The Problem of Mediocre Evil: Marvel’s Phase One

One of the most prominent criticisms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is the lack of good villains. How valid is that criticism? In this two-part series, we’ll explore that question by taking a look at every MCU villain in the order they debuted.

Iron Monger

Image from Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki

Looks cool. Lasts briefly.

Birth Name: Obadiah Stane

Appearance(s): Iron Man

Status: Deceased

Villain Ranking: 3/5

The Iron Monger was not a BAD villain at all. In fact, his personal connection to Iron Man made his betrayal all the more potent. Of all of Marvel’s villains, Obadiah’s brand of evil is eerily an everyday kind of evil that we don’t like to think about. The Iron Monger lives up to his name by selling weapons to the highest bidder, no matter who it is. He was concerned with the profit to be made, but never the cost. To top it all off, he hires terrorists to kill Tony, that’s rough. That being said, he became a sort of template for Marvel villains to come and not all of them would get to be played by someone as awesome as Jeff Bridges. In the end, he was killed by Tony’s clean energy Arc Reactor and that’s all she wrote.

Ten Rings

Image Courtesy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki.

Scary stuff. Too bad they’re half-imaginary, half-forgotten.

Appearance(s): Iron Man, Iron Man 3 (mentioned)

Status: Alive and Active

Villain Ranking: 2/5

The Ten Rings were introduced as a terror organization in the first Iron Man film. Their desire for conquest and disregard for human life set them up as formidable, if generic, foes. Additionally, they represent a far more grounded and consequently terrifying threat than the MCU’s norm. It was refreshing to see them pushed to the forefront of Iron Man 3 again, using Mandarin, but even that proved to be a feint. Let’s hope the MCU does something with these guys, but with Guardians of the Galaxy and Dr. Strange opening things up so broadly, it’s doubtful we’ll get an MCU silver screen villain so grounded outside of, possibly, Spider-Man: Homecoming.


From Nerd Reactor.

I wish he was just a shade more red.

Birth Name: Thaddeus Ross

Status: Alive

Appearance(s): The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: Civil War

Villain Ranking: 3/5

On paper Thaddeus Ross as the obsessive general hunting the Hulk for his military ambitions is a compelling character. Unfortunately, he is criminally under-utilized. Furthermore, his personal link to our big green hero, Betty Ross, seems to have been forgotten about completely. Thunderbolt and his ambitions eventually led him to become the United States Secretary of State, but we never got to see his (likely shady) rise to prominence. In addition to being responsible for two, count ’em, rampaging rage monsters, Thaddeus has a lot of skeletons in his spacious closet and it’s a shame we don’t get a bit more of that. There’s also the possibility of Ross giving the MCU and eventual Red Hulk. Given what happens to a long list of sidelined but still living MCU villains, however, I wouldn’t hold your breath.


Image from Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki.

Apparently they’ve incarcerated him. Not sure how, but they did.

Birth Name: Emil Blonsky

Status: Alive and Imprisoned

Appearance(s): The Incredible Hulk

Villain Ranking: 3/5

For a hero as brutal and with as much raw power as the Hulk, it takes something fiercely brutal and equally enraged to face him down. Later, the Mighty Thor has trouble going toe-to-toe with The Hulk and so seeing Abomination as a legitimate threat to the Hulk is quite an achievement. Blonsky didn’t start this way, however. Initially he was just a good soldier that Thaddeus Ross made into a poor man’s Captain America. Injected with his own variation of the Super Soldier Serum, Blonsky picked a fight out of his league when he squared up the Hulk and was humorously booted into a nearby tree. Not to be outdone, Blonsky forces Dr. Stern to make him even stronger. The result is the Abomination.



Image from Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki.

Where is he these days?

Birth Name: Samuel Sterns

Status: Alive

Appearance(s): The Incredible Hulk

Villain Ranking: 1/5

If you said “Who?” I understand. Samuel Sterns was the scientist under the alias of Mr. Blue who was secretly corresponding with Bruce Banner while he was in hiding. Sterns thought he could remove the Hulk from the Incredible but ended up putting the abominable in Abomination instead. In the end of the film, we get to see a tease of his comic counterpart’s bulging head. And they never used him on screen again.



Image courtesy of Comic Vine.

He’s so empty I literally can’t even caption him.

