So, Avengers: Age of Ultron made all the money in the world just like everyone expected, which means we can expect to see more Marvel movies coming down the pike. And you can bet Stan Lee’s mustache that Josh Brolin will find time in his busy schedule to return to the role of Thanos for future outings, just as Daniel Brühl will enjoy a fine payday bringing his mastery of umlauts to the role of Baron Zemo in Captain America: Civil War.
That’s all well and good, but we still have to think about the future. If we’re going to keep this franchise juggernaut rolling (memo to self: call Vin Diesel’s agent to discussing casting him as Juggernaut), we need to dig up a few more worthy adversaries for our assembled heroes to pummel for two and a half hours. So let’s get casting!
Why him? Taskmaster was introduced in the ’80s as a one-man anti-Avenger, a guy with “photographic reflexes” that allowed him to mimic anyone else’s moves effortlessly after watching them in action just once. That means he can replicate the fighting moves of Captain America, the archery skills of Hawkeye, the spy skills of Black Widow, you name it. He’s a mercenary who uses his unique talents to train others looking to break into in the bad-guy business, running his own henchmen academy when he’s not out making a living as the world’s greatest assassin. Tatum has carved a pretty decent résumé for himself as a reliable action star, and he’s got the requisite physique for a bad-ass villain like Taskmaster. Also, his roles in films like Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street suggest a sense of humor that would be perfect for Taskmaster’s sardonic take on life.
The pitch: Someone in the Marvel universe — possibly someone who lost a loved one to one of the Hulk’s rampages, giving us lots of scenes of Ruffalo looking all guilty and angsty — is not happy with how the world is welcoming all these superhuman time-bombs in our midst. So one day, this person hires the world’s best hit man to take out all the enhanced beings one by one… and the Avengers are next on his list.
Why him? Poor Egghead: he started out as an arch-nemesis for Ant-Man, and it only went downhill from there. A top government scientist whose arrogance got him canned, he turned his talents to crime, coming up with one zany mad-scientist scheme after another to score cash and/or sweet revenge on Ant-Man and his fellow Avengers. He then died like a punk when Hawkeye shot an arrow into his gun barrel, causing the energy blaster he was holding to explode as he pulled the trigger. At the risk of typecasting Mr. Cranston, “frustrated smart bald guy lashing out at society for screwing him over” seems right up his alley — and if he can’t play Lex Luthor in a Man of Steel sequel (as many reports claimed in 2013 before Cranston nipped that rumor in the bud), then let’s snap him up for this role post-haste.
The pitch: The second wave of Avengers are on the job, and it’s a brave new world — but not everyone likes what they see. The people who once profited from the wars and global chaos that S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers are preventing are looking for a way to remove them from the board. Enter Elihas Starr, a timid government scientist driven over the edge by one too many bullies in his life, like the military liaison who delights in calling him “Egghead” every time they meet. With his first untraceable murder under his belt, Egghead starts moonlighting as a consultant for HYDRA and other terrorists, specializing in black-market super-power enhancements. Then he gets a challenge to his ego and his intellect that he can’t pass up: create an entire team of morally flexible super-powered people who can take down the Avengers, once and for all.
Why him? Guardians of the Galaxy and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. introduced the Kree, one of Marvel’s major interstellar races, into its cinematic franchise. So it was only a matter of time before their arch-rivals for galactic dominance also showed up. The Skrulls are shape-shifters, which makes it almost impossible to mount a counter-attack against them (especially when they use their infiltration skills to foment paranoia and distrust within your own ranks long before the actual invasion starts). A bonus for casting the Skrulls: because they can be literally anyone, we can have our existing cast pull double duty as Avengers and their evil doppelgängers. But we need an emperor to represent his empire, and I can’t think of a better choice than the guy who once played the shape-shifting T-1000 to sweet perfection. Since that head-turning role, Patrick has carved out a nice career playing a wide range of heavies and authority-figure types; this one will be a piece of cake. Plus just draw some pointy ears and chin ruffles on his picture and tell me he’s not the spitting image of a Skrull.
