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Franchise Killers: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

It may seem counter-intuitive to discuss the death of the Spider-Man franchise pending the release of a new movie starring the comic book hero.  These days, studios are unable or unwilling to let their movie franchises die.  It doesn’t matter how well or how poorly Spider-Man: Homecoming performs this weekend, Sony cannot afford to stop making movies about Marvel’s famous wall-crawling, web-spinner.  But just three short years ago, the studio released a Spider-Man movie that was received so poorly that the studio put the brakes on all future Spider-Man-related projects and turned to a competitor for assistance.

It took decades to get the first Spider-Man movie made.  Part of the problem is that the rights were owned by Cannon Films which went bankrupt before it could make the movie.  Over the years, several studios became involved in developing a Spider-Man movie which eventually lead to a gigantic lawsuit.  When all the dust had settled on the legal wrangling, Sony came out on top.

Fifteen years ago, the studio released Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.  The first movie in the series was a critical and commercial triumph.  Hollywood had been scared off of superhero movies following the failure of Batman & Robin in 1997.  Since then the Blade and X-Men movies suggested that maybe audiences would buy tickets for movies based on comic book characters if they were done right.  After Spider-Man, every studio was in a hurry to make superhero movies again.

Just two years later, Raimi and company were back with a sequel that many considered superior to the original.  Then in 2007, Raimi capped off his trilogy with the disappointing Spider-Man 3.  While that movie has its short-comings it was still a commercial success.  At one point, Raimi was being courted for a fourth Spider-Man movie.  But when a deal could not be reached, Sony decided to reboot the series.

The decision makes a certain amount of sense.  Raimi’s movies were brightly colored and somewhat cartoonish.  Not to mention the fact that Tobey Maguire was pushing forty and no one wants to see a middle-aged Peter Parker.  By 2012, tastes had arguably changed.  The Twilight movies were wrapping up and studios were on the lookout for another dark fantasy that could appeal to young audiences.  Studios were snapping up Young Adult novels like The Hunger Games and the Harry Potter movies were getting progressively darker in tone.  You can see where Sony would want a darker, sexier Spider-Man.

To that end, they turned to writer-director Marc Webb.  Webb had recently gotten a lot of buzz for his directorial debut, the romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer.  The idea was that Webb could bring that same youthful sensibility to a big budget superhero movie.  But unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.  Quirky little rom coms and tentpole movies don’t have a lot in common.  There’s evidence to suggest that Webb was in over his head.

When it was released, The Amazing Spider-Man was at best a base hit.  Reviews were mixed-to-positive.  The movie grossed over $250 million dollars in the US which sounds good until you take into consideration its huge $260 million dollar budget.  Sony had to be disappointed with the grosses, but the movie performed well enough overseas that they decided to give Andrew Garfield another chance as Spider-Man.  Besides, it’s not like they could afford to end the franchise.  Nor could they reboot it again.  With no other options, Sony moved forward with The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

By this point, Marvel had changed the game with the release of The Avengers.  Suddenly, every studio was looking for a way to develop a shared cinematic universe.  If you’re Warner Brothers and you own the rights to the DC Comics stable of superheroes, that seems like a relatively easy prospect (until you hire Zack Snyder to oversee it).  But if you’re Sony, you have fewer options available to you.  Sony’s solution was to develop Spider-Man spin-off movies featuring the wall-crawlers villains.

It was an odd strategy which has yet to play out.  A movie about the anti-hero Venom makes a certain amount of sense.  But Sony’s idea to make a movie about the Sinister Six was a real head-scratcher.  It’s hard to imagine how that would have worked.  In order to accommodate these spin-offs, the studio insisted on introducing several characters in the Amazing sequel.  Not only would the movie feature Jamie Foxx as the main villain, Electro, it also included Dane DeHaan as the Green Goblin and Paul Giamatti as a mechanical Rhino.  Heck, Felicity Jones appeared as a character named Felicity who was intended to be the Black Cat.

But that;s not all.  Chris Cooper played Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, which was a bit weird since apparently he dies without having ever fought Spider-man.  B.J. Novak portrayed Alistar Smythe, a scientist who was involved in several efforts to kill Spider-man in the comics.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 even made an effort to introduce a new Mary Jane Watson.  Shailene Woodley was cast and filmed some scenes with Andrew Garfield.  Ultimately, her character was cut after fanboys complained that she wasn’t right for the part.  Webb claims the scenes were cut to streamline the movie, which was definitely something that needed to be done.

