A small, beautifully observed social realist drama about a bullied boy’s relationship with his pet kestrel in a Yorkshire mining town, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (read our review here) opens in cinemas across the nation this week. Joss Whedon‘s follow up to his own “The Avengers,” famously the third most financially successful film of all time, is undoubtedly going to make a little more than chump change at the box office, having already earned $201 million from the 44 territories worldwide in which it opened last week, which places it above the opening weekend figures for “Iron Man 3” and “The Avengers” in most countries.
Yet while we’re trained in the ways of snobby disdain for the blockbuster scramble that happens every year, we’re fonder of Whedon’s take on the Marvel canon than we are of most equivalent money-spinners, and a lot of that is to do with his handle on character, which amounts to a guiding principle governing even those films that he’s not been directly involved with. With ‘Ultron’ marking not only the end of Whedon’s tenure as the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s Godfather, but the second-to-last film in phase 2 of a project that has been by far the most influential to tentpole filmmaking in recent years, and therefore a putative midpoint in the comic behemoth’s current plans, we thought we’d take a look at its ever-expanding population of heroes, villains, love interests, temporary allies, double-crossing friends, estranged parents, jealous siblings and sentient trees.
So taking only those films that count toward this Cinematic Universe ( from “Iron Man” in May 2008 up to and including ‘Ultron’ this week), we’ve selected and ranked (worst to best) the 50 characters that made some sort of an impression on us.There are many smaller characters we simply left off for reasons of space and our sanity, some of whom we’ll round up at the end, but any of whom you are welcome to make a case for in the comments.
Sure, some of his material was cut out of “Thor: The Dark World,” and the character had the natural disadvantage of being a less-than-fearsome-sounding Dark Elf, but Malekith remains the crappiest villain in a series of movies that have generally had some pretty rubbish villains. Undermotivated, buried under layers of make-up and virtually characterless, Christopher Eccleston was palpably disengaged here, but then you probably would be too if you hadn’t been given any good material to play with.
49. Ronan the Accuser
As much fun as “Guardians of the Galaxy” is, the quirky characterization of the heroes takes up rather a lot of the film’s oxygen, leaving very little for airless villains Thanos and especially Lee Pace‘s stentorian but terribly dull Ronan the Accuser. Lumbered with the old-chestnut plotline of “Baddie allying with Worse Baddie to get Gizmo” the film, so peppy and light on its feet elsewhere, screeches to halt whenever Ronan’s around.
He’s reportedly the Biggest Big Bad of the Marvel Universe, but purple-skinned alien God dude Thanos hasn’t really made much of an impression on those who only know him from the movies. He’s admittedly mostly been relegated to the sidelines so far, but even in his most prominent appearance in “Guardians Of The Galaxy,” we heard a lot about how scary he is, but all he did was get tricked and betrayed by a lesser bad guy. Also, he sucks at collecting MacGuffins, currently having a grand total of none in his possession. Hopefully Phase Three and his big appearance in “Infinity Wars” will be more impressive, and Josh Brolin will have time to ease into a character who right now is underwhelming.
Anthony Hopkins’ presence in “Thor” did a lot towards giving a veneer of respectability to the Marvel movies, but we can’t help but wish that he had more to do. He spent most of the first film in a coma, was sidelined in the second, and while you can sense Hopkins wanting to get his teeth into better material and go full-on King Lear, it’s been slim pickings so far. That he’s being impersonated by his son Loki by the end of “The Dark World” doesn’t suggest great things for his role in “Ragnarok” either.
46. Emil Blonsky/The Abomination
A long-time adversary of the Hulk in the comics, Emil Blonsky, aka The Abomination, was the principle bad guy in “The Incredible Hulk” —a Russian/British military type who takes some super soldier serum in order to catch the fugitive hero but ends up being transformed into a creature that might be even worse. Tim Roth was atypical casting and brings a certain low-key energy to a military man that makes him more interesting than he could have been, but the more villainous he becomes, the more you lose interest, and by the end he might as well have just been called Evil Hulk.
Idris Elba as a Space Viking? OMG! Except that so far one of our favorite working actors has been mostly wasted as in a role as essentially Asgard’s bouncer. Aside from that ‘Dark World’ sequence where he took on a spaceship single-handedly (and even that was shoehorned in and kind of ropey), Elba’s not had anything up to his talents yet and that doesn’t change in ‘Ultron’: every time he appears on screen, it’s a reminder that he shouldn’t be in Thor, he should be PLAYING Thor.
44. Arnim Zola
Now seemingly in every other movie (we’re still unclear what he’s doing in “The Hunger Games,” but it’s welcome), Toby Jones made his inevitable Marvel universe appearance as Nazi scientist Arnim Zola in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” He’s mostly a henchman in that film, though one made more memorable thanks to Jones’ performance, but proved to be a more interesting presence in “The Winter Soldier,” appearing in the form of a warehouse-sized supercomputer in the film’s most pleasingly weird diversion. He’ll never rank among the big bad guys, but it was a nifty way to bring the character back, and he made a sudden cameo at the end of “Agent Carter,” suggesting that his flesh-and-blood character has a small-screen life ahead of him too.
Jaime Alexander’s been a winning presence as Sif, but as is the case with several of these “Thor” second-tier characters (we’re not even going to start on the Warriors Three), she’s been underdeveloped so far. There have been hints of an unrequited love angle, but never more than that, and she disappeared halfway through “The Dark World,” left only for some vaguely humiliating guest spots on “Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” With Natalie Portman seemingly out of the picture from now on, maybe she’ll get to shine a little more next time around.
42. Betty Ross
For the most part, Marvel has done a good job at making their female leads a little sparkier and capable than the norm for the superhero flick, from Pepper Potts and Peggy Carter to Black Widow and Scarlet Witch. Betty Ross would be the most obvious exception to that rule. Bruce Banner’s longtime love, played by Liv Tyler, is a bit of a blank on the page, and sadly Tyler didn’t get many more notes to play beyond “supportive,” and didn’t have all that much chemistry with Edward Norton. No wonder the Marvel bigwigs haven’t brought her back.
41. Brock Rumlow
We love hard-as-nails character actor Frank Grillo, and his presence in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was an undeniably welcome one. Unfortunately, he didn’t get much more to play on the page than “military henchman type,” and though his physicality was a real asset in a couple of memorable fight scenes, he faded into the background otherwise. He lived to fight another day, albeit horribly burned (the character becomes the masked villain Crossbones in the comics, and he’s said to play a major part in next year’s “Civil War”), so fingers crossed there’ll be more to come.