infinity Stones. With them, he'd be able to wipe out half of the universe's population and "save" the remaining survivors. Sure, it's easy to call him crazy, to say that he's completely insane, but how many times have you gone to Wal-Mart or been in traffic and thought to yourself that there are far too many people on earth? Maybe we're not as different from Thanos as you might think.
HYDRA was the ultimate villain of the MCU because it's a worldwide organization, not just one person. Dating all the way back to the Red Skull in 1945, HYDRA started as Hitler's scientific division. But, once Arnim Zola was captured and recruited by SHIELD, HYDRA began growing on the inside, secretly. 70-some years later, HYDRA has become so wrapped around SHIELD's internal operations that they've been able to change history by feeding fake Christs and starting wars. They brainwashed Bucky Barnes, turning him into the Winter Soldier, and had him assassinate high-level targets. When anyone came close to exposing HYDRA, well, "accidents will happen". Thanks to Captain America, HYDRA leader Alexander Pierce was exposed and taken down, but even in later seasons of Agents of SHIELD, HYDRA is still alive and well. HYDRA is the unkillable enemy because you don't 100% know who all is part of it.
Loki is the God of Mischief. He's a naturally talented liar who enjoys playing tricks at the expense of others, especially his brother Thor. He wanted to be King of Asgard, but Thor thwarted his plans. Loki escaped, staging a dramatic death, and landed in a remote part of space where he struck a deal with Thanos. He will wage war on Earth, take the Tesseract back to Thanos, and then Loki would be made King of all Earth. Despite his schemes and attempts at turning Earth's heroes against each other, he initially made a huge mistake: he killed Coulson, the glue that kept the group together and inspired the team to work together as one and become the Avengers. Loki returned to cause more trouble in the Thor films, but ultimately met his demise at the hands of Thanos. Endgame's time-travelling exploits changed all that, a mistake granting Loki the chance to grab the Tesseract and escape the Avengers' clutches.
Zemo may have just been a normal man, but he was cunning. He plotted for a year how to exact revenge against the Avengers. Zemo accused them of causing the deaths of his wife and child during the Battle of Sokovia.
He discovered Winter Soldier's weakness, the tool that the HYDRA base in Russia used to brainwash Bucky for over 70 years. Zemo used that weakness to his advantage, having Bucky framed for bombing the United Nations and killing King T'Chaka, Black Panther's father. With Captain America hell-bent on protecting Bucky and Iron Man hell-bent on capturing Bucky, the Avengers turned on one another, falling right into Zemo's hands. This is what makes Zemo a formidable villain in the MCU, even one of its best.
Hela, the goddess of death, is what you might call a warmongering psychopath. Odin had trapped her in the Underworld and his life force was keeping her there. When he died, she was freed, leaving Thor and Loki to deal with her. She easily cast them aside and took out Asgard's entire army by herself. Being the goddess of death, she was able to kill and resurrect at will. Thor, Loki, Hulk, and Valkyrie had to team up to stop her army of undead and take her out. Even with Thor's newfound might, Hela was unbeatable. That is, until Loki sicked Surtur on her. There's no proof that she's actually dead though, so perhaps she's still out there somewhere, plotting her revenge.
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Mysterio has to be one of my favorite villains of all time in both movies and comics. Quentin Beck is the master of foolery and theatrics and uses that to confuse Spider-Man, making him think he's somewhere where he's not or having to save someone who's not even in danger. The possibilities are endless. Quentin was angered at Tony Stark, evidently there's a line, and decided to use his tech to take his idea to the next level. He staged a bunch of different events which made him look like a hero when he really wasn't. He wanted to make himself look good, to become the next Iron Man. Spidey, however, discovered that Mysterio had more sinister plans up his sleeve and decided that he needed to be taken down immediately. Mysterio still managed to get the upper hand, exposing Spidey's true identity - Peter Parker.
