We just got a new trailer for The Amazing Spiderman 2. I admit that the first one was better than I expected so I am tentatively looking forward to the next one. The preview definitely dropped a lot of hints for comic book fans, but it also brought up another issue and that is the too many villains syndrome. So far we have Rhino, Electro, and Green Goblin as villains in this movie, including Oscorp as an evil corporation. This is a lot of villains to introduce in a movie and to give enough back story to make them interesting.
To be a good story you need a villain who is memorable and who is not a paper cutout of the idea of what a villain should be. They need to be multifaceted characters and have more to them than just being bad guys. It takes time to develop the character of a good quality villain that could not just stand in for any other villain. So when you have too many villains you can end up with none of them being that interesting. Also, in the attempt to develop the villains further you can end up either making the movie too long and / or creating an unfocused story with too many directions.
Flat villains are not the worst thing that you can end up with because if the story, the hero, and the action is good then it can make up for a villain whose sole purpose is to give the hero someone to fight or be mad at. The issue though is that the villain that does not live an impression is not that interesting. They need to be more than simply greedy or evil. They need to have motivation. They are characters in and of themselves outside of their relationship with the hero and that’s what makes them interesting.
Villains such as Magneto, Red Skull, and Loki are interesting as villains because they are fully formed characters. These villains make the story more interesting because we are watching both sides of the story. We want to know who the villain is as much as we want to know who the hero is. The love for Loki (and particularly Tom Hiddleston as Loki) shows that complex villains are just more fun to watch.
The other piece about having too many villains is that by trying to develop their various characters you end up with an unfocused story. This might be the saving grace for the next Spiderman movie, but it at least seems like all of the villains might be spawned from the same location, Oscorp, which could help explain their backgrounds. If you have too many villains with too many motivations and backstories then it can be really difficult to tie their stories together. It often ends up that the connection is tenuous or that it feels like multiple movies were combined in to one. Either option does not work very well.
Spiderman 3 is one example of this actually, which is where some of the comments about the new Spiderman have come out of. There was too many villains and none of them were very well developed and it kept taking the story in too many directions. Also, it was a travesty what they did with Venom because Venom is my favorite Spiderman villain and they ruined him. This was not the only problem with that movie, but it was definitely one of them. X-men Last Stand is actually another example because we love Magneto, but they brought in Phoenix, the Morlocks, and then the government wanting to do a cure. The story just got scattered.
So the other aspect of having the story unfocused is that the story ends up being too long. It takes time to try and introduce all of those villains, and then to have the various villain stories somehow join together, and often the various stories do not end up that interesting. The movie just keeps going on, but we do not care enough about what is happening. The other part is that we do not understand why we need to care. Now even if the movie is not that long it can feel too long if you try and jam too much into it.
Most of the time if the movie feels too long you just do not want to watch it. Some of the ones that I tend to not watch that often are Spiderman 3, X-man The Last Stand, and others. Then there are movies where it was just so bad the villains were added because they did not really have a story. Looking at you Batman and Robin. I think multiple villains can be handled well, but the more interesting story has a single focus and shows just what is needed.
Too Many Villains
I don’t know if The Amazing Spiderman 2 will suffer from too many villains syndrome, but it is a possibility. I think if the focus is on Oscorp as the villain that it might just work, because the motivations could all surround a single entity. Another example of where multiple villains can work is if it is something like the League of Shadows where all the people share the same vision and focus. The villain is the larger organization not necessarily the individuals. There is often a head of the organization that represents the whole, but it does allow for multiple villains to show as members of a single group. That is how I actually thing the next Spiderman movie could work with multiple villains. There are probably other ways, but having watched the trailer a couple times the story is looking a little scattered, which is worrisome.