02 May 2014

The Road to a Blockbuster: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 causes "Swinging into Theaters" Puns Everywhere

As far as Superheroes go, there's a lot to Spider-Man. His powers are naturally awesome, his attitude is fresh, he's young, a bit of a science geek, and he struggles every day with his great power. Something else about responsibility, I don't know. He's the perfect hero to absorb all of our insecurities and picture ourselves swinging as him - the all-encompassing mask and body suit helps, along with the knowledge that inside, he struggles to pay rent, please his family, and keep his grades up, just like anyone else. It's no wonder that he's sort of the grandaddy the modern Comic Book Movie - while X-Men (2000) proved the genre could be lucrative, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002) proved it could be ridiculously lucrative, as well as successfully center around the pathos of one hero and one villain and still be engaging. Of course, all that was thrown out by the third installment, which everyone but me hated, but that's besides the point.
Coming in 2019...Son of Spider-Man!

So let's think hard about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). It's certainly winning the marketing battle of the Summer, and in the past few months, there has been more set photos, trailers, commercials, and product tie-ins than anything else. Why am I getting the Spider-Man logo in the corner for my commercials for NBA Playoffs? Oh synergy, where would we be without you? So what exactly will the commercial prospect of this be? Probably good but not stunning.

The film just doesn't look all that great, there's no real story being told, or anything to latch on to and invest in. Any interesting twist it may have held, like Harry Osborn becoming Green Goblin, has also been thoroughly spoiled by run of the mill commercials. That's not even a twist, actually, considering it's something that already happened like ten years ago at the end of Spider-Man 2 (2004). The marketing effort actually really reminds me of Man of Steel (2013), which was considered a financial success, even though for some reason its $291 million domestic and $667 million worldwide always seemed low to me. Maybe that's because Superman was everywhere last summer, but it grossed less than any Iron Man movie, the first three Spider-Man movies, and the latter two Nolan Batmans. For a movie so hyped and for a superhero so profound and iconic, you'd think he'd be at the top. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) is right behind at #11 all time among Comic Book Adaptations and that's probably close to where this one will go too.

I guess what's also true about Man of Steel is that I really didn't care about it immediately after I saw it. Same with The Amazing Spider-Man, especially in a summer with The Avengers (2012) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) which each pushed the superhero formula, for better or worse, into new directions rather than the bland origin re-hash of ASM. The marketing reeks more of desperation than excitement generating (unlike say, Godzilla [2014], which drops a few weeks later).

Let's keep on that topic. Culturally, it does seem like it's more contributing to a universe rather than striking out on its own. It's not built to stand on its own, but to set up future shit. And yes, I'm curious about a Sinister Six movie, I think a villain team-up sort of Avengers antithesis is awesome and there is a ton of greatly plodded Spider-Man history to support it. I'm not sure that six should be Lizard, Goblin, Rhino, Electro, Venom, and whoever else, but beggars can't be choosers. C'mon - we deserve a Mysterio movie. Still, the entire business model of these big superhero films has become more about leading to these big team-up movies. In ten years time no one is going to revel over ASM2, it'll just blur together as this shared Marc Webb memory while someone else is demonstrating their interpretation of the character.

And I have no problem with that, really. We should actually see more directors handle the same characters in different contexts. That's what the comics themselves are like, after all. Why not? Why do movies have to be so static? When will we get a movie that's daring enough to put Doctor Octopus' brain in Peter Parker's body? We have a strange obsession for continuity of fictional characters, and tend to freak out when they're shaken up, which mystifies me. I am one of the few probably who are disappointed that Peter's back in his own brain, but why not be bold? The character has already achieved immortality - his legacy isn't tarnished, so when will movies catch up and start going really crazy and more experimental?

Probably never. Movies aren't comic books. They're far to expensive and far too many people are involved to really go crazy. Especially with big studio tentpoles like this, where whole universes ride on its success, this is going to be as mass marketed as you can get. And that's globally, which is a trend that continuously hurts movie quality. That's not to say it's all bad. The flashy colours, flashpan movements, and comic value provides for a much better comic book movie than Raimi ever delivered, and maybe even a better spider-man movie, but it doesn't create a better movie. Andrew Garfield is also a far better Spider-Man than Tobey "Devon Morehouse" Maguire ever was, although probably a worse Peter Parker.
I couldn't decide between an AVABAR,
Dr. Manhattan, or Mr. Freeze joke.

Critically, this film is already getting a thrashing. I'm not actually sure why there is even a point to seeing this film. It's not like you really need to understand where these characters are coming from like in The Avengers before they all team up. What are the stakes? Is New York City getting electrocuted? If you look at something like Spider-Man 2, you'll see that city destruction there, but it was born from a tremendous amount of personal conflict. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 3 dealt expressly with personal conflict over mindless flashy conflict, which will always provide a more interesting story.

It is actually a fallacy to completely honor Raimi's films though. As Honest Trailers points out, they are all the same film, after all. Peter doubts his powers until Mary Jane is kidnapped by a misunderstood victim of science gone wrong, then he saves her but can't quite seal the deal. It would probably be worth your time to just go see The Winter Soldier (2014) again this week and wait till Sinister Six (2016).

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