Movie Feature

Fighting Spiders: A Look Back at 5 Spider-Man Movie Villains

By Jedd JongMovies - 07 July 2017 6:35 PM | Updated 6:08 PM

Fighting Spiders: A Look Back at 5 Spider-Man Movie Villains

Everyone’s favourite web-head superhero and friendly neighbourhood Avenger, Spider-Man, is returning to the big screen this week in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Peter Parker/Spider-Man has a memorable cast of loved ones and allies, and an even more memorable rogues gallery who menace him and all he holds dear. Spider-Man is currently being portrayed by Tom Holland, who first played the role in Captain America: Civil War. In Homecoming, Spidey faces off against Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton), Phineas Mason/ Tinkerer (Michael Chernus) and Herman Schultz/Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine). Before we witness Peter juggle homework, bullies and crushes with high stakes battles, let’s look back at some of the villains previous incarnations of Spider-Man have had to contend with.


In 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, our hero fought multiple baddies, the central one being Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx). Max is an electrical engineer working at Oscorp, and has an unhealthy infatuation with Spider-Man. After a freak accident wherein Max falls into a vat of electric eels, he becomes a powerful being comprised of pure electricity. “The villain is always the most exciting person to play,” Foxx said while promoting the film. “What’s great about Electro is that you can’t kill electricity, it just goes away and it can pop up at any time.”

The character wears a garish yellow-green costume in the comics, with an exaggerated lightning bolt-shaped headdress. He received a makeover with a more subdued black ‘containment suit’ for the film. While the visual effects used to portray Electro’s powers were praised, Foxx’s performance drew criticism for being too much of a caricature, and the character’s motivations were generally viewed as derivative and shallow.


Several of the figures in Spider-Man’s rogues gallery share a connection to Spidey’s alter-ego, Peter Parker. Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans) is one such character. In 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, Dr. Connors is a brilliant scientist who specialises in the field of genetics and becomes a mentor to Peter. Connors is developing a regeneration serum intended to help regrow missing limbs, his own right arm having been amputated. The serum is partially derived from lizard DNA, because lizards can regrow their tails after they’ve been removed. A fatal flaw in the serum causes Connors to transform into a reptilian creature called The Lizard, and he devises a scheme to turn all of New York into creatures just like him.

Dr. Curt Connors appeared in the earlier films Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 as Peter’s college professor, portrayed by Dylan Baker. The character was reportedly set to transform into The Lizard in the fourth film in that series, which failed to materialise. While The Lizard itself was obviously a fully digital creation, Ifans did do some preparation to play the amputee Connors, and learned to tie a necktie with one hand. Ifans met with amputees to learn from them. “It’s a deeply traumatic thing to happen, but in my experience, from speaking to these people, you very quickly knuckle down and go ‘okay, I haven’t got an arm. Let’s deal with it.’ You very quickly become adept and learn to function as who you are in the world,” Ifans said.


Arguably the most popular Spider-Man villain from the comics, Venom was bound to make an appearance in the movies. When Venom reared his fanged head and unfurled his slimy tongue in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, however, many fans were left dissatisfied. Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) is a rival photographer to Peter Parker at the Daily Bugle, who becomes jealous of Peter’s success. When Peter sheds the alien symbiote costume in the belltower of a church, the symbiote latches onto Eddie, who is praying for vengeance against Spider-Man in the pews below. The symbiote magnifies Eddie’s crueller impulses, and turns him into a formidable opponent against Spider-Man.

Director Sam Raimi was allegedly coerced by the studio into including Venom in the film. Because the story already included the villains Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Harry Osborn/New Goblin (James Franco), the addition of Venom led to the plot being overstuffed. Many long-time fans of the comics also felt that Grace was miscast as the unhinged and physically intimidating Eddie Brock. In a 2015 interview, Grace defended the film, saying Raimi did a “fantastic job” and that Spider-Man 3 earned the equivalent of the “gross national income of a small country” at the box office. We will soon get to see a new interpretation of the character as played by Tom Hardy in a standalone Venom film out in 2018.


Many Spider-Man villains are quite tragic in their own way, and Doc Ock certainly falls into that category. 2004’s Spider-Man 2 is often lauded as the best Spider-Man film, and one of the best comic book films ever made. Alfred Molina’s turn as Dr. Otto Octavius, who transforms into the fearsome Dr. Octopus, was a big part of that. Molina tapped into the Shakespearean tragedy of the character, while also having fun with Doc Ock’s wicked sense of humour. Octavius is a gifted scientist whom Peter idolises, and whose big project is a self-sustaining fusion reaction – a miniature sun. When a demonstration involving the fusion device goes awry, four mechanical arms are permanently bonded to him. The tentacles have a mind of their own, and wracked by failure and the grief of losing his wife during the same accident that turns him into Doc Ock, the once-noble scientist goes insane.

The practical and visual effects that brought the mechanical tentacles to life made the battles between Spidey and Doc Ock visually arresting. Special effects engineer Eric Hayden supervised a team of 16 puppeteers. “The puppeteers and myself worked together very closely over a series of weeks to try develop a vocabulary of movement, a language if you like, so we could do great big things like push a hole through a building, but at the same time do delicate things like taking off a pair of glasses or like lighting a cigar,” Molina said. The scene of the tentacles taking out an operating theatre full of surgeons who attempt to remove the mechanical appendages was an indelible one that reminded audiences of director Sam Raimi’s horror movie background. In 2014, Molina said he was open to reprising the role, saying "I had a wonderful time. I loved it. I mean, I’d go back and do it again in a heartbeat." While it’s most likely that the role will be recast if the be-tentacled mad scientist shows up again, Molina’s turn will always be remembered as one of the great comic book movie villains.


2002’s Spider-Man was a landmark moment for comic book films, and at that point, a Spider-Man movie had spent nearly 25 years in various stages of development hell, finally coming to fruition with Sam Raimi directing and Tobey Maguire starring as the superhero. The first major villain Spidey faces off against is Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), the father of his best friend Harry (James Franco). Like several other Spider-Man villains including both The Lizard and Doc Ock, Norman is both a mad scientist and a mentor to Peter Parker. Norman tests a volatile super strength serum on himself, driving him insane. Wearing a metallic green suit of armour and flying about on a high-tech glider, Norman transforms into the Green Goblin. His son would take on the mantle of the Green Goblin, becoming a new incarnation of the supervillain in Spider-Man 3. The climactic battle of the film has Green Goblin threaten to drop Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) from the Queensboro Bridge, recalling the infamous storyline in the comics in which Gwen Stacy died after being thrown off a bridge by Green Goblin, the force of Spider-Man’s webbing catching her ultimately snapping her neck. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had Harry (Dane DeHaan) become the Goblin instead of his father.

While many consider Dafoe’s performance to be over-the-top and also feel the design of the Goblin’s mask was a little goofy and reminiscent of a Power Rangers villain, the Green Goblin was memorable and for those of us who were kids when we first saw the film, very scary. “He feels greater affinity with Peter Parker than his own son. He projects a lot onto Peter Parker and identifies with him and loves him like a son, almost at the expense of his own son,” Dafoe explained. On the costume, Dafoe said “it’s like a project for NASA,” adding “there was so much research and development on that suit, it was crazy,” Dafoe said the costume was a “pain in the ass” and “really uncomfortable to wear”. Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich and John Travolta reportedly turned down the role. Dafoe returns to the sphere of comic book movies in Justice League this November, playing the Atlantean scientific advisor Nuidis Vulko.

Spider-Man: Homecoming opens in Singapore cinemas on July 6 2017.