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7 ways Marvel can finally get Spider-Man right
With a great franchise comes great responsibility.
Fans of the famous webslinger have long dreamed that their favorite, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man would be able to stand side-by-side with the likes of Iron Man and Captain America on the big screen. On Monday night, that dream became a reality. Marvel Studios announced they would be working together with Sony Pictures, who owns the film rights to the Spider-Man character, to reboot the wall crawler. The deal also included Marvel finally being able to bring Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe—something the fans and Marvel Studios have been wanting to do for a very long time.
With the recent spider-man/marvel news my pick for directing the next movie would be Matthew Vaughn. He’d do such incredible stuff with it.
— Jack Howard (@JackHoward) February 12, 2015
Free trolling idea for Marvel: Make Miles Morales the new movie Spider-Man, but cast Shia LeBouef to play him.
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) February 10, 2015
I don’t know that even a great Spider-Man movie is worth pushing back Black Panther and Captain Marvel. He’s had his shot. The time is now.
— Justin Martin (@jmartinwrites) February 10, 2015
Andrew Garfield no longer being Spidey might be bad, but on the other hand, MARVEL OWNS SPIDER-MAN AGAIN. 😀
— Alex Gabriel (@AlexGabriel) February 10, 2015
That means this new reboot of Spidey will be the third cinematic incarnation of the character in just 13 years. Sony rebooted the series in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man, just five years after Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire completed their own Spidey trilogy with the much maligned Spider-Man 3. The creative team involved in making The Amazing Spider-Man—including (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb—promised the first Amazing film would be different than what came before. However, those promises were not kept when the movie finally swung into theaters in July 2012. While it received decent reviews and earned nearly $760 million worldwide, many fans groaned while the film spent over an hour re-cycling the same origin story—just told slightly differently—that everyone already saw in 2002’s Spider-Man.
While the Internet is understandably ecstatic that Spider-Man is finally joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios president Kevin Fiege and his creative team—including whoever they hire to write and direct the new film—have the Herculean task of rebooting the character in a way that gets audiences excited for the wall crawler again. Here are seven ways Marvel Studios can get Spider-Man swinging again on the big screen.
1) Less emphasis on romantic angst. More emphasis on Peter Parker the struggling high school student
The Amazing Spider-Man movies tried to take a different approach than the Raimi films by focusing more on the romantic angst between Peter Parker and his love interest, Gwen Stacy (as played by Emma Stone). In a strange way, this almost worked; in a serendipitous turn of fate that only the movie gods could have conjured up, Andrew Garfield and Stone dating in real life translated to some excellent on-screen chemistry between the two.
Unfortunately, the love angle resulted in some predictable, cliché storytelling that made audiences giggle and not in the way the filmmakers probably intended. As the first film drew to a close, Peter was forced to make a terrible decision: Stop dating Gwen or betray her father’s dying wish, which was for Peter to leave Gwen alone. Of course, at the end of the first movie, Peter implies he’s going to betray that wish because if bad romantic storytelling has taught us anything breaking promises almost never leads to more conflict.
So, naturally in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that decision lead to more of Peter pining for Gwen after realizing he was wrong to break that promise—even though he spends most of the film regretting that decision. It’s seriously like the writers were just making up things as they were going along (and given the behind-the-scenes drama on the films, that was probably the case).
If the new series wants to swing away and do something different, focusing less on the romantic angst would be a great place to start. In the comics, Peter Parker’s conflict mostly came from struggling to make ends meet. He either couldn’t afford to pay rent after he graduated college or he was always torn between the duality of his life as Peter Parker and his responsibilities saving people as Spider-Man. If the new film is going to focus on Peter as a young chap in high school again, let’s see him struggling to get good grades or barely managing to be good at his job working for the Daily Bugle. I don’t think anyone would protest to seeing J. Jonah Jameson again, a character that was noticeably absent from the previous two Amazing films.
Spider-Man has always been at its core a character that is very much the everyman, a young kid trying to do the right thing while also trying to juggle his responsibilities. In the comics, Peter Parker almost never gets the girl—the new movie should reflect that.
