Wasn’t it strange that the prospect of a sequel to the hit franchise reboot of Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man was not greeted with the excitement of, say, Bryan Singer’s new X-Men chapter? How about the rampant speculation surrounding Edgar Wright’s Ant Man for Marvel?
If anything, online chatter in response to each Spidey trailer and tease has been increasingly petulant. Considering that marketing for the film has increased the monies spent on this production into the hundreds of millions, that is not… to the good. Then throw in the various stars of the film – Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone – enduring a globe-trotting publicity tour.
Ideally you want expensively budgeted, special-effects driven marquee films to attract audiences, not fill them with a sense of ennui.
MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW:
Pity then that Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a solid film. It is a well-acted, effectively scored, and overall gripping piece of entertainment. Garfield and Stone are great onscreen together. Jamie Foxx in turn plays Electro née Max Dillon as an insufferable nebbish long before his fateful encounter with a tank of eels. Like a rejuvenated James Spader, Dane DeHaan slimes up the joint with queasy charisma as Harry Osborn. It’s a performance that captures the seeming contradiction of why Peter would be friends with such a creep, the two bonding over their respective missing fathers.
Webb has produced a film that improves on his first entry into this franchise, but the online apathy of Marvel comic fans seems opposed to the entire project on principle.
There are two main causes at work here.
Firstly, Sony’s renewal of Spider-Man is seen as a cash-grab, keeping the licence in house and preventing a ‘return’ to Marvel Studios, who have had great success with their good-humoured and exciting Avengers movies. Sony is eager to further develop the franchise, with Drew Goddard’s Sinister Six heavily seeded in this second film.
Spider-Man has always been closely identified as one of the key icons of Marvel, and in his absence, the company’s film studio has reinvigorated characters like Iron Man, Hulk, and Captain America (with Guardians of the Galaxy an even more daring gamble). Fans presumably resent this spider-shaped hole in the burgeoning Marvel Studios movie-verse.
Secondly, audiences once again have to tread through an origin story. For characters that have dominated most of the last century’s pop cultural reflections, the likes of Superman, Batman, the X-Men, and Spider-Man seem to be aimed at those with zero attention span. After all, it only took Quitely and Morrison one page to summarise the familiar Superman origin:
“Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple.”
The others above could just as easily be summed up – wealthy parents shot in front of a boy who promises revenge; born different; bitten by a radioactive spider.
It seems as the years passed these origins became even more arbitrary. So why revisit them endlessly?
Except Webb, along with screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Steve Kloves, and Alvin Sargent– who had worked on the Raimi sequence – produced a film that was markedly different to the preceding trilogy. While Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben provided the requisite tragedy, Peter’s principle trauma is the disappearance of his parents as a child. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opening reveals their fate, with Campbell Scott as Dr. Richard Parker returning once more in the third act courtesy of a conveniently uploaded video file.
Let’s pause here to note how this was a lot more satisfying than Russell Crowe’s Ghost Dad in Man of Steel.
Peter’s relationship with Gwen is also different, as she is shown to be his intellectual equal (if not superior). Again Garfield and Stone sell the relationship perfectly, with the melodrama of the sequel made convincing by their performances. Even Peter’s vacillating between wanting to be with her or adopting the lone vigilante persona of Spider-Man is the stuff of comics.
Strange then that the Webb / Garfield films should be described as ‘boring’ or ‘emo’ by fan-sites and social media users.
I believe this points to an essential schizophrenic aspect to the very idea of Spider-Man. From the period of Ditko’s departure over a disagreement with Lee’s vision of the character, there has been a divide between Spider-Man the self-interested scientist trying to make his own way in the world and Spider-Man the happy-go-lucky Friendly Neighbourhood webslinger. (It is a credit to Lee’s populist judgement that the idea has thrived to become an enduring IP for Marvel, though there remains a niggling suspicion of what might have been if Ditko had had his way.) The aforementioned derisive fans are so eager to criticise Webb for daring to retell the origin, but what if they’re wrong? No one has tapped into the essential divisive character of Spider-Man better than Dan Slott with his Superior Spider-Man run, giving fans a vision of a different ‘Peter Parker’, while keeping the classic version just off-stage for yet another reboot. Cleverly he has channeled fan expectations of their Peter by having the hero ‘die’, his identity stolen by one of his oldest enemies.
The Webb films have, in turn, not only retold Spider-Man’s story, but unveiled secrets buried in this fictional world. From the role of Peter’s father and the true nature of his colourful villains due in the Goddard film, these filmmakers are looking to tell a new story with these characters.
It is only fair that this sequel, as well as the work of the director and cast, be judged on merit, not the presumption of knowing how this will unfold.