'Captain Marvel': Ben Mendelsohn's Talos May Fix the MCU's Villain Problem

For all it’s success, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has one major flaw: Most of the villains are as boring as the dialogue in Batman v Superman. So the release of Captain Marvel begs a very important question: Has Marvel solved its villain problem? According to earlier reactions, the answer may be yes thanks to an impressive performance.

Critics who saw Captain Marvel at an early screening in Los Angeles last night ahead of its March 8 release are heaping praise towards actor Ben Mendelsohn, who stars in the film as the villain Talos. This suggests the newest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t have the so-called “villain problem” that’s plagued the MCU ever since Loki set the bar so high in Avengers.

On midnight Eastern time on Wednesday, the embargo for social media impressions lifted, and thus far, early Captain Marvel impressions are positive. (Formal reviews will be published at a later date.)

While many of these early reviews praise the film’s humor and how it centers Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers as the leader of a new phase in the MCU, it is actor Ben Mendelsohn’s performance that critics have cited as one of the film’s strengths?

Because it’s mostly tweets, “reviews” praising Mendelsohn are short but telling statements. Mike Ryan at UPROXX calls Mendelsohn “awesome” as Talos, as does Jim Vejvoda at IGN, Perri Nemiroff at Collider (“A+ casting as Talos”), and Kate Erbland at IndieWire, who all praise the Emmy-nominated actor.

It should surprise no one that Ben Mendelsohn is a very good actor. If you didn’t catch him in Netflix’s Bloodline, which earned him two Emmys and one Golden Globe nomination, then you definitely saw him in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and 2018’s Ready Player One — almost all of which saw him play a villain. (He’s also a pretty big gamer, apparently.)

What is surprising is that Mendelsohn is playing a villain, a generally thankless role in Marvel movies that requires special talent to make a real impression. As Vox pointed out in a 2017 explainer, Marvel’s movie villains mostly end up disposable and interchangeable. Many are indistinguishable beyond markers like costumes, CGI powers, and, of course, famous actors.

While this is true, it’s also just a trait inherited from comic books, where villains had to come and go to encourage kids to buy the next issue. And Marvel’s “villain problem” hasn’t been as prominent since 2013’s Thor: The Dark World (Malekith who?), but the question still looms over every new Marvel movie.

Never mind unforgettable performances by David Tennant (Jessica Jones), Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok), Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage), Alfre Woodard (Luke Cage), Kurt Russell (Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2), Vincent D’Onofrio (Daredevil), Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War), and Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming), folks still want to know if Marvel’s evil ones are still an issue.

Thankfully, critics who saw Captain Marvel seem to indicate there’s growth in the Marvel Universe. Even for the bad guys.

Captain Marvel will be released in theaters on March 8.

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