Cottonmouth To Coulson: The 12 Most Underrated Performances In The Marvel Cinematic Universe
While we cheer for the brilliantly portrayed heavy hitters of the MCU, there are some powerful performances that have been left by the wayside. And these performances deserve just as much praise.
In the 10 years since it first graced our screens, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has gone from strength to strength — and when we look at the monumental cast list for each film, we can’t help but be astounded by the talent involved in the franchise. Many of these talented actors and actresses will come together for Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel's most ambitious project yet. Fans can't wait for the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, and Chris Pratt to finally be united on the silver screen. Yet while we cheer for the brilliantly portrayed heavy hitters of the MCU, there are some powerful performances that have been left by the wayside. And these performances deserve just as much praise.
Let's honor the actors who might not be the stars of the show, but quietly steal every scene they're in regardless.
12. Laura Haddock — Meredith Quill
It’s easy to forget that the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise — which consists of the two funniest and most irreverent #Marvel films — begins with the most somber opening scene of any Marvel movie. A young Star-Lord visits his cancer-ridden mother on her deathbed and, with her heart-rending plea for Peter’s hand, Laura Haddock nails the tragedy of the situation, creating an authentic feeling of maternal love.
Sure, across the two #movies, she is only on screen for about 10 out of some 260 minutes, yet Meredith undoubtedly leaves a huge impression upon her son and his friends so many years later. Thanks to Haddock’s performance, Meredith's death is easily one of the saddest and most impactful in the MCU thus far.
11. Stanley Tucci — Dr. Abraham Erskine
In fan discussions about Marvel’s output, Captain America's first cinematic outing is omitted for the most part, which means that Stanley Tucci’s turn as the genial yet obstinate scientist is regrettably forgotten. Which is sad really, since the film benefits from the warmth and wit of his portrayal — heck, some of the biggest laughs come from him thumbing his nose at authority figures.
Tucci has already expressed interest in returning to the role in a flashback of some sort. If Kevin Feige is reading this, then please — make it happen!
10. Anthony Mackie — Sam Wilson
Skilled in combat, tough as nails and always dependable, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon first appeared on the scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier with less fanfare than the rest of his #superhero buddies. And yet the next time he appears, cinemagoers are sure to cheer.
Indeed, Falcon has already kicked plenty of ass and has also been part of some of the funniest moments in Captain America: Civil War, which made the most of Mackie's impeccable comic timing. Overall, Sam’s dry observations are a delightful addition to any fight sequence; he made such a fuss over Black Panther’s (Chadwick Boseman) costume, I can’t help but giggle at the thought of what he’ll say when he meets Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper).
9. Evangeline Lilly — Hope Van Dyne
The film may have been called Ant-Man, but we all know who deserved to go on pint-sized missions.
Sage and shrewd, Lilly sells every emotional beat of her character and we only wish we could have seen more of her. With her prevailing parental issues and her ability to take down plenty of bad guys without the use o superpowers, Hope is one of the steeliest and most compelling women in the #MCU. We can’t wait to see her suit up alongside Paul Rudd in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp.
8. Sam Rockwell — Justin Hammer
As the highly immoral and possibly more arrogant version of Tony Stark, Justin Hammer's attempts to one-up his business rival are an entertaining yet cringe-inducing standout. It’s clear that Rockwell is having a ball in Iron Man 2, exuding sleazy overconfidence. With an ego that size, it's a wonder that any other character can fit in the same room with him! It's a joy to watch him repeatedly fail, and it would be marvelous (heh) to see him get yet another comeuppance at the hands of our other favorite superheroes.
As the plot to Spider-Man: Homecoming shows, the arena of technological industrialists is still a cutthroat place in the MCU, which spits out problems for our heroes practically every other week. Thus, Marvel's filmmakers could easily slip Hammer back into the fray and have him face down Iron Man, #SpiderMan and their fellow heroes once again.
7. Krysten Ritter — Jessica Jones
Everyone talks about David Tennant’s amazing turn as the twisted and maniacal Kilgrave, but more attention definitely needs to be paid to the titular heroine of Jessica Jones. Ritter gives a multifaceted performance that conveys everything you need to know about the character, from her brittle psychological state right through to her uncompromising determination.
