There’s a misguided notion in Hollywood among some circles that bigger is better. The more supervillains you can pack into a big budget summer superhero blockbuster, the more excitement will be generated. If Batman has to overcome not one, not two, but three villains in his new installment of his megapopular franchise, he’ll look like an even bigger hero than in the last movie, when he had his hands full with just one! Right?
No, I’m sorry, that’s wrong. Any time you put more than one main villain in a superhero movie, you’ve given yourself the proverbial kiss of death.
With reboots of failed franchises all the rage these days in Hollywood – – reboots toward simpler times, with less villains, focused more on what makes the heroes tick – – it’d be easy to think that maybe the trend has stopped. After all, in Batman Begins, the main villain was Ra’s al Ghul, and the Scarecrow merely served as his henchman. Falcone was a dying remnant of the old Gotham that Batman cleaned up, once and for all. One main villain, tons of focus on the hero. Great movie.
With Superman Returns, you had Lex Luthor, and only Lex Luthor, to fight the Man of Steel, rather than the last time we saw him on film, when he faced off against Luthor and some stupid clone of himself. These newer movies were each a return to form (Superman Returns still sucked, though), pared down to what made the characters iconic in the first place.
And, yet, their sequels are looking to have multiple villains. Take the now on-hiatus, pending, who-knows-what’s-gonna-happen-next Superman: The Man of Steel. On August 4, 2007, SuperHeroHype! posted a story about a user from the Planet Forum that got a chance to meet Superman: Man of Steel co-writer Michael Daugherty (the link is to the full story). Here’s what that user had to say:
I asked if he could give any more info on the film. He responded, “There are TWO villains,” and he smiled.
And he smiled. Or, how about more recently, on January 15 of this year, when asked about the Dark Knight and its villains, director Christopher Nolan had this to say (again, link is to the direct story) to SuperHeroHype!
Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) is a tragic figure, and his story is the backbone of this film. …The Joker sort of cuts through the film — he’s got no story arc, he’s just a force of nature tearing through. Heath has given an amazing performance in the role, it’s really extraordinary.
Having more than one villain in a superhero movie is always an awful idea. It’s a fact that’s been proven repeatedly, and I’d argue that it’s time the trend ended. I hope you question that statement, and I hope some big movie producer somehow, by dumb luck, graces this post and does a spit-take, but if you don’t believe me, I’m glad to be challenged.
Let’s look at the facts, case by case.
Let’s start out small. They hyped the crap out of the Hulk, directed by Ang Lee, back in 2003, but it’s an awful movie. Many people complained that the computer effects weren’t believable, that the acting wasn’t anything super great, etc, but the real burn that made this movie go from bad to worse was after the scene where the Hulk had finally powered down after his super long, super intense fight against General Ross’ army.
Everybody in the theatre, myself included, was ready to pack up and go home, but no. They tacked on an unnecessarily long segment involving another villain (the Hulk’s dad) to drive the audience past the breaking point. This was the first Hulk movie, and it has since been forgotten by continuity, as the upcoming Incredible Hulk has justifiably erased this from existence.
This is a franchise that’s not quite dead yet, since people somehow keep paying money to see this nonsense, but the quality of the movies dropped significantly from the first to the second. And the first was already really bad.
Why did the second one get such terrible reviews? Well, how many villains were in it? You had Silver Surfer (who eventually came around), along with Galactus, and Doctor Doom (who eventually got the Surfer’s board and became the main bad guy…more main than the DEVOURER OF WORLDS). The ending to this came off as cheap and over-the-top, thanks to cramming all that nonsense down our throats.
The first movie had the Brotherhood of Mutants, but, let’s face it. The villain was Magneto and the rest were his henchmen. It was an alright flick. The second one had William Styker. Great film. The third one had Magneto, Juggernaut, Dark Phoenix, and a slew of Gen-X muties in black leather and tattoos. If you think X3 had any redeemable qualities, I think you’re an idiot.
This franchise also tanked on the third movie. The first one was as fun as any Spider-Man movie should be, with the main villain of Green Goblin posing significant threat. He had the proper back-story, the proper build, and he was menacing as hell.
The second movie was the pinnacle of the franchise, with Doc Ock as the main and only villain, with hints that Harry Osborne wanted a piece of Spidey’s ass. Fantastic stuff. The third one, however, gave Harry his shot at the champ. It also introduced Sandman and, eventually, Venom, in the third act. Neither character was given enough time to develop (even though the movie was five hours long), since Sam Raimi still insisted that it was a Spider-Man movie above all else and devoted a ton of time to Peter and his stupid transformation into a jack-ass version of himself. So, there were technically five villains!
I hear rumors, by the way, that Spider-Man 4 is going to focus on the Sinister Six. Boy, would that suck.
This list wouldn’t be anywhere near complete without the worst franchise of all time, the original Batman franchise. Starting with Batman, you had one main villain, and the film was fun as hell, as well as so popular that it started a big ball of what would eventually become the worst shit in the history of filmmaking rolling.
Batman Returns had two villains, and it suffered as a result, in spite of Tim Burton’s most valiant of efforts. As a caveat, I also think it suffered due to the choice of villains. Catwoman and Penguin? Gimme a breaksville.
Then, Joel Schumacher took over with Batman Forever, and things started getting worse and worse. Over the course of his two movies, we saw the Riddler, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane all reduced to nothing. In the end, the “big threat” they posed was impotent, and it made Batman, Robin, and Batgirl look equally pathetic, since they had such a hard time battling them off.
That’s all I have time for. I think I’ve proven my point, so, please, I defy you to challenge me. Can you name a single superhero movie that has benefited from including more than one main villainous threat?