Venom opens in theaters worldwide today and I, for one, am incredibly excited to see it. Just kidding, this movie features the worst trailer I have ever seen with my own two eyes and I’m questioning my existence as a movie podcaster, knowing that I’ll soon have to watch this movie. Even still, 2018 is a big year for the Spider-Man Cinematic Universe, what with Infinity War, Venom, and the December release of Into the Spider-Verse. Spidey is a big player in my house as my son fluctuates from day to day between wanting to be Spider-Man and wanting to be Black Panther. (I’d rather him be something like Engineer Man or Accountant Man or just “Isn’t Crippled by Student Debt Man” but so it goes.) He watches the various Spider-Man movies quite frequently and as such, I have become an expert on this disjointed series both willingly (Homecoming) and unwillingly (Spider-Man 3 which will very likely be the death of me). With Venom now upon us, let’s have a look at the nine villains that have propagated the Spidey Verse thus far.
10. The Rhino, The Amazing Spider-Man 2
9. Green Goblin, The Amazing Spider-Man 2
You may be saying, “How could the AM2 villains POSSIBLY be any worse than the various villains Spider-Man 3 brought to the table, you cretin?” And you might be right, honestly, except that I have seen Amazing 2 a half-dozen times (thanks, Cooper) and when I IMDB’d this movie to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything, I discovered that I had, in fact, completely and totally forgotten that BOTH OF THESE VILLAINS WERE EVEN IN THE MOVIE!!! In my book, it is worse to be completely and totally forgettable as a villain than it is to be outright bad. (My book is called, “Very Weird Takes About Movie Villains.” A NYT bestseller, to be sure.) I’m also docking points for Dane DeHaan playing Green Goblin instead of Hobgoblin as he should have been. You can’t just change which Osborn is which Goblin without me taking notice, Marc Webb.
8. Venom/The Alien Simbiote, Spider-Man 3
7. Sandman, Spider-Man 3
6. Hobgoblin, Spider-Man 3
Woof. One of the greatest disappointments in blockbuster movie history, there are a ton of reasons why SM3 failed miserably beyond just the villains (the jazz club scene alone probably could’ve sunk Citizen Kane). But the villains certainly didn’t help. For one thing, three villains is way too many villains (a lesson that Amazing Spider-Man 2 did NOT learn despite how hard my brain apparently tried to erase this fact); maybe you can do the Villain Ensemble thing but it’s always iffy and in this case, all three villains were supposed to be established as their own characters, not a cohesive, villainous whole. Beyond this overstuffing, however, the real issue is all three of these characters suck. Harry Osbourne/Hobgoblin perpetually streaks across the screen like the worst PS2 video game creation of all-time, Sandman is hamstrung by a pathetically pandering backstory (not to mention Thomas Hayden Church’s big bag of nothing), and the simbiote’s big move is to make Tobey Maguire play jazz piano poorly.
5. Electro, The Amazing Spider-Man 2
To be frank, Electro lands here more by default than anything else. He’s an odd character, his backstory is odd, and Jamie Foxx’s portrayal is odder still. If I were given five minutes with Mr. Foxx, I’d like to tell you I’d appropriately ask him what he was going for here and dig into the genesis of character interpretation and stuff but really I’d just spend the entire five minutes ranting about how he showed up at the Mavs’ championship parade in 2011 then also at the Miami championship parade in 2012. “Did you really think you could get away with this, Jamie?! NOTHING GETS BY ME, JAMIE!!!” Dallas Mavericks digression aside, this is a very mediocre, forgettable villain in a very mediocre, forgettable move but at least the character looked cool in its mediocrity.
4. The Lizard, The Amazing Spider-Man
In hindsight, The Lizard is a relatively obscure villain with which to relaunch a franchise that the average moviegoer didn’t even realize needed to be relaunched. Sony’s blundering efforts to transition from the Maguire Spider-Man films to the Garfield Spider-Man films was a mess and yet, the villain stands out as a high point. Rhys Ifans’ performance in the Dr. Jekyll side of this character is interesting and more nuanced than you might expect. Meanwhile, the scale of the CGI of the Mr. Hyde side of the equation makes for a competent rival for Spidey that verges on effectively creepy in certain spots. There’s a lot I don’t care for within Sam Raimi’s film sensibilities, but I think his horror background would’ve served this character well had he been in the director’s chair. Still, this is a good villain who for large stretches outshines the protagonist.
3. Green Goblin, Spider-Man
There are two parts to the Green Goblin equation: The action sequences which were neutered by Raimi’s dedication to camp and look horrendous in 2018 and Willem Dafoe’s equally campy but somehow extremely effective performance. I am genuinely weirded out by Willem Dafoe but he can be a very good actor in the right situations and this is one of those situations. The movie itself might hold up better with a different, subtler, less creepy actor in this role (like, say, virtually anyone) but as it pertains specifically to this character in a vacuum, Dafoe is excellent jumping across the Schizophrenic divide between the respective buttoned-up business man and stark raving mad lunatic sides of Norman Osborn.
2. Doctor Octopus, Spider-Man 2
Doc Ock popped up at the very beginning of the comic book movie surge and remains one of the real peaks amongst the superhero movie villain mountain range. Whereas Dafoe’s over-the-top campiness (and its fit to Raimi’s themes) are what made Green Goblin work, it is the exact opposite here: Alfred Molina delivered a grounded performance with only a hint of madness and that, combined with the fantastic effects that gave life to the mechanical limbs, makes Doc Ock pop off the screen. Molina leans slightly against the currents of Raimi’s worst tendencies and the result is a compelling villain, not to mention a movie that holds up significantly better than most of the action movies of the era. He’s a great foe for Spider-Man and gives Spider-Man 2 the weight that both of its surrounding movies in the franchise lacked.
1. Vulture, Spider-Man: Homecoming
This was one of my favorite performances of 2017 and I think it will stand the test of time in regard to its place in the Superhero Movie Villain Pantheon. We’ve seen the “Everyman” trope applied to heroes many times but it’s rare for a villain to get that treatment (at least in superhero movies) and Keaton was the PERFECT casting choice. Vulture is intelligent, determined, and principled and that makes him a terrifying opponent for a grounded superhero like Homecoming’s Spider-Man. Keaton’s gritty approach adds real, tangible substance to the character. He’s not crazy, he’s not out to rule the world, he’s not even evil; he’s just a family man working to provide for his family, which is exactly why he’s dangerous. This is great character design taken to new heights by the performer, a brilliant pairing that should serve as the example for all superhero movies to come.