Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dissecting a Spider

This is probably irrelevant now, but I figured I'd share this... This isn't news, this will be a look at a recent big superhero film that left me disappointed. This is how I would've approach The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and future installments...

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is both a self-conscious launch pad for future movies and a messy action film... This was a film I was really anticipating, because I happened to really enjoy the first film in the reboot series and I was excited at the idea of the Sinister Six being a future threat to Spidey... But then I saw it, now I longer care about the future installments.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is often compared to Iron Man 2, normally called the weakest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I also think that Tony Stark's second outing is just that, but I don't think it's a terrible film. The Avengers build-up stuff does indeed feel tacked on, and it seems like director Jon Favreau's intentions to do a legitimately dramatic and even dark "Demon in a Bottle"-based story are pushed to the side. Tony's alcoholism and daddy issues feel a bit like an afterthought, and the movie as a whole just feels clunky. Not bad, not mediocre even... Just clunky.

It's almost a good movie, thanks to the cast giving it their all and the sense of fun it tries to have. It is entertaining despite all of its shortcomings, and there are some standout sequences. I still cared about what was going on with Tony, Pepper, et al. Some stuff, such as Tony's friendship with Rhodes souring, was pretty good. Other times, good ideas felt like they were almost there but just missed the mark of being brilliant. Luckily, the divisive Iron Man 3 returned to cohesive storytelling and focused mainly on Tony and how his actions affect those around him. Iron Man 2 would be better if it was just called The Avengers Initiative or something like that, it's really not completely Iron Man 2 in many ways.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, likewise, is pretty much The Sinister Six Begins... Or, Spider-Man... And Other Stuff Happening. I don't think we can even make an accurate title for this mess...

Iron Man 2 had two plots basically: Tony's own personal dilemmas and Avengers set-up stuff. The Avengers set up stuff isn't terrible, in fact back when I first saw the film, it was cool to catch all those little things. The problem is, the 'Demon in a Bottle' story would've made this a real sequel. Something darker, more dramatic, more personal... Instead, Iron Man 2 settled for being popcorn fun. Good popcorn fun, but it could've been something much greater. I still cared about what was going on.

Favreau and writer Justin Theroux made the best of the situation. Marvel rushed Iron Man 2 into production after the first one had taken off at the box office. Back in early 2008, $98 million was fantastic for an opening weekend. A movie based on Iron Man took in $98 million on its opening weekend, that was actually not too far behind movies like Star Wars Episode III and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it wasn't too far behind the record-breaking openers of the time like the second Pirates film, Spider-Man 3 and The Dark Knight. The second film was already pegged for spring 2010, Favreau had to get to work right away and in the process, Marvel's executives began to dictate the project.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't even really pass as popcorn fun, to me. Like I said in my review, the film has about four to five plots going on...

  • There's Peter Parker trying to figure out what happened to his parents. Check!
  • Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy's relationship growing, and then running into problems. Peter has visions of Gwen's father telling him to stay out of her life, and worries about getting her in real danger. Oh, and Gwen gets fed up with that and is also looking into enrolling in a British university. It's all on and off. Check!
  • Peter reunites with childhood friend Harry Osborn, whose father dies of a hereditary disease. The son is made CEO of OsCorp, and already makes controversial decisions. Check!
  • An obsessive fan of Spider-Man who clearly has a problem that's glossed over by the script meets Spider-Man once, assumes he's his best friend and then accidentally becomes a walking generator. Oh, and a complicated encounter with Spider-Man makes him want to kill the web-slinger. Check!

Okay, so that's enough right there. All of this, despite the underdeveloped Electro, was enough to make one single film. I think, without what's coming next, the writers or whoever could've taken the time to show us what kind of person Max Dillon is before he becomes Electro. Sure, they showed off his obsessive ways in some scenes, but it really wasn't enough. It didn't establish Dillon's real problem - during the Times Square action sequence, he feels that Spider-Man set him up when he clearly didn't. This completely comes out of left field, and now we realize this guy has a major problem. Being obsessed the way he was with Spidey (thinking he's his friend, talking to his picture, making his room all Spider-Man) wasn't enough to establish this, I think. Who would know he would think "Spider-Man hates me" because of a trigger-happy sniper? Spider-Man even told the cops not to shoot him! He even freaks when the sniper fires at Electro, Electro just doesn't listen and assumes, "Spider-Man hates me! I'm gonna kill him and everyone here!" Electro clearly had issues, and they just come in out of nowhere.