The pitch: In an American cornfield similar to a field that once saw a certain alien baby crash-land to Earth, a giant spaceship crash-lands and opens up to reveal… a whole lot of Earthlings of all shapes and sizes. Even stranger, these Earthlings (including some familiar faces) are doubles of people who already exist here on Earth, and those people are shocked to see their doubles emerge from the wreckage on live TV. The Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. are called in when people start to realize the truth: the people on the ship were all abducted and replaced by Skrulls in preparation for an invasion, but internal politics in the Skrull empire put the invasion on hold and for some reason the Skrull sleeper agents who replaced the abducted humans ended up believing they were the real humans. Now the paranoia sets in. Where did this ship come from? Why were the replaced humans kept alive? How did the Skrulls on Earth forget who they were? How many more humans out there are not what they seem? What do they want with us? Why are they here? And why does that big guy with all the powers of the entire Avengers team look really pissed right now?
Why him? Born in the 30th century, the man who would become known as Kang discovers Dr. Doom’s time-travel technology and uses it to travel back in time, where his advanced technology helps him conquer ancient Egypt. Eventually defeated, he attempts to return to his home time and overshoots the mark by about 1,000 years, landing in a 40th century ravaged by war. Using that era’s technology to fashion a futuristic suit of armor, he decides to put his time-travelling know-how towards conquering the 20th century. He doesn’t have any super-powers — just a genius intellect and absolute mastery over time-travel technology — but he’s still one of the Avengers’ most formidable foes, as he literally has all the time he needs to achieve his world-conquering goals. He’s also a tragic figure, in that all his back-and-forthing in time has created divergent timelines and multiple copies of himself, many of which try to stop him from mucking about with time. Best known in his native Japan for his samurai roles, Watanabe has been turning Western heads for a while now with roles that take advantage of his natural air of authority. And while he did a decent job standing in for R’as al-Ghul in Batman Begins, he deserves a much bigger comic-movie role to showcase his talents.
The pitch: A raving, dishevelled man wanders the streets of New York City — not an unusual occurrence, except this time it’s Tony Stark. This piques the curiosity of Tony Stark, who’s working in his lab at Avengers Tower at the time the other Stark’s arrest hits the news. Turns out the other Stark is from another timeline, and he was able to use Kang’s own technology to escape to this timeline, where the Avengers still exist. He begs them to come with him to his home timeline and help set things right. But Kang is nothing if not well-prepared for any assault, and he diverts the team’s travel through the time stream to separate the team and send them hurtling through past, present and future versions of Earth… giving Rogers and Banner the chance to change events in their past that, if altered, will have huge consequences for their own timeline. Meanwhile, an even more dangerous figure patiently waits in the shadows for all his plans to come to fruition…
Name: Yvonne Strahovski
You might remember her from: Chuck, Dexter, 24: Live Another Day
Why her? Give Thor something to smack with his hammer, and he’s a happy guy. But put him up against someone who has plans for a certain something else of Thor’s that he can swing around… annnnd maybe I’ll just stop there. Suffice to say, Loki set the precedent for Asgardian evil types who want to muck about with Earth and the Avengers, and Amora the Enchantress has long been an enthralling thorn in Thor’s thide — er, side. As one of Asgard’s most powerful sorcerers (and also one of its most beguiling beauties), she’s someone who’s used to getting everything she desires. Aside from possessing the requisite good looks for the role, Strahovski — an Aussie whose big Hollywood break was landing the role of Sarah Walker on TV’s Chuck — has that “girl next door/otherworldly aura/don’t f— with me” vibe that’s pretty rare in today’s crop of young actresses. Plus anyone who’s seen her in action knows she’ll have no problem handling the more physical aspects of a comic-book movie role.
The pitch: The Enchantress is exiled to Earth by Odin, hoping that some exposure to us humble mortals will help Amora in the same way that Thor’s time on Earth has done wonders for his maturity. But she will not be so easily dismissed; unbeknownst to Odin, she manages to smuggle a few artifacts of power with her, and she plans to use them to draw on Earth’s mystical energies to challenge Odin for the throne of Asgard — her first stop on a campaign to conquer all the Nine Worlds. With an assist from Doctor Strange and a bunch of female heroes immune to Amora’s seductive spells, the Avengers try to stop her — which means getting through a whole lot of male superheroes entranced by Amora first (including Hawkeye, who’s getting really sick of these Asgardians pulling this mind-control shit on him).
