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'Amazing Spider-Man' talkback, more in Entertainment Geekly Mailbag

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A glorified two-hour-plus advertisement for Amazing Spider-Man 3 . Which is coming out in a couple years. Wait, no it isn't !

Last week brought the exciting news that Spider-Man would be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe—news which came embedded with the corollary schaudenfreude of the end of the Amazing Spider-Man sub-franchise, Sony’s unsuccessful attempt to turn the webspinner into a spin-off factory. Readers responded to my eulogy for the Amazing preboots; read on for deep thoughts! (You can keep the conversation going by emailing me at darren_franich@ew.com.)

Unlike a lot of people, I was a big fan of the first Amazing Spider-Man movie. I liked Garfield, practically idolized Emma Stone after Easy A, and their chemistry was leaps ahead of whatever Spidey and MJs chemistry was.

Even though I liked the movie, I was still tired of seeing the same story again after growing up with the Toby Maguire movies (I still get secondhand embarrassment thinking about the third one). So knowing that Marvel has Spidey back is great, but I can’t have a THIRD origin story about the same character. I want Spidey in small doses like in Cap 3 and Avengers 3 (pt 1 and 2), but I don’t think another series of Spiderman movies is necessary.

Deema

(PS: I still wanna see the scenes of Shailene Woodley as MJ that were already filmed tho)

“Shailene Woodley playing Mary Jane Watson” is my new personal “second half of the Magnificent Ambersons.” What a tantalizing cinematic “what if?” What a fascinating counter-historical blind alley! By all accounts, Woodley’s role in Amazing 2 was always going to be a short one—it’s possible that she was only “playing Mary Jane Watson” the way Felicity Jones was “playing Black Cat,” by which I mean there was maybe one scene where Spider-Man did something and then Shailene Woodley appeared with red hair and then someone offscreen said “Hey, MJ! Let’s go hang out somewhere offscreen until Amazing 3!”

The absence of Woodley from the finished product is fascinating, mainly because it’s difficult to imagine any clear-cut logical reason why she would’ve been cut. On a purely commercial level, Woodley in May 2014 was coming off Divergent and was deep into the Fault in Our Stars media blitz/pre-victory tour. On a purely narrative level, it’s hard to imagine how Amazing Spider-Man 2 could’ve been any more of a jumble—what’s one more brief appearance by a highly marketable young superstar?

More importantly, the lack of Woodley in Amazing 2 meant the Amazing franchise couldn’t contribute to the excellent history of Unconvincing Gingers in Superhero Movies. Looking at you, red-haired Dunst, red-haired Janssen, red-haired Johansson, and red-haired Paltrow.

I hope some different Spider-villains can be introduced to the Sony/Marvel films.  I really am uninterested in seeing yet another Goblin, and Alfred Molina already gave us a top-notch Dr. Octopus. The moral hollowness of Venom leaves me cold, and so I really hope he doesn’t get a spinoff film. How about some Ditko/Romita era villains like Mysterio, Kraven, and the Vulture? Also, Spider-Man has never had to deal with the Mob in any of his films, despite organized crime being a regular feature of the comics. The Kingpin was long ago drafted by the Daredevil comics (and the current Netflix show), but what about folks like Silvermane, Hammerhead, the Rose and Tombstone?

Lastly, I vote yes on the introduction of Black Cat, but the filmmakers are going to figure out what angle to go with if the next Spidey is still a high school teen. A teen Black Cat portrayal would need to tone down the sexiness for obvious reasons. A mature Black Cat would inadvertently force a ‘Cougar’ angle on the character (pun intended.) I actually like the latter idea.  We’ll see.

-Christopher

Marvel Studios has been intriguingly judicious about overloading its movies with too much comic book history. The Kevin Feige playbook is to take a few key elements of all-important history and throw them together with new, sometimes self-consciously contemporary affectations. So Thor just got rid of the character’s entire fascinating-but-confusing history of body-swapping alter egos; so Iron Man pretended War Machine and Pepper Potts had always been Tony Stark’s sitcom bro/sitcom will-they-won’t-they love interest.

It will be interesting, then, to see what Marvel Studios does with Spider-Man, a character whose history has been covered many times over by two different movies. If you ask me, the Mysterio/Kraven/Vulture idea is smart. Marvel Studios likes to promote back-catalogue villains (Whiplash! Frost Giants!), and doing a fun-weird-retro story about an angry flying man or a crazy hunter would immediately give The Spectacular Spider-Man (working title of 2017 spinoff) a new vibe.

And so would bringing in the Black Cat, the only love interest who’s never really appeared in the movies—and, more importantly, a character who doesn’t necessarily have a rich comic book history to ruin. Felicia Hardy could be a fun character: a thief, an anti-hero, a wild card who stands outside the usual good-evil divide. Maybe hire Shailene Woodley?

Thanks for your eulogy for the Amazing Spider-Man.  I haven’t even watched these two films, mainly for the reasons you point out.  

Superhero franchises may need to become more like classic James Bond.  Assume everyone knows the protagonist’s origin (or ignore it completely), dive into a self-contained story with action (with little character development, unfortunately).  

Such films could feature a specific “one-off” villain and supporting characters that may or may not be around for additional stories.  And most importantly, no one bats an eye whenever a new actor steps in to fill the hero’s tuxedo/tights.

The only other option is to feature a trilogy (at most) and then take a minimum ten-year hiatus before returning to the character. In the current climate, however, most studios won’t be so patient.

Waiting for a Rocketeer reboot,

Danny 

AGREE ON ALL COUNTS! I’m going to call this the James Bond Paradigm: the idea that franchises need to stop pretending like every new movie is THE MOST IMPORTANT STORY EVER in the character’s history. The best superhero comic books aren’t issue #1—they happen later, when the hero has become the story’s constant, and the creators start to plug him/her into different variables. New settings! New villains! New jobs! And if you think that James Bond movies are too repetitive, maybe it’d be even better to follow the Doctor Who Paradigm: Every standalone story is told in a radically different way, featuring vastly different supporting casts and maybe even a different timeline. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a whole lot different from the first Cap. Conversely, Thor: The Dark World was practically a half-remake of the first Thor.

What we’re saying is: How about a Spider-Man movie with no bridges?

Hi Mr. Franich, 

I recently read your article, “RIP, The Amazing Spider-man,” and had quite a few thoughts on it. First off, I think it was incredibly well-written (as most of your pieces are) and brought up a lot of interesting discussion points. Still, I did find myself (respectfully) disagreeing with a lot of the ideas you presented. I found your review to be a sort of borderline-offensive eulogy to a series that deserved more. Personally, I think Amazing was much, much better than the Toby Maguire series. It may have not been Oscar-worthy material, but it was fun, it was authentic and, honestly, the chemistry between Garfield and Stone alone was enough to give the film something that the other series seemed to lack, which was heart and chemistry.

It’s difficult to articulate, but I feel as if the two Marc Webb films had a sort of “classic” comic book feel to them, devoid of the cynicism and contrived darkness that’s so often the MO with superhero movies today. From the palpable, incomparable chemistry between Andrew and Emma to the smart wit of the film to the relative nonexistence of cynicism in the film, I will absolutely, completely mourn the death of such a fabulous series. And so I say RIP, The Amazing Spider-man (1 and 2) — my heart will forever be encased in its web. 

Best, 

Kyle

Kyle is very generiously voicing a common strain argument among Amazing partisans: The idea that the Amazing movies were successful more than anything as romances, with genuine emotion that was lacking in the goofier Sam Raimi movies.

