Talking Movies: What If…? Thanos and the Masters of Evil

Talking Movies

In Avengers: Infinity War (Russo and Russo, 2018) the Mad Titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin), finally made a significant appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). When the idea of a two-film saga based on the Infinity Gauntlet comic book (Starlin, et al, 1991) was first announced, I, like many others, had many theories about what was going to happen, who was going to live and die, and how everything was )going to go down. For example, before Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017), I was certain that Thanos’ big entrance was going to immediately establish his threat by hanging him storm into Asgard kill Odin Allfather (Anthony Hopkins), and claim the Tesseract (and, obviously, the Space Stone it help). After all, how better to establish this big bad villain than by having him kill a God?

Thanos’ Black Order made their MCU debut in Avengers: Infinity War.

Instead, of course, Thanos wrecked Thor Odinson’s (Chris Hemsworth) ship and slaughtered half of the Asgardians onboard. Still an impressive feat, to be sure, but one that focused more on Thanos’ grandeur and pretentious philosophy rather than his actual physical strength thanks to the bulk of the work being undertaken by his underlings, the “Children of Thanos”. Headed by Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary), Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon/Monique Ganderton), and Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw), the Children of Thanos didn’t actually appear in The Infinity Gauntlet and are, instead, relatively recent additions to Thanos’ ranks who first appeared (as the “Black Order”) in Infinity (Hickman, et al, 2013). In the film, we don’t really learn much about these guys at all except that they enforce Thanos’ will with unquestioning loyalty and that he trusts them to help him gather the remaining Infinity Stones and, while they certainly look visually interesting, they’re mostly disposable bad guys for the Avengers to fight in place of Thanos.

While Abomination is a good choice, I definitely think Ronan could’ve taken Cull’s place.

Now, I’ve never read Infinity; I have no emotional attachment to the Black Order or any of the characters and, as a result, they were merely nothing more than henchman to me and I only really recall one of them being referred to be name (“I take it the Maw is dead?”) While I enjoyed their inclusion in the film, I can’t help but feel like they could have been dropped and supplanted with some other, more recognisable MCU villains had some other films and events happened just a little differently. For example, take Cull Obsidian; he’s Thanos’ muscle who basically does nothing and is largely inconsequential. What if, instead of killing Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) in Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014), Ronan had been soundly defeated and humbled and, having seen the extent of Thanos’ power (he did destroy Xandar (offscreen), which was what Ronan wanted, after all, and would be enough to bring Ronan to heel, I would wager), he pledged himself fully to Thanos’ cause to get revenge against the Guardians of the Galaxy? I’m not massively familiar with Ronan but it seems to me like it was a bit of a miss-step to kill him off when he could have fulfilled a role in Thanos’ little gang at the very least, if not remain as a recurring antagonist for the Guardians. Another potential replacement for Corvus would be Emil Blonsky/Abomination (Tim Roth) who, at the time, had been conspicuous by his absence from the MCU. However, arguably, it wouldn’t make as much sense for Thanos to recruit the Abomination as he’s not exactly floating around in the depths of space for him to encounter.

What if Loki or the Red Skull had aligned themselves with Thanos in place of Ebony Maw…?

Intrigue was equally high in the build-up to The Avengers/Avengers Assemble (Whedon, 2012); I was hoping to see a version of the Masters of Evil, with Loki Laufeyson (Tom Hiddleston) joining forces with Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) – who was clearly transported away from Earth by the Bifrost at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011 – and either the Abomination or Doctor Samuel Sterns/The Leader (Tim Blake Nelson) once they got to Earth. While I was happy with the first Avengers team-up we got, I do feel this was another missed opportunity that we never saw this anti-Avengers team-up. Consequently, I feel like we could have swapped out Ebony Maw for either of these characters; in The Infinity Gauntly, Thanos was advised by Mephisto, a role many expected Loki to play in Infinity War given his mischievous and devious nature. Naturally, of course, you could argue that this wouldn’t really fit with Loki’s character arc by that point but remember how he feigned loyalty to Thanos and then tried to stab him in the neck? Well, imagine that but throughout a large portion of the movie. Loki pledges fealty, willingly hand shim the Tesseract, and spends the remainder of the film waiting for the perfect moment to strike and then he’s killed for his efforts. Obviously, the Red Skull finally showed up in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019) in a slightly different role as the Stonekeeper (Ross Marquand), but again…what if the Red Skull had replaced Ebony Maw? How much more interesting and impactful would it have been to see the Red Skull empowered by Thanos and making a triumphant return as Thanos’ chief torturer? Sure, if his death was the same then you could argue that he would’ve been “wasted” or been killed off too easily but I still feel like this would have been a better use of the character than as the keeper of the Soul Stone (a role that could’ve been filled by character’s envisioning the Stonekeeper as someone close to them, perhaps?)