The final cut of the movie ran almost two and a half hours and it was over-stuffed.  This almost always happens when superhero movies try to jam in too many characters.  It was one of the many lessons to be learned from Batman & Robin.

Watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 I was constantly reminded of the campy Schumacher Bat-films.  Jamie Foxx’s take on Electro was reminiscent of Foxx’s In Living Color costar’s portrayal of The Riddler in Batman Forever.  Foxx’s performance as a creepy nerd whose hero worship sours into villainy was at least as broad as Jim Carrey’s.  That’s not a good thing.

As a fan of superhero movies, I know that suspension of disbelief is a requirement.  This is a genre in which characters fly and scientific experiments imbue people with incredible powers instead of burning them to a crisp.  But I had to groan when Electro got his powers by falling into a tank filled with genetically-altered electric eels.  They may as well have had frickin’ lasers strapped to their backs.

And yet, a movie goofy enough to have Foxx with a comb-over fall into a vat of super-eels took itself deadly seriously whenever it was dealing with the romance between its leads.  The movie builds up to Emma Stone’s character, Gwen Stacy, meeting the same fate she did in the comic books.  Yes, that’s a spoiler.  But the ending was spoiled in the movie’s marketing so audiences were pretty much just waiting for the big moment to arrive.

After the movie was released to lackluster reviews and disappointing box office, Andrew Garfield blamed studio interference.  “When you have something that works as a whole, and then you start removing portions of it … saying, ‘No, that doesn’t work,’ then the thread is broken, and it’s hard to go with the flow of the story.”

Prior to the release of Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony had already announced release dates for the third and fourth movies plus plans for the spin-offs.  But after the sequel under-performed the first movie, the studio heads panicked.  As I said before, they couldn’t stop making Spider-Man movies.  Spidey was the closest thing Sony had to a sure thing.  And yet, somehow, they were screwing it up.

Initially, Sony delayed the release of Amazing Spider-Man 3.  Later that year, the studio was further humiliated by the infamous Sony hacks.  Among the details that were made public was the studio’s scrambling over how to save the Spider-Man franchise.  According to the hacks, Sony was in talks with Marvel and was also courting Sam Raimi to come back to reboot the series again.  The only thing that was certain was that Sony didn’t have a clue what to do with its most valuable asset.

Fortunately for Spider-Man fans, a deal was eventually struck between Sony and Marvel.  This was one of the last acts of Amy Pascal before she was canned over the hacks and the poor performance of studio releases like Amazing Spider-Man 2.  The deal allowed Marvel to use Spider-Man in their shared cinematic universe (as seen in Captain America: Civil War) as well as all the merchandising rights.  Sony got to keep the film rights to the character plus Marvel’s involvement.

Writer-director Marc Webb took the news of the reboot in stride: “I really think Spider-Man belongs in that Marvel universe. I wasn’t upset about it at all. It would have been hard to make another movie without Emma, frankly. It’s in really good hands now, and it’s hard to feel bad about that. It’s pretty cool, I can’t wait to see this movie.

Let’s break this down:

How many movies in the series? 2 (5 if you count the Raimi trilogy)

How many of them were good? .5 (The first Amazing Spider-Man wasn’t horrible)

Health of the franchise before it died? Off to a shaky start

Likelihood of a reboot? Opening this Friday

Any redeeming value? Garfield and Stone are good, there’s probably a decent Spider-Man movie buried in there somewhere if you strip away all the studio-imposed crap.

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Posted on July 5, 2017, in Franchise Killers, Movies, Super Heroes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. daffystardust

    This version of Spider-Man seemed to be made by people who think they have done their research on the character but have little understanding of the wall-crawler’s core spirit. That was a problem even in the “just okay” 2012 movie, but this second installment was such a mess that I just might have stopped going to new Spider-Man movies if Webb and company had kept making them. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the new reboot will make me want more of the Tom Holland Spidey.

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    • I know you’re more of a Spider-man aficionado than I am. I don’t need a Spider-man movie to be all that faithful to the comics for me to enjoy it. But it still has to be a good movie. The first Amazing Spider-man showed promise. But it was so open-ended, I felt like I couldn’t fairly judge it until I had seen the sequel. It felt like half of a movie. If the follow-up gave me the payoff I was looking for, I would upgrade my opinion of the first movie. Instead, the sequel was just overstuffed with nonsense. I sympathize somewhat with Webb who I am sure was murdered by studio notes and interference. He wasn’t in a position to fight back. I don’t know that his vision of Spider-man would have made for a good movie, but it would have been better than what we ultimately got.

