They’re not the marquee characters. They’re not the ones who get to yell, “Avengers Assemble!”
In most cases they’re not even the characters fighting the Avengers.
Whether they’re comic relief, cameos, or even Easter eggs, there are a lot of great characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who still have great stories left to tell. From rogue scientists to amphibious thunder gods, here are some established Marvel characters with plenty of untapped potential now that Phase 4 of the MCU is underway.
It’s okay if you don’t think Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery was the most hilarious part of 2013’s Iron Man 3, but only because it isn’t illegal to be completely wrong. Hyped as the Mandarin — Iron Man’s arch-nemesis in the comics — Kingsley’s character ultimately proved to be nothing more than a drug-addled actor with the IQ of a toaster hired by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) to be the public face of his criminal pursuits.
In the 2014 short Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King, Slattery is broken out of prison and brought to meet the true Mandarin, who isn’t happy with Kingsley’s character using his name. At that point, there was no indication of whether another Mandarin would indeed make their way into the MCU. Now, with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings almost here and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung set to play the actual Mandarin, we think it’s absolutely mandatory that Trevor make an appearance, if for no other reason than to learn his fate.
William Hurt first portrayed the obsessed General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross in 2008’s Incredible Hulk. He returned in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, as a more bureaucratic antagonist to Marvel’s superheroes. He then made similar, brief appearances in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, and most recently, in 2021’s Black Widow.
But he really hasn’t done that much in the MCU to date. He’s become the MCU’s version of the angry precinct captain always barking orders at the hero cop. In the comics, his obsession with destroying the Hulk goes so far that he becomes a Hulk — the Red Hulk. Rumors have been flying for years about Ross’s larger, redder self making an appearance, and we think it’s about time those rumors come true.
While 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok is arguably one of the best superhero movies of all time, one of its cruelest flaws is the far too abrupt and brutal deaths of Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Zachary Levi), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano). Except for Hogun, they get taken out without the chance of uttering even a single intelligible word of dialogue.
Sure, the films turned The Warriors Three into little more than sidekicks, but in Marvel’s source material, they’re mainstays of Thor’s vast mythos. As impressive as Taiki Waititi’s bold new directions for Chris Hemsworth’s Thor have proven to be, it would be great if a future film sees these loyal friends of the thunder god brought back somehow.
Back in 2010, Donald Glover campaigned to be the next actor to play Spider-Man and even earned Stan Lee’s blessing for the role. Andrew Garfield was tapped instead, but in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, Glover was recruited to play an interesting member of Spidey’s mythos.
While Aaron Davis is portrayed as a small-time crook in Homecoming, in both the source material and 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, he’s the supervillain known as The Prowler, as well as uncle to Miles Morales, the younger, biracial Spider-Man.
Not only would having Donald Glover in any significant role in the MCU be amazing, but having him attached to the potential introduction of Miles Morales into the narrative would be both a tribute to his campaign to play Spidey and a boon to all the fans waiting to meet a live-action Miles.
While 2008’s Incredible Hulk is often considered to be at the bottom of the MCU’s film franchise in terms of quality, it includes some wonderful acting performances, including Tim Blake Nelson as the rogue scientist Dr. Samuel Sterns. Though we will likely never get a sequel, Sterns’ very presence in the film is a great example of an MCU seed being planted for the future. In the comics, Sterns is the super-intelligent villain known as The Leader, and the closest thing the Hulk has to his own Lex Luthor.
In Nelson’s final moments on screen in Incredible Hulk, we see Banner’s cloned blood dripping onto a cut on the prone Sterns’ forehead, and the scientist’s skin bubbling in response. Even if you knew nothing about the comics, the implication is obvious. It’s a shame we still haven’t gotten to see the gamma-irradiated villain in action, particularly since Nelson would be brilliant in the role. Here’s hoping sometime in the future — perhaps with the Disney+ She-Hulk series — we might finally see the mastermind’s debut.
One Avenger from the comics we have yet to see make a live-action film appearance is Simon Williams, aka Wonder Man. The ionically-charged hero has a somewhat convoluted history involving the Vision, Ultron, Scarlet Witch, and an excessive amount of deaths and resurrections, even compared to other comic book heroes. Because of his connections to Vision and Scarlet Witch, rumors swirled about him making an appearance in WandaVision, though they proved unfounded.