With some tweaks, nebula could have taken Corvus’ role as Thanos’ chief assassin.

Corvus Glaive is a trickier one to “replace” in this hypothetical alternate world, however I have one  suggestion: Nebula (Karen Gillan). Now, similar to Loki joining Thanos, this would require quite a few changes to Nebula’s character arc; in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Gunn, 2017), she finally buried the hatchet with her “sister”, Gamora (Zoey Saldana) and it was great seeing her grow as a character, put aside her hatred, and learn how to work alongside the Guardians and the Avengers. In The Infinity Gauntlet, Nebula spends most of her time as a mindless zombie thanks to Thanos’ wrath but plays a vital role in his downfall by stealing the Gauntlet for herself (and promptly being driven mad by its power). By tweaking her character arc, or having it so that Thanos either intimidates or reprograms her into subservice, you could replace Corvus with a more prominent and recognisable character and still find ways to weave her existing arc into the story. Like, what if, after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Nebula is forced into Thanos to serve him (maybe he threatens to kill Gamora/the Guardians or promises to “repair” her once he’s assemble the Gauntlet) in Corvus’ place; she could still have been ripped apart and tortured to force Gamora into revealing the Soul Stone’s location and would have even more motivation to turn against her “father” since he would have lied to and manipulated her once again.

If Hela wasn’t going to take Death’s place, she could’ve replaced Proxima Midnight.

Another character who I, like many, expected to play a prominent role in Infinity War was Hela Odindottir (Cate Blanchett), a character who a lot of people expected would take the role of Lady Death as the object of Thanos’ affections. Of course, this didn’t turn out to be true as Hela was killed in Thor: Ragnarok and Thanos’ motivations were changed from worshipping Death to wanting to bring a sense of balance to the galaxy. Still, how awesome would it have been if Hela had taken Proxima Midnight’s place in the Dark Order? If killing the Allfather didn’t show you that Thanos was a bad-ass, bringing the Goddess of Death to heel totally would have and could have made for a much more memorable female villain for the finale in Wakanda. Again, there’s the question of her being killed off but what better way to help showcase Wanda Maximoff’s (Elizabeth Olsen) sheer power than by having her shred a Goddess to pieces? Or you could rewrite her death to maybe come at the hands of her brother, Thor, and his new weapon, Stormbreaker, to sell the awesomeness of the weapon.

As cool as the Black Order were, would a version of the Masters of Evil have been better…?

Ultimately, I was more than happy with Avengers: Infinity War, Endgame, and the MCU’s portrayal of Thanos overall. His underlings were find cannon fodder for the film and helped to serve as extensions of the Mad Titan’s will but I do feel it would have been even more awesome to see these more recognisable villains swayed to Thanos’ cause so that we could see them interact with their rivals, and other heroes, in new and interesting ways. Sure, many have cropped up again since then and the potential of a Masters of Evil in the MCU is still there, I just think that maybe these huge movies could have been made even bigger if things had been slightly changed to accommodate these more familiar characters. Do you agree or disagree? Maybe you’re a big fan of the Black Order from the comics? Perhaps you’d have like to see a different route taken? Do you even want to see the Masters of Evil in the MCU? Either way, feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Game Corner: Captain America and the Avengers (Arcade)

Released: 1991
Developer: Data East
Also Available For: Game Boy, Game Gear, Mega Drive, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

The Background:
First created in 1940 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Steve Rogers/Captain America was an icon of the Second World War, embodying America’s obsession with patriotism and pride by taking the fight directly to the Axis Forces. Superhero comics went on a bit of a decline after the war and Captain America wouldn’t return to prominence until 1964, when he was famously revived to join Marvel Comics’ all-star team, the Avengers. Since then, the character has been largely synonymous with Earth’s Mightiest Mortals, often acting as the team’s moral compass and leader. In 1991, both comics and arcades were undergoing something of a renaissance; Marvel published the influential Infinity Gauntlet (Starlin, et al, 1991) during this time and sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups like Final Fight (Capcom, 1989) and The Simpsons (Konami, 1991) were proving popular coin munchers. It is perhaps these factors that led to Data East developing a four-player beat-‘em-up game centred around Marvel’s popular super team, a game that is often forgotten because of genre-defining titles like X-Men (Konami, 1992) and a title I first played on the SEGA Mega Drive in all its inauspicious glory.

