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10 MCU Villain Returns That Made Them Way Better


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Summary

  • Bringing back beloved MCU villains can lead to stronger and more compelling storylines.
  • Characters like Kingpin and Thanos evolved and became more prominent in subsequent appearances.
  • Returning villains, such as Hela and Green Goblin, allowed for deeper exploration of their motivations and character development.

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Numerous villains from the Marvel Cinematic Universe have made surprise returns in subsequent installments, which are arguably stronger than their original appearances. It’s easy to consider the villains in the MCU as somewhat disposable, often defeated by their respective heroes in the final confrontation. However, several MCU villains have been so popular that they have been brought back, often with far more effective results.

The MCU timeline has featured a litany of fantastic villains, but certain foes have returned, even more than once. This phenomenon might prove useful as the MCU navigates Jonathan Majors’ departure from the franchise, and Marvel reconsiders the trajectory of the MCU’s future. Evidently, bringing a beloved villain back could prove even more compelling than choosing a new one.

10 Kingpin Has Officially Joined The MCU

Hawkeye, Echo

Marvel’s Echo

Release Date
January 9, 2024

Cast
Chaske Spencer , Zahn McClarnon , Graham Greene , Alaqua Cox , Cody Lightning , Charlie Cox , Tantoo Cardinal , Devery Jacobs , Vincent D’Onofrio

Seasons
1

Streaming Service(s)
Disney+ , Hulu

Vincent D’Onofrio proved so successful in Netflix’s Daredevil, that the actor was brought back, entering the MCU as the infamous crime lord. Kingpin returns briefly in Hawkeye, revealed as the criminal mastermind behind the narrative’s criminal events. However, it is his subsequent appearance in the series Echo that has expanded the character’s story to far greater heights. Kingpin has provided a thought-provoking and nuanced portrayal, contrasting D’Onofrio’s subtle emotion against his enormous stature. Indeed, the character’s return has proven so triumphant that he will serve as the villain in at least one upcoming MCU project.

9 Thanos Became An Iconic Villain

The Avengers, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame

Ronan and Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

Release Date
July 30, 2014

Cast
Zoe Saldana , Karen Gillan , Vin Diesel , Michael Rooker , Djimon Hounsou , Lee Pace , Benicio Del Toro , Glenn Close , Dave Bautista , ​Chris Pratt2 , Bradley Cooper , John C. Reilly

Runtime
122 Mins

Thanos’ first appearance in the MCU was in The Avengers, which was markedly underwhelming compared to his subsequent appearances. The Mad Titan wasn’t originally portrayed by Josh Brolin, who, when he first assumed the role in Guardians of the Galaxy, delivered such a deft performance that the role was written to be more prominent. It’s truly a testament to Brolin’s acting ability, which, through motion capture, proffered a complex and compelling character arc with far greater emotion than was previously intended. Thanos was truly reinvented through his return, becoming the iconic villain who carried the entire Infinity Saga.

8 Loki Evolved Substantially After his Death

Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, Loki Season 1 & 2

Loki

Release Date
June 11, 2021

Seasons
2

Streaming Service(s)
Disney+

Loki has cheated death in the MCU on numerous occasions. He often returned with similar motivations, but his final incarnation in the Loki Disney+ series proved the most compelling. The God of Mischief’s return became a captivating exploration of identity, time, and destiny, fully evolving the character to far greater depths than his cinematic portrayals. While Loki previously aligned himself with the forces for good, each was typically driven by self-preservation, and his subsequent behavior quickly undermined these examples. Loki breathed new life into the character, elevating him to heroic status and offering a mesmerizing journey through the mischievous and enigmatic facets of one of the franchise’s most enduring characters.

7 Helmut Zemo Became More Vital

Captain America: Civil War, The Falcon And The Winter Solder

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Release Date
March 19, 2021

Helmut Zemo (the MCU’s Baron Zemo) was introduced into the MCU during Captain America: Civil War, as a wealthy baron whose family died in Sokovia during the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The character was reasonably compelling, but with the movie’s expansive narrative, was given little room to flourish. This changed when the villain appeared in Falcon and the Winter Soldier, where he became a central villain and garnered the narrative the iconic villain deserved. One of the best developments was giving Zemo his distinctive purple mask from Marvel Comics, which previously did not appear in Civil War.

6 Hela Takes Center Stage In What If…?

Thor: Ragnarok; What If…? Season 2, Episode 7 “What If… Hela Found The Ten Rings?”

Hela becoming a hero in What If...? season 2 episode 7

What If…?

