Doctor Strange 2’s villain is by far the best in the MCU

“What makes a good villain?” will always be a subjective question, but allow me to describe a few qualities of bad guys that are important to me personally. I want to find them scary. I want to enjoy their evil, to be creative, obscene, deliciously cruel. I want them to be good foils for heroes: equal or even greater in stature, charismatic and strong, a dark reflection of them in some way. And here’s what’s important, if counterintuitive: I only care about their motivations up to a point.

Of course, it’s important for any well-constructed story to make it clear why the antagonists do what they do—to give them a clear purpose and emotional drive for it. But an overly detailed backstory, too rich in deconstructing their souls, can be just as good a hindrance as an aid in setting up a good villain. They are often scarier and more entertaining if they are unknown to some extent, with a bit of humanity, but not too much.

Here are four super famous examples that meet these criteria, off the top of my head: Joker Heath Ledger in Dark KnightDarth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, Hans Gruber by Alan Rickman in Die Hardand Hannibal Lecter by Anthony Hopkins at Silence of the Lamb.

Here are the villains from the Marvel Cinematic Universe — the most successful film franchise of all time — that meet these criteria: none of them. Until Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

[Ed. note: Significant spoilers for Multiverse of Madness ahead.]

Marvel movies haven’t produced a villain as scary, entertaining, or iconic as Heath Ledger did with the Joker.
Image: Warner Bros Pictures

MCU villain issues are well documented. It was particularly endemic in the early stages of the series, when screen legends like Jeff Bridges or Hugo Weaving would line up to play the forgotten one-shot antagonists in the hero’s origin story. Part of the problem is Marvel Studios’ reluctance to spend time developing these characters and its enthusiasm to kill them after a single appearance, in stark contrast to the way they’ve built their decade-long arc and intricate, interwoven storyline for the heroes.

Another problem is that Marvel’s rogue gallery creams, including Doctor Doom, Magneto, and Venom, have all been licensed to other studios. Can you remember anything meaningful about the baddie space elf Christopher Eccleston in Thor: Dark World? Neither do I.

The villain problem has become so persistent that it’s starting to seem like some kind of aesthetic or storytelling preference. Marvel movies don’t seem too interested in crime, or even literal darkness. The dominant theme, oddly enough for films that feature so much violence, is not conflict but the comic opera of the internal struggles and interpersonal strife of the heroes. The most memorable action scene in the entire franchise is arguably in captain america civil warwhen Earth’s strongest heroes fight not against external threats but against each other.

There are some partial exceptions to this evil villain rule. Loki Tom Hiddleston is endearingly charming, and his hatred of his father Odin and brother Thor is a likable and effective impetus for his mischief. But with his wit and genius, he’s always slicker than scary, and fans responded to him so well that subsequent shows progressively turned him from antagonist to antihero to sort of a lovable scapegoat. If he hints at the truly evil side in Thor – and enter Avengerwhen he orchestrated an alien invasion of Earth in a huff — that was long gone.

President Loki and his supporters Lokis loki it's in Loki

Loki Tom Hiddleston is now in court clown mode, and what crimes did he have in the past (or in another reality).
Image: Marvel Studios

black Panther‘s Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan, presents another side of Marvel’s reluctance to make its best villains downright evil. He is a complex and morally prickly character. In her case, it’s her twisted truth, not her charm, that holds filmmakers back. He epitomizes the tragic reckoning of the African diaspora with its history and ancestry, and his hatred of Wakanda’s overbearing exile for centuries of Black suffering is more than justified. In that context, it wouldn’t be fitting to portray him as a bad guy, so the film’s most despicable villain was shifted to Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue.

Hela, the iconic stylized goddess of death from Cate Blanchett, from Thor: Ragnarok deserves the cheers. (I don’t think it’s surprising that characters from Norse mythology should complement the Marvel universe with two of its most memorable and vivid antagonists.) Hela is scary and cruel, but she’s an abstract creation — more of an idea of ​​entropy, decay, and death than a character. which is actually.

And this is also my gripe with the mighty Thanos, the final boss of the Avengers series and throughout the first three phases of the MCU. Maybe it’s the character’s weightless CG, or Josh Brolin’s measured diction and melancholic eyes, but something about him just doesn’t connect on the visceral level that a great villain should have. He is too intellectual, almost academic, in the way he pursues his terrible goal of erasing half of all life. And he seems to carry the burden of being the worst person in the universe with a degree of reluctance and even remorse. He doesn’t even give us the courtesy to enjoy himself.

Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War

Why so serious, Thanos? Live a little!
Image: Marvel Studios

The Scarlet Witch—also known as Wanda Maximoff, but I purposely refer to her by the character’s alter ego—is a formidable villain. He is very strong and cunning in the way he uses his powers. He fits the hero, Stephen Strange, both in theme and temperament. He is not so morally ambiguous as amoral, or perhaps post-moral; he thinks he is right and doesn’t care if what he does is wrong.

On paper, it’s no surprise that the most effective villains in Marvel films to date are characters who have had the luxury of extensive development over several films and even TV shows of their own. Viewers already have a rich relationship with Wanda, so the heels are turning at the start Multiverse of Madness packs a dramatic punch. Elizabeth Olsen has plenty of material to use as she steers Wanda to the dark side in pursuit of a reality where she can be reunited with the two sons she envisioned being. WandaVision.

But I’m not sure how relevant this background is to the reason why Scarlet Witch does so well in a villain role. If anything, it becomes a hindrance. I’m not going to get deep into the heated debate about whether Wanda is breaking bad by unrighteous characters; for me, the taste is satisfying and consistent with the ending WandaVisionalthough I accept that it plays on the archetype of a troubled crazy mother.

Leaving that aside, it must be a structural problem for Multiverse of Madness that it requires familiarity with the plot WandaVision makes sense. As podcaster Chris Ryan points out, the evil Scarlet Witch from another universe who is just tearing up our reality with chaos in her mind may have worked a cleaner job.

The best thing about the Red Witch in Multiverse of Madnessand the thing that sets him apart the most from all his predecessors in the MCU, is that he scary. Olsen, a brilliant actor who shows a lot in WandaVision, gave him a hard, dead surface, with restrained anger and suppressed sadness churning beneath. His voice dropped to a low, menacing tone, and his gaze was smoldering. Whether in a formal Scarlet Witch outfit or a simple outfit in Wanda’s alternate universe, she has an eerie aspect to it, and director Sam Raimi completes her performance by drenching her in blood at the end of the film (a homage to Sissy Spacek in Carrieanother story about a troubled woman unleashing the full power of her anger).

Wanda Maximoff in full Red Witch mode

Image: Marvel Studios/Disney

Raimi’s playful and gruesome visual imagination emphasizes the Red Witch’s immense power, but also her ingenuity and ruthlessness. Both in his bewildering escape from the world of mirrors, Strange tries to hold him back, and in his shocking destruction of the Illuminati members, the Red Witch doesn’t just beat her opponent with her ability to distort reality — she beats them too. The deliciously evil icing on the evil cake is his way of turning the power of the Illuminati heroes against them. Reed Richards unraveled like a scarf. Black Bolt blew his own head. Professor X was caught in a mental trap before he broke his neck.

There’s humor and poetry to these murders, fun in crime, and a shock value that goes beyond how near-bloody they are. Marvel moviegoers were expecting a surprise, but not one like this. They were expecting cameos from fan-favorite actors like Patrick Stewart and Hayley Atwell, but they didn’t expect them to be suddenly murdered moments later. It’s Raimi and screenwriter Michael Waldron turning the MCU formula upside down, though within the safe limits of a multiverse story plausible deniable.

But it’s also the only time, aside from Thanos’ snaps, Marvel villains are allowed to morally and physically destroy the heroes of this world. Scarlet Witch rips these alternate universe heroes apart because she can, and does so in a way that shows how pathetic she is to find them. There’s a thrill of pleasure to be had from their indifference to everything their universe deems important. He is repeatedly brought up as a meaningful parallel to Strange, who is seduced like himself by the unfettered power of the dark arts, but who still tries to stick to the moral compass. His casual assassination of the Illuminati also raises the stakes for Strange’s quest significantly. Surely someone so strong can’t be defeatedorder suggest, and someone who is so empty it can’t be reasoned with.

Turns out he could, but only on his own. Scarlet Witch is destructively focused on fantasy. America Chavez showed him the truth of his own crimes by showing how appalling his behavior was and what he would become to his beloved son. Meanwhile, Wanda’s variant shows her compassion enough that she can understand how she was wrong. He broke free from the Darkhold and destroyed it, and possibly himself. It’s not a traditional villain takedown, but in the context of a character who was previously a hero, it fits.

Fans may never be able to accept the character they love turning into a monster like that. But they had to be amused by how great it was for him to be a monster. One of the functions of a good villain is to shake us out of complacency, to challenge our sacred cow, and to do the unthinkable, the unreasonable. Filled with mischievous Raimi, Scarlet Witch is strong enough, scary enough, and seductive enough to rip up MCU conventions—if only for half the movie—and show us a world where bad things can happen that we can feel good about. I hope the portal to this dimension stays open.

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