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Wilson Fisk: The MCU’s Greatest Baddie? (2015)

Updated: Mar 13

I’m sure you, like many of us, have recently binged their way through the spectacular Daredevil series on Netflix. It’s been a stand out in terms of writing, acting and cinematography, and is widely praised as the greatest superhero show to date, far surpassing the likes of Agents Of SHIELD and Arrow… But what else has it bought us?

Wilson Fisk, portrayed by the magnificent Vincent D’Onofrio, almost unrecognisable as the hulking behemoth of Hell’s Kitchen. Not only a physical force to be reckoned with, but an increasingly dangerous man, one who’s true colours blossom gradually throughout the thirteen exceptional episodes — and thats just one of the ways in which Marvel have built one of the greatest baddies of our time.

The Anatomy Of A Bad Guy

The build of Wilson Fisk as a character is a slow and gradual one. When compared with Arrow’s ‘baddie of the week’ format, Daredevil requires a lot more investment from the viewer. We’re asked to wait and see how Fisk will unfold, how snapshots of his past make their way into the present, and how repeated themes and visuals (such as his beloved Rabbit In A Snow Storm painting,) continue to reveal their relevance. It’s a play for the long term, and we must hold our interest for the ultimate pay off and a rare occurrence — a fully fleshed out, developed bad guy.

Compare Fisk to the likes of the Chitauri or Ultron, featured in Avengers and Avengers: Age Of Ultron respectively. Both examples are cookie-cutter bad guys, evil for evil’s sake, tearing apart cities for no reason other than to cause chaos. These types have their place in comic book movies and TV shows… But they are a little stale. Without real development of their characters, how are we supposed to care about their motivations and reasoning, and ultimately, the heroes triumph? It’s the equivalent of whack-a-mole. They pop up to cause a problem, get bonked on the head, and disappear, never to be heard from again. Even fan-favourite Loki suffers from a similar tack — sure, he has the sad adoptee backstory and some misplaced pride, but he is essentially bought in to bother Thor, stir up chaos with the likes of the Chitauri and then promptly vanish, or be defeated, before any real damage can be done. Perhaps he’ll have a bigger impact in Thor: Ragnarok… But we’ll have to wait and see.

Fisk not only benefits from a slow build up, but a uniquely fantastic origin story. It’s not until Episode 4 that we see the extent of Fisk’s violent tendencies, and as a long-time comic book fan, I honestly wasn’t expecting this to be explored any further than, ‘he’s evil.’ Instead, come Episode 8, we’re shown a stark and brutal series of flashbacks of Wilson’s past involving the murder of his father — an event which no doubt influenced both his violent temper and, considering his treatment of his mother, his doting affection for Vanessa. His mother was clearly a woman he adored, whom he watched repeatedly berated and beaten by his pig of a father, a woman who ultimately helped him dispose of the man who bullied the both of them. For him to find himself almost equally attached to a strong, powerful woman, a woman he treats almost like a Queen… Well, it makes perfect sense given his unusual upbringing. It’s remarkable to witness a comic book villain with not only a somewhat ‘regular’ childhood (no gamma rays or radioactive spiders,) but one that treats women with an almost overwhelming level of respect — it’s almost unheard of, and only acts to add another layer to the multi-faceted Wilson Fisk. He’s not merely an angry, vengeful monster — he has huge wells of softness, both for Vanessa and his mother… but also for Wesley, his right-hand man. The relationship present between those two is as unique as it is intriguing. There’s an unspoken trust there, so often lacking from both bad guys and male characters in general. It’s obvious that Fisk connects with Wesley on an incredibly deep level — rarely do we see such connections from comic book villains.

Yet another aspect which sets Fisk apart, is his use of both physical violence and ultimate power over the city and its inhabitants. Whilst he is huge and imposing in stature, he also dresses sharply, in pressed, dark suits. He never looks disheveled or messy, and his eerily calm facade only seems to come undone during his bouts of extreme rage — they’re few and far between, but almost always end in the gruesome death of the fool within his midst. His physical strength only seems to come into play when everything else has failed him entirely, when he has been let down or all other attempts at communication have failed, and it’s evident he’s at the end of his tether — he almost seems to return to that young Wilson Fisk, smashing a hammer into his father’s skull.

Fisk’s power over Hell’s Kitchen and its inhabitants is perhaps even more powerful than his fist. He seems to have influence over most areas of the city, thus making it almost impossible for Matt Murdock to even begin making a difference. By controlling a majority of the police force, he subsequently holds most of the power, and when combined with his wealth and influence, makes him a nigh unstoppable force. When we finally see him come face to face with Murdock during the epic fight in Episode 13, it’s truly a man undone by another, and he’s almost animalistic in his rage against the masked vigilante. It’s a sight to behold, and one that caused goosebumps to spring up, not only from the excellent choreography and musical score, but the raw emotion spilling forth from every facet of D’Onofrio’s performance as Fisk. A masterclass not only in acting, but in comic book baddies done right.

Perhaps my favourite element of Wilson Fisk, is his motivation. He is not a man on an ant hill, burning its inhabitants for fun. He is not a man bent on chaos, nor is he insane. He’s not even on a vengeful path, nor out to prove anything, or prove himself important. He truly believes he is benefitting his city. He believes that what he is doing is correct, that he’ll make Hell’s Kitchen a better place through his actions, and more importantly, he seemingly doesn’t want any of the attention attached to doing so. He is not a Lex Luthor, constantly desperate to remain in the public eye, and he doesn’t seem to benefit from the attention he does receive, like Loki. If anything, he’s reluctant to accept the mantle of a public figure — Vanessa is the one who pushes him to reveal himself as a businessman to the media in episode 8, (the same episode in which we’re shown his dark past.) He does not thrive from the attention. His steadfast determination to ‘fix’ the city is absolutely one of my favourite things about the character — he thinks he’s doing the right thing. There is no greater ‘evil’ motivation, he simply wants to mend his broken city. It’s why his dynamic with Daredevil works so well — they’re simply two individuals, hellbent on delivering their own form of justice to a damaged and irreparable Hell’s Kitchen.

Where does Wilson Fisk go next? The end of the series sees him incarcerated, having sent away Vanessa to supposed safety. I doubt Fisk will be inside for long, and my hope is for his swift return, along with Vanessa as a woman scorned by Daredevil’s impact on the city, (an impact which landed her beloved in prison.) I think they’d work rather spectacularly as a power couple, continuing with their intentions for Hell’s Kitchen, along with an added determination to bring about the downfall of the masked vigilante. I have no doubt that upcoming series’ may feature a wider variety of villains, which I’m more than happy with, but I hope they keep Fisk around for the long haul. He’s an incredible villain, crafted spectacularly both by the writers, and Vincent D’Onofrio’s truly exceptional performance. I hope they continue to give him incredible material to work with, because watching a comic book villain so well understood, and portrayed with such depth, is truly, a rare thing. He’s undoubtedly the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s greatest bad guy, and is fast becoming one of the greatest villains portrayed on screen, in anything, ever.

Long live Wilson Fisk.


Originally posted on Need To Consume in May 2015

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