It’s because of Ritter’s accomplished turn that #JessicaJones’s popularity continues to rocket upward, and that Jessica was recently voted Hollywood's favorite female hero.
6. Lee Pace — Ronan the Accuser
Guardians of the Galaxy may be one of the most prominent examples of Marvel’s villain problem, but you can’t deny that Lee Pace does a great job with the little he’s given to work with. With a brilliantly melodious voice that’s almost perpetually constricted with rage, Pace delivers a performance that fizzes with a deranged sense of power and purpose. It’s truly a shame that Ronan (probably) won’t be returning to our screens again.
5. Mahershala Ali — Cottonmouth
The Marvel/Netflix deal had already produced outstanding antagonists in Kilgrave and Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio). And yet, in this writer’s humble opinion, Mahershala Ali‘s Cottonmouth topples these titans of villainy.
Certainly, when Luke Cage first came around, it seemed strange that praise was reserved solely for Alfre Woodard and Mike Colter. They are definitely deserving of it, mind you, but Ali’s Cottonmouth is simply fantastic, exuding style, charisma and danger in every scene. When Ali made his departure, the show definitely suffered without him.
4. Daniel Brühl — Helmut Zemo
Civil War may revolve around the dissolution of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers’s friendship, but all of this only works because of the icy and determined villain at the center of it all. It’s a relief that Daniel Brühl’s Zemo isn’t dead; he may not have superpowers, but with all that planning and persistence, he’s perhaps the most driven and formidable villain the #Avengers have faced.
Fans are dying to see him in action again, and given that Brühl’s contract details have yet to be disclosed, we may get to see him on screen soon — though perhaps with his purple hood this time, please?
3. Paul Bettany — J.A.R.V.I.S./Vision
Bringing a robot to life is difficult for any actor, because it’s tough finding the right emotional balance. If you're too robotic, your performance feels wooden; if you're too animated, your performance feels too human. So it’s impressive that Paul Bettany capably plays two versions of the same artificial intelligence and subtly makes the two feel very distinct.
You can tell just how sassy and facetious J.A.R.V.I.S. is through Bettany’s voice, yet it’s a different story with the graver, more theatrical Vision. And let’s face it — his final confrontation with Ultron (James Spader) is one of the meatiest and most dramatic scenes in the entire franchise.
2. Jeremy Renner — Clint Barton/Hawkeye
From his first cameo in Thor, all the way through to #CivilWar, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye has been a reassuringly wry presence that we’ve all enjoyed getting acquainted with. As his screen time has gradually increased, Renner has been able to flex his dramatic muscles, particularly in the farmhouse scenes of Age of Ultron and in the Raft sequence in Civil War. Hawkeye may not be the most prominent Avenger, but Renner still makes Barton memorable thanks to his easygoing charm, and it’s clear that he’d be able to bear the limelight far more than he does currently. Why a Black Widow or Hawkeye solo movie hasn’t been greenlit yet remains a mystery.
1. Clark Gregg — Agent Phil Coulson
Before Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) glued each of the Defenders’ solo series together, the films of Phase One were noticeably linked by the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Or rather, one particular agent of S.H.I.E.L.D..
Whether it was heckling Tony Stark or attempting to make sense of Thor and the Destroyer, Gregg brought an endearing warmth to the ever-professional Phil Coulson, who could easily have been just another spiritless suit. We didn’t realize how much we liked Coulson until his death in Avengers proved to be one of the franchise’s biggest gut punches. And you know that something is definitely working well with a side character when one shots and entire TV shows are being created for him!
Sure, his resurrection for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series is still a divisive topic for fans, but you can’t deny that Coulson is another glittering addition the MCU. The jury is still out on whether he will meet Earth’s Mightiest Heroes again, but whatever happens, we hope that the Son of Coul continues to prosper!
It’s clear that casting agents over at Marvel have an eye for talent, since their movies are practically bursting at the seams with accomplished performers. It’s clear that this collection of titanic thespians will only grow as the #MarvelCinematicUniverse continues to expand at a rate of knots. Whether hero or villain, friend or foe, we can't wait to see who joins the franchise next!