‘Game of Thrones’ Author George R.R. Martin Has an Issue with Marvel’s Movie Villains

George R R Martin
Gary Gershoff/WireImage

When “Game of Thrones” creator George R.R. Martin isn’t breaking our hearts by killing our favorite characters in his “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels and the hit HBO adaptation, he’s doing the same thing as the rest of us and going to the movies. And as a self-professed “Marvel fanboy,” Martin has plenty of opinions about the state of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, including its newest addition, “Ant-Man.”

In a recent blog post, Martin extolled the virtues of the Paul Rudd blockbuster, noting that “Ant-Man” has “a proper balance of story, character, humor, and action.” He compared it favorably with “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” writing that the action never “overwhelms the plot and characters, which was my problem with the last ‘Avengers’ film… and the one before it, to think of it. A superhero movie needs a fair share of smashing and bashing and stuff blowing up, of course, but IMNSHO that stuff works best when it is happening to people we actually know and care about, and if you jam in too many characters and don’t take time to develop any of them properly, well…”

But Martin did have one quibble with “Ant-Man,” and an ongoing criticism of the Marvel movies as a whole: the villains. While the author conceded that Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket makes “a decent villain” in “Ant-Man,” he noted, “I am tired of this Marvel movie trope where the bad guy has the same powers as the hero. The Hulk fought the Abomination, who is just a bad Hulk. Spider-Man fights Venom, who is just a bad Spider-Man. Iron Man fights Ironmonger, a bad Iron Man. Yawn. I want more films where the hero and the villain have wildly different powers. That makes the action much more interesting.”

As the man who created one of the most loathsome villains in pop culture history — the sadistic boy-king Joffrey Baratheon — Martin knows of what he speaks; but if you take his advice, Marvel, that doesn’t mean that we want to see any Red Wedding-style shenanigans in “Captain America: Civil War.”

Do you agree with Martin’s criticism of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Share your thoughts below.

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  1. Duder NME says:

    “… that doesn’t mean that we want to see any Red Wedding-style shenanigans in “Captain America: Civil War.”

    Get ready for the butthurt.

    Marvel turns to mirror image anti-heroes frequently, and rather lazily, in order to accenutate the struggle the hero needs to overcome to keep from turning into the villain himself. Thor was as arrogant as Loki. Stark was as warmongering as Stane. Hulk was regarded as the monster that Abomination ultimately became. Only Cap was allowed a different arc, that of having to prove his virtue to others, whether it was to the US forces up to Stark up to Fury. He can watch WarGames all he wants, but struggling to teach a new-fashioned world to believe in old-fashioned values will always keep him as a man-out-of-time.

    A Black Widow movie would have been rather interesting, considering that she started as a mass murdering assassin who came to embrace her humanity, a villain who would have to come to accept a world which would refuse to accept her (I’m looking at you, Cosby). It’d be interesting if she performed the deed in Civil War, instead of Crossbones, due to such complications.

    I’m not sure that Shared-Universe-Happy Marvel has it in them to allow Ant-Man to fight Whirlwind, Iron Man vs. Fin Fang Foom, or Hulk against Carnage without turning it into a trite shared-fate conundrum.

    • therealeverton says:

      A number of mistakes there mate. Loki wasn’t arrogant, Loki was RIGHT. What he did , at first WAS save the kingdom and the realms. What happened was having gotten a taste of power he was too willing to kill to keep it and lost sight of his true, original, goals. But it was the rise of Thor and the Fall of Loki, they weren’t mirrors.

      Thor was never in danger of becoming the villain but he WAS not going to be a good king.Stark wasn’t shown as a warmonger, he was shown as someone who didn’t take the ramifications of war seriously and was very happy to ake money from it. Stane was interested in propagating wars to make more money.

      With Incredible Hulk Marvel Studios were faced with restoring some credibility to the character so he wouldn’t be a negative when The Avengers was released. Having seen Universal give a non physical enemy to The Hulk and fail, spectacularly they (In Frege’s own words) gave audiences the Hulk [they] THOUGHT they wanted to see. In others words a big old monster smash. Hulk isn’t chased across the continent because they military think he’s a dangerous monster, he’s chased because he’s the weapon they want to replicate and control.

      Even Age of Ultron introduced Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in order to add variety to the villains in terms of a power set and the difference in motivation and combat. Of course by the end they are on the good side, but it did add to the “punch, punch, punch” Whedon himself disliked in the first film.

      On day one I said I agreed with much of what he said, although as he mentioned films outside of the MCU he should have noted the number of films (X-Men especially) that didn’t do this. There’s also the idea of “head villain” and soldiers / henchmen. If you’re discounting the soldiers and other villains then you’re deliberately leaving out, often, significant differences between those characters and the “heroes”; even if only in terms of kinetics.

