We all feared that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was going to have too many villains. But the number of bad guys in the new sequel isn’t really a problem. You’ve mostly just got Electro (Jamie Foxx), who is the most powerful and most prevalent, and then there’s Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) who joins him in the third act. Rhino (Paul Giamatti) is basically only in this movie for isolated scenes, and I’ll just keep the mention of him to that, so nobody thinks I’m spoiling too much (he’s in the ads, so his very appearance shouldn’t be a surprise). Oh, and there’s also that mysterious man seen at the end of the first movie doing whatever he’s doing somewhere in the background.
It’s not that there are too many of these guys so much that they’re handled rather sloppily, though that’s par for the course of most elements of the movie. When fans worry about the multiple villain issue, what they’re really worried about is yet another movie that handles the idea badly. We’ve seen this before, in Spider-Man 3, Batman and Robin, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: The Last Stand, Iron Man 2 and The Dark Knight Rises. The last one is an interesting criticism from people because the entire Christopher Nolan series has multiple villains for each film, with The Dark Knight championed (by us, six years ago) for being one the rare great movies to do it right with the balance of The Joker and eventually Two-Face.
Regarding the X-Men movies, they should be allowed multiple villains — at least the non-solo efforts should. Team-based superhero movies necessitate an evil ensemble to make for fair play and to give each of the good guy cast something to do. The first X-Men kinda gets it right, even if the multiple villains are all basically henchmen for the big bad, Magneto, and even if a great villain like Sabretooth is reduced to being the most disappointing character adapted from a comic book ever (don’t even try to argue). Nobody complains that The Avengers has multiple villains — principally Loki and then the Chitauri, plus Hulk to an extent, and possessed Hawkeye and finally the reveal of Thanos as the mastermind lurking behind the scenes.
There is a major circumstance for comic book movies that makes them prone to the worrisome pre-criticism, and that’s recognition. It’s not so much that there are too many villains in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as there are too many familiar characters known to be Spidey nemeses in the comics. It doesn’t have to be limited to superhero movies, though. A James Bond movie featuring, somehow, Blofeld, Goldfinger and Mr. Big would have the same concern. Even a new combination of big bads and iconic henchmen, like where a movie would have 007 go up against Jaws and then later have a climactic fight with the seemingly unpartnered Oddjob and Blofeld, might be too much.
Does it matter if the villains are related in some mutual plan or gang? Would it be more acceptable for fans for Spider-Man to fight three separate villains in an episodic (or interweaving) fashion or to fight three villains operating together in a hierarchy, where Spidey has to fight one by one on the way up to the biggest bad? Personally, I favor movies with a lot going on, when done well, so that there’s an epic, adventurous scope and different adversarial obstacles along the way. ASM2 could have easily been done differently and felt grander. The first Sam Raimi Spider-Man, after all, has multiple villains if you think about it — Flash Thompson, the robber (thought to be Ben’s killer) and then Green Goblin. They’re just of different scale.
Here’s a quick list of some other movies ranging in the very good to great range that do succeed in having more than one villain, though their qualification of what constitutes a villain varies and might not fit everyone’s definition or seem to fit analogically with what ASM2 is doing.
Alien/Aliens: In both of these, the Xenomorphs are the real villains, yet each has its own “human” villain, too. I put that in quotes because in Alien the guy, Ash, is actually an android. In Aliens, though, Burke is a total scumbag but he’s still a human being.
Back to the Future Part II: Does it count even if they’re all just Biff? I like to consider teen Biff, alternate ’80s timeline Biff and old Biff separate villains, and then there’s also Griff, who is played by the same actor.
Batman Returns: People knock Batman and Robin for having too many villains but that’s not typically a criticism against Tim Burton’s second Batman outing, in which the bad guy side of the screen is shared by iconic villains Catwoman, Penguin and Christopher Walken.
Flash Gordon: Everyone just thinks of Ming the Merciless as the villain of the 1980 movie, but even though they become allies later, Prince Barin and Prince Vultan start out as enemies and have to be defeated at different intervals of the story. Vultan was originally a villain in the comic strip, so he definitely counts even if you don’t allow for Barin.
The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings: Pick any installment, there are bad guys (and creatures) aplenty, and they’re not often related to each other in their villainy. The most recent movie, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, might have the easiest distinction between villains, which include Azog, Gollum, Smaug and Sauron.
Jurassic Park: If dinosaurs were people, this movie would have multiple villains, because the T-Rex and the velociraptors, not to mention the other threatening beasts, are on their own levels as far as making trouble for the good guys.
Kill Bill: I’m counting both volumes. Although the villains in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part revenge film were once united under Bill, when the Bride goes up against them they’re each doing their own thing as an independent baddie, one of them with her own army of henchmen. In order, there’s Vernita (Copperhead) and O-Ren (Cottonmouth) in Vol. 1 and Budd (Sidewinder) and Elle (California Mountain Snake) then Bill in Vol. 2.
Return of the Jedi: And the whole original Star Wars trilogy, I suppose. But in the third movie you have the biggest distinction between Jabba the Hutt and then Darth Vader and The Emperor. In a way, that trio is quite analogical to the trio of villains in ASM2 (no, Electro doesn’t turn out to be Peter Parker’s father).
The Running Man: Damon Killian is the main villain, but I’d label Schwarzenegger’s adversaries during the game to be distinct villains in their own right. They’re technically working for Killian, but I just imagine if this were a superhero movie that Buzzsaw, Dynamo, Fireball, Subzero and Captain Freedom would all be individual supervillains.
Superman II: Lex Luthor may be kinda useless in this installment, villain-wise (though he served a model for Loki 30 years later in Thor: The Dark World), but he’s there. And if the character was as in Man of Steel and as present as he is here, fans would cry “too much!” Meanwhile, the trio of General Zod, Ursa and Non already constitutes plenty of bad guys, although they’re also almost like one solid villain.
The Warriors: On their way back to Coney Island from the Bronx, the Warriors have to get past various gangs, such as the The Lizzies, The Turnbull ACs and, everyone’s favorites, the Baseball Furies. It makes sense that this movie would succeed in having lots of bad guys as it’s based on “The Odyssey,” which is the original masterpiece involving multiple villains.