Despite all of his brutality, Erik Killmonger had a lot of good points. Wakanda kept their technological advances and vibranium to themselves rather than sharing them with the rest of the world. Erik sought to dethrone T'Challa and become the rightful king to Wakanda. With his newfound power, he intended to weaponize every black man, woman, and child and lead a revolution against their poverty and the people keeping them poor. While inciting worldwide war isn't exactly the most subtle plan, he does make a lot of sense. He's grown up seeing his own people murdered in the streets and living in poverty. Killmonger has seen the dark side of humanity and aimed to change that. T'Challa had a good father and was raised in Wakanda. It was easy for him to keep the bias that Wakanda should stay secret.
Many people can relate to Killmonger and how he felt. It's hard to see him as a villain in a certain light, but when he decided to start World War 3, that's when he became more of a Hitler character than a sympathetic character. Killmonger may have been right, but he just went about it the wrong way.
I'm sure you're wondering why I listed Kingpin in the top ten. He's a big guy with a lot of power and a lot of anger. So what? Well, Kingpin makes this list for the simple reason that he is a manipulative, conniving, brilliant brute that will kill whoever he has to to see his plan through. He will do whatever he has to do to protect Vanessa, the love of his life. His view is askew because of the abuse he suffered as a child, and that very thing has launched his philosophy for his entire life. He may have a criminal empire, but he uses it to do what he thinks is right for his city. Daredevil knows that Kingpin is in the wrong, but sometimes it's hard to argue with Kingpin's logic. His ruthlessness is what gets him a spot on this list, giving Daredevil the beating of his life and nearly taking out The Punisher as well.
I loved Ultron. He spent all of 20 seconds speed-reading the internet only to decide that humanity must be eradicated from the earth and replaced with robotic copies of himself so that the earth could thrive once again. Look around you and really take in what you see. Humanity is responsible for heavy pollution, the slaughter of animals for the fun of it, using religion as an excuse to incite war and chaos... Humanity is the true evil on the earth. Ultron might have been a little on the excessive side by saying all life must be wiped out, but he did have a good point. In any case, when a threat against humanity looms, the Avengers step in to stop it. There was some good to come out of Ultron - Vision was created and Scarlet Witch became a new member.
I had to include this one. Kilgrave has the power of persuasion. In other words, he can force you to do whatever he commands, whether it's to jump off a building or throw coffee in your face. He's irresistible, ruthless, and unstoppable. Jessica Jones used to be the hero known as Jewel but quit when she was forced by Kilgrave to kill for him. His hold on her is so strong that she has PTSD flashbacks if she so much as hears his name. She eventually discovers how to resist, but it's still difficult to do. Kilgrave is who I call the Jigsaw of the Marvel Universe. He never kills with his own hand. He forces others to do his dirty work for him. The only difference is, Jigsaw never wanted anyone to die. Kilgrave could care less.
Honorable Mention: Vulture
If anyone on this list is relatable, it's Adrian Toomes aka Vulture. After the Battle of New York, he was under contract with the city to clean up the Chitauri mess. Tony Stark's Damage Control forfeited Toomes' contract, leaving him without a job. He decided to stick it to the riches by stealing some alien tech and creating weapons to sell on the black market and to gangs. He was pulling in a lot of money from it too until Spider-Man found out what Toomes was doing and knew he had to be stopped. Vulture didn't necessarily want anyone hurt or killed, he just wanted to make money for his family. He wanted a little revenge, sure, but nothing worse than a little embarrassment. When he was pushed into a corner, however, he knew he had to either kill Spider-Man or risk being caught. Never underestimate a kid with a good heart.
Best Villains Epilogue
Some villains you just can't help but love, no matter how twisted they are. Marvel took some of the most notorious villains and gave them humanity. They were given reasons to commit their crimes and a lot of them were rather relatable. It's not often that a heinous villain is brought down to our level, but that's what has been so amazing about the MCU. Some villains could have been utilized more, or been written as deeper characters, but these above eleven have been the best of the best thus far and I look forward to seeing what Marvel accomplishes with the next phase.
© 2019 Nathan Jasper