MCU’s Phase 4 shows and films show that Marvel has finally figured out how to handle its anti-heroes. For the most part, adapting Marvel Studios’ A-list heroes hasn’t been a problem. However, the studio appears to have difficulty with villains or characters who operate in morally gray areas.
In Black Panther, the portrayal of Killmonger and Thanos in the last two Avengers films showed that the studio was on the right track when creating compelling villains, but the problem of anti-heroes remained. However, there was a sense that the more minor, more heroic characters were being underutilized in favor of the larger and more heroic ones. None of the characters received a leading role during the Infinity Saga.
Not just one, but all four of the MCU’s most notorious villains had their fortunes changed. Black Widow not having her film has been a complaint for years. And while it may be argued that it came too late, it finally occurred in MCU’s Phase 4.
Black Widow provided context for her character’s past and introduced her to a new set of friends. Then WandaVision took Scarlet Witch, a reformed villain, and used her as an anti-hero. In a way, the show turned her into a villain in her own story. However, it also managed to make her a sympathetic character.
With Loki, Marvel Studios was able to showcase that a villain can be a successful leader in an MCU project. Unlike the MCU films, which treated his arc in the Infinity Saga to continue his relationship with Thor, Disney+’s series allowed him to stand apart from Thor.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier gave Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes meaningful work to do, showing how he was coping with his bloody past. Falcon’s journey with him felt like the MCU adventure he’d always wanted but never got to have.
If the rumor of a Thunderbolts film by Marvel is true, then the satisfying treatment of Winter Soldier (and other anti-heroes) will likely continue into Phase 5 and even beyond. Based on his persona and comic history, Bucky seems like a good (and likely) choice for Thunderbolts’ government-approved anti-hero team.
Thunderbolts could be the perfect culmination of its efforts to develop its anti-heroes fully. This, of course, only if it delivers a worthy story for Winter Soldier. Furthermore, they could also do so while using more existing MCU villains as protagonists and exploring their stories.