      I am very optimistic about Homecoming. Advance word of mouth is very positive.

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  2. I am glad these movies failed, and that the sequels were scrapped. As the biggest Spider-Fan I know, I have to say that these movies did not get Peter Parker right, and if you can’t get that right, you’re doomed. The proper way to have carried on from Raimi would have been just to recast, not to reboot. Almost everything about the ASM movies was worse than the Raimi films (most specifically the first 2).

    Also, I hate to be that guy, but it’s “Spider-Man”, not “Spider-man”. I know, I’m a nit-picky jerk, but that is how his name is spelled, and it was just lower case “m” way too many times.

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    • I don’t consider that nitpicky at all. I pride myself for remembering the hyphen in his name but totally missed the capital M. I will update that. My bad.

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    • What Marc Webb’s ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ Movies Got Right

      http://collider.com/the-amazing-spider-man-movies-explained/

      Marvel’s embrace of genre may have no greater success story than Spider-Man: Homecoming. Whereas Ant-Man made swift, wildly imaginative work of the caper genre, Doctor Strange fully embraced fantasy elements, and Iron Man 3‘s radical, imperfect take on the character study, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a teen comedy, first and foremost. And it may very well be the wittiest and most emotionally mature film of its kind since Azazel Jacobs’ Terri.

      The fact that the movie focuses on Peter Parker’s life as a high-school student, more believable with 21-year-old Tom Holland in the role, over his potential romance(s), his home life, or his work as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is crucial to its success. And more than Andrew Garfield or Tobey Maguire, who were 29 and 27 respectively when they took on the role, Holland has a natural way of blending the naiveté of a bright yet shy student and the brash confidence of being a tech-savvy superhero. Maguire, an talented performer, never found that cockiness naturally and when he and Sam Raimi forced it in Spider-Man 3, it made for what remains arguably the most tone-deaf superhero movie ever made.

      It was Garfield who first suggested this confidence with more clarity, especially when he was under the mask and dispensing of local toughs or, in the case of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Paul Giamatti sporting a Russian accent that could make your plants wilt out of embarrassment. It was also in Marc Webb’s diptych of Spider-Man movies that the focus of the drama realigned with Parker’s age and place in the world, making his high school a key location in The Amazing Spider-Man and the end of his high-school career instrumental to the narrative of its sequel, which shows grave results for choosing a hero’s life.

      For what it’s worth, The Amazing Spider-Man was received positively for the most part with its ranking on Rotten Tomatoes standing at a relatively healthy 72%. Still, the movies share certain issues, such as the music cues being guided more by popularity than taste and utilized primarily to keep the audience engaged during erroneous montages. And that’s not even touching on the useless origin story or the fact that Rhys Ifans’ The Lizard barely wears his lab coat and looks like one of the monstrous, enormous goombas from the Super Mario Bros. movie.

      And yet, Webb and his cast improve on a number of issues that held back the Sam Raimi films, especially in the character of Parker. Maguire’s Parker was obsessed with Mary Jane and their romance dominated much of Raimi’s stories when he wasn’t fighting the Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus. And Kirsten Dunst’s crimson-haired Jane is defined by nothing but her relationship to Parker, even when she gets engaged to J. Jonah Jameson’s clean-cut astronaut son. Dunst is a sensationally evocative and alert performer and she handles the big scenes with Maguire with a tenderness that never tips into out-and-out sentimentality. That being said, the fact that Mary Jane, a hard-hustling waitress and budding thespian, is seemingly spending all her time waiting on Parker, who can’t hold down a pizza-delivery gig in his off hours, is a bunch of bananas.

      In comparison, Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy feels self-possessed and independent from her first big scene in Webb’s films, in which she dresses down would-be Venom host Flash Thomson for not being able to keep up with tutoring sessions. She doesn’t feel devoted to Parker the moment they get alone and when Parker unveils his alter ego to her, it’s clear that she’s at once frightened and swiftly seduced by his revelation. Stone’s real-life relationship with Garfield likely powered this chemistry, but treating the character as her own woman who struggles with her complicated romance with Parker is embedded in the script. When Laura Harrier and Zendaya light up the screen in Spider-Man: Homecoming, its Stone’s Stacy that feels like the biggest influence in the room.