Why him? There’s a very convoluted backstory behind Korvac that gets into alternate realities and cosmic beings and a lot of the crap that was par for the course for the Avengers in the ’70s, but all you really need to know is this: Michael Korvac is an ordinary human who, through no fault of his own, one day receives the power of a god. Despite his good intentions, it becomes clear that no one person can safely handle that kind of power, and the Avengers have to find a way to de-power him or shut him down before he does any irreversible damage to Earth (and the rest of reality). This is a role that calls for a quintessential “average guy who’s in over his head and just wants to do the right thing” look about him, and Paul has that in spades. Plus, it would be supremely awesome if he had Korvac say something like, “Who’s omnipotent now, bitch?”
The pitch: Pick a McGuffin, any McGuffin. An artifact of ultimate power (say, one of the Infinity Stones) comes into the possession of an Earthling computer programmer who is average in every way. While members of the Avengers deal with various personal crises, Korvac starts using his newfound powers — starting small at first, cleaning up a toxic waste site here, ridding a neighborhood of drug dealers there. Then he starts thinking big, and Thor stops by for a god-to-god chat about the importance of allowing humanity to find its own way. Korvac decides to give each Avenger their fondest heart’s desire to keep them out of his way while he reshapes reality, but they see through the illusions and team up against him, to little avail. (The scene where Korvac finger-flicks the Hulk halfway across North America is worth the price of admission alone.) Meanwhile, aware of this new major player on the scene, an armada of alien invaders show up determined either to recruit Korvac to their cause… or destroy him and his planet before he directs his attention to them.
Why him? If Sony and Disney can play nice and let Spider-Man fight alongside the Avengers, they can damn well let Norman “Green Goblin” Osborn come out to play, too. And Avengers storylines in recent years have relied heavily on Norman Osborn’s presence as an influential (and ruthlessly amoral) businessman who manipulates events to take control of America’s security forces. He’s a particularly dangerous foe for the Avengers because, as comic writer Andy Diggle once put it, “He’s clearly fiercely intelligent and a natural-born leader, with the ego and competitive drive to succeed against all odds… I think the secret to understanding Norman is that he doesn’t realize he’s the villain. He thinks he’s the hero. He truly believes that he deserves public adulation, and it bugs the hell out of him that so-called ‘superheroes’ are getting it instead of him.” Given that, I can’t think of a better man for the job than Tom Hardy, a fellow who’s been called “the greatest actor who ever lived” by Gary Oldman (whom I submit would be an authoritative source on that topic) and has been on a winning streak lately with iconic performances as the villainous Bane and the very determined Mad Max. A role combining comic-book villainy and steely determination should be no problem for this London-born chap.
The pitch: It’s a new administration in Washington, and politicians are asking serious questions about the wisdom of funding S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers after a few high-profile disasters. In steps Osborn, whose company rivals Stark’s in terms of defence innovations, and his campaign for change. With a media empire at his disposal, Osborn is slowly turning public opinion away from S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers (S.H.I.E.L.D.’s love of secrecy and the increasing sense of mistrust among the Avengers makes his job much easier than planned) with the end goal of replacing them with his own security agency, H.A.M.M.E.R. Rogers wonders how a former super-villain was able to beat them so easily, and Falcon reminds him the public loves a “bad boy turns good” story, especially if the bad boy owns his own news network to sing his praises. But what no one, not even Osborn’s hand-picked “Thunderbolts” team, realizes is that everything Osborn has done was just a smokescreen to hide his true agenda…
8. M.O.D.O.K. (and A.I.M.)
Name: Andy Serkis
You might remember him from: the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit trilogy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, King Kong, and other films where he gets to show his face on screen, like The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Why him? How can you not love M.O.D.O.K.? He’s a Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing! And you can bet he takes a lot of pride in that designation. Creating by the scientific terrorists known as A.I.M., M.O.D.O.K. was a man who was forcibly bio-engineered to become the ultimate super-computer. With no motive other than to inflict pain on the world for birthing a monster like him, he eventually adds “world domination” to his to-do list and gives a mental wedgie to any superhero who dares to stop him. Personally, I think Hollywood special effects and CGI technology were only allowed to advance as far as they have so they could lead us to the glorious moment where we see M.O.D.O.K. come to life. And I can’t imagine anyone but Andy Serkis, the king of motion-capture performance, providing the voice and soul for this ultimately tragic villain. (Plus imagine the many geek-gasms we could induce by having M.O.D.O.K. hold the Scarlet Witch helpless while hissing, “My precioussssss….”)
