After a two-year wait, one of superhero cinema’s biggest stars, an architect of the current “golden age” of comic book movies we’re now enjoying, has returned to theaters worldwide. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has finally arrived, bringing back the celebrated cast and director of the first Amazing Spider-Man film, and after a strong opening weekend showing in domestic markets, a third film continuing the threads of the second is assured.
Unfortunately, in addition to ASM2 being the longest of all the Spidey films, it’s also not being well received critically, and has managed to polarize any conversation about the web head and his future prospects on film. Not only that, but the latest is also supposed to be the basis for the beginning of a Spider-Man cinematic universe, even with a lot of perceived problems.
Is ASM2 indicative of some wear showing on the Spidey franchise? It very well might. So, maybe it would be best for the creative integrity of future films if the web slinger took his rightful place alongside the Avengers and joined the Marvel cinematic universe.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and How It’s Exactly What We Don’t Need
The truth of the matter is that when it comes to comic book films, there are a lot of hyperbolists out there, from comic book purists, to people loyal to the characters from childhood. In some circles, ASM2 is being compared to Joel Schumacher’s 1997 Dark Knight killer Batman & Robin, but that’s not a fair comparison to make. Speaking as a comic book fan that enjoyed Green Lantern while being very aware of its flaws, that’s far closer to the company I’d put it in.
Therein lies the problem, though. When Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man hit theaters in 2002, it was seen as a new standard for comic book filmmaking. Though you can probably trace the “secret origin” of the current comic book movie age to 2000’s X-Men, it was Spider-Man that created perceptions in the minds of audiences that you can have a popcorn movie that is both fun and good, and make it in a way that can appeal to people of all kinds, all while making a boatload of money in the process.
When Spider-Man 2 was released in 2004, it was far from the standard-bearing superhero franchise, and was released during a time when most superhero sequels were considered as less than their predecessors. A guaranteed hit was far from the radar, but Spider-Man 2 managed to blow away both critics and fans with its story and performances. It was Spider-Man 2 that established the hero as the heavy hitter of the superhero films of its time, and probably the best received superhero sequel until the release of The Dark Knight in 2008 (both films have matching Rotten Tomatoes scores here and here, but Dark Knight gets the objective edge for its Academy recognition).
The year 2007 was the first sign of a crack in the armor with the release of Spider-Man 3, a film that even Sam Raimi admits made him “very unhappy.” When the reboot was announced in the form of 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, some people were perplexed, but it was largely seen as a respectable return to form for the franchise, with the cast being singled out for particular praise.
The lukewarm reception to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the exception to the franchise norm, not the rule, and seems to indicate that Sony is content with churning out a Spider-Man film because no matter what, they’re making money. As long as that happens, there is absolutely no reason for fans of the character to expect better from him at the movies until some real new blood is brought in to revitalize the creative direction of the franchise.
The New Blood, Same As the Old Blood
It may not surprise you to learn that, for the entire existence of the Spider-Man film franchise, it’s largely been steered by the same people. While Laura Ziskin helped oversee the first four films until her untimely death in 2011, the head honcho has always been Avi Arad. One of the founders and former head of Marvel Studios, Arad has had involvement in Marvel Comics since its 1996 bankruptcy, a debacle that left him with the rights to Spider-Man in other media. From there, nobody can dispute Arad's success and sizable role in aggressively pursuing projects featuring Marvel characters on film and television, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Punisher, Blade and the Hulk.
Arad left Marvel in 2006 (though he had producer credit on The Incredible Hulk), reportedly over his doubts about plans to create an independent studio. When Arad left, it was Kevin Feige who was left in a leadership role, which has led to unprecedented success for Marvel characters previously unknown to the public becoming arguably the biggest comic book movie stars ever.
Arad, of course, continued seeing his own brand of success with The Amazing Spider-Man, but when it was announced that Spider-Man would become a basis for its own cinematic universe a la The Avengers in the coming years, many fans and critics expressed doubt about such a model’s viability for one character and his supporting cast. Even 20th Century Fox’s Marvel universe will feature the X-Men as well as the Fantastic Four.
Recently, though, Arad has taken issue with the credit Kevin Feige has received for building the Marvel cinematic universe and Marvel Studios, instead claiming that "I single-handedly put together the Marvel slate," saying that the Marvel financial partners “counted on [his] reputation” to get the original Iron Man film made. He then lamented a lack of “journalistic integrity” for a recent article in Businessweek praising Feige for building the cinematic universe, and by extension, facilitating Marvel’s sale to Disney.
By that same token, Arad has been on the Spidey ship for the entirety of the character’s exploitation on film, and to some, it may look like he’s trying to emulate the success of films like Iron Man or Captain America: The Winter Soldier by creating his own, Spidey-centric cinematic universe.
Marvel Studios: Spider-Man’s Real Home, and How It Can Help
Although critics go back and forth about some of its offerings thus far, Marvel Studios has yet to really stumble in the creation of its films. While the second installments of Iron Man and Thor are often singled out as the low points in the series thus far, blockbuster juggernauts like Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and ambitious projects like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man have generally kept the reputation of the studio in a very positive place.
So positive, in fact, that Iron Man, previously regarded as a second-tier Marvel hero, has managed to overtake Spider-Man as the box office champion of solo Marvel superhero films. As of right now, Avi Arad is presiding over a film series that will likely bring in respectable box office returns for the latest outing, but those returns have also progressively decreased for every Spider-Man film, even when taking inflation into account.
Bringing Spidey into the Marvel cinematic universe wouldn’t automatically ensure its quality over the existing series, but the likelihood is certainly there considering he critical reaction to the majority of Marvel Studios films, how the characters have all increased in stature and in commercial viability due to their mere involvement in it, along with the caliber of creators that have contributed positively to the longstanding legacy of the characters, as well as their respective abilities to make good movies out of them. Spidey's joining the ranks of Iron Man and Captain America likely isn't possible while he's the property of Sony, and Arad has even said that he has very little interest in it. It would take Disney writing a sizable check, along with Sony's willingness to take it.
In the comic books, Spider-Man has been a member of the Avengers for nearly a decade now. Although he doesn’t need life support yet, the current trend of his film series may put him in a dire situation.
Who better to save him than the Earth's Mightiest Heroes?
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and former retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, The Huffington Post, and Batman-On-Film.com. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film every Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.
MORE FROM AROUND THE WEB: