Comics on Film: Hey, Marvel! It's Time to Bring Back the Red Skull

Comics on Film: Hey, Marvel! It's Time to Bring Back the Red Skull

Sep 18, 2015

Now that Marvel Studios is poised to enter Phase Three of its cinematic universe this coming May with Captain America: Civil War, there's a sizable track record of films to look back at. We've come a long way from the initial release of Iron Man in May of 2008 to the release of Ant-Man this past July. For the majority of the films they've released, Marvel Studios has proven to be a pretty solid creator of blockbusters, generating sizable box office dollars and generally positive critical reactions.

Still, though, there is an area where Marvel movies can improve: the villains they choose to face off against their heroes.

We've talked about this apparent issue before in this very column, but we're not the only ones to mention it. Plenty of other movie websites have talked about it, along with A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin. Outside of Loki, a lot of people seem to share the opinion that many of Marvel's movie villains just don't stack up. Whiplash? Not exactly a big hit. Aldrich Killian? Interesting, but not a standout. Malekith? Kind of boring for being "Accursed."

So, this week we thought it'd be prudent to recommend revisiting one of the previous villains, whose presence in the current Marvel Universe just makes sense on a lot of different levels. Mr. Feige, it's time to bring back Marvel Comics' most evil villain: the Red Skull, as played by Hugo Weaving.

 

Why the Red Skull?

In his sole fully-fledged MCU appearance in 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, the Red Skull, aka Johann Schmidt, is the one earthly being who brings the Tesseract to the attention of humanity, and almost manages to capture the world with it.

As the founder of the "Nazi deep science division" Hydra, Schmidt ultimately decided that Hitler's ambitions were both small and misguided, and took it upon himself to go rogue from the leadership in Germany and attempt to establish himself as humanity's supreme leader after wiping out every major world power, Allied and Axis alike.

Think about that for a minute: the Red Skull was too evil for Hitler.

Simply from a performance perspective, Weaving seemed to devote more dedication to transforming himself into the part than any other Marvel villain actor, with the exception of Tom Hiddleston. Inspired by the accent of renonwed documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog, Weaving gave Schmidt a monotone, even-keeled, and exceedingly creepy vocal distinctiveness that had every line drip with a sardonic sense of superiority.

These helped to make Red Skull one of the most distinctive movie villains Marvel's ever shown us, and that's even before the fact that his rivalry with Captain America still stands as the most clearly defined hero/villain relationship in the MCU thus far. Most would likely agree that among the Avengers and the MCU's heroes at-large, Steve Rogers stands as the unequivocal beacon by which all the others are compared. His virtuousness makes Tony Stark squirm, his spirit is admired by Thor, and his leadership skills are embraced by Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Hawkeye in equal measure.

Cap's rivals in his other films since First Avenger haven't really been much of a direct challenge to him on every level. In Winter Soldier, he was faced off against an ideological foe and a brainwashed former ally, which used subterfuge and deception to directly challenge his ideals and combat prowess separately. In Civil War, he'll be facing off against friends, who will engage him in battle more out of reluctance than relish. In both Avengers films, he serves as a moral center and tactical leader, without a lot of direct challenge to him personally as much as there is to the team.

The Red Skull represents both the ideological and physical challenge, all wrapped into one formidable enemy. Cap and the Skull are on totally different wavelengths philosophically, and are a virtual even match physically. Their last contest ended with Captain America winning, but not decisively or definitively. That needs to be settled.

 

Why Should the Red Skull Come Back Now?

On principle, the fact that the Cap/Skull rivalry is likely the purest hero/villain relationship in the MCU is reason enough. While the relationship between Thor and Loki is certainly one of the most interesting dynamics in the entire film series thus far, the filmmakers and storytellers of the MCU as a whole go out of their way to implant just the slightest bit of hope that Loki could be redeemable.

No such pretense exists for the Red Skull.

He's pure evil, but he doesn't even see himself as such. The Skull is not so much an immoral being as much as he is an amoral one. Distinctions of good and evil, and how "right" his actions may or may not be don't even enter the equation in his mind. Those are frivolous concerns.

It's true that morally complicated villains can potentially be the most interesting if exploited correctly, but there's also something to be said for a purer form of villainy that exists as something of a force of nature in the way that they see the world and their enemies.

In this regard, Skull is exceedingly interesting because, like Captain America, he's a product of his time. In the comics, there have been stories told with him that simply show heroes unable to deal with his brand of villainy. It always has to come back to someone who was born and bred to fight it, and that's Steve Rogers.

It's also worth exploring because of what the MCU has been up to recently. For most of the past eighteen months, the big bad presence has been the reborn Hydra. In The Winter Soldier, the Red Skull's name is invoked as a continued inspiration to the forces of Hydra. In episodes of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," he's referred to multiple times by Hydra agents as the beacon by which their success is measured. In Age of Ultron, we saw the movie open with the Avengers assaulting a Hydra base headed by Wolfgang von Strucker, a noted Hydra affiliate in the comics.

In truth, though, all of these other Hydra villains -- with the possible exception of Alexander Pierce -- seem like pretenders to the throne because, well...they are. Hydra has managed to go pretty quickly from an engaging and potent force of evil in the MCU to kind of played out, especially for those of us paying attention to what's happening in the TV shows. The re-arrival of Red Skull would immediately re-legitimize them as a force to be reckoned with, and would bring an A-level threat to the MCU in the form of a man who represents perhaps a bygone -- and even worse -- brand of evil, especially when compared with the likes of Killian, Strucker, or Yellowjacket (don't they all seem kind of silly next to the uncompromising calculation of Johann Schmidt?).

 

The Right Man for the Evil Job

Ideally, the best way to bring Schmidt back to the MCU would be in the form of Hugo Weaving once again, who would likely fit in very well as an antagonist for both Cap and the Avengers at-large if he were brought back into the fold in a major way. Would Weaving do it, though? That's questionable.

In late 2014, some outlets were reporting a sort of playful lack of knowledge on his part about the role, but he would elaborate further saying that his interests may lie elsewhere. There is a caveat there, though.

In the interview with IAmRogue, he said,

"...Having said all of that, I have not really changed my opinion about not wanting to do another Captain America. It was fun to do. It was a very great thing to do in many ways, but I suppose my focus is more likely to be elsewhere, but who knows."

He admittedly doesn't seem very excited about the possibility, but he also throws in a last "who knows" so that it's not completely ruled out as a possibility. Whatever your feelings may be on Weaving, one thing is for sure: he's dedicated to his craft. Maybe what he'd need to get excited about the part again is a bigger canvas in the MCU on which to play it.

Hail Hydra.


Chris Clow is a geek. He is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, as well as a freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, The Huffington Post, and Batman-On-Film.com, as well as host of the Comics on Consoles podcast. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

Categories: Comics, Features, Geek
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