The Plot:
Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull has assembled an army of the world’s most dangerous supervillains in order to take over the world using a gigantic, Moon-based laser! Answering the call to action and adventure are Captain America, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Clint Barton/Hawkeye, and the Vision, collectively known as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers, are the only ones capable of putting a stop to the Red Skull’s nefarious plans for world domination! Avengers Assemble!!

Gameplay:
Captain America and the Avengers is a 2D, sidescrolling beat-‘em-up in which you, and another player if you have a friend, control one of the four Avengers and mindlessly pummel a bunch of robots, cyborgs, and iconic Marvel bad guys across five different stages (referred to as “Scenes”). No matter which character you choose to play as, the game pretty much plays exactly the same with only some minor aesthetic differences separating the characters.

Each Avenger has their own special attack but, otherwise, controls exactly the same.

Despite this, though, I found Cap the most enjoyable character to play as, with Iron Man a close second. The controls are as simple as you could want: you can beat down your enemies with some simple punches and kicks, charge through them with a dash attack, block by holding down the punch button, and perform two different jumping attacks depending on how high you’re jumping. You can also grab and throw enemies (and objects) and unleash a unique ranged attack by pressing down the attack and jump button simultaneously: Captain America hurls his mighty shield, Iron Man fires his repulsor rays, Hawkeye fires arrows, and Vision fires laser blasts from his forehead. I found there to be a bit of a delay in activating these special attacks, however, which can leave you vulnerable but at least they don’t drain your health.

Wasp and Namor will occasionally lend you a helping hand.

Speaking of which, your health is measured in hundreds; you begin each Scene/life with 100 health but can increase it by grabbed the rarely-seen small blue orbs or the power-ups dropped by other Avengers like Namor the Sub-Mariner and Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver. You can also increase your health, all the way up to “Max”, by entering coins to keep you alive and kicking, effectively sacrificing your pocket money and extra lives for more health. Thankfully, emulation means you don’t need to worry about wasting your hard-earned pocket money so you never have to worry about running out of lives or health.

Autoscrolling shooting sections help to add some variety to the gameplay.

Unlike a lot of arcade games, Captain America and the Avengers doesn’t feature a time limit; however, if you stand around idle for too long, an explosion randomly drains your health until you either die or get moving, which is a cruel but unique inclusion. It’s not all mindless right-to-left fighting, either; Scene 2, Scene 3, and Scene 5 feature autoscrolling shooting sections that take place in the skies of a wrecked city, deep underwater, and in the cold vastness of outer space. If you’re playing as Cap or Hawkeye, you’ll get to pilot a Sky-Cycle in the first of these stages, but for the others you’ll throw on some scuba gear and a rudimentary space suit. Either way, you must blast enemies with your ranged attack (which is now just a simple button press), avoiding their projectiles and holding down punch to block. These sections are only short but they held to mix things up a bit and, when it comes to sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups, variety is hard to find so it’s appreciated.

Graphics and Sound:
I remember Captain America and the Avengers looking very unimpressive on the Mega Drive, with small sprites in large areas and lacking a lot of the detail and quality of other games of the time. In that regard, the arcade game is better since the sprites are much bigger and more distinct and detailed but you’ll notice that they’re not as large, colourful, or intricate as those seen in games like X-Men, for example.

The game is colourful and varied but not as impressive as others in its genre.

Still, it does a decent enough job; the camera is zoomed out quite far compared to other beat-‘em-ups, though, giving you a much larger battlefield which would be a positive but, while areas can get swamped with enemies and do feature interactive elements (mainly barrels and other objects to throw or explode), they are quite empty and there’s little benefit to exploring or attacking your surroundings. You will find some interesting elements, though, such as enemies bursting out of windows and the background, an Avengers mural, burning cars, wrecked buildings, and both a sprawling city in the background and water rushing beneath you as you fly, with comic book sound effects punctuating the onscreen violence.

Comic book panels and hilariously mistranslated dialogue tell the game’s story.

As you might expect, comic book-like panels and text are used to convey the bulk of the story; each character is given a brief demonstration of their in-game abilities and a biography, which is a nice touch, and the game is peppered with some in-game cutscenes that feature dialogue between the Avengers and their enemies. These are some of the most ludicrous examples of mistranslation ever, which hilarious exchanges such as “Seeeeee my powerrr!”, “Where is the laser?”/“Ask the police!”, “You can’t escape!”/“You will be the one escaping!”, and “Why should it goes well!?” It’s cheesy and ridiculous in a “Welcome to die!!” kind of way that adds some unintentional entertainment value to the game, which also features a suitably heroic soundtrack; you’ll hear the main theme quite a bit, since it kicks in once bosses are close to defeat, and while it’s nothing special it’s very catchy and rousing and gives the game a stirring, stimulating gallant feel.