2) Figure out a more consistent tone
The tone of the Amazing Spider-Man movies was all over the place. The first film tried to be darker and grittier, like the Dark Knight trilogy, while still trying to emulate the sappy lovelorn melodrama of the Twilight movies—which was a weird concoction and didn’t quite work. The second film was lighter, more fun and playful; the wise-cracking portrayal of Spider-Man was spot-on and perhaps the most comic-book accurate of the entire series, including the Raimi films.
However, the second film often detoured into over-the-top camp. As Tom Long of Detroit News said, “At times the movie takes on a light, nearly silly attitude; at others, it’s all heavy mystery or life and death.” There’s even a moment where Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn starts singing the Jeopardy theme as a way to torment an Osborn employee—as if the writers had taken villain cues from bad action movies of the ’80s. At one point, Jamie Foxx’s Electro utters what is perhaps one of the worst lines heard in a mainstream movie in years: “It’s my birthday. Time to light my candles.” I can’t even begin to imagine a scenario where the screenwriter typed those lines and had a great big smile on his face, as if he had just written a superb line of well-crafted dialogue. I guess I shouldn’t have expected much coming from the writers of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
If the new Spider-Man series wants to succeed, it needs to figure out a more consistent tone. The previous series didn’t know what it wanted to be and suffered tonally as a consequence. Tone is one of the most important aspects of any good movie. If the tone is muddled, then the film is muddled. Let’s hope whoever the filmmakers of the next Spider-Man film end up being understand this.
3) Stay away from some of the bad elements of the comics
The Spider-Man mythology is full of some great moments—such as the Kraven the Hunter story arc—and some not so great moments, such as the backstory explaining what happened to Peter Parker’s parents, Richard and Mary Parker. In the comics, it is explained they were spies and that’s why they were absent for much of Peter Parker’s life. The film tried to explore this and it’s understandable why the filmmakers of the Amazing series opted to delve into Peter’s parents. After all, they are completely absent from the Sam Raimi films and it helps separate this series from the previous one.
However, if you’re going to adapt elements of the comics that have yet to be adapted, there are two things that should be taken into consideration:
1) If you’re going to commit to including Peter Parker’s parents, commit to that fully. The advertisements for the first film promised “The Untold Story” which was going to include explaining what happened to Peter Parker’s parents. However, in the final film, much of that plot point was exorcised. This made the scenes they were in feel unnecessary and tacked on.
2) If you’re going to adapt elements from the comics that haven’t been adapted before, try to adapt some of the better story elements. The comic-book arc about Richard and Mary Parker was never that well-received by fans of the lore and it’s not all that good. So why explore it? Especially if you’re not going to even commit to that plot point all the way.
There was word the third film was planning on adapting the Clone Saga from the comics, which involves bringing Gwen Stacy back to life as a clone. Given that (spoiler alert!) Stacy dies at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, on paper that makes sense—especially since Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy was one of the best parts of that series. However, the series from the comics is just not very good. For that reason, it’s probably good we didn’t get The Amazing Spider-Man 3. Kevin Fiege and Marvel Studios will undoubtedly be looking at stories to adapt for this new interpretation of Spider-Man. As they are perusing through decades of comics, it might be best to ignore some of the not-so good stories. If fans didn’t like them, it’s safe to assume regular audiences won’t like them as well.
4) Get rid of Emo Peter
In Spider-Man 3, Tobey Maguire set the Internet and fandom ablaze when he adopted a hair flip and black clothing and did a strut set to James Brown music that channeled John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever. Who knows what Sam Raimi and Maguire were thinking when they filmed that scene, but many memes were created as a result.
So it made little sense when Marc Webb and the filmmaking team behind the Amazing series went to great lengths to further “Emo Peter” (an adage fans conjured). Take this sequence, for example, in The Amazing Spider-Man where Peter learns how to hone his powers while riding a skateboard and listening to Coldplay.
If that wasn’t enough, the costume designer had to give Peter a hoodie because, well, you’re not sensitive if you aren’t wearing a hoodie. Hopefully Fiege and Marvel Studios realize that Peter Parker doesn’t need to mope around and look cool in order to appeal to young, contemporary audiences. The Peter Parker of the comics was geeky, nervous, and unkempt. He was relatable because he exemplified the very same traits that the young aficionados reading the comics shared. If the new Spider-Man hopes to connect to audiences again, it needs to not copy Kristen Stewart and instead just look to the young readers that made Spider-Man popular to begin with.