The pitch: In the wake of HYDRA’s downfall, a splinter group of criminal scientists start A.I.M., their own organization to develop and sell weapons to the warlords of the world. An accident involving a low-level technician leads to the creation of M.O.D.O.K., a prototype super-soldier initially considered a failure because his physical body withers while his mental powers are boosted a thousandfold. While they plan to dispose of their mistake, M.O.D.O.K. uses his new powers to kill his creators and marshal A.I.M.’s resources to further his own agenda…. and that’s about all I got so far. Honest? I’m just holding out hope we’ll get a scene where the Hulk sends M.O.D.O.K. flying down a long hallway like a screaming, flailing bowling ball.
Why him? Honest? I just like Williams’ work, and I would love to see him on the big screen with a giant green Jiffy-Pop dome for a head. And yeah, I know we already saw the beginnings of the Leader in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk (a film, incidentally, in which Williams is credited as “Harlem Bystander”), and I’ve got nothing bad to say about Tim Blake Nelson’s portrayal as the fellow whose exposure to Banner’s irradiated blood hints at the Leader’s eventual birth… but if we can all pretend that Don Cheadle and Terrence Howard are the same guy (or Ed Norton and Mark Ruffalo, for that matter), then we shouldn’t have a problem with Williams stepping into this role.
The pitch: A big battle between the Avengers and someone else ends with Banner reverting back to normal and getting cut by a piece of debris. A scientist with nefarious motives gets a sample of Banner’s blood and takes it back to his lab for experiments, where Williams, playing a simple-minded janitor, has an accident that results in him getting Banner’s blood sample on an open head wound. Almost overnight, he becomes exponentially smarter, solving equations on chalkboards and making connections that no one else in the research lab can see. But all that intelligence comes at a price: not only is his head ballooning up and growing pulsating green veins all over, he’s finding it impossible to deal with his fellow petty humans who can’t appreciate the world’s complexity in the same way that he can, and it drives him insane. Determined to forcibly evolve the rest of us so that he won’t be alone, the Leader prepares to set off a series of “gamma-bombs” to (a) wipe out all the genetically unsuitable people on the planet and (b) evolve the survivors. The Avengers succeed in stopping his mad plans… almost. Because while they celebrate the end of the Leader’s scheme, a small town in the U.S. Southwest is the scene for one gamma-bomb explosion, and the Avengers suddenly have a whole lot of angry Hulks to deal with…
10. Space Phantom
Name: Paul Reubens
You might remember him from: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Batman Returns, Mystery Men, Blow, many voice-over roles including Bat-Mite in Batman: The Brave and the Bold
Why him? No, YOU shut up! The man is a comedy genius, people! The first Space Phantom showed up way back in The Avengers #2, and it was his shape-shifting chicanery that led to the Hulk quitting the team. Later stories revealed that “Space Phantom” (and yes, we’ll work on a better name to put in the script) was just one of many identical aliens from a planet with the ability to take the forms of other beings while shunting those other beings directly into a limbo dimension. Reubens, in and out of his Pee-Wee persona, has always had a slightly alien look about him, and I can only imagine how much his grown-up Playhouse fans would squee once they see his menacing mug CGI’ed onto an invading alien army of millions. (The secret word is “annihilation,” kids.)
The pitch: Actually, we’ve already done the alien invasion angle in the first Avengers film, and the Skrulls kind of cornered the market on the whole “shape-shifting infiltrator” thing. Maybe we can double up here and make all the Space Phantoms the minions of another villain, like Kang or Thanos. I don’t know, we’ll get one of those hotshot screenwriters to figure it out. I just want to see Pee-Wee Herman bug his eyes out while watching a pissed-off Hulk or Thor come charging his way. What can I say, I live for the simple pleasures in life.