Now it might not come as any surprise to readers that I’m in a bit of a love affair with the MCU. I think that over the past ten years Marvel has done a fantastic job of bringing all these superheroes to life on the big screen and tying them together in an interconnected film and TV universe. However I’ll be the first to acknowledge that apart from some stand-outs like Loki, Killmonger and Thanos among others the MCU has always had a bit of a villain problem. They tend to be rather one-dimensional with not much reason for audiences to care about them and little-to-no believable motivation. For examples we can look to Yellow Jacket from Ant-Man, the sparkly-eyed guy from Doctor Strange and Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy. However there is one villain that truly personifies this issue Marvel has more than any other baddie and that is Malekith from Thor: The Dark World.
If you don’t remember him or the movie he starred in don’t feel bad, The Dark World is generally considered one of the MCU’s most forgettable outings. On a plot level the movie was about Malekith the evil Dark Elf trying to use the Reality Stone (that’s actually a gas for some reason) to plunge the universe into darkness and Thor has to stop him which of course he does. On a character level it’s about Thor trying to redeem and reconcile with his brother Loki who not ten minutes ago just tried to take over Earth for Thanos in The Avengers. Pretty much everyone who saw the movie including me believes the second plot-line to be far more compelling than the first. Hemsworth and Hiddleston have such great chemistry and Loki’s arc in the movie is truly touching. How does this relate to Malekith? Well in my opinion the reason the villain and the movie as a whole was so forgettable was because these two plot-lines didn’t intersect or influence each other in any meaningful way.
When a story has multiple plots and sub-plots it’s important for them to do this. It makes the movie feel focused, like every aspect of it is intentional. Without it the story feels like it’s just going through the motions with characters killing time until the obligatory CGI fight at the end. Thor: The Dark World as a movie has a kind of multiple-personality disorder. One half is a touching story about two brothers learning to forgive each other for their misdeeds and the other half is a generic plot about an evil villain trying to destroy the universe because reasons. Malekith has no believable motivation, we don’t get any sense as to why he wants to plunge the universe into darkness and he has no redeeming traits whatsoever. Unlike Loki, Killmonger or Ego, the protagonist (being Thor) learns nothing from defeating them. How could he? Malekith is pure evil and had nothing to teach him. This story was ABOUT nothing, it had no theme like humility, family or responsibility. It was just there. So now, we’re finally gonna get purely hypothetical and like Iron Fist imagine a world where Malekith was a great villain and Thor: The Dark World was awesome! And this imaginary story is about something, this is a story about forgiveness.
Good villains compel heroes to become better than what they once were.
I want you to picture something for a moment. In the distant stars there is a kingdom. A mighty realm ruled by a mighty king who carved out a place in the Nine Realms for his people to live and thrive. And by god is he a good king, he loves his people and would do anything to protect them. Everything he’s done, all the realms he’s conquered, all of it was to make his people great, respected and strong. He wakes up every day and looks out on the balcony to watch his two sons play in the palace garden, in a castle he built from nothing. “In time, all of this will be theirs.” He says to his loving wife. If you thought this king I’m talking about was Odin, you’d be wrong. This king is Malekith.
To Malekith, Odin is not the Allfather. Odin is the Asgardian barbarian who would invade his kingdom, slaughter his people and destroy everything Malekith fought to build for them. Odin was the destroyer of his world, the Dark World. Though Malekith fought, though Malekith bled, it was all in vain. His grown up sons would fight on his behalf before being slaughtered by Odin’s daughter Hela, the Goddess of Death. With their demise Malekith’s people lost heart and just like that, the Kingdom of the Dark Elves was crushed. Malekith lost everything including his sons, his wife, his kingdom and the majority of his people. His time had past. Using gold melted down from Malekith’s own castle where his son’s once played, Odin built his own kingdom of Asgard. He conquered the rest of the realms and created a dynasty that preached wisdom and peace but was built on blood.
When we consider Malekith in this light it makes perfect sense as to why he would want to do what he does in Thor: The Dark World. The striking fact is that in some areas I didn’t even change his backstory that much. The only thing I added was the love he had for his people and the pain he felt at losing them. No villain is relatable or sympathetic if they don’t have at least a shred of humanity. For example, Killmonger becomes a sympathetic villain when we learn how as a boy everything was taken from him by T’Chaka. When he later seeks to overthrow his uncle’s son and seek vengeance on the colonial powers that wronged black people we fully understand why he feels this way. What Malekith needs is a motivation to do what he does, we need to be able to step into his shoes and sympathise with him.
