Marvel’s D23 presentation yesterday gave us our first look at what appears to be the full team headlining 2024's Thunderbolts film. Though it sports previous MCU antagonists like Ghost from Ant-Man & the Wasp and Black Widow’s Taskmaster, it’s not exactly what you’d call “villainous”: from Falcon & Winter Soldier’s US Agent to Yelena Belova and Bucky Barnes, most of the roster are people who’ve been manipulated by the government of their country, and Ghost only turned to villainy to not die. It’s not a particularly evil team like how the Thunderbolts usually are in the comics, and it’s even more surprising, given what Marvel’s done with its villains in the last few years.
For a long time, one of the prevailing criticisms against the Marvel Cinematic Universe was that it wasn’t making good use of its villains. In the first two Phases especially, the bad guys existed primarily as thematic foils to the heroes but were painfully generic, occasionally elevated by whichever actor was bringing them to like. That tide gradually started to change with Phase Three baddies, but only really became a consistent bright spot for the MCU once villains like Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo, Michael Keaton’s Vulture, and Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger entered the fray.
And within this current era of genuinely interesting MCU villains, we’re seeing old villains who disappeared after their initial defeat pop up again. Sometimes, this doesn’t really amount to much of anything—what was the point of Ronan and Korrath in Captain Marvel beyond telling you they were part of the Kree army?—but the returning appearances have been worth it. Shang-Chi finally brought in the Mandarin as played by Tony Leung Chiu-wai, and made him a significantly more complicated and interesting villain who kinda ran away with his own son’s movie. Divisive as Wanda Maximoff’s shift to villainy was in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness this past summer, Elizabeth Olsen really does give it her all and turns out to be one of the most fun antagonists in the whole enterprise. And more recently, She-Hulk has marked the return of Tim Roth’s Abomination, who’s greatly mellowed out while in prison for over a decade and now just wants to vibe.
To that end, we wanna know in the comments below which MCU baddies you’d like to see come back again. Whether they’re MIA or straight up dead doesn’t matter, anyone’s on the table.
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