By stepping away from power-obsessed bad guys, Marvel finds one of their best antagonists. Marvel has a villain problem. With the exception of Loki, the MCU’s villains tend to be one-dimensional, power-mad sociopaths who serve only to function as a perfunctory antagonist on the hero’s journey.
Zemo, a little known villain from the comics, has ended up being perhaps the most formidable adversary the Avengers have ever faced, and they’ve never even really faced him. He ripped the Avengers apart and he did it without a single Infinity Stone or even a superpower.
Zemo is a fascinating villain for several reasons. The first is that he doesn’t want to rule the world. His line about wanting to topple an empire is almost too misleading, because he doesn’t have his sights set on the world or nations.
While Marvel villains have had personal stakes before, it’s never been played as softly or as quietly as Zemo. All you really get is a voicemail and a brief monologue, but that’s all we need. It’s addition by subtraction, and with Daniel Bruhl’s tremendous performance, Zemo is almost a sympathetic character.
Even when he’s torturing the former Hydra agent, he’s doing it because he doesn’t want to bomb the UN meeting. He doesn’t go for the most destructive path first. And he doesn’t want to activate the Russian super soldiers. He doesn’t want to bring more pain into the world at large, but he wants to hold the Avengers accountable for Sokovia.
But about the dancing. The trio jet off to Madripoor in pursuit of a lead, finding themselves at a gala party with a particularly thumping soundtrack playing. And Zemo does what Zemo is going to do: He fist bumps, about one second of now-iconic footage that has inspired Falcon and Winter Soldier‘s best memes yet.
It would be great if the show ends with Zemo getting his butt shipped off to Wakanda to face further justice for his crimes. He’s going to love the Golden City. Shame he won’t be able to go to any of the clubs.