Is the Marvel Cinematic Universe Building up Norman Osborn as the Next Long-Term Villain?
Norman Osborn is best known as a Spider-Man villain (or rather, the Spider-Man villain: the Green Goblin), but in the past two decades, he went from being an archnemesis who cast a shadow over Peter Parker’s life years after his death to the biggest threat to an adult Spider-Man. Later stories expanded Osborn’s role to make him a crucial threat to the Marvel Universe as a whole, and there’s reason to suspect that this will prove true for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well.
Evidence That Norman Osborn Is Around In Existing Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies
I’d like to start this piece off with some in-universe story elements to the MCU that would suggest that Norman Osborn already exists in the MCU, even if he hasn’t been mentioned by name. Right now, I can think of three movies off the top of my head that allude to Osborn, and they appear in Iron Man 3, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and most importantly, Ant-Man and the Wasp.
First up is a bit of a stretch, but one worth mentioning all the same. In Iron Man 3, the United States Government sought to rebrand James Rhodes’s image as a superhero from War Machine to something that would be easier to sell from a public relations perspective. Therefore, the suit of armor was given a new paint job after its upgrades and the Iron Patriot was born. In the comics, the Iron Patriot suit was designed by Norman Osborn, who had previously manipulated his way into a position of power, and – from the public’s perspective – was crucial in the defeat of a Skrull invasion that nearly succeeded. Once he was put in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D., Osborn restructured the organization into H.A.M.M.E.R. and set about expanding his influence in the government, forming a secret alliance of supervillains to enforce his will – all while operating under his own suit of armor, which he dubbed “The Iron Patriot” as a way of improving his image and playing off of his status as a “hero”.
Granted, Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures weren’t cooperating at the time that Iron Man 3 was released, as Sony was busy with their ultimately ill-fated Amazing Spider-Man universe that was ultimately discontinued after Andrew Garfield wanted out and the sequel underperformed. But that hasn’t stopped Marvel Studios reps from confirming that the masked kid at the Stark Expo in Iron Man 2 was a young Peter Parker, who got to meet his hero years before being recruited by him to fight Captain America (Civil War) and later attempt to stop Thanos (Infinity War). Point being, there’s room for retcons even in the movie version of the Marvel Universe, and Osborn could either have had a hand in designing the suit, or he could have plans to utilize his own version of it at a later point in time.
The second point of note suggesting Osborn’s presence comes in the form of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Part of the B-plot of the movie is that Tony Stark is moving the base of operations for the Avengers to a facility based in upstate New York, leading him to sell Avengers Tower and move valuable supplies out of it, which becomes Vulture’s last heist at the end of the film. Worth noting is that the buyer that Stark is selling the tower to is never identified – almost purposefully in a way to invite speculation. Multiple guesses have popped up, between the fan pipe dream that it’ll somehow become the Baxter Building in time for Marvel to get the Fantastic Four rights back from Disney’s purchase of Fox, but what’s more likely is that it will become the new Oscorp Tower. Think about it – the mere presence of the Oscorp Tower in the background of multiple movies (and possibly even the television shows) that don’t explicitly involve Spider-Man could serve as free publicity for Sony Pictures and their own Spider-Man projects set in the MCU. If Sony really want to think about the long-term plan with their Marvel Studios partnership, then this would be step one toward achieving that.
The third and final point is something that just surfaced recently in the MCU: a plot detail in Ant-Man and the Wasp. In that movie, Sonny Burch is after Hank Pym’s portable, shrinkable lab and all the technological marvels that come with it, and he won’t take “no” for an answer. The thing is, he doesn’t want it for himself – he’s been contracted to get Pym’s tech for a particularly wealthy buyer with an implied shady past. It stands to reason that the person after this technology would need a good head on their shoulders to understand it, and as such, Osborn is yet again another candidate to serve as a behind-the-scenes operative influencing the MCU. He might not be on anyone’s radar yet in-universe, but keep in mind: neither was Thanos.
Rumors About Future Marvel Projects
Now, right now, those points might sound like mere fan speculation. But some other rumors related to the future of the MCU indicate that a story arc where Norman Osborn is a key player could very well be on the cards. For one thing, Spider-Man: Far From Home will be the first movie set after the events of Avengers 4. Not much is known about the plot, but one set of rumors (WARNING: possible Avengers 4 spoilers in that link) indicate that major actors are being looked at for a surprise villain role that’s small in nature, but will expand significantly over future movies. Kevin Feige has stated that in some respects, Far From Home will have as much impact on the Phase 4 lineup as Captain America: Civil War did with respect to Phase 3, even though no other major Marvel superheroes have been confirmed to appear in that film alongside Spidey himself.
What’s also of interest is that Marvel will be bringing the Skrulls into the MCU starting with Captain Marvel. Rumors indicate that when we finally meet up with Hawkeye in Avengers 4, he’ll be in Japan hunting down the Yakuza – who turn out to be Skrulls in disguise. (For the uninitiated, the Skrulls are shape-shifting aliens who can mimic the abilities of superhumans.) This could be setting the stage for a Secret Invasion adaptation for the inevitable Avengers 5; if they end up taking that route, then having Norman Osborn take advantage of the situation seems like it could work naturally to develop a multiple-movie story arc. If Osborn is able to be perceived as a successful “hero” in the face of the Avengers potentially coming up short, then Osborn gaining positive publicity would give him the means to consolidate power and allow him more credence as the ultimate threat of the next big cycle of movies being planned.
