For some time, MCU villains weren’t quite up to par with their heroic counterparts. They had expert talent in the role but there was something lacking. Hugo Weaving as Red Skull and the original design for Thanos come to mind as trial runs for what was to come. Whether it was an average-to-little threat level or too much reliance on CGI, a shift was needed to correct this. With the recent batch of shows and movies, from Loki to Spider-Man: No Way Home, the villains of the MCU were given quite the platform to show off their dastardly ways in both exciting and fascinating ways.
Many more entries in the MCU will be approaching and there is no better time than now to take a look back on the best of the baddies from 2021. There were nostalgic returns of fan-favorites and a crop of new ones introduced. Some were able to be cured of their wickedness and others relished in maintaining it. Whether you liked your villain revealed in a twist or that you knew all along they were up to no good, these seven include it all.
7. Doc Ock
It felt like only yesterday that Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2 was released into theaters even though nearly twenty years had passed. Yet when Alfred Molina appeared on screen in No Way Home, the veteran actor slipped back easily into the role. There hasn’t been another live-action representation of Dr. Otto Octavius and Molina showed why. Both back then and now, he nailed the pathos of a mad scientist suffering from the “voices” of robotic tentacles bound to his body.
Doc Ock is the first villain to break through the multiverse and clash with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. But more is needed than generous callbacks (“The power of the sun in the palm of my hands.”) and Doc Ock doesn't reach any new heights after his bridge fight. He's the first villain to be cured in the film, disappearing until the climax at Liberty Island.
6. Agatha Harkness
It really wasn’t her all along, but the catchy theme song cemented one thing. Maybe the MCU realized the potential in having fun with its villains. She did some pretty dark things, killing off Sparky the dog being one on a long list. Agatha's best devious trait was showing off how much fun she was having in her role as Wanda’s nosy neighbor.
Kathryn Hahn was so good as Agatha and so quickly beloved, her fandom got a swift gift. She has a whole show being made. Hopefully, she remains a villain but if she should alter, at least we have her character’s wicked ways as seen in Wandavision. Ideally, Agatha: House of Harkness, will give everyone another peek into that Salem-era origin story of this witch. Fingers crossed.
5. Judge Ravonna Renslayer
Every MCU villain needs several key elements, but one especially crucial aspect is a great name. Judge Renslayer secures that. Bureaucratic with the best interests of the TVA in mind, Renslayer does anything and everything she can to maintain its integrity at all costs. Armed with the time baton, Renslayer doesn’t give herself much time to doubt her actions when she zaps Owen Wilson’s Mobius. But as much of a bureaucrat that she is, she also knows how to fight, getting to show off her skills going against Sylvie in the finale.
And like any good villain, she has a fun and unique henchman in the form of Miss Minutes (Tara Strong), the bouncy vintage AI in the shape of a clock. Actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw played the role well, especially considering her true intentions weren't revealed right away. Sticking closer to the shadows, Renslayer survived the closing events in Loki. She’s a threat, out there somewhere, and hopefully she will be an obstacle to be faced sometime soon.
Actor Jamie Foxx wasn’t given the best material he should have been with The Amazing Spiderman 2. Not only was there criticism on his character's design, losing Foxx under all that CGI blueness, but his character was also effectively killed off in the finale. His role was a one-and-done deal. Or so it seemed. It took a couple of years but bringing Foxx back in No Way Home, repurposed the villain.
In bringing him in, he became part of the MCU. He got a better suit, with the audience able to savor the actor. It even becomes a gag, with the supreme power of the MCU universe affecting his appearance quite positively while also making him more confident and stronger. It was clear Foxx was having a good time. Although there was the lack of screen time given to the character and it limited the menace he could exude, all in all, Electro got to be in the big finale before finally being cured.
3. He Who Remains
As a variant of the powerful Kang the Conqueror, He Who Remains is a constant ball of energy, popping up all over the place. Thanks to the performance of Jonathan Majors, this isn’t the Kang that will be the Big Bad in the near future and that's too bad. In talking in third-person about his origins, audiences realize just how ancient this being really is, nevermind that he nonchalantly revealed he committed multidimensional genodice to maintain his timeline.
Even more spectacular, this variant is only introduced in the finale of Loki and yet he stole the show. He was bigger than life and that was absolutely necessary. After all, his scenes were limited to a castle-like lair floating on an asteroid outside the boundaries of space and time. He’s killed off and his main counterpart will soon be a major threat to the MCU heroes but a moment of silence should be held for the bouncy and unhinged flair that was He Who Remains.
Tony Leung Chiu-wai is a formidable actor, no better evidence of this than in his collaborations with Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai. He can restrain himself in a role and use his body to express more than his words, especially through his eyes. As the patriarch in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Chiu-wai was always going to be more than a paper-thin villain and he delivered.
As Shang-Chi’s father, Wenwu, tough love is what he provided for his children. And as calm and collected as he may appear, it’s a facade for an inner desperation to rescue his late wife. It was this desire that effectively blurred the lines of him being good and bad. It isn’t until his final moments in life that Wenwu understands his son was trying to help him all along, making him even more of a tragic villain.
1. Green Goblin
Surprise and tragic villains are all great fun and help push audiences’ emotional buttons. But Willem Dafoe’s return to the role of the Green Goblin was highly anticipated for a reason. Although Norman Osbourne is tainted from the green Oscorp formula, Spider-Man has never met such a threat before. His return earned all of its excitement, especially with how the character was handled. Like Doc Ock and Electro, Dafoe was given plenty of comedic moments to ace.
There was a sadness in Norman that wasn’t given its due in his 2001 introduction, and seeing a broken man sneaking in donuts is equal parts funny and pitiful. But then comes the switch (“Norman’s on sabbatical.”) and with this bit of dialogue, Dafoe made the hop between the personalities seem effortless. As the Green Goblin, the MCU found a villain that despite being human-sized and not full of CGI powers, he remained incredibly lethal. Tom’s Peter Parker lost Aunt May to this cackling monster and Dafoe’s character proved to not only be the ultimate foil to Tobey Maguire’s superhero but to Spider-Men across the multiverse.
It's a big multiverse.