      It’s funny because it was often written that they weakness of Indiana Jones films were the villains being “no real match” for Indy himself. Now take that as you will, I never fully bought into that, but one of the reasons for this was there was never one villain in an Indiana Jones films, but “we” like to have a main person to focus on. (It’s one of the reasons they invented the Borg Queen for Star Trek: First Contact. Iron MAn 3 gives us a main Fake MAndarin with Ben Kingsley, but somehow, because he turns out to be working for Killian all the menace and threat and differences between him and Stark get forgotten; somehow only the person who erroneously believes himself to be the “Real” Mandarin counts. Physically he is nothing like Iron Man. He isn’t a man in a suit, but yes, he is a rich “genius”. But why is that his defining characteristic? It isn’t in the film and even as the top of the trio of villains (Savin “MAndarin and Killian” there’s no need to focus on him as i AND his traits as rich and clever over his other traits and the other main villain’s attributes – well except to bash Marvel Studios over the head.

      Malekith could certainly have been used more, but he’s the pair with Odin, not Thor Kurse, whose role is maybe thankless, is the mirror to Thor, Given his Realm’s most powerful weapon and blindly following his King to the destruction of himself, his people and the universe, where Thor goes against his King to try and reduce loss of life.

      In choosing to adapt some of the most respected stories, like Civil War and Infinity Gauntlet MArvel Studios have certain characters they need to use and who bring out the “best” in their heroes. Bigger, stranger things come down the line. People talk as iff this has been going on forever. It really hasn’t Bond is over 50, Star Wars nearly 40. Some things you need to buiild to and there were cries they’d gone too far with the Leviathans and Infinity gems and Raccoons. With Eternity showing up in Ant-Man (Still think that may have been Dr. Strange, but Eternity wow.)

      It’s perhaps not to everyone’s tastes (I said before about something else) but what we’re getting is concepts and huge ideas and scope. Realms and dimensions a godlike creatures with GODlike entities. Maybe the villains are not always as interesting as the heroes, but the concepts are and the heroes have been built up as interesting people. (again nobody expects all people to like all characters; if so every comic would sell the same numbers and the never have) but what we have now is a bunch of characters who weren’t in the pop culture domain (WOnder WOman may not have been selling many comics for a long time, but “everyone” still knows he she is) that people know, that people like and care about and that going forward can be explored in greater depth. What happens here though is that building the worlds, the universe and the characters that are heroes, or hero adjacent, MArvel Studios see the obstacles and adversities as villains and the characters are not always so important. Yellow Jacket was not as important as the technology itself, what it represented and the introduction of a whole new area of the MCU and the 2nd most supreme being in the universe as a concept. Eternity as a concept alternate quantum dimensions etc. Of course that can only last so long, but we’ve seen with Daredevil, Winter Soldier and Guardians that other things are on the way. Then of course there’s the promise of Civil War, Ragnarok, Black PAnther and Captain MArvel.

      Great villains or not, what carries forward is whether or not the film was entertaining.

      Again I don’t disagree that the heroes have often been the weakest link in MArvel Studios’ films, but certainly it isn’t in all of them and it certainly isn’t as cut and dried as some state when you look and see just an opposite or a mirror.Nor is it lazy, you take priorities and the villain is often subservient to the hero and the wider tale (NAzis and supernatural powers in Indiana Jones).

      One last thing. Marvel Studios have given ius the 9 realms, Science as magic, the quantum realm, Thanos, Celestials, the cosmic personification of reality, a Raccoon and a tree like being that says only 3 (4) words; I don’t think we can be saying things like MArvel Studios won’t do…It’s all a matter of patience. X-Men fans (some) were certain that Singer’s “As real world as possible” approach to X-Men would see no story anywhere near Sentinels, time travel and so on, and yet here we are.

      • Duder NME says:

        Phew, that’s a lot to chew on! I’ll just stick to the points I’ve made, which I believe are still viable.

        It doesn’t matter what the villains’ intents were. They sought the elements that made them villains, and in doing so, map out the circumstances and consequences that the heroes must avoid in order to undergo their Heroes’ Journeys, Campbellian-style. It doesn’t matter that Loki was “right” (which is subjective), his intentions got the best of him, and Thor was in danger of following suit, with equal hubris, in that only through war can the Realms become united. Stark may not have started wars, but to say that he had nothing to do with the supply chain is ignoring the facet of how wars are sustained. Stark knew of this during his captivity, due to the enemy’s use of his own tech, and sought to better mankind by becoming its weapon, whereas Stane’s motives were meant to weaponize himself . Killian’s motive was the same as Stark’s, post-Stane, within the empowerment of mankind, an extension of the theme from the first film. Stark used tech toward this purpose, whereas Killain’s method was in hacking organics, and thus losing himself in a god-complex (there goes that bid for arrogance again). The Hulk ultimately became a matter of perception, no matter whether or not the Army could suppress and duplicate him. His and Abomination’s powers were witnessed by the public at large, and all they saw were monsters, despite Banner wanting to control his power and the other wanting to unleash it. Two different forks of the same road. Any other villains presented were either too uninteresting because of their lack of mirror imaging or because they didn’t have much going for them outside of the clear cut motive of “me bad because… WELL ME JUST BAD! DEAL WITH IT! PEW PEW PEW!”

