With six superhero movies hitting the big screen this year, you might have thought that audiences enjoyed a wide variety of villainous threats to life as we know it throughout 2016. Sadly, the reality is that supervillains, like movie screenwriters, occasionally come up with plans that are oddly similar to what’s come before. If it’s not trying to make superheroes punch each other, it’s mythical beings throwing temper tantrums over not being worshipped — although we have a couple of outliers as well.
For aspiring evil geniuses, which plans worked and which should be discarded never to be spoken of again? Here’s your guide to the supervillain plots of 2016 and just how well they worked out.
The Abridged Plan — Step 1: Recruit dying people for a mysterious organization. Step 2: Give them super powers. Step 3: Profit?
The Full Plan: OK, I’ll admit to being a little unclear on what Ajax’s secret organization that was really Weapon X was actually trying to do in Deadpool, but I’m a little unclear on Weapon X in the X-Men movies in general. They’re … part of the Canadian military but not, or something? Except they’re really evil and think they’ve killed Deadpool, but he’s out for revenge, so it’s … his plan, I guess.
Was It a Success? In that the program ended up creating the very thing that ended the program, I think we can officially call this the least successful of all the plans.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
The Abridged Plan: You and he fight so that I can get some new toys out of the whole thing.
The Full Plan: Never let it be said that Lex Luthor is an underachiever. Not only did he manipulate Batman and Superman into fighting — taking advantage of the former’s paranoia and love of weaponized planning to do so — but even this is just intended to promote the need for him to be placed in charge of the authorities’ attempts to defend themselves against superhuman threats, which would give him access to his true target: the alien technology from Zod and the Kryptonian invasion force in Man of Steel. Sure, things got out of control with that whole Doomsday thing, but occasionally things get weird even in the best laid plans. (We’re avoiding Lex blowing up a senatorial investigation to frame Superman, because, does anyone need to remember the jar of urine?)
Was It a Success? Yes, Lex ended up in jail and potentially insane after interfacing with alien technology, but he did manage to kill Superman in a roundabout fashion, so mission kind of accomplished.
The Abridged Plan: You and he fight because revenge is a dish best served amazingly complicated.
The Full Plan: Acting like a man who’d just watched Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Helmut Zero — a soldier whose family was killed as a result of events in Avengers: Age of Ultron — committed a terrorist attack on the United Nations so that he could frame it on the Winter Soldier, so that he could draw the Winter Soldier out of hiding and be captured by definitely not SHIELD, so that he could go undercover and use the hypnotic triggers that control the Winter Soldier’s brainwashing, so that the Winter Soldier would escape, fracture the superheroes’ faith in one another and ultimately reveal that the Winter Soldier killed Iron Man’s dad, so that he could kill himself in peace. Let’s chalk it up to some hardcore nihilism.
Was It a Success? Like BVS, this one was pretty successful, in that it did manage to break up the Avengers, at least until Avengers: Infinity War. Indeed, if you just take out the suicide part at the very end, Zemo got everything he wanted. Good job, Helmut! Just imagine if you’d applied those skills to something that made even a lick of sense!
The Abridged Plan: Sometimes, it’s good to stay old school: Kneel before me or else.
The Full Plan: Given that En Sabah Nur had just woken up from a 5,000 year sleep (or thereabouts), it’s perhaps understandable that his plan consisted of little more than “Humanity needs to obey me. I’ll supercharge some mutants so that they can help make this happen.” Let’s be honest: exactly why he supercharged those particular mutants is a mystery beyond “Hey, the comic fans love them,” but maybe he was still a little groggy from being asleep for so long. (No offense to Olivia Munn, but what did Psylocke actually do — or Angel, for that matter? When coming up with a super team to help with world domination, surely you could choose better than “Ninja and guy with wings.”
Was It a Success? Where Apocalypse really went wrong was with wanting to subjugate the entire human race. If he’d just set his sights a little lower — say, “Destroying a few cities and turning Magneto to the dark side yet again” — then everything would have been hunky-dory. The lesson here is “Know your limits.”
The Abridged Plan: Start off with a show of power, and if that doesn’t work, keep going until morale improves.
The Full Plan: If Batman v Superman and Civil War had some similarities, then Suicide Squad could be closely related to X-Men: Apocalypse, featuring a similarly re-awoken ancient threat that seeks to transform others into doing its bidding. This time around, it’s the Enchantress and her brother, Incubus, who transform Midway City into an almost Lovecraftian horrorscape in an attempt to simultaneously get revenge on humanity for (temporarily) controlling and trapping them. The two also convince humanity of their immense power so that they’re worshipped as gods once more. That the attempts to do so happened to trap Amanda Waller in the middle of Midway were just unfortunate.
Was It a Success? What tripped the Enchantress up is that, really, what Suicide Squad depicts is less a plan, per se, and more of a temper tantrum that just happens to involve magical powers and the transformation of a city. If she’d sat down and thought, “What am I really trying to achieve here?” things could have been so very different.
The Abridged Plan: Use the tools of the system to dismantle the system and drain the metaphysical swamp.
The Full Plan: Having learned of the possibilities of magic, Kaecilius and his followers have realized that the sky’s the limit if you look at it properly. Instead of using magic to maintain the natural order of things, what if you use the natural order of things to find the tools that will help summon the Dread Dormammu, a mystical being whose very presence will bring the current status quo to an end, thereby ushering in a new age of … Well, OK, that bit’s just a tad hazy but potentially something better than this, and that’s got to be worth the risk, right? (Note: This movie was not intended as an allegory for the election of Donald Trump, but I’m just saying that maybe there are parallels.)
Was It a Success? Like the best episodes of Scooby Doo, they could have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that pesky kid. If only Stephen Strange hadn’t been such a maverick to create a time loop that isn’t a real time loop. And let’s not think about that too much, then Kaecilius and Dormammu would have gotten exactly what they’d wanted. But then, everyone should know by now that it’s always the maverick doctors who pull victory out of the jaws of defeat at the last moment.