Poor, poor development there. Also, he falls into the "experiment screwed with his brain" pit, which has gotten tiresome. At least Harry Osborn had his reasons before becoming Green Goblin.

So you think that's enough? Well...

  • Harry Osborn realizes he's going to die and he feels that Spider-Man's blood will help him. Spider-Man tells him no, thinking it'll backfire. Osborne gets angry and turns against Spider-Man, and soon he'll get his revenge. Check!
  • Osborn is also fired from OsCorp and plans to get back in. How does he do it? With Electro of course! Next, get back at Spider-Man! Together! Check!
  • Tacked on Sinister Six set-up epilogue. Check!

There you go. All of this stuff battling each other for screen time. What should really matter is just part of this whirlpool of things. Everything is undercooked, it's like a meal and every item and side is not up to par: Peter and Gwen's relationship, Spidey's conflict with a villain, Peter and Harry reuniting, Peter finding out the mystery of his parents...

It makes me wonder if Marc Webb and the writers (if it wasn't Kurtzman-Orci penning the script in the first place) had something better, much more lean in mind. What if this film was just about Spidey and Electro, Peter Parker and Gwen, and Peter Parker reuniting with Harry Osborn? Cut everything else out, including the parents stuff even. The parents stuff was pure filler (I initially praised that element), and it outright says "OsCorp is evil!" Why not keep OsCorp more mysterious? Why not make it more, well... Unpredictable? Sure we had the Lizard in the first film and the shadowy man at the end, but that didn't outright say "All the evil comes from OsCorp!" Why not subtly hint at it? I mean, you've got Harry Osborn, you don't need a scene telling us outright that OsCorp was up to something and it resulted in the death of Parker's parents. You could save that reveal for a later film!

That was my biggest problem with the film. It felt like they took material that could fill both The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and The Amazing Spider-Man 3, then crammed it all into one film. Like taking the contents of two tacos and cramming it all into one shell, you're going to make a mess!

And now we go into full-on fan-fiction mode, rare for me and this blog... Here's a version of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that I would've made if I were in control of it, if I was the guy calling the shots on what Marc Webb & co will do...

In my Amazing Spider-Man 2, we would've focused on Peter and Gwen's relationship, as they are still in high school. No jump ahead to the graduation, thus eliminating the "I have to go away" issues. Their relationship would've been the core of the film. In this version, we see more of Max Dillon and little by little find out that he's dangerous and crazy. Like, beyond crazy. Before his fall into the eel tank, we already fear what he will do! I heard of a deleted scene that showed him and his mother, I'd include that for development. Again, we get to know the guy and what his deal is. The Times Square set-piece will be the middle action sequence of the film, just like it is in the released one. During the fight, Gwen is nearly harmed, making Parker worry. The sequence, however, ends with Electro running away as his powers begin to act strange and seem to drain. No Ravencroft Institute stuff, no Dr. Kafka or any of that.

Peter and Harry's friendship would be better handled too. No Goblin transformation at the end, save that for part 3. In this version, Harry realizes halfway through the film that he's going to die. He is also acting erratically, which concerns everyone at OsCorp - there are talks about firing him. Harry then thinks that Spider-Man's blood can save him, he later meets him and Spidey says no. Harry loses his mind. The final battle with Electro nearly kills Gwen, and Electro also endangers most of New York. He is stopped and arrested. OsCorp fires Harry, their reasons all having to do with Dillon's accident and him becoming Electro. End of film.

So we're left with a few things... Peter is now more worried about endangering Gwen, Harry now wants to capture Spider-Man and get his blood (he's now really crazy and thinks he can just do that), Electro is still alive and at Ravencroft...

The "less is more" approach works here, I believe. I feel this version is less convoluted, actually focuses on Peter and Gwen thus making you care about what's happening onscreen, and also subtly hints at big things. No filler, no blatant set-up stuff, the Man in Shadows in this version is actually just a guy who didn't want Peter to know about his parents. He has a bit to do with the Sinister Six, but he doesn't plan on forming them... (you'll see why...)