        I still say that Marvel doesn’t have it in them to expand beyond formula, with the exception of finding new lifelines for that formula, even though specific filmmakers could, if ever allowed (ie: Wright, Aronofsky, Trank), and despite having talking trees and celestial ingots and other kitschy facets, mainly for the cause of tying it all together in a easily swallowed fashion for the under-18 mindset. I’m not questioning the scope, merely the courage of making it unique beyond the aesthetic cosmetic (which sound like another Infinity Stone). Will anyone of import ever STAY DEAD in these stories? Will villains’ motives and personalities ever be served beyond a surface thematic fashion? Will people get hit and, I dunno, STAY HIT? Not if casual fan Johnny Prepube has a movie-ticket say in it. If Marvel is to change, that lies in avoiding whatever is deemed as “superhero fatigue” due to the overabundance of formula, because you can rest assured that Disney won’t sit idly by when something catastrophic should have happened for the sake of story, but was toned down “because franchise.”

  2. Lem Utu says:

    Thank you for your input George. Your standing as a Marvel fanboy is concrete you make a couple of excellent points. NOW GO FINISH WRITING THE WINDS OF WINTER!

  3. Josh Elliott says:

    While I agree that too often people are paired against their anti-character in the movie universe, George has to remember the majority of his books are “Guy really good with swords vs guy really good with swords”… with an occasional “Guy really good with polearms” thrown in there.

    • Lumb says:

      Any examples? I dont quite remember a fight between 2 guys with swords in a whole Game of Thrones series. There was masacre – yes. There was unfair fights – yes. And there was different weapons VS different weapons – yes (polearm vs 2h sword, Knife vs 2h sword, many swords vs stick, horse rider vs spear etc). Are you sure you have read any of his books at all or atleast watched TV?

      • Duder NME says:

        I don’t think GRRRRRRRRR Martin gets it either. He shouldn’t be complaining about interesting weapons making for interesting action so much as interesting characters that aren’t mirror Spocks of themselves.

  4. lullabyman says:

    Ummm… venom is a snake dude. Snakes are not spiders. Venom is not a bad spider man. He’s just a bad snake, man.

    • Thanatos7176 says:

      How is Venom a snake? First, the “suit” is an alien symbiote, and when he came to earth, he latched onto Peter Parker, absorbing his memories and mimicking his abilities. Once Peter figured out what was going on, he found a way to get rid of the symbiote, who then latched onto Eddie Brock, becoming known now as Venom. He kept Spider-Mans abilities tho, and uses them no matter what host he latches onto, which would make him an evil Spider-Man, not a snake. Learn your comics.

    • Congratulations on not letting your complete lack of subject knowledge deter your from offering an opinion. If you’re going to be ignorant, be bold about it.

    • TK423 says:

      Venom has absolutely NOTHING to do with snakes, at all, of any kind other than ‘venom’ being something some snakes (as well as other animals) posses. The lionfish has venom. Is Venom a fuckin’ lionfish, dude?

      ‘Venom’ is a symbiotic parasite from outer space, with it’s own personality and desires.

      Again, nothing to do with snakes whatsoever. And he wasn’t saying the names of the characters (or animals they may or may not be inspired from) were similar, he was saying their powersets are, which is true. Both are web slingers, both have heightened danger awareness (Spidey-Sense), etc.

  5. Spider says:

    He does make a good point. In addition, Marvel needs to place emphasis in making their villains in the MCU memorable and intimidating. I couldn’t even remember the villain in “Thor: The Dark World”; Ronan was the only weak link in “Guardians of the Galaxy”; Red Skull barely registered in “Captain America: The First Avenger”; Iron Monger and Whiplash were underwhelming in “Iron Man” 1 and 2; Killian was the better villain in “Iron Man 3”, but that’s not saying much. (The twist in IM 3, though bold, was pretty stupid.) Bring on the real Mandarin in a future “Iron Man” sequel; Ultron was intriguing, though……Props to Marvel for the villains Loki and Winter Soldier; not counting Thanos yet, but so far so good in the few small appearances. Looking forward to “Captain America: Civil War”.

    • Duder NME says:

      Killian was the organic inventor anti-hero to Stark’s tech hero. Ultron was Stark’s son, in essence, an extension of his Iron Legion perogative. Winter Soldier is anti-Cap (with a vibranium arm, to boot). Loki Odinson was… well, you get it.

      Ronan and Malekith barely registered because Marvel didn’t know how to make them interesting without imbuing them with anti-hero properties.

  6. Patrick says:

    He’s right, and another problem with Marvel movie villains is that they aren’t ever just evil. They have a tragic backstory that makes them turn to the bad side. Sony is the worst with this. Every villain is only a tragic victim and not really evil.

    • therealeverton says:

      One, that’s not true and 2 what’s wrong with a bad guy who has depth, you know like in reality? Most evil people don’t think they are evil and have a “back story” that they think justifies their actions. Hitler, Stalin, “Sadam Hussain, none of them were just mewa-ha-ha evil: tyhey all believed they had a cause, and at one point did, which is how they were able to get so many followers..and con so many non “evil” people early on.

    • lullabyman says:

      Better than DC badies (and hero’s for that matter). Totally 1 dimensional. Boring.

  7. therealeverton says:

    He has a point with the villains, but you have to have a mix. Sometimes you will fight a “copy” of yourself, because that’s how the bad guys think they can stop you, by doing what you do, but bigger/ (Also Venom is in a Sony film but..) That said Ultron and Loki / Chitauri were certainly different. Thor has fought differing villains and they tried to make it different in Iron Man 3 too.

    To copy Mr. Martin and stray away from the MCU, The X-Men deal with people with wildly different powers, as well as similar powers and it works very well.. It also feel slightly disingenuous to call out Spider-Man for fighting Venom, when in the same film he dealt with Goblin and Sandman Who had very different powers; and in two other films there was Dr. Octopus and The Green Goblin.

    As for Avengers 1 & 2? Well again he has a point; though there was la lot more Character development in Age of Ultron. But there’s where you have the potential flaw with the Avengers model. The solo films deal with the true depth and character development, whilst the Avengers films are more about the team dynamics and, with few apologies, the spectacle of them dealing with each other and whatever galaxy sized treat actually needs all of these people to work together. That formula may evolve and certainly won’t satisfy everyone; but I get the impression that one of the positives, or negatives, of the MCU is that you have several solo films to go deeper and every few years a film where you can, mostly, just have fun.

    • Bo says:

      All very true… Another thing is that those villains with the same abilities as the heroes, while tedious, ARE from canon. This was, in fact, a very massively formulaic aspect of many comics and their arch-enemies (who have been around for decades) or other assorted major foes, such as:

      * Spider-man’s original nemesis was Doctor Octopus (who represents another 8-legged creature) before Green Goblin usurped the role; Venom moreso is “Spider-Man and his powers, but stronger”.
      * Iron Man had, before Iron Monger, his clashes with the various Crimson Dynamo villains – Crimson Dynamo, while there were a few of them, were mostly another person in powered-armour who was Stark’s enemy due to being a Soviet (hence the red armour).
      * Captain America’s foe the Red Skull also used the Super Serum; the Winter Soldier is also very similar, in terms of being enhanced to be a Super Soldier.
      * Superman has General Zod, evil Kryptonian who is about militarism rather than peace
      * Thor has Loki
      * Batman – a genius detective in the peak human condition and strength – has multiple foes who challenge him physically (Killer Croc, Clayface, etc.), mentally (the Riddler, etc.) or both (Bane); he’s also faced mob bosses (Black Mask, the Penguin, Two-Face) who represent order through corruption unlike his order through justice, yet in differring ways; not to mention Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins, who as “Batman Begins” demonstrates kill and destroy while Bruce is determined to spare lives and foster the goodness in people. Or Deadshot, who was originally his foe; another person from wealth who became a skilled fighter, but who assassinates and is a criminal.
      * The Fantastic Four has the Frightful Four, assembled to contrast them in that manner.
      * Etc.

      On the opposite side, you have the hero whose enemy is the “opposite side of the coin”, in various ways, such as:

      * Superman vs. Lex Luthor – superpowered alien with great values vs.
      * Batman vs. the Joker – order vs. chaos, absence of colour in costume (ie: black) vs. kaleidoscopic mix of colour
      * Mr Fantastic and Doctor Doom – hands-off scientist vs. dictatorial sorcerer, with egos to match.
      * Iron Man vs. the Mandarin – earth tech. vs. alien tech., science vs. magic, West vs. East, etc…
      * And so on…

      Obviously this is not mutually exclusive (see the X-men as a whole and their enemies, for instance – save Wolverine and Sabertooth, of course), but it’s definitely a trend. And the writers are going to use villains we recognise, ones we as fans WANT to see on the big screen and such

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