The MCU has had its share of world-dominating, death-and-destruction-touting baddies, but recently — especially with Black Panther and Infinity War — things have been a bit different. Marvel’s villain problem is slowly morphing into Marvel’s villains explaining their not-really-evil problems with the world. At least, that’s how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sees it.
Explaining in his most recent piece for The Hollywood Reporter, the multi-hyphenate said that modern movie villains — specifically in superhero movies, as he chooses Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Incredibles 2 as his examples — are more and more “motivated not by avarice but by social injustice.”
They’re not evil, just misunderstood, Abdul-Jabbar argues. “Black Panther's Killmonger alchemizes his father's death into helping oppressed people of color around the world rise up in armed revolution,” Abdul-Jabbar writes.
“Thanos from Infinity War wants to free people from the poverty and inevitable extinction caused by overpopulation. Evelyn Deavor in Incredibles 2 is passionate about releasing humans from the enslavement of technology, particularly the screens we stare at all day. Although their violent methods make them evil, they aren't wrong about the social problems they want to fix.”
While the heroes of these stories remain their status-quo-maintaining selves, the villains have evolved to become smarter, more nuanced representations of a world that isn’t just black and white.
Even if Abdul-Jabbar indicts the onlookers as the true villains of the story (“The real villains of these movies are those who let this despairing situation come about: us”), his insight regarding the antagonists only means that these villains are well-intentioned baddies with complex personalities that make them better characters, if not quite better people.