Taming The Darkness Within: How the MCU's Brightest Stars Embraced Their Inner MONSTERS

In yet another cosmic twist, the post-Avengers: Endgame world saw the most praiseworthy protagonists from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) become protagonists in a series of storylines that descend from light into darkness, doing everything from the very worst to the merely villainous. This devolution into darkness and character complexity reveals the possibility that talent – the ability to summon monsters from the soul of the MCU’s most exciting protagonists – can wear two distinct faces.

Unleashing the MONSTER Within

With Dementus at the action’s epicentre, he steals the show as Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’s villain-in-chief, an unrepentant warrior chieflet applying the same level of manic glee to his wanton massacres as he does to cuddling with baby goats. Chris Hemsworth’s villain brings together what had once been opposed – the terror of the monster and the warmth of the human – creating a figure who shocks the audience with previously unimaginable gruesomeness even as he bursts with irresistible charisma.

The Duality of Darkness

Plumbing the depths is Hemsworth, who joins long-time Avengers colleagues Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo in bending their heroic personae to complex studies in darkness. Downey, Jr’s portrait of a knife-wielding politician in Oppenheimer clashes sharply with the moral certainties of Stark’s Avengers; while Ruffalo’s turn as a jealously demanding antagonist in Poor Things reveals a boiling cauldron of insecurity far from the simple brute force of The Hulk.

The Seductive Allure of Evil

Something like this happens slowly – with every film that passes, the Dark Side becomes a little bit more appealing for everyone involved. Take Chris Evans in Knives Out. The actor had been playing Captain America for a decade and was itching to show us what else he was capable of. The role of Ransom Drysdale, an evil rich white guy, was the closest he’d ever get to playing a villain – and it revealed something about what playing evil feels like.


The very characters Marvel built its empire upon become horror’s alpha monsters, taking on the very roles for which they were cast out by the moral prosecutors of our own civilization. It is a powerful commentary on the existence of monsters of our own making, the things we prefer kept in the shadows, a legacy that cinema’s own actors of moral ambiguity oblige us to explore.

The Joy of Playing the Villain

What draws such champions of emancipation to adopt their monstrosity with such fervour? The intoxicating freedom, perhaps, of not being chained to ideals? The temptation of letting go of the heroic, bulky battle armour, to dance with the devil and be wild and timeless and free?

Embracing the MONSTER Within Us

Through their audacious movements away from the classical heroic ideal, Hemsworth and Downey Jr, Evans and Ruffalo, dare us to reconsider altogether what being good means, by affirming monsters within. Their characters invite us to look at ourselves and our own corners of darkness, when we see our heroes staring back.

Exploring the Concept of a MONSTER

At its base, the word ‘monster’ implies fear, danger and things that are not understood. Throughout history, monsters have been used to represent the dark side of humanity: the things we fear, the things we would rather keep hidden, the things we fear we might be – our sins. In this epic journey from Man’s first sinful thoughts to the ultimate triumph of good, the monster is transformed into something more than we have come to expect. It is, ultimately, Man. It is not just the capacity for evil but that this evil goes hand in hand with the potential for light. There would be no hero without the potential for monstrosity. In their portrayal of monsters, whether they play heroes or villains, Marvel’s actors remind us that to have a hero we need the monster, too.

Jun 09, 2024
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