Release Date
August 11, 2021

Cast
Samuel L. Jackson , Stanley Tucci , Michael Douglas , Sean Gunn , Mark Ruffalo , Karen Gillan , Tom Hiddleston , Jeffrey Wright , Michael B. Jordan , Toby Jones , Sebastian Stan , Paul Rudd , David Dastmalchian , Natalie Portman , Josh Brolin , Dominic Cooper , Jeff Goldblum , Hayley Atwell , Djimon Hounsou , Chadwick Boseman , Taika Waititi , Chris Hemsworth , Neil McDonaugh , Jeremy Renner , Michael Rooker

Hela was a brilliant villain in Thor: Ragnarok, but her appearance was far too brief. The most powerful aspect of her characterization was the relationship with her father, Odin, but this was only briefly touched upon in her singular cinematic appearance. Thankfully, the multiverse-exploring animated series, What If…? speculates on Hela’s potential, depicting the monstrous villain becoming even more powerful. The episode featured substantial soul-searching regarding Hela and Odin’s relationship, and his treatment of her. While this Hela is considered a variant, the episode elucidates some of her motivations from Ragnorok, rounding out her character effectively.

Iron Man 2; What If…? Season 2, Episode 3 “What If… Happy Hogan Saved Christmas?”

Justin Hammer smiling in What If season 2

Justin Hammer served as the primary antagonist in Iron Man 2. However, the rival weapons manufacturer was overshadowed somewhat by the more visually striking Whiplash. As Hammer was a decidedly human villain, there was little opportunity to pit him against Tony Stark in a compelling way, and he was ultimately defeated through legal means. What If…? season 2 countered this, by placing Hammer in a fully-developed Iron Man suit and developing him into a full-fledged supervillain worthy of fighting an Avenger. Rather than Iron Man himself, this variant of Hammer faced a Hulk-infused Happy Hogan, allowing both characters to assume far greater roles than their previous MCU appearances allowed.

4 Echo Assumed Her Heroic Status

Hawkeye, Echo

Maya with her ancestors in Echo

Echo has a complicated history in Marvel Comics and was bestowed an equally complicated backstory in the MCU. She mostly served as a villain in the Disney+ series Hawkeye, working for the notorious crime lord Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin. However, upon discovering that Kingpin had orchestrated her father’s death, Echo reconsidered her allegiance and began her transition into the famed comic book hero. This sets up the premise of Echo, wherein the eponymous hero faces her redemption and attempts to change for the good. The miniseries has allowed the character to be explored more fully, revealing more about her motivations and characterization than were previously depicted.

3 Yellowjacket Returned As An Iconic Villain

Ant-Man, Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania

Corey Stoll as MODOK smiling in front of flames in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)

Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania

Release Date
February 17, 2023

Runtime
135 minutes

Yellowjacket was a fine villain for the first Ant-Man movie, filling the MCU’s formula for evil counterparts to their heroes. Darren Cross’s rival shrinking suit provided a fantastic final battle that toyed with the miniature stature of the hero and villain. After his dramatic death in the movie’s climax, the hero was seemingly finished. At least until Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, when Cross reemerged as the notorious villain MODOK. While this interpretation of MODOK was largely derided by audiences, bringing Cross back proved a success, proffering a proper conclusion to the character’s narrative, and allowing a far deeper emotional resolution as the character reassessed his villainous past.

2 Arnim Zola Finally Assumed His Comic Book Appearance

Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow at the HYDRA base with Arnim Zola in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Release Date
April 4, 2014

Runtime
136 minutes

Arim Zola is a famed comic book character, who seemed like he would never assume his iconic appearance in the MCU. Appearing in Captain America: The First Avenger, a human Zola appeared throughout as a sinister HYDRA scientist. After dying of cancer sometime after Captain America was frozen, he placed his consciousness into a computer. This rendition of the character is the most famous from Marvel Comics, which finally appeared in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Though a far cry from his comic book counterpart, seeing the villain appear on a computer screen completed the character’s arc, and delighted fans.

1 The Green Goblin Returned Triumphantly

Spider-Man, Spider-Man: No Way Home

Norman Osborn's Green Goblin in Spider-Man No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Release Date
December 17, 2021

Director
Jon Watts

Runtime
148 minutes

Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin is one of the mightiest performances in comic book history, establishing key villain tropes that would be maintained by the MCU. Though brilliant, Dafoe’s Goblin wasn’t as prominent as many would have liked since the movie largely focused on establishing Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man. Dafoe was brought back, however, in Spider-Man: No Way Home, giving the villain an even greater character arc, tying him to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, and delving further into Norman Osborne’s tortured psyche. This allowed for a far greater exploration of Green Goblin’s duality and the themes of good and evil and he is now one of the most compelling villains in the MCU.

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