Enemies and Bosses:
For the most part, you’ll battle seemingly endless wave upon wave of robots or cybernetic enemies; the most common of these incessantly shoot at you with lasers, sometimes while jumping, while others carry shields or can grab and hold you with retractable arms. You’ll also battle enemies that hover in jetpacks, bigger, more muscle-bound variants that squeeze the life out of you with a bear hug, and hopping bug-like robots. Underwater, enemies will fire harpoons at you while you try to dodge mines and, in the air, they’ll circle around firing lasers in a simple formation. Most of these are destroyed in just a few hits, and both increase in number and become tougher to defeat as you progress, exploding upon defeat, making me believe them to be cyborgs and mechanical rather than flesh and blood.

In Scene 1, you’ll battle some minor Marvel foes after they rob a bank.

One thing Captain America and the Avengers does really well, though, is its expansive use of Marvel’s rouges gallery; in each Scene, you’ll have to contend with a main boss and a series of sub-bosses, many of whom will be recognisable to fans of the source material (and even the movies, to a degree). In Scene 1, you’ll have to contend with the duo of Arthur Parks/The Living Laser and Ulysses Klaw/Klaw mid-way through the stage as they cover David Cannon/Whirlwind’s escape following a bank robbery. Laser and Klaw are best faced with a partner since they hop around the screen, blasting lasers and projectiles at you, but, like all of the game’s sub-bosses and bosses, can be easily pummelled solo as well. When you do go toe-to-toe with Whirlwind, it’s dead easy to just wail away on him, with his only threat being his ability to transform into a literal whirlwind to dash about the screen and whip up nearby objects to rain them down on you.

After disposing of a Sentinel, you’ll battle the Grim Reaper, though neither the Wizard or the “Mech. Taco” are a threat.

Scene 2 sees you having to relentlessly blast away at a Hydra aircraft on your way to the wrecked city and a confrontation with the gigantic, screen-filling “Giant Robot” (clearly a Sentinel). The Sentinel is a slow, plodding sub-boss who tries to smack you out of the sky, fires lasers, and grabs you in its near-endless supply of robot hands. After blowing it to pieces, you’ll battle through the ruins of the city and into a confrontation with Eric Williams/The Grim Reaper, one of the game’s tougher bosses. Grim Reaper can block your projectile attack with his spinning scythe, rush across the screen with lightning speed to slash and strike you, hover in the air, and fires explosive projectiles as the fight progresses. In Scene 3, you’ll battle Bentley Wittman/The Wizard on the deck of a wrecked battleship; the Wizard favours diving punches, throwing discs, and quick-firing laser bolts but is, otherwise, a minor inconvenience at best. After exploring the depths of the ocean, you’ll encounter a giant mechanical octopus referred to as “Mech. Taco”; this is functionally the same fight as against the Sentinel, requiring you to avoid the Taco’s tentacles, swim beneath its lasers, and simply fire at it relentlessly until it explodes.

Even some of Marvel’s most recognisable villains end up being a bit of a pushover.

After emerging victorious, you’ll battle through a submarine and into a confrontation with the Mandarin; the Mandarin is a bit of a trickster, floating around the arena, rocketing into the air, firing at you with lasers, encasing you in ice, and even duplicating himself for double the threat. The Mandarin can command his duplicate to charge at you, send you flying with his floaty movements, and loves to bash you senseless when he gets up close. Like all the other bosses, though, he might have a lot of flair but he’s got a glass jaw and it’s easy to land a few combos and whittle his health down in seconds. Scene 4 sees you infiltrating the Red Skull’s Moon base, where you’ll have to contend with Cain Marko/Juggernaut (who is, ironically, actually smaller than the game’s bruiser enemies…). Juggy likes to roll around the arena in a ball, land big uppercuts, charge at you with a shoulder barge, and trying to cave your skull in with a big double axehandle smash. Oddly, the most difficult thing about fighting him isn’t his much-vaulted strength but actually his speed, since he cannot be damaged in his ball form and likes to speed around the arena like a whippet. After defeating Juggernaut, you’ll eventually battle Ultron, who fires electrical beams from his face, dashes across the screen in a fireball-like form, fires lasers blasts from his hands, pummels you with punches, and causes lasers to rain down across the arena once his health gets low. It’s not an especially difficult fight but, thanks to Ultron’s array of abilities and speedy, damage-dealing moves, it’s comparable to the ones against the Grim Reaper and the Mandarin in that it can be frustrating navigating through Ultron’s attacks but, once you get some hits in, he goes down as easily as any other boss.

