What are sequels about? Escalation, in the words of Jim Gordon. You pit your hero against one villain in the first movie so, when you want to ratchet the threat up, what do you do in the second movie? Pit him against two. The first Batman movies had this notion, though it expanded to include sidekicks in the later movies. BATMAN had just the Joker; BATMAN RETURNS had Catwoman and the Penguin; BATMAN FOREVER had Two-Face, the Riddler and Robin; and BATMAN & ROBIN was overflowing with Batgirl, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy and Bane. As my choice of words might hint at, escalation can lead to overcrowding sometimes, and that’s something Jon Favreau has been keenly aware of while making IRON MAN 2.
Favreau broke it down to the LA Times like this…
"You want to be sure you don't suffer from multi-villainitis… That's been the downfall of many other superhero franchises. I was more concerned about the interpersonal dynamic and how the presence of Natasha [a.k.a. the Black Widow, played by Johansson] would affect Tony and Pepper, because what I didn't want to do is make this film episodic, like just another episode of a TV series. So one way to approach that is shift the dynamic with the introduction of new characters. So you have Justin Hammer [Rockwell] inserted into the Tony-Rhodey relationship, and you have Natasha Romanoff inserted into the Tony-Pepper relationship. When done right, a superhero movie has the character's personal life mirroring what's happening in their superhero world, and sometimes you have to force things to do it. In this case, I'd say, we found an organic way to do it. We wanted both A-story and B-story to be affected by these new characters."
Favreau’s definitely got the right sense of how to handle a storyline conceit that’s become something of a bone of contention amongst fans of superhero movies. Obviously, the hallmark of any superhero’s mythos is a rogue’s gallery packed with colorful villains. You’d expect that to be represented in on-screen translation. I think the issue doesn’t lie so much in the number of villains, per se, so much as it does in how they fit into the larger scheme. What causes these sequels problems, in my opinion, is that all-too-often they feel compelled to devote significant amounts of screen name to illustrating the villains’ origins when it’s rarely necessary. I think of DICK TRACY as a good example of this, since that movie had an entire gang of supervillains whom we didn’t get any backstory on, because we didn’t need to. You have a gangster named Pruneface, his face is shriveled like a prune - - what more do you need to know?
Thinking further outside the box, I’d look at something like the STAR WARS movie, which can arguably have up to a dozen villains on hand in one movie. ATTACK OF THE CLONES, for instance, had Jango Fett, Boba Fett, Count Dooku, the Geonasians and their big monsters, in addition to Darth Sidious, the Trade Federation and all their Battledroids, Super Battledroids, Droidekas, and so on. At no point did I ever say, “Whoa whoa… hold on. What’s the story on this Zam Wesell chick?” No, she was a bounty hunter and she got killed after screwing up. That’s all I needed to know.
I’ve said it a few times that I really think the third Batman movie ought to blow out the rest of rogue’s gallery, but keep it to the minor ones. You’d have Gotham over run by the likes of the Ventriloquist, Firefly, Deadshot, the Mad Hatter, Clayface, Deathstroke and the KGBeast, bringing the whole “escalation” theme to a head. It could work if Nolan didn’t get into any of their origins (as he did with the Joker) and singled out one villain - - say, Black Mask - - as the main antagonist, and then relegated the rest to either random obstacles or as his thugs. You might say it would be hard to handle that many villains, but I’d point out the DARK KNIGHT already had multiple villains. Oh, sure, there were the obvious ones like the Joker, Scarecrow and Two-Face, but let’s not split hairs. What would you call Maroni, Lau, the Chechyan, Gambol and all the corrupt cops, hm? If they weren't villains, what were they?
-- Tom Pinchuk is the writer of UNIMAGINABLE for Arcana Comics and HYBRID BASTARDS! for Archaia. Watch out for the HYBRID BASTARDS! hardcover collection this April - - available for pre-order now on Amazon.com.