5) Stop trying to copy the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Earn that world building
One of the biggest problems with the Amazing series was that it tried too hard to copy the seamless universe building of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios carefully built an intertwined universe by slowly introducing multiple characters through many different, separate films before combining them in The Avengers. Then, they went off and did their own thing again. Even though some still make appearances in each other’s movies, like Nick Fury and Black Widow playing supporting roles in last summer’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Steve Rogers can have conflict with Natasha (Black Widow) because they’ve already appeared together. That conflict is earned and well-established. However, the filmmakers of the Amazing series wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They introduced so many different characters and plot threads into Amazing Spider-Man 2 that it felt like an overstuffed turkey. There was a clear intention for those characters and plot threads to pay off in sequels and spin-offs, but there was never any pay off. As David Crow of Den of Geek said, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2 needed to actually make audiences excited about this expanding world. Instead, it will leave many more infuriated that there was barely a point to the last two hours they spent in it.”
The Amazing Spider-Man promised “The Untold Story” and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 promised Spider-Man’s “Greatest Battle” (as advertisements foretold), but none of those things ever really happened. They were building to something that never really took shape, like a thread cut off and dangling in mid-air.
Marvel Studios loves to world build and they have earned that right. If they want to intertwine Spider-Man into that universe, it needs to be done well. Fortunately, Marvel will introduce this new version of Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War before Spidey gets his new solo film. This is a smart move—let’s hope Marvel will continue to thread Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe like a well-woven web.
6) Don’t retread the origin story, again.
When The Amazing Spider-Man came out in July 2012, it told a story that was very familiar to audiences. By that point, fans and general moviegoers alike were annoyed with having to endure yet another origin story for Peter Parker—one that most people know anyway (Peter gets bit by a radioactive spider, gets hot abs, Uncle Ben dies, “with great power comes long speeches,” etc.).
The first Amazing film came out just ten years after the very first live-action Spider-Man movie; the new Spider-Man reboot will come just five years after the last reboot. The last thing audiences want is yet another origin story.
Another Spider-Man film was as inevitable as the morning sunrise, so it’s happening whether people like it or not (and not everyone right now does). However, Marvel Studios can curb some of that disinterest by ignoring a very familiar part of Spider-Man’s story that no one really wants to see again. Let’s start with Peter Parker already bit by that radioactive spider, because it’s going to happen—the audience knows this, so no need to show it. The film can begin with him already struggling with his responsibilities as a high schooler and a fledgling superhero. Get to the meat of the story— whatever that meat is. That’s what audiences want to see—not Peter Parker riding skateboards while figuring out how to mix a 180 and crawling a wall.
7) Make sure the new movie distances itself properly from the last two franchises
The Amazing Spider-Man series did many things wrong but one of the most egregious was being too similar to the Spidey films that came before, featuring many of the same characters and arcs from the Sam Raimi films. For example, it might have been a better idea to hold off on featuring Norman and Harry Osborn so early in the Amazing series as they were prominent fixtures in the previous films. The ending of Amazing Spider-Man 2 probably felt oddly similar to a lot of people that saw Spider-Man 3 just a couple years before.
Now, some of that comes from the source material—there are only so many times you can tell the same story without repeating some things. However, Kevin Fiege, Marvel Studios, and whoever gets chosen to make the next Spider-Man film are tasked with taking the series in a direction that doesn’t recall the last five movies. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. The new film will already be different as it promises to feature a Peter Parker in his late teens while in high school—the youngest we’ve seen Peter yet.
If the new Spider-Man wants to soar, it needs to be its own thing and not try to mimic what has come before—especially when it comes to previous Spider-Man films. Marvel must walk a delicate balance, giving the fans what they want but doing so in a way they haven’t seen before. It’s a hefty responsibility, but as Spider-Man himself has proven time and time again— with a great franchise comes great responsibility.
Photo via Sony/YouTube
Dan Marcus is a geek culture reporter based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in First Showing and Trek Movie.