Back to the narrative. The entire storyline between Thor and Loki I would leave untouched as I think that was the best part of the movie. In fact, I wouldn’t actually remove many scenes, just alter them a little. For example, I wouldn’t have Malekith wake up alone on his evil ship with an evil glare saying how much evil he’s ready to do. I’ve have him scavenging the galaxy for resources and scraps to feed what remains of his people. I’d make it clear just how low the Dark Elves have come so that when the Reality Stone resurfaces and he sees an opportunity he reclaim what he lost, he jumps at it. Wouldn’t you? If your country or even humanity as a whole was conquered by an outside force, wouldn’t you hate the ones that did it and give anything to see those glory days return? I’d make it clear that Odin and his kingdom are on top of the universe, but Malekith lost absolutely everything and now the once great king of the Dark Elves wanders the galaxy looking for crumbs to feed his dwindling population of subjects.
Later on in the scene when Frigga dies I’d make it clear that Malekith sees this as vengeance, his wife died in the war with Asgard so why shouldn’t he take Odin’s love as well? At first Thor is of the same mind as Odin, he despises Malekith for what he’s done and wants his head on a spike. But over the course of the movie I’d have him reconsider this. How you may ask? Through Loki. This is how the character plot-line and the main plot-line would intersect. Thor trying so desperately to redeem Loki would teach him that maybe, just maybe, Malekith can be turned as well. When Thor and Loki go to what remains of The Dark World, instead of the barren wasteland we see in the movie I’d have ruins of a once great civilisation where the soil was rendered infertile when Odin salted it. Thor would bear witness to the reason why Malekith wants to plunge the universe into darkness; he just wants to restore his people to their former glory. He wants to reclaim the paradise that was taken from him.
In the final battle in London I’d have Thor reach the conclusion of his character arc. He would learn from the mistakes of his father and put an end to this blood feud once and for all. After defeating Malekith, I’d show the remaining Dark Elves lose all hope, they would surrender and Thor would see what remains of his enemies. They would be sad, hungry and broken. Malekith looks around at what remains of his people and falls into despair. He begs Thor to put him out of his misery but spare his people. For a few moments Thor considers it, this wretch murdered his mother so why shouldn’t he destroy him? But then Thor remembers Loki, his mischievous brother who had fallen so low but still managed to find his way back to the light. At the beginning of the movie Thor would’ve killed Malekith without a second thought but Loki taught him that even the worst enemy can be redeemed. So here, at this moment, Thor chooses to be better than his father and his foe by sparing Malekith’s life and forgiving him.
Malekith asks why he would do this and Thor says this; “I could kill you, I could kill all of you. You murdered my mother after all. But why? What good would that do? A thousand years from now some other Dark Elf will take revenge and then we’ll take revenge and on and on it’ll go until we’re all dead. Malekith, on behalf of my father and Asgard, I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have crushed you like we did.”
“So you’re going to give me Asgard? You’re going to let me finish what I’ve started here? Are you really sorry?” Malekith asks.
“I can’t do that and you know it. I can’t bring back what was lost, but for both our peoples we can make something new. Come back with me to Asgard, I will put all of you under my protection and make Odin listen. There’s a region of land not far from the castle where you can plant crops, you can have something of a life and those people in that ship can wake up to full bellies again.” said Thor.
“You’d have me bow to the man who murdered my family? Who slaughtered my people?”
“No, we’d be equals, or we’d try to be. It won’t be easy Malekith, but this NEEDS to stop. The vengeance, the blood feuds, we need to be better than what we once were. Please, for their sakes, lets make something new.”
And Malekith accepts. Odin (in reality Loki putting on an act) is initially furious but Thor stands firm and the Dark Elves settle down in Asgard under the watchful eye of the God of Thunder. Some of Malekith’s subjects would ask him in private if they should use this opportunity to betray Asgard but Malekith says no. “Thor gave us a second chance. I’m tired of fighting, I’m tired of seeing you all hungry. We can live here and maybe one day, we can be at peace with Asgard.” This is how Thor becomes a better man, he learns to forgive. In the first movie he learnt humility, in this one Loki and Malekith would teach him to put aside his vengeance and do whats best for his people and those he has power over.
I’d have Malekith appear again in Thor: Ragnarok where he is now a full on hero. He would be with Heimdall, the two of them working together to keep both Asgardian’s and Dark Elves safe from Hela’s wrath. In the final battle I’d have Malekith’s character arc come full circle as he gives his life to save Thor. This is what I’d have be their last exchange;
“You saved me! After everything thats happened, why? Your people still need you!” asked Thor as he kneels beside a dying king.
“They’re your people now Odinson.” said Malekith.
“I’ll keep them safe, I promise.”
“I know you will.” Malekith winces in pain. “You remind me of my sons, God of Thunder. I hope Odin saw what I see.” And then he dies.
Thats how I would write Malekith. A great king who built a great kingdom. A broken man who would plunge to universe into darkness to reclaim what was lost. A man who put aside his vengeance when his enemies’ son showed him a better path. A man who dies knowing that his people finally have a future. I hope you guys liked my version of Malekith. I can confidently say he’s a better character than the one we ended up getting. Next time I’ll be doing a post ranking each of the MCU villains from worst to best. Cya next time!