So... The Amazing Spider-Man 3...

This begins with Spidey free-falling and the truck chase with Aleksei Sytsevich, all happening on the day of his graduation. In this Amazing Spider-Man 3, he begins to worry a lot more about Gwen's safety and soon their relationship runs into problems, like it does in the movie. Meanwhile, Harry seeks Peter's blood and Electro is improved in Ravencroft Institute. No "is Spider-Man a vigilante?" filler, no encounter with a kid who made a wind turbine. That ending with said kid standing up to the Rhino, to me, was incredibly stupid. It was beyond cheesy, it was just... Stupid.

Spider-Man begins to follow Gwen around in costume. Little does he know that Harry has seen him and is following him through alleyways. Harry jumps Peter (again, he's out of his mind by this point) and attempts to get his blood. Spider-Man takes him down, Harry then angrily surmises that Spider-Man doesn't give people hope, he takes it away. (Getting some real Buddy Pine/Syndrome vibes here!) We'll also get a lot of drama with Harry, him at home with no job or anything.

Finally, he forms his plan after seeing a recap of the Electro incidents on the news - he sees that the man was angry at Spidey for something. His plan: Find Electro, team up with him and break into OsCorp. He finds him in Ravencroft and both talk about their desire to get back at Spider-Man. Electro functions as a distraction, Harry works his way into the building and into a secret chamber that only Norman Osborn could get into - Norman gave him the codes before he died in part 2, Harry's held onto it. Spider-Man fights Electro on the tower, but by the end of the fight, it's too late. Harry finds what may cure him, injects himself and then steals a prototype suit and glider that his father was working on before he died. He emerges as the Green Goblin and fights Spider-Man on the tower. The two-man team outnumber him.

Spider-Man falls off the tower and into an alleyway, miraculously surviving. He takes off the suit and hides, narrowly getting away from Goblin, who is flying around the area looking for him. At home, Peter wonders what he's missing - how come he couldn't stop the two? How is he going to stop them? After some Gwen-drama stuff, Peter and Aunt May stuff, dialogue-driven scenes, Gwen decides to stay with Peter and not go to London. Peter realizes, thinking back to the Lizard battle and how she helped him, that Gwen is what he - as Spider-Man - is missing. None of this "This is my choice!" stuff. Peter wants Gwen to help him in battles.

The big climax comes. Electro causes a blackout, the fight at the power-grid ensues, Peter and Gwen work together to defeat Electro. Then Goblin shows up, takes Gwen away, the clock tower battle ensues, Gwen dies. Peter feels fully responsible, since he coaxed Gwen into being his partner in battles. The Green Goblin laughs at him and adds insult to injury. Before Peter can even attempt to go after him, he has already gotten away. Then the graveyard/passage of time scene comes, Peter has given up being Spider-Man.

A healing Harry is visited by the Man in Black, Gustav Fiers. He has a new plan: He has Fiers - a well entrenched member of OsCorp, remember - get a team of thugs to break Aleksei Sytsevich out of prison. How does he do that? Like he does in the movie, he goes into the secret projects chamber and steals a mech suit that resembles a rhinoceros. In this version, Doc Ock's tentacles and the Vulture's wings aren't in the room... But we see something else in one of the containers: Norman Osborn's frozen head!

Harry's plan is to sabotage OsCorp once more and also lead Spider-Man into a new trap. At home, Parker sees what's on the news. Sytsevich, in the Rhino suit, goes on a rampage through New York. Peter then plays a recording of Gwen's graduation speech and the film ends with him looking at the Spider-Man suit, as he's about to throw it away. No cheesy, stupid scene where a kid stands up to the Rhino followed by Spidey taking on the guy!

The Amazing Spider-Man 4 begins with the action, a full set-piece where Spidey battles the Rhino. He defeats the not-so-intelligent Sytsevich easily, leaving him injured - the suit is completely destroyed. Harry realizes the plan was a complete misfire and that Sytsevich will need something more powerful. The Man in Black brings him serums that will heal his injuries while giving him crazy powers. Of course, much later on, this will make him the real Rhino! No more mech suit!