My problem with this argument is the deeper layers of cynicism that ran throughout both Amazing movies. I guess you could argue that they invested more time in some of Peter’s emotional relationships; Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben survives longer than Cliff Robertson’s, and vast spans of two movies are spent staring at Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone smiling at each other while mouthing sweet nothings. But neither movie actually tries to take these relationships seriously. Amazing 1 knows Uncle Ben is going to die, and knows you know it, and so the character’s protacted existence feels shameless—the equivalent of an actor stretching a death scene out to last for the entire second act.

The weirdest thing to me is how many people overrate Peter-Gwen relationship by comparing it negatively to the Peter-MJ relationship in the original Spider-Men. Actually, it’s become a weird shorthand to throw shade on the entire orginal Spider-Man trilogy. Ridiculous—especially because Peter and MJ’s relationship is so much more complicated. In Spider-Man 2, Peter is a lonely man, because he refuses to reveal his true identity to MJ. So MJ gets engaged. So Peter decides that he doesn’t want to be Spider-Man anymore, and tells MJ that he’s a changed man—and MJ is, understandably, a bit confused and even angry, since Peter Parker is a good friend who is now telling her, “Hey, engaged girl! Love me!”

Compare that to the Amazing movies, where Gwen basically spends two movies telling Peter, “I love you!” And Peter spends two movies constantly saying, “I love you! I don’t want to be with you! I want you! Your father told me to leave you alone! I love you! Leave!”

Like, from Gwen’s perspective, the Amazing movies are basically about an emotionally abusive boyfriend who won’t leave you alone when you’re broken up, even though he’s the one who broke up with you.

And don’t even get me started on Spider-Man 3, which is not a good movie, but which has an INCREDIBLE arc for Mary Jane. Seriously, watch what Kirsten Dunst gets to play in Spider-Man 3—professional frustration, failure, desperation, suspicions that the man she loves has become a very different person even before an alien symbiote gives him bad hair—and ask yourself how many actresses in superhero movies since 2007 have gotten even half that.

Finally someone voices what I have thought all along. I have enjoyed Spiderman most of my 49 years and have amassed quite of a collection.  With the first movies I tolerated the cheesy stories and crap acting because I had waited my entire life for a spidey movie and the special effects did not disappoint. However the Amazing movies were, well, let’s just say you nailed it. Hopefully in the next movie the casting for Spiderman will get it right and hopefully he will at least not be British.

Great story,

Brian

Guys, seriously though, Spider-Man 2 is really good.

You mention the decision to include the wrinkle about Peter Parker’s parents being spies, which you refer to as a “later addition to canon.” This plot thread was introduced to Spider-Man comics in 1968, just four years into the history of the character, which I guess is still “later” but the way you convey it seems a tad deceptive to me. Yes, Peter Parker’s parents turned out to be spies (and SHIELD agents, eventually), and yes…this seems like a bit “much” for the character…

…which is why the Amazing movies jettisoned the “spy” angle and instead went for something a little more “grounded” in Spider-Man’s little corner of the universe. Espionage, sabotage, and abuse of science…there is nothing more Spider-Man than that in regards to his adversaries and background.

Maybe it had been seen before in other movies…but had it been seen before in a SPIDER-MAN movie? No, which is again…why they went in that direction. Exploring Peter’s relationship with his parents (and in juxtaposition…with Ben and May) was a new angle they could add to the origin story that you rightfully have pointed out everyone is probably sick of by now.

If these movies are guilty of anything in regards to this angle, it is not committing to it more, rather than having it be present in the first place.

*As far as Andrew Garfield versus Tobey McGuire goes…I will just say this…only one of these Spider-Men consistently made me laugh…and it wasn’t Mr. Seabiscuit. Can anyone honestly quote a Spider-Man one-liner from the Raimi trilogy that was actually clever and wasn’t a total groaner?

