Back during the summer of 2007, director Sam Raimi’s jam-packed Spider-Man 3 may have earned a hefty $890 million at the worldwide box-office, but what it didn’t earn was the same level of widespread acclaim the first two Spider-Man outings did. Ultimately, Raimi came away disappointed, but was still open to the prospects of a Spider-Man 4. The studio meddling from Sony and demands from producer Avi Arad helped make Spider-Man 3 a big, bloated dud as far as I was concerned, but even as development continued on the follow-up, Sam Raimi became increasingly frustrated at the constant creative disagreements and lackluster screenplay drafts, so he left the project altogether and Sony officially cancelled the film in early 2010.
In fact, as recently as a couple months ago, concept artist Jeffrey Henderson released on his own official website some cool conceptual storyboards he created back during the early pre-production stages of Spider-Man 4 which suggests that they were planning on featuring the classic villains Vulture and Mysterio. Actor John Malkovich was reportedly in talks to play Vulture and Henderson’s art reveals the interesting idea of Mysterio being played by Raimi regular and all-around B-movie badass Bruce Campbell, who had already briefly appeared in all three of the previous Spider-Man films as different characters. Perhaps this was going to be another funny, yet small cameo for Campbell as he’s revealed to be the shamed Mysterio in front of a station of laughing policemen.
Now, in the years since Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins successfully rebooted the long-dormant Batman film franchise, it has gotten easier and easier for Hollywood to just hit the ol’ reboot button if a franchise fizzles out or if a first attempt doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot right out of the gate. Once it was announced that Sam Raimi had decided to leave the series, it felt like almost instantly that Sony Pictures made public that they’d be ending the Tobey Maguire run and starting over completely from scratch.
At the time, I remember personally being quite torn on this direction. On one hand, I was so disappointed with Spider-Man 3 and how redundant the series was starting to feel that it seemed like it was maybe a good time to do something new instead of beating a dead horse. Sam Raimi certainly left his own stamp on the characters but what could a new cinematic take on Spider-Man be like, both visually and story-wise?
But, on the other hand, how “from scratch” were we talking here..? The last thing I wanted to see was yet another origin story because not only were superhero origin stories a dime-a-dozen at this point, but we’ve already seen what felt like a pretty definitive Spider-Man origin with Raimi’s first film and it’s just too soon to recreate something so similar. Those three films were some of the biggest and most talked about superhero movies ever and we were just going to simply erase all that and start again? That, I was less enthused about. Of course, as far as Sony was concerned, there was a rapidly growing elephant in the room, that elephant being Marvel Studios.
In 2006, it was formally announced that Marvel Studios was venturing out on its own to begin making comic book films independent from the movie studios they had previously licensed many of their popular characters out to – namely Sony (Spider-Man) and 20th Century Fox (X-Men, Fantastic Four). With an entire library of characters at their disposal, Marvel Studios took a huge gamble by taking a few that didn’t have real mainstream appeal and turning them into what are now some of the world’s most beloved superheroes like Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. Although distributed through Paramount Pictures, Marvel Studios released its first independently financed film Iron Man starring Robert Downey, Jr in the summer of 2008 and thanks to its pitch-perfect cast, great sense of humor, awesome action, and stunning effects, its massive success far surpassed expectations.
Iron Man’s triumphant debut laid a solid foundation for Marvel Studios to begin building their own shared film universe with four more giant hits, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, and by the summer of 2012, Marvel unleashed The Avengers, a colossal cultural phenomenon that brought all these superheroes together for the first time on the big screen. Earning over $1.5 billion worldwide, The Avengers is still the highest-grossing comic book film of all time, and while many believed that this was a culmination of this huge five-film build-up, the overall story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was just getting started.
Meanwhile, Sony was putting its Spider-Man reboot plans into motion. As a part of Sony’s original deal with Marvel, Sony must release a new Spider-Man film within a certain period of time or the rights to the character would revert back to Marvel, which has always been my own speculative way of summing up Sony’s desire to reboot Spider-Man so quickly. And by the summer of 2012, the same summer Marvel Studios was setting the world on fire with The Avengers, Sony released The Amazing Spider-Man.
Following the success of his romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer, director Marc Webb was hired by Sony to helm The Amazing Spider-Man (he surely had the perfect last name for the job). What was interesting about this choice was the idea of bringing in an art house indie director to helm this giant blockbuster superhero movie, a decision that was no doubt inspired by Christopher Nolan’s achievements with his Batman movies.
Andrew Garfield, whom I was familiar with from Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and David Fincher’s The Social Network, was cast as the new Peter Parker. Looks wise, I thought he certainly resembled some comic book interpretations of the character more so than Tobey Maguire ever did but how he’d depict him in comparison to Maquire was still unknown. Emma Stone (Superbad, Zombieland) was cast as Peter’s original comic book girlfriend Gwen Stacy, which was definitely the best direction to go in order to not make this new reboot feel too much like the original Sam Raimi film. Rhys Ifans was cast as scientist Dr. Curt Connors, a character originally portrayed by Dylan Baker in Spider-Man 2 and 3, who never ultimately got the chance to become the monstrous Lizard. Here, Ifans’ Connors does transform into The Lizard following an experiment he conducts on himself in order to regrow his missing arm.