What else... Well, some rough ideas I had: Mary Jane Watson is finally introduced - moving in next door, she is there for Peter as a good friend and someone who will comfort him. I'm thinking she'll be like the Ultimate version, to differentiate her from the Raimi trilogy's MJ. He also gets a job at the Daily Bugle, now that he's out of school and must think of a way to help support Aunt May and the house. At the Bugle, he befriends a certain someone... Eddie Brock.

About 20-30 minutes in, a mysterious serial killer rises. Publisher-editor J. Jonah Jameson wants a photo and a story ASAP, Brock makes it his goal to expose the killer. Parker beats him to it as Spider-Man, the killer turns out to be... Uncle Ben's killer! Having lost, Brock goes through depressing episodes and is fired from the Daily Bugle for erratic behavior/not showing up, he now hates Spider-Man. The main villain rises at OsCorp (who are of course still going after the Goblin-Electro attack) yet again... Doc Ock! The radiation leak happens and the arms are fused to his body, his brain is damaged, he becomes evil, you know the story. This will be a bit like Spider-Man 2!

There's also a scene where the news reports on a strange thing in the woods in upstate New York, the post-credits scene is an angry Brock coming across that "thing"... It's the Symbiote!

I think if this was done for 2, 3 and 4, we would've seen a cohesive series. One that focused on the characters first and foremost while still providing a villain or two, and lots of exciting Spidey action. What worked so well in Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2 and The Amazing Spider-Man were the stories: They felt self-contained. Amazing Spider-Man hints at some OsCorp-related stuff and has that post-credits scene, but I felt it was a standalone movie. Parker meets Gwen, his high school experiences, Uncle Ben's death, becoming Spider-Man, and so on. No forced set-up stuff, no cramming, no plots that weren't needed. If that approach had been taken for the Amazing series, since Sony shot Raimi's Spider-Man series in the foot, things would've been a hell of a lot better.

My version basically adheres to that structure. The set-up stuff is in the background, it's subtle, it's not a main focus or anything. It's the good guy vs. villain scenario with human stuff in-between, a fine balance and mix. Instead of chasing Marvel, I'd take my time and set things up so the payoff feels complete. Give each villain time to shine, even if it takes multiple movies. My first Sinister Six line-up would consist of The Lizard (who is still suffering from Jekyll/Hyde problems), Green Goblin, Venom, Rhino, Kraven the Hunter (probably introduced in Part 5 to go along with Brock becoming Venom - two villains) and Doc Ock. Doc Ock will form the Sinister Six, like he does in the comics... In Part 6. He comes across those five other guys, "Hey, you wanna get back at Spider-Man?" Gustav Fiers provides them with OsCorp stuff without OsCorp even knowing. Who knows what happens next!

Those are just some ideas I had.

How would you handle a Spider-Man film series? How would you have handled Amazing Spider-Man 2? Do you have your own versions? Feel free to share them!


  1. I enjoyed reading this as a fellow writer. The only flaw I saw in your plan I think is Eddie's motivation. I would prefer him to be similar to his counterpart from Spectacular Spiderman, an old friend of Pete. Spiderman does multiple things that hurt Eddie (not intentionally of course). His anger is more of a slow phase, and he does not find the symbiote in a church, but it calls out to him. I know several fans want to see Carnage, meaning foreshadowing. As I enjoy Shocker, I would like to see him, but I do not know if he fits into sinister six, unless of course they follow it up with the Sinister 12.

    1. You know, that is a good idea. Maybe Spider-Man exposing the killer can be the first thing that takes a toll on Brock, but doesn't completely wreck him. I can probably have a series of things happen to him in Part 5, things that'll make him angrier and things that will finally have him turn against Parker, and then he fully becomes Venom in that one.

      I'll update the post once I get some more ideas for 4 & 5.

    2. Some other things that could happen include that he at first forgives the first offense (second one is worse). If Chameleon is brought in and does the Spider-menance act and never gets caught that could work, but I think the imposter making someone seek vengence against hero story has been done to death. Maybe he could try doing something to Spider-man before he even gets the symbiote (if it happens before he is fired it can easily be something subtle). One other question is do the makers put complete focus on his hatred for Spiderman, completely on Peter, or mix it up between them both. "I don't have two enemies. I have one."