So Garfield’s Peter Parker had an “edge” to him…people seem to act like this is out of character for some reason. Peter Parker was never the puppy-eyed, doughy-faced doormat that Tobey McGuire portrayed. Ditko and Lee’s Peter Parker was a passionate, angry young man who stood up to Flash, Jonah, and anyone else that gave him crap. He wasn’t afraid to make his feelings towards pretty girls known, be they Liz Allan, Betty Brant, Gwen Stacy, or Mary Jane Watson. He always tempered himself because of fragile old Aunt May…but Sally Field is hardly that same old lady who took heart attacks every five issues, is she?

I think Andrew Garfield was a far more faithful Peter Parker, and a far more “real” character to root for and follow altogether. I’m quite sad to see him go, if that is the case.

Thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts!

-Mike

Mike wrote a much longer email which included a portion defending the films’ decision to go darker and grittier, which I had to excise because I promised not to pick on Christopher Nolan this week. I agree that there’s nothing wrong in principle with bringing in Peter’s parents…except that the movies didn’t really bring in the parents, they just kept mentioning them over and over again. In the process, they managed to make Peter even more of an orphan: His parents are murdered; Uncle Ben gets murdered; yeesh, by the end, Gwen gets murdered. I guess you could argue that this makes the movies more “real,” but if anything, it makes them seem even more cynical: Peter just keeps on bouncing back from these losses, with the bare minimum of screen time devoted to him briefly mourning.

The films never quite figured out how to tap into an essential aspect of the original Spider-Man mythology—the idea that Peter is a straightfaced nerdy kid with the soul of a goofball hero. Instead, the films basically argued that Peter is a James Dean lookalike who puts on a mask to become a comedian at open-mic night.

The key thing that I would disagree on with Mike is the idea that Tobey Maguire was a “doormat”—and the idea that the Peter of the classic Spidey era was a passionate firebird. Both are true to a certain extent, but what the best Spidery stories get at—the idea that motivates all of Spider-Man 2—is the idea that Peter’s life kinda just sucks most of the time, and the most heroic thing he does is get out of bed every day.

In the Amazing movies, Peter’s life doesn’t suck. He has a girlfriend who is a brilliant, generous model. He stands up to the bullies at school, and the bullies wind up totally respecting him. The movies tilt for a second at the Parkers’ economic reality—Aunt May is training to be a nurse—but compared to Peter’s cruddy apartment in the original Spider-Men, Peter’s house in the Amazings looks music-video perfect. In Amazing 2, we find out that one of his childhood friends was one of the richest kids in New York. Because the movies can’t think of any interesting way to make Peter’s life hard, they just keep circling back to the origin story: Murdered parents, murdered uncle, murdered parents, murdered girlfriend.

Dear Darren,

Thanks for the article you wrote about the Spider-Man movie franchise.  You made some good points.

After reading it, I had questions about “encroaching Origin Fatigue: The sense that people might finally be getting fed up with the story before the story.”  Similar comments have been made a lot lately, specifically about Spider-Man, yet not so much with other major characters.

Are you saying that specifically about Spider-Man or superhero origins in movies and comics in general? 

I ask as a comic book writer also writing a screenplay were the characters’ origins are key to further stories.  Should I and other writers take that potential fatigue as a warning of sorts to ditch origins in movies and comics?  In your opinion is it best to just jump into the action with little or no explanation?

Also, do you think fans prefer concise, simple origins, like Blade, Chronicle or even Bond in Casino Royale and do you think origins, even brief ones add much needed believability to a character’s motivation and powers?   

Thank you,

Aaron

In Casablanca, Claude Rains is talking to one of the greatest protagonists in the history of human fiction. Claude Rains asks, basically, what is your origin story? And this is the response:

This point has been made elsewhere by much smarter people than me—I recommend everyone check out Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman—but it’s a point that should always be made, loudly: ORIGIN STORIES ARE BORING. Avoid them whenever possible. They are the prologue to the outline to the first draft. Get to the good stuff immediately. Mysterious characters who define themselves by their actions will always be more interesting than overexplained characters who define themselves by having yet another conversation about their murdered parents.

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