Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, May 11, 2018

Is Avengers:Infinity War the ultimate in supervillian stories?

Marvel is certainly having a good year and then some as their big crossover film Avengers:Infinity War is raking in huge box office numbers and plenty of fan love,despite the mixed emotions regarding the ending.

While those conflicts will be more or less settled when the next Avengers movie arrives in 2019, one major element of this chapter of the MCU that everyone agrees upon is the character arch of Thanos,the Big Bad here, is incredibly strong. Many have said that he's practically the leading man,given the depths to which he went to achieve his goal of balancing the universe by wiping out half the population and the personal price that was paid.

Without spoiling anything for those who haven't seen AIF yet, I do think that casting Josh Brolin as Thanos was a key element in providing some of that extra nuance to the character. True, Thanos was mostly CGI but Brolin's facial expressions were used onscreen and his vocal inflections gave a solid grounding to lines that could have been easily turned to cinematic cheddar by a lesser performer.

The overall writing for this crisscrossing storyline was tricky to say the least but they did pull it off and brought audiences to tears at the risk of turning them off,which I applaud them for. The fact that a villain like Thanos wasn't presented as another one note monster to be destroyed speaks volumes about the respect given to the source material and fans alike:

Marvel is certainly doing right by their villains lately as Thanos is the second most talked about fictional bad guy of the year.

Eric Killmonger from Black Panther made his presence known from his first scene and as the film went on, the motivations for his vendetta against Wakanda and the royal family became clear and at times, sympathetic as well.

It was a plus that Black Panther's origins were already showcased in Captain America: Civil War,allowing for Killmonger to have his story fully fleshed out and this has become a star making role for Michael B. Jordan and rightly so. I find it interestingly ironic that both Chris Evans(Captain America) and Jordan each played Johnny Storm in the most recent Fantastic Four movies and yet became better known actors when cast in different MCU films.

Killmonger has been proclaimed as the one to break "the Marvel curse" of boring bad guys and it does certainly seem to be so. A hero is only as good and as compelling as their villain after all:

However, are these superhero films the only time that the villain has been seen as the lead? Not in my opinion and I go as far back as Batman Returns in 1992.

Like Black Panther and Avengers, highlighting the bad guys was made easier by this being an origin story sequel and in the case of Batman Returns, the main villains were portrayed by big name stars, Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito.

The pre-credit opening of the film started off with The Penguin being abandoned by his wealthy parents as a child, leading into the prominent plot lines revolving around his desire for revenge on the upper class of society that rejected him. Granted, Penguin got slightly sidetracked by reluctant ally Max Shreck(who also played a key role in creating Catwoman) into playing politics but got back around to wanting to wipe out the innocent in time for the big finale.

 Meanwhile, Catwoman came to life upon being shoved out of a window, being reborn from mousy secretary/personal assistant to sardonically sassy feline queen of the night.

 Her target for payback may have gone from Shreck to Batman at certain moments but like her temporary aquatic partner in crime, swung back to that true enemy for the end game.

Granted, there was a lot of camp mixed into these performances(especially Penguin) but neither one of them came off as completely cartoony. Also, they did leave a lasting impression on these roles. Apart from the TV series Gotham, there has not been a live action version of Penguin in any of the major Batman films since '92 and when it comes to Catwoman, Pfeiffer is still the standard bearer for that character on film and television.

In addition to that, DC hasn't really been successful in teaming up Batman villains since then, with the exception of the Joker and Two Face in The Dark Knight(you could argue that it's more like the Joker creates Two Face in that movie than an actual team-up). That is a shame since Batman's Rogues' Gallery has numerous foes to mix and match for future films and as we saw in Batman Returns, the right pair of wrong doers can be fiendish fun to watch:

Several years later, we were introduced to Mr. Glass in the comic book inspired but not based on film Unbreakable.  His true name was Elijah Price, a man born with a rare condition that made his bones excessively brittle.

As the owner of a high end comic book story, it only seemed fitting that he would be the one to discover the super heroic abilities of train crash survivor David Dunn. Along the way, we learned more about Price's personal struggles and his mentoring of Dunn, both of which made him a strong and sympathetic character.

Unfortunately by the end of the story, we learned his true motivation for finding someone like David and were just as heartbroken as his new found friend was. Having Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Glass and Bruce Willis as Dunn,two actors who have great chemistry together, really brought the emotional pain to the forefront for that crucial last scene.

We will get a chance to see these character reunite,thanks to a brief cameo in last year's Split from David Dunn, and I for one am eager to see how Mr. Glass does in a movie that could showcase his true potential for out and out villainy:

So, are we going to have more nuanced villains in comic book films from here on out? I certainly hope so, as long as such characters are well balanced with equally compelling heroes. Moving the scale over too far for either side is not good for anyone.

This particular genre has had more than it's fair share of ups and downs yet it does manage to bounce back by finding a fresh new angle to approach the familiar framework from. So far, we're on the right track with Thanos and Killmonger and with any luck, our next villain of the story will be just as game changing for both hero and audience alike:

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