‘The Marvels’ Villain Problem, Explained

The Marvels He was criticized for portraying a weak and uninteresting villain in Dar-Benn, but do all superhero movies have to follow the same rules?

The hero vs villain story may be a pillar of superhero storytelling, but the idea that a villain must be almost as important or as developed as the hero is a fairly recent trend, based on the success and protagonism of characters like Thanos, Killmonger, and Loki, to name a few. Of course, there have been iconic comic book villains throughout history, but they weren’t attractive enough to get their own movies because Joker or Venom; they were always secondary characters, as a catalyst for any development, growth or realization that the hero had to achieve by the end of the film.

In many ways, The Marvels it feels like a return to a more classic formula of superhero filmmaking, where the focus is unquestionably on the protagonist. In this film, however, there are three of those, leaving the villain with very little screen time. Dar-Benn’s purpose is not so much to shine as her own character, but to serve as a vehicle to continue Carol’s history with the Kree and Skrulls. In the same way, this history is used in The Marvels to put Carol to the test as, decades later, she still struggles to understand her identity and still searches her memories for clues about who she is and what she stands for. She is caught in the middle of this war and, no matter what she does, people get hurt.

screenshot via Marvel Studios

Even more importantly, Dar-Benn’s search for the bangle ⏤ led to the creation of multiple jump points across the galaxy, destabilizing ⏤ the entire reason our three leads come together. Kamala has the other bangle, and Monica is tasked with investigating the anomalies caused by the villain. The main aim of this team is not to defeat the villain, however. If you really think about it, it’s just getting the upper hand on the villain to further the emotional conflict of the film ⏤ and that conflict is what drives The Marvels. That is its most important feature; The villain is just a trigger.

Carol, Monica, and Kamala are three characters with deep histories who were destined to meet, and Dar-Benn was Marvel’s shortcut to making that happen. The hero/heroes versus the villain is not the main plot here. Instead, it is justifiably set aside in favor of focusing on the complex dynamics that unite and divide the three heroes. Even when fighting Dar-Benn, most of the time the Marvels are more concerned with how to make things better for each other.

Zawe Ashton as Dar-Benn in Marvel Studios' 'The Marvels'.
Image via Marvel Studios

Dar-Benn is easily comparable to the villains of the three Iron man films as well as Ronan, Vulture, and Malekith, among others. What all these youth films have in common is that the story is more concerned with continuing the hero’s path than establishing the villain as a character we hope to see more of. They are narrative devices rather than full characters; instruments in the service of the plot and the character development of the protagonist. It’s an old-fashioned way of crafting superhero stories ⏤ not better or worse, but just as valid.

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