This article contains spoilers for Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man
After Spider-Man 2, Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire et al must have thought they were onto a gold mine – Spider-Man 2 is been remembered as one of the genre’s best films, simply because it had pretty much everything. There was the tragic introduction (end exit) of Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, an epic train-top set piece any blockbuster would be proud of, an underlying romantic storyline beginning to flourish, and a three part revenge/redemption arc well underway for Harry Osborn.
Naturally, the inevitable sequel was planned to be bigger and better. Raimi’s team had ambition in abundance, and they set about trying to please everyone with an audacious plan to include three villains in the central plot of the sequel (not something Raimi himself was keen on, but Sony was pushing him quite hard on this).
Surely older Spidey fans would love the inclusion of Sandman, younger viewers would rejoice at seeing Venom who had become such a favourite in countless cartoons and videogames, and those who had dug the series so far would love to see James Franco finally Goblin suit up. But that was where it all went wrong – by overstretching. Nobody involved got enough screen time, and no group of fans was particularly impressed.
What came next was arguably worse though, as the dreaded R-word was used and the series was re-launched younger, prettier and moodier. Hence, The Amazing Spider-Man, a film that had its fans, but for many was a messy retelling of a very familiar story which scraped by on the strength of its two stars.
The Amazing Spider-Man raked in over $750 million in a superhero-hungry age and Sony has naturally announced plans for three sequels and possible spin-offs. However, in this writer’s opinion, Spider-Man 3 (which interestingly took more at the box office) was a better film, which The Amazing Spider-Man sequels could learn a lot from. Things like these…
Coherence: know the story you’re trying to tell
Despite the fact that The Amazing Spider-Man had only one villain to deal with compared to Spider-Man 3’s triumvirate of terrors, the latter still somehow told a better, more coherent story. Sandman, Venom and Harry’s previously foreshadowed Goblin persona were all introduced without confusion and their motivations were clear. For better or worse, when Venom and Sandman teamed up to make Spidey’s life hell, it was easy for viewers to understand, leaving them to sit back and enjoy a fairly epic (if a bit crowded) final battle. Although Harry’s redemption was rushed (that’s, er, a bit of an understatement) in the final act after years of build-up, the plot hung together. Well, except for the butler who never thought to mention anything about gliders before.
In Marc Webb’s reboot though, the Lizard’s character motivation is all wrong, his plan is unclear and everything is remarkably easy for webhead to solve. When you think about it, Rhys Ifans’ Dr Curt Connors is an inspirational genius to Peter, he wouldn’t just become a homicidal bastard almost immediately if told his funding got cut. It seems oddly like the screenwriters just assumed that would be fine because that’s what happened to Norman Osborn in Raimi’s first Spidey picture – but Norman is a bad person, established by his poor parenting skills; Connors isn’t at all like him.
Having grown up with a PlayStation and various Spider-Man cartoons on TV, this writer has seen countless Lizard stories which play out like a Jekyll and Hyde scenario, where Connors isn’t at all aware of his actions in his uncontrollable moments as the Lizard, and remains Peter’s friend and mentor. The Lizard is a different persona that Connors can’t control, and it’s always thrilling to see.
The Lizard’s arc doesn’t particularly improve from there, either. In the final act, where Raimi would have escalated towards an epic final battle, Webb reveals Connors’ plan, which is just outright weird. When Sandman and Venom kidnapped Mary-Jane and made the fight personal to Peter, the now-mental Connors’ master plan is to… turn everyone into lizards.
We watched in awe as the Lizard mildly inconvenienced a group of policemen by briefly turning them into lizards who wreaked literally no havoc across the city. Let’s not dwell too long on the easiest espionage scene ever either, when Connors happens to leave his computer unlocked with his evil plan video paused on the vital detail Peter needs. It’s one huge example of how rushed and incoherent The Amazing Spider-Man is.
Despite crowding too much into its runtime, Spider-Man 3 always knew the story it wanted to tell: as Peter’s life is looking incredibly lovely with his job, MJ and even a Spidey-loving parade all sorted, an alien symbiote arrives on earth, awkwardly timed to coincide with a freak sand-based accident, and everything goes to shit. On the promise of that idea, Raimi’s film pays off.
All the marketing for The Amazing Spider-Man pointed towards ‘the untold story’ of Peter’s parents and a moodier take on the character. Sony then produced a film which reveals next to nothing about Peter’s family, rushed through the origin story we already knew and then stumbled through the Lizard’s awful plan. We’re all for world building, and so was Raimi, but your debut franchise film shouldn’t suffer as a result of wanting to tease future plot points.
Ambition: aim to give the fans something they’ll love
Say what you like about it, but Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 had no shortage of ambition, as it looked to tie up the Mary-Jane romance arc, introduce the idea of alien symbiotes (then turn them against Peter), throw Sandman into the mix as well as completing Harry’s three film story, adding in Gwen Stacey as a fan-pleasing reference and including a supporting role for Curt Connors. Too much ambition, and too many elements? Without question. But it tried.
The 2012 film, however, had relatively little ambition, as though the filmmakers had been told to reel it in after Raimi overcrowded his threequel. Webb’s film is content to replay emotional beats from the 2002 Spider-Man, and retcon Gwen and Curt over MJ and Norman’s roles in the previous franchise launcher.
Raimi’s first Spidey film had much more going on than that just having a non-Lizard Connors and Harry Osborn in supporting roles. All the new film offered as fan teasers is a brief scene with Peter’s parents and a mention of Norman Osborn being sick.
This is why Spider-Man 3 trumps The Amazing Spider-Man: one thing fans love in the digital age is references, cameos and things to discuss on comment boards, and The Amazing Spider-Man was short on all three, whereas Spider-Man 3 was rich on all counts. This Spidey subscriber would rather see a coherent story chock-a-block with familiar characters and references than feel short-changed by a rushed retelling of old material with very few Easter eggs any day – and that’s why I prefer Spider-Man 3.
Has Sony learned these lessons?
Only time will tell how coherent The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is, but early signs suggest that Sony is well aware of the lack of ambition in its origin story. Indeed, it looks as though Sony have spotted this fan desire for more Easter eggs as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is gearing up to be completely stuffed with cool supporting characters.
The film includes Electro as the main villain, the Rhino as a supporting character as well as appearances from Norman and Harry Osborn. Rumours have even surfaced of a Vulture cameo. Raimi proved through his use of Connors and Gwen that fan-pleasing inclusions don’t need to take up big chunks of your movie, but can make it very enjoyable to watch.
It’s no easy task topping the Raimi trilogy, where laughs, references and huge action sequences were all frequent occurrences as they ambitiously kept widening the world. The strongly rumoured Avengers-of-bad-guys Sinister Six movie would be a stroke of genius if pulled off by Webb, and aiming to achieve that can only help him build his own cinematic Spidey-verse to rival the first.
Many viewers will thoroughly enjoy seeing these teases of the wider Spidey world, and it certainly seems like a step in the right direction for Webb to try and build a fan-pleasing film series with wider scope.
As it stands, Spider-Man 3 has set the bar for multi-baddie bust-ups, and by learning some lessons from it, Webb could really be onto something with his fresh adaptation on the Spider-Man mythos.
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