Surprisingly, Crossbones is pretty tough, but the final confrontation with the Red Skull couldn’t be simpler.

Having destroyed the Red Skull’s giant laser in Scene 5, you’ll again battle two sub-bosses at once; in this case, “Control” (who is possibly supposed to be Basil Sandhurst/The Controller). This fight is made more troublesome by the buzzsaws that travel across the grid on the ground but is still easier than the first fight against the Living Laser and Klaw since Control just tries to grab you and land flying kicks. Once they’re dealt with, your penultimate boss is against Brock Rumlow/Crossbones, of all people. Not gonna lie but Crossbones is a bit disappointing as a penultimate boss in terms of his character and stature but he’s no pushover; Crossbones leaps, bounds, and tumbles across the arena leaving a shadow in his wake and raining explosive mines (which home in on you) down around you. He also pulls out a pistol to fire at you from a distance and isn’t afraid to either rush at you with his trusty knife or toss the blade your way in rapid succession. Because of his speed and relentless attacks, Crossbones is no pushover but you can tip the tide in your favour by throwing his explosives back at him. Once you corner the Red Skull (who is seen smoking a cigarette in his introduction idle animation!), you’ll go head-to-head with the Nazi superman in a good, old-fashioned slugfest. If you’re wondering where the cliché elevator stage is, it’s right here in this simple fight that turns out to be a trap! Once you drain the Red Skull’s health, he grows into a massive mechanical form and it’s revealed you’ve been fighting a decoy all along. The real Red Skull watches, safely protected within a glass tube, as you battle the formidable “Mech. Skull”, which boasts such devastating attacks as twin gatling guns, energy bolts, massive melee attacks, rockets, a big slam attack, and can summon whirlwinds to mess you up. Still, it’s a big, largely stationary target so it’s pretty simple to get close to it to avoid the majority of its attacks and just pummel away until it explodes, seemingly taking out the Red Skull with it and destroying the Red Skull’s entire Moon base in the process.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike most sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups, there aren’t many power-ups to be found in Captain America and the Avengers. Very rarely, in the autoscrolling stages, you’ll find small blue orbs to restore your health and there are a variety of objects to pick up and throw but there are none of the traditional health power-ups, invincibilities, or melee weapons to be found. At certain, predefined points in a lot of Scenes, another Avenger will make a brief cameo and toss out a big health-restoring power-up, which is a fun inclusion. In the autoscrolling sections, you can also pick up a “W” icon and gain the help of Janet van Dyne/Wasp, who encircles your character and can be shot forwards to deal additional damage for a limited time. It’s a shame that more of the other non-playable Avengers don’t aid you in the same way (though Namor does provide some brief assistance in Scene 3).

Additional Features:
It’s an old arcade beat-‘em-up so, of course, there’s really nothing else on offer here except for obtaining or beating the high score or playing alongside a friend. Apparently, some versions of the arcade cabinet supported four-player co-op, which seems like a missed opportunity, but I do know that the consoles versions included different difficulty settings and a “Training” mode that allows you to pit each playable character against each other in a pale imitation of games like Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991).

The Summary:
If you’re looking for a classic, sidescrolling arcade beat-‘em-up, you can do a lot better than Captain America and the Avengers. It’s a decent way to waste about half an hour or so and is big, colourful, mindless fun but there are far better arcade beat-‘em-ups out there, whether carrying the Marvel license or not. The game is fun with a second player and for the completely off-the-wall voice acting and dialogue but it’s very empty and basic, even for an early-nineties beat-‘em-up title. I will say, though, having previously owned the Mega Drive version, that the arcade version of the game is the superior of the two so I would recommend playing this version over any of the others…and then jump back into X-Men right after.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever played Captain America and the Avengers? If so, which version did you play and which do you feel was the superior iteration? Which of the four Avengers was your go-to character and which of the unplayable Avengers would you have liked to see made playable characters? What did you think to the game’s many sub-bosses and bosses and cheesy, terribly translated dialogue? Have you got a favourite arcade beat-‘em-up or Marvel videogame; if so, what is it? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts so drop a comment below.