I know I’m a little late piping up about this, but there’ve been some major shake-ups on the Spider-Man movie front. The latest news on the sequel to last summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man is that Shailene Woodley of last year’s The Descendants will be playing everyone’s favorite non-Whovian redhead, Mary-Jane Watson (I was really hoping Karen Gillan was going to land this one somehow, even though she’s a little too mature and, frankly, a little too ginger to play MJ, simply because I love her and want her to play every role everywhere all the time), three different actors are being looked at for the role of Harry Osborn (including Dane DeHaan, the guy who played the villain in Chronicle, who would be AWESOME in this role), and that Jamie Foxx has been cast as (or is at least in talks to play?) the villain Electro.
This is some exciting stuff. The news of Woodley comes kinda out of left field, and while I didn’t see The Descendants, I did hear good things, and I’m curious to see how she’ll handle being Emma Stone’s competition, especially after her and Spider-Man star Andrew Garfield hit it off so well during the first film. I was totally expecting a more established actor to land the role, so I’m intrigued by Woodley’s casting.
The news that Dan DeHaan might be selected to play Harry Osborn is also exciting, and opens the door for a truly insane Harry Osborn to turn up later on in the series. Bringing these two characters onboard also makes me wonder if we’ll be seeing Gwen and Peter (and possibly Flash?) move up into their freshmen year of college, unless we’re to believe that both Harry and MJ, characters who were always portrayed as prominent figures at their school (Harry for being the son of a billionaire, MJ for being a party girl), either existed off-camera during the entirety of the first movie or will both simultaneously transfer to Peter and Gwen’s school in the sequel. Either development would be hard to swallow.
The stuff about Jamie Foxx is also pretty… well, gosh, okay, I’ll say it… shocking. I have to say, he’s not really one of those actors I tend to seek out, although I did enjoy The Kingdom a great deal and am looking forward to Django Unchained, and I tend to look back on his comedy days in the ‘90s with relative fondness. I personally think he’ll be fun to see in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I think he’ll sink his teeth into the role and maybe bring some lightness to it. He’s also not the first person I’d think of when I think of the character, which means that we’re bound to get a version of Electro that we haven’t seen before, which I am all for.
However, there are parts of this news that throw me off. First of all, this totally shatters the OSCORP/animal totem thing that I was hoping they’d pursue. When they pitted Spider-Man against the Lizard in the first movie and connected both of their origins to experiments happening back at OSCORP, it seemed (or at least I was hoping that it seemed) that the writers would be creating a certain pattern with the characters that they created. In my head, I was expecting to see each movie in the series introduce a different member of Spider-Man’s rogue gallery as someone who worked at OSCORP and had connections to Peter’s father and to Peter himself. This would account for Vulture, Doc Ock, Scorpion, The Lizard, possibly Venom, The Jackal and the Chameleon.
That way, we see a clear connection between OSCORP experiments and animal-based mutations, with Spider-Man being the result of Peter’s father experimenting with irradiated spiders, or whatever it was he was doing (maybe even perhaps experimenting on Peter as well). This would eventually culminate in the head of OSCORP, Norman Osborn, becoming the Green Goblin, a sort of mythological chimera with no one animal aspect. In my mind, this kept out the more off-kilter villains, such as Mysterio and Sandman, and created a pattern and theme for the series to follow the way Nolan kept his Bat-verse’s rogues gallery confined to terrorists and Mafia-types. The inclusion of Electro into all this immediately bursts that bubble.
Secondly, and this is a bit of a non-issue, but doesn’t this conflict with the mid-credits bonus scene at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man? For those who don’t remember, the scene featured a brief exchange between a newly-incarcerated Dr. Curt Connors and a mysterious fellow who shows up in Connors’ cell and vanishes following a flash of light and a thunder clap. At first I was hoping that this was Norman Osborn (I’d kinda tuned out the lightning thing the first time I saw the scene), as I had been waiting the whole movie to catch a glimpse of him, and maybe he’d make a surprise cameo the way Nick Fury did at the end of Iron Man (still my favorite moment in a movie theater).
However, I guess the filmmakers just didn’t have a Norman Osborn yet, or any villain, so they threw some Tom Waits impersonator into the scene and made him essentially stand-in for whatever villain they were gonna allude to in the sequel that they hadn’t planned out yet at that point. Genius! So I guess the lightning crackle effect kinda locked them into using Electro, but it also kinda shoots them in the foot, as that is clearly NOT Jamie Foxx in that scene. So if that scene was meant to hype us for a sequel, and the villain in the sequel is Electro, and Jamie Foxx is playing Electro, what the hell is happening in that scene? I mean, I guess they could just shrug it off and say it was, in fact, Mysterio, or something like that, but come on. Really? Plus, are they saying Electro has already gotten his powers? So we’re not going to see his arc play out in the next film, he’s just going to begin as an electrically-empowered, shadowy threat to Peter Parker? Well then where the hell was he before? What the hell is going on in this movie?
Ok, the other thing that kinda throws me off about the news of Foxx’s casting is that the decision to cast a black actor as the traditionally white Electro is, to my mind, done in somewhat poor taste after denying Donald Glover the chance to audition for the role of Spider-Man during the production of the first film. Sony seems to be saying that while they would never consider a black actor, one who is witty and nerdy and charismatic but also insecure and thoughtful (at least he comes across that way in his music), to play the hero of their franchise, they have no problem deviating from a character’s ethnicity in the case of the movie’s villain.
I mean, granted, they probably see Spider-Man as an established entity and while changing the ethnicity of other characters in the series might not be an issue them, changing the race of the hero might be seen as similar to painting Mickey Mouse purple or giving him square ears, it still totally sucks. And then you get cases like Dragonball: Evolution and The Last Airbender where super-heroes that are established as Asian get totally whitewashed. And that’s fine? And I know it seems like I’m arguing both sides by saying “let anyone audition” in the case of Spider-Man and “stick with tradition” in the case of Goku, but I’m just pointing out that it’s more evidence of the deck being stacked in the white man’s favor. It’s a double-standard, and it’s just kinda unpleasant to think about, and I wish the Spider-Man film franchise, a franchise helmed by a hero whose full-body costume has always allowed for people of all races to imagine themselves behind his mask, wasn’t constantly re-invoking that standard.
Anyway, I’m sure that when all is said and done, the new film will be a fun watch. I recently revisited the first ASM on the small screen, which definitely took away some of the glow from it that I felt in the theater and made it’s flaws even more apparent, but I’m sure that the second one will learn from the mistakes of the first. The second films are always the ones we’re really waiting for when it comes to these movies, right? Plus Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci wrote the screenplay, and they tend to write some of the better summer tentpole flicks, so I’m pretty psyched. And who knows, maybe this time we might even get a legitimate Norman Osborn cameo!