Birth Name: Ivan Vanko

Status: Deceased

Appearance(s): Iron Man 2

Villain Ranking: 2/5

The Russian’s childhood sucked and it’s pretty much Howard Stark’s fault. Therefore it’s Tony Stark’s fault. Ivan hunted Iron Man and became Whiplash out of revenge and a desire to burn the Stark legacy. Yawn.

Justin Hammer

Image courtesy of Flickering Myth

I’m getting more and more bored. SOMEONE SAVE THIS LIST!

Birth Name: Justin Hammer

Status: Imprisoned

Appearance(s): Iron Man 2

Villain Ranking: 1/5

Hammer could have been an intriguing dark mirror to Tony Stark if he wasn’t so painfully inadequate. He’s little more than a greedy, jealous, shortcut-taking, terror-collaborating weapon’s developer. That might have been compelling if done well or if it hadn’t already been done and done better by Jeff Bridges.

Loki Odinson

Image courtesy of Comic Vine.


Birthname: Loki Laufeyson (or Odinson depending on what his mood is)

Status: Impersonating Odin as King of Asgard

Appearance(s): Thor, Marvel’s The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok

Villain Ranking: 4/5

Loki is genuinely a great character portrayed by a genuinely great actor. Tom Hiddleston lends so much nuance to the jealous, manipulative, and inferiority complex riddled brother of Thor. Loki has been playing Luigi to Thor’s Mario for decades before Thor and it shows. While I firmly believe that Odin would have turned the throne over to Loki over Thor if Loki embraced more of Odin’s values. Though neither of his sons showed any semblance of humility, Thor at least exemplified honest valor rather than Loki’s conniving intellect. Loki was so set to prove himself worthy he was willing to commit genocide on his own people, the Johtuns, even after he learned his true parentage. Thor thwarted his attempts at genocide and Loki literally fell into darkness rather than embrace his family. Ultimately his villainy leads him to conspire with the Chitauri in the goal of conquering Midgard (Earth) but is foiled again, this time by Earth’s mightiest heroes… Plus his brother.

Loki wasn’t done though, he earned some honor back by helping his brother to defeat Malekith in the Dark World… and then promptly unseated his father’s throne and masqueraded as him. We’ll have to see what awaits Loki in Ragnarok.

Red Skull

Image courtesy of Movie Pilot.

Elrond sort of lost it in the 40s.

Birth Name:
Johann Schmidt

Status: Alive and Supposedly in Asgard

Appearence(s): Captain America: The First Avenger

Villain Ranking: 4/5

Red Skull may be a by-the-book one-note villains with straightforward motivations but this is dismissible for two reasons: 1. His rival is a by-the-book one-note hero with straightforward motivations. 2. Hugo Weaving. Captain America doesn’t like bullies and doesn’t care where they’re from, Red Skull is a bully and doesn’t care where his victims come from. He’s a physical match for Cap and stands for everything Cap hates. The First Avenger had an almost campy feel to it and Red Skull contributes much to that. Hugo Weaving embraced the inherent silliness of that role with earnest gusto and it paid off. Too bad he’s trapped in the magical prison of forgotten Marvel villains.

Dr. Zola

Image from Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki.

Hydra has you.

Birthname: Arnim Zola

Status: Dead

Appearence(s): Captain America: The First Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Villain Ranking: 3/5

Dr. Zola is simple: he wants to live and he wants his research to further the ambitions of Hydra. While his appearance as little more than a timid death-fearing scientist who is likely responsible for the Winter Soldier concept in The First Avenger is nothing to write home about, his off-screen machinations between that film and Winter Soldier elevate him to decent villain territory. Dr. Zola utilized the paper clip program to help Hydra infiltrate the SSR and later S.H.I.E.L.D. Not to mention how he uploaded his consciousness on 1940s-1950s computer hardware. Dr. Zola may have had the most impact on the MCU out of any one villain so far and that’s impressive even if the villains themselves have been pretty lackluster.

Okay, so Phase 1 only had some passable but not so glamorous or outstanding villains. The only standout in my opinion is Loki. Next time, we’ll see if Phase 2 offers anything else for Marvel in terms of quality villainy.

About nuclearfish2013

Graduated top of my class in the school of hard knocks. I live in Raleigh, NC with my wife and (allegedly) zero kids. I work for a Property Management Company, create pointless trivia games, and manage various social projects. I'm as boring on a job application as I am an "About Me" page.
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