Why The Villains Of Marvel's Phase 4 Are Worth Rooting For

Why The Villains Of Marvel’s Phase 4 Are Worth Rooting For?

Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is finally coming to an end, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that it hasn’t been as well received as the other phases. There are questions about what the end goal is supposed to be, three installments got low CinemaScores (for the MCU, at least), and the franchise is no longer guaranteed to get good reviews. Some weak spots in Marvel’s armor are finally starting to show. But it looks like the studio has fixed chiefly what was once seen as one of the MCU’s biggest problems: the villains.

As a general rule, audiences cared more about the heroes of the first three Phases than they did about the bad guys. Thanos, the main bad guy in the Infinity Saga, was one of the main exceptions. Not only did the story build up to him over many movies, but he was also the main character in Avengers: Infinity War. This movie went against MCU norms because it was built around the villain’s story. It went deeper into his psychology and motivations and made him less likable and more understandable, while the heroes were used to fill the action scenes. We’ll call it the “Thanos Effect.”

Since then, movies about bad guys have become more common in the MCU. Wenwu (The Mandarin) in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Scarlet Witch in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Namor in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever stand out not only as some of the best villains in the franchise but also as the characters whose emotional reality the movies seem to care the most about. What’s happening? Let’s take a look.

The Mandarin: In the Mood for Love

Shang-Chi may be the least interesting character in his movie, which is one of the main problems with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The basic setup of him running away from his supervillain father as a teenager to make his way is acceptable, but we don’t learn much else about who he is or what he wants for the rest of the movie. He’s the main character, but most of the time, it doesn’t feel like he’s driving the story in any meaningful way. He’s the main character, but he’s led from plot point to plot point by other characters. That’s because his supervillain father, Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), is the emotional center of the whole story. Wenwu is the MCU’s version of the classic Iron Man villain, The Mandarin.

The movie starts with a nearly 10-minute prologue about Wenwu’s past. It shows him as a conqueror who has been using the Ten Rings (both the powerful artifacts and the organization with the same name) to fight wars, gain power and rule from the shadows for hundreds of years. Only when he meets Ying Li, the guardian of the gate to the dimension of Ta Lo, does he change his mind? When Wenwu and Ying Li fight, it is not only one of the most colorful and well-choreographed action scenes in the series, but it is also full of romantic tension and chemistry. Tony Leung and Fala Chen act out the duel without saying a word. They show it as a dance between two enemies who fall in love during the fight.

The most crucial emotional thread in the movie is how Ying Li gives Wenwu a sense of purpose. Wenwu’s rings and his need for power kept him alive for hundreds of years, but as a husband and father, he said, “I finally found something worth getting old for.” The flashbacks where Wenwu and Ying Li take wedding photos and play video games with their kids, and he locks up his rings in a chest show that Wenwu took the chance to change as a person. This makes it even more tragic when enemies from his old life kill Ying Li. Wenwu’s return to his old ways, which include being mean to his kids, isn’t just a bad guy being bad. It’s about a man breaking down in a way the audience hoped he would never do again.

Shang-Chi is a movie about Wenwu because everything he does in the present tense has nothing to do with being imperfect. Instead, he wants to connect with his dead wife and feel like he has a purpose again. We may know this is a waste of time because he’s being led by a demon dragon that eats souls, but that’s the plot. His actions are understandable because he can’t get over his loss and see that he still has people who are worth loving. Wenwu giving up the rings so his son can stop the destruction he caused may have been too late to save him, but with this last act, he finally becomes a father in a way that matters.

Also, Check Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: Release Date Status, Cast, and Trailer

The Scarlet Witch Project

In the following example of this pattern, Scarlet Witch plays a bad guy in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. This is similar to the emotional struggles of being a parent and dealing with loss. Part of what makes Multiverse of Madness such an odd but exciting MCU movie is that it’s more of a sequel to WandaVision than it is to the first Doctor Strange. The multiverse of Madness ignores what the first Strange movie set up for the sequel to go in a different direction, one that seems to be much more interested in Wanda’s mind than Stephen’s.

The Scarlet Witch Project
The Scarlet Witch Project

As discussed on IGN, WandaVision was about Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) going through the denial stage of grief. At the same time, Multiverse of Madness is definitely about her work through her anger. Strange may think about why he’s not happy even though he’s one of Earth’s best sorcerers and has a lot of power, but this is mainly to give him depth and give the audience something to hold on to while Wanda goes through a much more visceral emotional journey. This journey considers the tragic things Wanda has had to go through in this franchise and the brutally violent decisions she’s made. Wanda Maximoff used to be a hero, but torturing a whole town psychically by keeping them trapped in their minds so she could live out her domestic fantasy, even though she knew what she was doing at the time, was just the beginning of her descent into darkness.