One other thing worth taking note of is a project unrelated to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Silver & Black, factors into this equation as well. Sony’s plans for their spin-offs are apparently to have them be “adjacent” to the MCU, most likely so that they can proceed with characters that Kevin Feige and company don’t have any immediate plans for, such as Venom. (In all likelihood, Marvel will end up ignoring them and will probably soft-reboot the characters years down the line.) But I digress; a report from That Hashtag Show indicated that when Silver & Black was planned for its original 2019 release window, Norman Osborn was meant to be cast as a voice over an intercom so as to not interfere with Marvel Studios’s potential plans for the character. DanielRPK, someone known for breaking DC Films-related scoops, chipped in and noted that Marvel explicitly asked Sony not to use Osborn at all:
I think that because I heard Marvel asked Sony not to use Norman in one of the Spidey Spin-Offs. Meaning they want to use him themselves…
— Daniel Richtman (@DanielRPK) July 7, 2018
For context, this tweet from DanielRPK was building off an earlier tweet which was based around speculation that Osborn was the mysterious buyer that wanted Pym’s resources. Presuming that Silver & Black was the spin-off that Daniel was alluding to here, that film was significantly delayed from a planned 2019 release date and has since been heavily rewritten (in fact, it’s being rewritten by one of the Captain Marvel screenwriters), lending credence to the idea that Marvel wanted to use Norman Osborn because they have plans for him, and that they would prefer that Sony not do anything with the character.
Why Norman Osborn Would Work As A Long-Term Bad Guy
So with all that speculation out of the way, here’s why I think Marvel would benefit from having Norman Osborn as a long-term villain for the setting – it would beat merely telling another Green Goblin story while still leaving room to have Osborn actually be the Green Goblin. We’ve already seen the classic “Norman Osborn experiments upon himself and becomes the Green Goblin and accidentally kills himself in a confrontation with Spider-Man” narrative with Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie, and we saw a similar narrative play out with Harry Osborn becoming the Green Goblin and killing Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, so clearly Marvel will want to do something different if they decide to use the character in the MCU. So what better way to do that than to do something that you couldn’t do in a universe where only Spider-Man characters exist?
The “evil corporate executive” archetype has never fallen out of style, and I don’t suspect it ever will. It’s much more grounded in reality than, say, the “evil overlord who wants to subjugate the world and/or kill people” archetype, which has been par the course for a number of MCU antagonists. Instead of Osborn being just another crazy villain with superpowers, making him a corporate mastermind who wants to manipulate his way into a position of higher power at the expense of pretty much everyone is something that’s bound to be distinct from previous live-action iterations. Having Osborn serve as the architect of an attempt to take over the world slowly but gradually seems like something that would work with a long-term narrative. And loosely adapting three notable comic book story arcs – specifically, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, and Siege – would be the way to go about doing something like that.
The story of Secret Invasion follows a cataclysmic event (in the comics, Civil War, and in the movies, likely Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4) which leaves everyone worse for wear. Following this, that story arc plays off of the idea that a number of heroes aren’t who we thought they were and that several characters we’ve known for quite some time are disguised Skrulls. This is something inherently intriguing, and it can be something that could recontextualize the entire history of the MCU if the people behind the hypothetical movie could pull it off in a two-and-a-half-hour narrative, bringing the cosmic elements of the setting closer to Earth. But it could also end by putting Norman Osborn – and, potentially, the Thunderbolts – into a position of power. This sets the stage for Dark Reign, a story about how a villain like Norman Osborn is able to consolidate more and more power by various means, something that can be shown through multiple movies. Ultimately, this story arc should culminate in Siege, in which Osborn outright invades Asgard (now a city on Earth) before he’s defeated for good.
In the process of adapting a story like that, we can get a lot of content out of it: introducing two villain-based organizations (the Cabal and the Thunderbolts), the promise of substantial Spider-Man representation in future Marvel Studios movies, a real connection between the cosmic stories and the Earth-based stories, and so on. Putting Norman Osborn in the center of all that allows for a narrative that focuses on someone completely antithetical to who Tony Stark is, creating a nice contrast between what we’ve already seen and Marvel movies going forward. Plus, going back to the Spider-Man franchise specifically, it can give Peter Parker an idea of what kind of person he could become if he makes the wrong decisions, strengthening his character as he moves toward becoming the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In any case, we won’t get a clear idea about the future of Marvel’s setting until this time next year. But what do you think? Should Norman Osborn become the driving villain of the MCU after Thanos? Is this all a bunch of wishful thinking? Let us know in the comments section.
Grant Davis is a freelance writer who has covered entertainment news for more than four years. His articles have frequently appeared in Star Wars News Net as well as as other entertainment-related websites. As someone who grew up on Star Wars and comic book movies, he’s completely thrilled with the current era of genre entertainment.