Just to be clear: I absolutely love Guardians of the Galaxy. It just may be my favorite Marvel movie so far. We have a bunch of great coverage of it on the site, from Kate’s review to written interviews with director James Gunn and the cast to Kevin McCarthy’s video interviews with stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Benicio Del Toro, Dave Bautista, and Vin Diesel. But even though the film is terrific, it continues the disappointing trend of one of Marvel’s biggest weaknesses when it comes to their films: it has a weak villain. This movie actually has two of them, and one of them – and this might surprise some of you – is named Thanos.
“Thanos?” you might gasp, “but he’s the guy from the stinger at the end of The Avengers! The baddest mother-effer in the Marvel Cinematic Universe! He can’t be a disappointing villain because Guardians will be the first time we see him for more than five seconds on screen!” Well, you’d be right about the fact that this is the first time we see more than a smirk from the character, but here’s the problem: Thanos doesn’t actually do anything in Guardians of the Galaxy. He sits on his throne, threatens a couple of people, and demands that Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) do what he commands, but there’s nothing there (aside from his large build) that proves to the audience he’s a credible threat.
I understand that Thanos has a ton of history as a major villain in the comics, but I’m talking about the character as portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Why do we care about this guy again? Guardians finally spells out what many comic fans have suspected for a long time: that Thanos wants the Infinity Gauntlet. And even though the film gives us a great sense of the sheer power of only one of the Infinity stones/gems – allowing us to extrapolate the idea that if one guy got his hands on all of them, it would be…well, pretty bad – there’s still no sense of character to Thanos. Audiences still don’t have any real idea who Thanos is or why it would be so terrible if he ended up with the Gauntlet compared to any other giant weirdo in the galaxy. Guardians is a movie that does a great job of building characters and making you care about the film’s heroes, but one of the areas it stumbles is in creating that same sense of motivation for the villains.
Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser looks threatening and dangerous, but much like Malekith from Thor: The Dark World, he’s forgettable and bland. In fact, aside from Iron Man 3‘s clever bait-and-switch with Ben Kingsley’s The Mandarin/Trevor Slattery and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, I don’t think there’s a single Marvel villain who has proven to be as captivating as its film’s hero(es). Let’s run through the list, shall we?
Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane from Iron Man
Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky from The Incredible Hulk
Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko from Iron Man 2
Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer from Iron Man 2
Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull from Captain America: The First Avenger
Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian from Iron Man 3
Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith from Thor: The Dark World
Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce from Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Look at those names and see if you’d call any of those characters “iconic,” or even just “memorable” a few months after seeing the movie. I wouldn’t. Bucky Barnes in The Winter Soldier is a bit closer to what I hope for in a villain because at least he provides a sense that our heroes are legitimately outmatched, and even Karen Gillan in Guardians has a cool sense of menace that she backs up with action, but the rest of these jokers? Not in the least.
James Spader’s Ultron sounds like he’s going to be a formidable force that gives the Avengers some serious trouble, but I had my fingers crossed that we’d see Thanos really exert some power in Guardians that would make us fear him in the background of all of the Phase Three films until the inevitable battle between good and evil. But sadly, we’re just told that he’s a badass instead of shown. After last year’s Comic-Con presentation, in which Hiddleston showed up in costume as Loki, I’ll admit I was suffering from a bit of weariness when it came to that character. But if what we get instead is an angry guy holding an oversized hammer and a big purple dude talking on a throne, I’ll take Loki back any day of the week.
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