Wanda’s goal, like Wenwu’s, is not to conquer or destroy but to get back together with her sons, Billy and Tommy. Wanda has had every family member she’s ever known violently taken away from her. Because of this, her need to have something to hold on to is understandable, even if the things she’s doing to get it are terrible. Strange says Wanda’s children don’t exist, but Wanda says, “Oh, but they do. Everywhere else in the universe. I know they do because every night I dream about them.” The fact that dreams are windows into the lives of other versions of ourselves also hints at what might be the most heartbreaking thing about the movie that isn’t said: that Wanda made Billy and Tommy based on dreams she had of them from other realities. After seeing her other self be happy after going through such unimaginable pain, it’s no wonder she’d kill to switch places with them.

The multiverse of Madness uses the audience’s feelings about Wanda from previous MCU movies to make her downfall even more powerful. This is especially true since most people probably want Wanda to find peace finally. Wanda’s killing spree in other dimensions may be the only thing that makes sense, given how she feels, even though we want her to feel better. Strange’s lack of genuine empathy or understanding worsens things the whole time. When Wanda’s 838 self tells her that her sons “will be loved,” the only person who can understand her is Wanda herself. It’s not much comfort, especially since they turned her down, but it’s enough for Wanda to break free of the Darkhold’s power and the weight of her pain and become the brave person we know she can be again.

Also, Check Fans React To The Premiere of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Namor Forever

Any talk about what works and what doesn’t in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has to consider the sad but unavoidable fact that Chadwick Boseman has died. We’ll never really know what Ryan Coogler and Marvel Studios had in mind when they started making the movie. Still, the final product tries to make up for Boseman’s absence by becoming an ensemble piece showing how T’Challa’s death has affected all his supporting cast members. But by taking this approach, the movie splits the difference between the Wakandan cast members. This means that, whether this was done on purpose or not, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Meja), the ruler of the underwater nation of Talokan, is the character who stands out the most.

Why The Villains Of Marvel's Phase 4 Are Worth Rooting For
Why The Villains Of Marvel’s Phase 4 Are Worth Rooting For

The best creative choice in Wakanda Forever is turning Namor and the Atlanteans from the comics into Native Mexicans. Mesoamerican culture, particularly Mayan symbols, are used in their design and backstory. This is similar to how the first Black Panther movie had some of the MCU’s most politically charged plot choices. Talokan is more like Wakanda than Atlantis was in the comics because the Talokanil is Native people who returned to the ocean to escape Spanish colonization. The most important thing it does is give Namor a good reason for his usual hostile attitude and aggressive view of the surface world. He has seen the horrors of colonial rule and will do anything to keep his people from going through that again.

Namor is arrogant and angry, but he has a good reason for being that way, and his psychology makes sense. He is also the story’s main focus, unlike Namora and Attuma, who look cool but don’t have much to say. This makes Namor have more muscular emotional stress than the heroes. Queen Ramonda, Nakia, Okoye, and M’Baku all go missing for long stretches of the movie at different times. Shuri is the most obvious choice to be the film’s main character. Still, her story arc doesn’t work because it tries to move her in a direction neither Letitia Wright’s performance nor the writing can get her to: as a possible successor to Killmonger’s legacy of vengeful rule. Shuri doesn’t seem like the person who could go wrong, while Namor’s beliefs in the Wakanda Forever finale never seem to be in question. Even the fact that he gave up shows that, despite what he says, he cares most about the well-being of his people.

Beyond the three villains we’ve already talked about, other Phase 4 movies have also tried to make us care about their bad guys, even if they weren’t as successful.

Taskmaster is shown to be just as much a victim of the Red Room as Black Widow since her father turned her into a silent killing machine.

Gorr gives up trying to get revenge on the gods when he is given one wish by Eternity. Instead, he uses his dying words to ask the gods to bring back his daughter. And the version of Doctor Strange in the year 838, who used the Darkhold to cause an Incursion, agrees to be killed by the Illuminati so that he can’t do any more damage.

Phase 4 had its ups and downs, but as the MCU continues with the Multiverse Saga, hopefully, the studio will find the right balance so that both the heroes and the bad guys feel like they are essential.

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