Even though it made it made a hefty amount at the box office, word is that Sony considers The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (TASM2) a flop or an underachiever at least (I sure hope to see the day when something I create makes $700,000,000 and is considered a flop, but that’s a story for another time). The studio seems genuinely befuddled. I’m not. TASM2 played it too safe. Once upon a time, you could sell a comic book movie based on novelty, effects and what flashy villains you were going to pit against the hero. That era is dead — Marvel’s Avengers, the Dark Knight trilogy and X-Men took it out behind the barn and put it down. ‘Enemies unite’? What else is new?
Sony appears to be in the middle of reevaluating the franchise right now. The third installment in the Amazing Spider-Man series has been pushed back to 2018, while a female-led spin-off has been pencilled in for 2017. That got me thinking: What would I do, given the chance to call the shots on Sony’s Spider-Man franchise? Soon enough, the creative juices flowing. So here’s my answer:
If I was in charge of Sony’s Spider-Man franchise, I would…
Look, I love me some Spidey. Still, if I have to sit through Peter Parker getting bitten by that damn spider one more time, I’m going to scream. I got it, you got, everybody got it — there’s no reason to revisit the origin again within the next decade or two.
… give Peter Parker more of a journey
Right now, everyone’s favorite webslinger comes across as a fairly passive character, especially when it comes to life outside the tights. Sure, he wants to find out what happened to his parents and he dabbles in that here and there, but most of the time he simply reacts to what’s going on around him. That needs to change.
What sets Spider-Man apart is the fact that he could be every man and every woman. He’s not the last survivor of a doomed planet, he’s not a billionaire philanthropist playboy, and he’s not an ancient god — he’s a kid from New York who finds himself saddled with great power and great responsibility and struggles constantly to balance that with his everyday life. The problem is that we’ve seen precious little evidence of that everyday life so far. The Peter Parker presented in the Amazing Spider-Man movies might as well be an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Even his relationship with Gwen Stacey is sucked into the superhero side of things in a hurry.
Peter needs to have a life beyond Spider-Man, a personal journey that is more than window dressing. He graduated high school in TASM2, so over the course of the next movies we can follow him as he ventures out into the real world and attempts to discover his place, with all the ups and downs that entails.
… open the treasure trove that is Spider-Man lore
In the last 12 years, we’ve had a total of 5 Spider-Man movies, which comes out to one nearly every two years. In that time frame, we’ve seen two iterations of the famous origin story. We’ve seen Peter Parker graduate high school twice, and we’ve seen him face more versions of the damn Green Goblin than I care to remember. A decade in, the franchise is treading water. We’re likely headed for a major throwdown between Spidey and Harry Osborn’s Sinister Six in The Amazing Spider-Man 3, but there needs to be a road map beyond that. And with half a century worth of stories to mine, it’s high time to stop looking to Spider-Man’s early days for inspiration.
A proper introduction to Venom would seem like a good idea. His story, as told in the Ultimate line of comics, would fit right in with the narrative of the rebooted movie franchise. I’d like to fiddle with Venom’s alter ego Eddie Brock a bit, retaining his background as a childhood friend of Peter’s while providing him with an actual reason to have a chip on his shoulder. For a young guy, Peter has been far too perfect in these movies, often assuming guilt but never really being guilty of any wrongdoing. In my personal experience, that’s not how young guys work. We screw up. A lot. So Spider-Man, the everyman superhero, certainly should. I like the notion of him actually wronging Eddie Brock, making our villain a bit more sympathetic while saddling Spidey with some real, undeniable guilt in the creation of this new threat. As a villain, Venom tends to work best when he’s played as Spider-Man’s dark twin, the embodiment of his every fear and failure. Seeing him confront and finally overcome that, along with some lingering issues from past adventures, should be quite a ride. The Amazing Spider-Man 4, maybe?
The Hobgoblin saga is another story that’s practically begging for a big screen adaptation. When the character was first introduced in the 1980s, he turned Spider-Man’s world upside down, methodically making a name for himself in the New York underworld while outsmarting and outgunning the webslinger at every turn. His identity remained a mystery for years to both Spidey and the enraptured readership — a facet I’d want to see upheld for the Hobgoblin’s movie debut. After years of friends and allies turning on Spidey, a mystery villain with no connection to the webslinger should provide a welcome breath of fresh air. Besides, not knowing would dovetail nicely with Peter’s journey as he continues to navigate the great unknown that is the adult world with all its pitfalls. Obviously, Spidey would thwart the Hobgoblin at the climax of the movie, but I’d like to keep his true identity secret even then, hopefully giving viewers something to debate for years to come.