As photos and trailers started to hit, it began to look like very little was changed from what was already a spot-on interpretation of Spider-Man’s suit, except for a couple pointless cosmetic alterations, and the same can be said about the web-slinging sequences. Sam Raimi’s films revolutionized the visual landscape of comic book movies, so it was indeed a tough act to follow. But much of the action was looking a lot like what had come before, except more of it took place at night as opposed to the warm-tinted sunsets and brightly-colored daylight scenes from the original films, which I feel better captured the visual essence of the character. This Spider-Man reboot was an opportunity to take the series in countless different directions but what we ended up with was practically a regurgitation of Sam Raimi's run along with a few pages taken out of Christopher Nolan’s guide to superhero reboots, and I don’t really mean that as a compliment.
Around this time, it felt like everything was getting the Dark Knight treatment, darker and more grounded. But while that works perfectly for a character like Batman, I don’t really think it’s the best tone you want to approach Spider-Man with and once it came time for The Amazing Spider-Man to be released, I really started losing interest. When the reboot was first announced, I was quite excited to see what creative new direction they were going to take, but there was now enough evidence in the advertising that very little was seemingly changed, and even worse, it looked as if we were going right back to Spidey’s origin once again, a story that had already been done quite well just a decade earlier. Everything right down to the font on the movie posters just felt so…familiar.
By the summer of 2012, we had Marvel Studios taking a huge leap forward with The Avengers, DC/Warner Bros. was wrapping up Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, and even Fox’s X-Men franchise was doing interesting new things with X-Men: First Class the previous year, but as far as Spider-Man was concerned, it seemed like this new reboot was playing it painfully safe and retreading too much of the same ground we had seen already. And once the reviews started to reflect my suspicions, I ultimately skipped The Amazing Spider-Man in theaters altogether. Believe me, I wanted to be excited for new Spider-Man movies but I guess it was the partial hangover from Spider-Man 3 combined with the mixed reception of The Amazing Spider-Man that I remember just killing my desire to buy a ticket.
Of course, I did eventually check the film out on DVD, just to make sure my early feelings about it were justified and while I thought it was a competently made film, I just didn’t really find it to be all that memorable. Andrew Garfield was alright as Peter Parker, but he almost played him too cool. Tobey Maguire captured Peter’s awkward dorkiness so perfectly and those films weren’t afraid to play it up in cheesy and somewhat old-fashioned ways. That was their charm, I think. Here, he seemed a little too sure of himself, which I guess is okay, but it takes away from the interesting contrast between Peter and Spider-Man.
I will say that I liked his Spider-Man better because he plays up the wise-ass angle that the character never really had in the Sam Raimi films. That, and it was cool to finally see him with the mechanical web-shooters. Emma Stone, who’s usually pretty great in anything I’ve seen her in, was also great as Gwen Stacy and given her chemistry with Peter, it’s no surprise that Stone and Garfield actually dated for a while following the film’s production.
This time around, Peter’s Aunt May and Uncle Ben were played by Sally Field and Martin Sheen, who are fine with what they’re given, but of course, we have to do yet another retelling of Uncle Ben’s death during a burglary, despite it being under slightly different circumstances from the original film. Additionally Rhys Ifans wasn’t particularly memorable as Dr. Curt Connors and once he turned into The Lizard, he just became a generic CGI blob monster with a pretty clichéd evil plan of turning all humans into a race of lizard creatures…yay…
The Amazing Spider-Man may have been a pretty decent worldwide success but there was no escaping that fact that a lot of the territory was way too familiar and instead of just doing another origin story, I think they should have just made a new film with an established Spider-Man played by a different actor, much like the James Bond franchise. But, I suppose in a way to justify a rehashing of the origin story, the filmmakers added an extra subplot that began to explore what exactly happened to Peter’s parents, why he grew up living with his aunt and uncle, and how it all ties back to Dr. Connors.
While it’s admirable that they tried to do something different there, I just honestly didn’t care enough about the film overall to be that intrigued by the mystery, or how it might play out in future sequels. Again, while the film was competently made, it felt like the motivation of this movie was less trying to tell a compelling Spider-Man story, and more just Sony trying a little too desperately to keep the Spider-Man rights away from Marvel Studios. By this point, I figured my interest in Spider-Man (at least this version anyway) was never going to pick back up, unless perhaps, future sequels to The Amazing Spider-Man got more interesting as time went on…
Well, time passed, and an Amazing Spider-Man sequel was feeling more and more like a sure thing. Meanwhile, Marvel Studios continued to successfully grow their interconnected universe of superhero franchises and while they did a good job at sidestepping any of the Marvel comic book characters they didn’t have legal access to, many fans like myself continued to pine for the day when Marvel’s most iconic character, Spider-Man, could participate in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, it didn’t seem like something that could ever possibly happen unless Sony went out of their way to make a deal with Marvel and allow the Andrew Garfield franchise to have some kind of forced awkward crossover, but I know I wouldn’t have been crazy about that idea based on my own reaction to The Amazing Spider-Man.
Even Amazing Spider-Man producer Avi Arad, who parted ways with Marvel Studios after producing Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, would publicly say that doing a Spider-Man/Avengers crossover was essentially a silly and desperate idea. Clearly, Arad seemed completely content with keeping all the Sony-owned Spider-Man characters segregated from Marvel for as long as possible. Well, what a difference a few years can make…
Make sure to come back next week for the fourth and final part of my extended look back at the Spider-Man films, where things continue to go downhill at Sony, but thankfully there will be one hell of a happy ending!
Continued in Part 4!
David Rose is the creator of Happy Dragon Pictures and The DVD Shelf. He’s an illustrator, animator, videographer and aspiring billionaire/crimefighter…but still needs more training.