Too Many Villains?

The new trailer for the upcoming superhero sequel The Amazing Spider-man 2 (the fifth Spidey movie, actually, counting Sam Raimi's original trilogy not too long ago) looks exciting, but seems loaded with an army of supervillains whose individual storylines might be tough to cram into a single plot. Every good story needs a good antagonist, someone or something to challenge, threaten, or drive the protagonist. In the superhero genre, filmmakers tend to fall for the temptation of throwing every single bad guy they can think of into their scripts in the hope of seeing what sticks.

It can work in some circumstances if the villainous characters fit together, and if one villain is primary, driving the plot. See for example, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises -- Catwoman wasn't distracting and fit with the film's themes of anarchy and class struggle. It also was a huge success with the previous Batman film, as Heath Ledger's Joker dominated the storyline, while Harvey Dent's Two-Face was a pivotal plotpoint in the climactic third act (although I still feel they rushed his story in the end.) I'm one of those folks who also believe that multiple villains worked in Tim Burton's Batman Returns (Catwoman, the Penguin, and Max Shreck), a movie that continues to get better every time I watch it, although some would vociferously disagree with me. 

No one can deny that too many evildoers can spoil a movie. Examples abound, from Batman and Robin (Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and a wasted Bane) to Spider-man III (Sandman, Venom, and Harry Osbourne as the new Goblin). They failed because there seemed to be too many ill-fitting pieces of the puzzle crammed into an unwieldy whole instead of naturally blending in together as part of a smooth flowing narrative.

I don't mind a stand-alone villain used in an opening sequence, such as in the James Bond franchise, before the real action begins, but we can't connect when it feels forced and out of place. Spider-man has a huge rogue's gallery of adversaries, so it's understandable that moviemakers want to show, and audiences want to see, as many of them as possible, but they need to be obvious fits rather than what sometimes feels like a stretch.  In the new Spider-man film, we will see the Rhino, Electro, and the new version of the Green Goblin (either brought to life by the elder Norman Osbourne or his son, Harry), and the trailer also teases the Vulture and Doctor Octopus (and maybe even Venom).

Supervillain team-ups work well in comic books. Are they setting up a Sinister Six epic with the super-powered fiends joining forces to unleash their mayhem? If it worked for the good guys to collaborate in Marvel's The Avengers, why not the bad guys?  We'll have to wait to see how it plays out on the big screen to determine if it succeeds or if it's all just a jumbled mess.

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