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.