Sarcastic superpower: why Bill Murray is the perfect Marvel villain | Movies

Bill Murray’s confirmation that he is to play an unnamed villain in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania isn’t the first time a prestigious star has deigned to join the weird world of Marvel. Glenn Close turned up as a space colony administrator in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, and Jeff Goldblum played the enthusiastically freaky Grandmaster in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. Cate Blanchett was the Norse God’s evil big sister in that movie, while Benicio del Toro appeared as the mysterious Collector in three films, culminating in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, where Thanos dispensed with him.

Murray, the ageing doyen of indie cinema, has of course appeared in blockbusters before. Before becoming the kind of guy Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola have on speed dial, he was king of 80s and 90s comedy, his leading turns in the original Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day perhaps even marking the commercial zenith of that period.

Then there was that awful point in the 00s when Murray agreed to voice the talking cat Garfield opposite Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt (remember them?) The movie was dross, and Murray said he thought he’d signed up for a Coen Brothers movie. (Garfield’s script had been written by Joel Cohen; Murray thought this was the same person as indie darling Joel Coen.)

Why did Murray then agree to reprise the role of the curmudgeonly cat for 2006’s Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties? We have not been told. The point is, Murray isn’t averse to acting in commercially aligned movies. But he famously has no agent, manager, or contactable phone number; booking him is like trying to get hold of the A-Team.

Yet it still seems strange that Murray is about to turn up in a Marvel movie, let alone one as fantastical as Quantumania, which will delve into the quantum realm seen briefly in previous Ant-Man episodes. The film’s main baddie will be Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror, described as a “time-travelling, multiversal adversary”. Who will Murray play? His wise-cracking sidekick? It makes little sense.

Except, of course, that Murray is also the perfect Marvel villain, because this film series hasn’t taken itself seriously for years. The now-tainted Joss Whedon crystallised the self-effacing, self-reflexive approach to comic book film-making that has become the template for just about everything when he had Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man describe his first meeting with Chris Hemsworth’s ornately robed Thor (in 2012’s The Avengers) as a bit like “Shakespeare in the park”. Ever since then, it has been open season on all the comic book genre’s most ridiculous conceits, from its obsession with villains of Asian extraction in Iron Man 3 to the Tobey Maguire version of Spider-Man’s icky organic webshooters in the recent No Way Home.

In that sense, then, Murray is where he ought to be. In the interview in which he discussed his new part, the actor described his role in the new film as “being a bad guy”. We all know by now that Murray’s superpower is an elegant, mocking contempt from the sidelines; the way his sardonic, effortless one-liners can deconstruct an entire scene yet elevate it at the same time. He’s going to fit in brilliantly.

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