Then, of course, there’s the craziness of recent years. In Ultimate Spider-Man, writer Brian Michael Bendis returned Spidey’s deceased girlfriend Gwen Stacy to the land of the living, only to reveal later that she was actually an imperfect copy and unwitting host to the vampiric entity Carnage. Michael Straczynski added mystical overtones to the story, hinting at the possibility that Spider-Man might be part of a much larger legacy. Along the way, he introduced new characters like Ezekiel, an aged businessman who successfully used his own spider powers for personal gain, and Morlun, the nigh on indestructible ‚devourer of totems‘ looking to “feed” on the webslinger. Those two might make interesting additions to Spider-Man’s movie universe. Dan Slott’s 2011 storyline Spider Island gave everyone in Manhattan spider powers for a spell, leading to all sorts of fun and complications.
Not all of those stories need to be movies, but I firmly believe they all could be, and they could help extend the Spider-Man franchise well into the next decade without growing stale.
… open the door for other spider-men (and women)
Peter Parker is the Amazing Spider-Man, but in 2014, he’s not the only Spider-Man anymore. There are a number of spider-powered individuals running around the Marvel Universe today. In the comics, many of them exist in alternate dimensions or timelines, but their movie counterparts wouldn’t necessarily have to follow suit.
My first pick would be Miles Morales, the 13-year-old black hispanic Spider-Man of Ultimate Comics fame. Diversity is a factor here, but the deciding factor is the strength of his story. If you haven’t checked out the comic, you should. It is similar to Peter’s on the surface, but different enough to offer something new to audiences. I wouldn’t bother establishing a separate reality for Miles either — I think both Spider-Men would benefit from meeting and interacting with each other. Miles could learn from his idol, with an adult Peter Parker suddenly being thrust into the role of teacher.
Another spider hero that could definitely achieve cinematic success is Spider-Man 2099, who fights crime in the dystopian future of, well, 2099. It’s a fascinating setting, and with decades separating the future Spider-Man from ours, a 2099 movie wouldn’t need to concern itself with its place in the shared universe. It could do its own thing from the word go, living or dying by its own merits with no risk to the franchise as a whole.
… repackage the ‚Sinister Six‘ spin-off
As of right now, Sony is planning to release a Sinister Six movie in 2016, likely to serve as a lead-in to The Amazing Spider-Man 3. I hate to be a negative nancy, but that sounds like a terrible idea. A good spin-off needs to have enough intrinsic value to exist on its own, independent of the parent property. Angel had its life away from Buffy. Xena had its life away from Hercules. The Sinister Six can’t do that. You’re never going to have a movie featuring Dr. Octopus, a Green Goblin or even Electro without viewers immediately making the jump to Spider-Man. More importantly, you can’t afford to have these characters‘ stories developed in a meaningful way outside the Spider-Man movies. You’d be depriving Spidey of some of his most famous rogues, essentially cannibalizing the main franchise for the sake of a spin-off — a case of robbing Peter (literally, in this case) to pay Paul.
That being said, I like the idea of exploring the Marvel Universe’s seedy underbelly. It’s always going to be a bit of gamble, but one that I feel could pay off. You don’t want the world’s most well-known super villains for that though, not when you can turn dead weight into gold instead instead. Writer Nick Spencer is doing just that in a fantastic little comic called The Superior Foes of Spider-Man. The book follows the everyday lives and struggles of five C-list super villains who would love to be the Sinister Six, but can’t hold a candle to them. Perpetually in over their heads, they do what they must to get by, hoping to one day land the big score that will bring them wealth and infamy. It’s an action-packed, darkly funny and often poignant book with great potential.
Viewers have already proven willing to give more obscure characters a chance — just look Fox’s Kick-Ass or Marvel’s own Guardians of the Galaxy. If mainstream audiences are ready for Rocket Raccoon and Groot, they’re not going to roll their eyes at Boomerang and Shocker. Those guys are never going to be the main villains in a Spider-Man movie. They are bit players and also-rans that Sony isn’t banking on to sell anything, so you can play around with them and tell complete stories without adverse effects to the Spider-Man franchise. I imagine Foes — which is what I’d call the movie — as a character-driven underdog story set in a New York where familiar comic book (movie) tropes are offset by moments of stark reality. Think Drive set in the Marvel Universe, only with a little less gore and a little more humor.
… get started on that ‚Venom‘ spin-off
Writers Rick Remender and Cullen Bunn took the character in a new direction in 2011, as the Venom symbiote is weaponized by the US military and given to handicapped war veteran (and Spider-Man ally) Flash Thompson. Thanks the symbiote, Flash regains use of his legs and the ability to serve his country in the field, albeit as a black ops agent. The catch? If he stays bonded to the Venom symbiote for more than 48 hours at a time or loses control, the thing will consume him.
We’re talking Jason Bourne with super powers and a built-in ticking clock here, rooted firmly — but not too firmly — in the Spider-Man Universe. The concept could be translated to the screen with minimal tweaking and offers limitless storytelling potential. How this is not in production already is beyond me. If I had my way, Agent Venom would be in cinemas no more than six months after Venom’s appearance as a villain in The Amazing Spider-Man 4.
And that would be Sony’s Spider-Man under my benevolent dictatorship. What do y’all say?