Strangely enough, Simon Williams has been cast. In the comics, Williams spends some of his time acting, and in 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, James Gunn cast his friend Nathan Fillion as Simon Williams in movie posters that would’ve appeared in the background of scenes set on Earth; including Williams cast as Tony Stark in a biopic. Unfortunately, the scene was cut.
However, Fillion has since gotten the chance to play Wonder Man, just not in the MCU. In Season 1 of the stop-motion animated series Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., Fillion voices Wonder Man, who is gunning for the titular villain’s ex-wife. Fillion would be equally perfect as the live-action version of the hero, and we’re hoping he shows up sooner rather than later.
Few figures in the MCU are as enigmatic as Taneleer Tivan, better known as the Collector. Played by Benicio Del Toro, Collector teases the edges of villainy, but has yet to take any kind of blatantly antagonistic actions against the MCU’s heroes.
At the same time, so many tantalizing hints have been dropped about him. While nothing comes of it because he’s interrupted by Carina’s (Ophelia Lovibond) disastrous attempt to steal the Power Stone, when Rocket demands payment from Collector in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the camera zooms in on Collector’s hand as he opens a drawer — as if payment wasn’t what he was reaching for. And in Avengers: Infinity War, Thor calls his brother Loki a “genius” for putting the Reality Stone in the Collector’s care but never explains why.
The Collector and Thor: Ragnarok‘s Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) share similar chin markings and, in the comics, are allies in a group called the Elders of the Universe. Since we don’t even know if the Collector is alive (his encounter with Thanos (Josh Brolin) in Infinity War proves to be an illusion), either the architects of the MCU have been playing a longer game with this guy than they have with most, or there’s more of Collector on Marvel’s cutting room floor than just about anybody.
In Incredible Hulk, Ty Burrell of Modern Family fame plays Dr. Leonard Samson — a psychiatrist and Betty Ross’ (Liv Tyler) main squeeze when Bruce Banner (Ed Norton) re-enters her life. He drops the dime on Bruce to General Ross, but regrets it later.
In the source material, Leonard Samson is a recurring character in the Hulk’s stories. He’s been Bruce Banner’s friend, his romantic rival, the Hulk’s enemy, and once even a crazed villain. Physically, he’s essentially Hulk-light. Rather than his skin turning green, Samson’s hair is long, green, and — like his biblical namesake — if you cut his hair short, he loses his mojo.
Even if Incredible Hulk had enjoyed a sequel, it’s tough to picture Burrell as a musclebound hero. Still, he could believably fulfill one of Doc Samson’s other comic book roles as the go-to therapist for superheroes.
He isn’t the most visible bad guy in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, Phineas Mason (Michael Chernus) is seen working for Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) in the film. Better known in Marvel’s comics as the Tinkerer, Phineas is a freelancer who invents and builds high-tech gadgets for pretty much any villain who will pay.
It would be amazing to see the character branch out and work with other villains in the films, though appearing in any non-Spidey movies might be tricky since the character falls under Sony’s ownership of Spider-Man’s film rights. We have actually met a relative of Phineas in another somewhat Spider-themed hero’s film, however. Mason (O-T Fagbenle), the guy who helps supply Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) in 2021’s Black Widow, is the Tinkerer’s son in Marvel’s source material.
Eagle-eyed fans watching Loki noticed one of the coolest Easter eggs to ever bless the MCU with its green presence. In episode 5 of the series, as the camera pans down to the variant Lokis’ underground hideout, embedded in the dirt is a variant Mjolnir and a frog dressed like Thor desperately trying to escape a jar.
This is not a brand new creation like Alligator Loki. This is Throg, the Frog of Thunder. And believe it or not, Kate Herron — the episode’s director — told the Views from the 616 podcast (via ComicBook.com) that Chris Hemsworth actually recorded the sounds of Throg struggling within the jar. There was initially meant to be more from the Frog of Thunder as well. After the episode aired, Loki writer Eric Martin tweeted that there was a scene shot set in the TVA’s Time Theater earlier in the series of Throg punching Loki, but it was cut.
We want more Throg. We deserve more Throg. With Captain America and Iron Man gone, the Avengers need a new leader, so why not Throg?
(Note: Technically, there’s a difference between “Frog Thor” and Throg. Frog Thor is Thor turned into a frog — which actually happens in 1986’s Thor #365, hence the “T365” label on the jar in Loki. Throg, on the other hand, is a frog who proves worthy to wield a splinter of Mjolnir and is granted the power of Thor. The Loki writers and directors have called the character by both names, so we’re going with Throg because, well… it just sounds cooler.)