      The cast is just as good in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but the gap between the second film’s admirable ambitions and its rigid production is far wider than in Webb’s first try. To his credit, Webb clearly understands the power of villains, and the sequel creates a bigger rogue’s gallery for Spidey to fend off between the Green Goblin, Electro, and Giamatti’s Rhino. (There are also teases of Black Cat, Chameleon, and others that might have appeared in the proposed Sinister Six movie.) Working from a script by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Webb makes genuine connections between his villains and hero, especially in Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Electro, even though his origins are startlingly similar to that of the Riddler in Batman Forever.

      Electro’s attack on Times Square allows for what feels like a sincere moment of connection between Parker and Electro but it’s never explored beyond that standoff. Webb and his writers know that Spider-Man’s love for his own heroics is elemental to his drive but also his own sort of self-satisfaction, one that partially leads to the death of Gwen Stacy at the hands of Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn. There’s a sense of this self-importance constantly in Garfield’s performance but it only seems to really erupt when Stacy is killed and there’s less than 15 minutes left of the movie, including credits.

      This is also true of the Osborn family. In Raimi’s films, there’s warmth to Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn, the man who will become the Green Goblin, that’s eventually washed out by his resentment of control and betrayal by who he sees as lesser people. For much of Raimi’s first film, he wishes to protect his son, Harry (James Franco), from a life ruled by vengeance and anger, and that rings out even more so in his final moment with Parker.

      In comparison, the Osborns of Webb’s films are toxic. The bedside scene between an ailing Norman (Chris Cooper) and Harry toward the beginning of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 underlines this point and is one of the more ominous scenes in either film. And though this makes for a more complex villain, we do lose the fraught relationship between Harry and Parker, which was one of the more memorable elements of the Raimi films. In Webb’s film, the friendly exchanges between Harry and Parker feel flippant and awkward at best.

      Thankfully, this is a relationship that Spider-Man: Homecoming avoided, but it also develops the idea of Parker’s world being rife with villains, including Vulture, The Tinkerer, and Shocker. One might argue that this tactic was also utilized in Spider-Man 3’s use of Sandman and Venom, but Venom only shows up toward the very end of that movie and is of next to no consequence. And yet, it’s clear that Raimi’s films are far more dramatically fulfilling and cohesive on the whole than Webb’s movies, which are plagued by the familiar “universe-building” requirements of modern Marvel franchises.

      Obviously, there will be more Spider-Man movies following Homecoming but as you watch the movie, there’s no sense that director Jon Watts and his writers are pushing that agenda. The movie, for all intents and purposes, feels like its own self-contained movie, despite the fact that Spidey’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War influences the narrative. There are more than a few moments in each of Webb’s films that also give a glimpse at a more sprightly, humorous, and emotionally rewarding Spidey movie – this is, after all, the director behind (500) Days of Summer. The ecstatic entertainment of Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like a genuine turning point for Marvel, and to think that Webb’s films didn’t help guide Watts and his creative team toward this success is to ignore the real growth that Marvel has shown as of late.

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    • I think with the 2012 movie, it in a way, was a beat for beat remake of the 2002 movie with some minor alterations (i.e. Gwen Stacy instead of Mary Jane Watson is the lead girl, we get to hear more about Peter Parker’s parents, Andrew Garfield’s Peter seems more like an “emo” hipster than Tobey Maguire’s more passive, socially awkward variation), except that it was slightly more “grounded” (they try to give us a more “logical” reason for why Peter has to wear a mask to fight criminals and Peter actually invents his web-shooters instead of them being organic) than the decidedly more colorful Sam Raimi version.

      As for the 2014 movie, it pretty much made the same mistake that “Spider-Man 3” made in that it tried to do way too much all at once (like cramming two or three movies at once). And like the former movie, it has a rather inconsistent tone and ends on quite a downer note (i.e. killing off Gwen Stacy/ending with Harry Osborn’s funeral and Peter and Mary Jane just slow dancing until “Spider-Man 3” fades to black).

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  3. I thought the first Amazing Spider-Man was pretty decent, didn’t blow me away, but I thought it had its moments. I’ve never seen the sequel; maybe I will, maybe I won’t. It sounds like the studio took advantage of Marc Webb’s relative newcomer status; I know I’m a big fan of “(500) Days of Summer” (it makes my dreams come true, woo hoot, woo hoot).

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