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Discuss: With Electro, Rhino & Green Goblin, Is 'Amazing Spider-Man 2' Promising Villain Overkill?

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by Gabe Toro
March 2, 2013 2:10 PM
16 Comments
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Since “Batman Begins,” superhero films have upped the ante as far as casting legit names to act out action-packed costumed melodramas for mass audiences. But it’s hard to say we’ve seen anything like the upcoming sequel to “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which last week added Oscar winner Chris Cooper to a cast that includes Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Shailene Woodley and Dane DeHaan as well as fellow Oscar winners Sally Field and Jamie Foxx and former nominee Paul Giamatti. That would be a whole lot of acclaim for a small indie film, but it’s also the sort of prestige unheard of for a mega-blockbuster that was received coolly by critics and diehards.

Spider-Man has a rich, colorful history of characters stretching back fifty years, but it’s been buoyed by a few key principle characters buttressed by other one-dimensional participants in the life of your friendly neighborhood webslinger. And that would make it an honest decision to populate the coming film not only with Spidey’s nemesis the Green Goblin (Cooper) and his son (DeHaan) but also goofy space-fillers the Rhino (Giamatti) and Electro (Foxx). The idea of Spider-Man doing battle with a host of villains as essentially cannon fodder is ripe for adaptation, and has been seen frequently in the comics.

But do you really cast Foxx and Giamatti as “cannon fodder”? Details about the general story in regards to “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” are being kept under wraps. But shortly after the first film was released, rumors persisted of matching Spidey against the Sinister Six, a super-team of villains from the comics that the wall-crawler frequently defeated. It’s a fine way to dial up the stakes in regards to the ineffectual first film in director Marc Webb’s proposed series, but the casting already suggests these villains will warrant substantial screen time, with more possibly to be announced -- rising star Felicity Jones is also a part of the cast in an unspecified role, and some have speculated she could be playing villain Black Cat.

If there’s ANYTHING studio executives should have learned from past superhero films, it's that the temptation to cram in multiple storylines and characters will usually backfire. The combination of a “cure” story, the rise of the Phoenix and the multiple deaths of key cast members created the dizzying mess that was “X-Men: The Last Stand.” “Batman And Robin” was sunk not only from teaming Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, but also shoehorning in the character of Bane and debuting a glammed-up Batgirl. And that same mistake was even made in this very series: balancing the symbiote storyline, the birth of Venom, the creation of Sandman, the romantic rivalry between Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy and the add-ons to Peter Parker’s origins in “Spider-Man 3” proved far too much for Sam Raimi to handle.

It’s possible there will be some key changes to the mythology, but we’ve already been privy to the knowledge that Stone’s Gwen Stacy is not long for this world. In the comics, her death at the hands of the Green Goblin was a watershed moment for the industry, and it's likely that will be replicated either in the next film or in a third installment. The romantic tension provided by new girlfriend Mary Jane Watson (Woodley) is already a considerable requirement of this plot, and we haven’t even been introduced to either her or to potential Goblins, Norman Osborne (Cooper) or son Harry (DeHaan).

That’s enough for a couple of films, really. But then there’s Foxx and Giamatti, who don’t get hired to play glorified henchmen. Lest we forget, Foxx's “Django Unchained” is about to cross $400 million worldwide, and it would be unwise to lend himself to a thankless role in a franchise sequel. And while Giamatti could conceivably take a part somewhat beneath him given his outspoken fandom of the Rhino, what of rising star Jones? To say nothing of Field or the returning Martin Sheen (likely playing Uncle Ben in a flashback). Or the still-alive Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans), who apparently still has information about Peter’s missing parents; a mystery that will require follow-up, and possibly the returning participation of Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz. Oh, and the teleporting shadowy figure visiting Dr. Connors in the last film’s post-credits sequence played by Michael Massee… yeah, we’ll need answers to that as well.

In the previous trilogy, Raimi planted the seeds early by foreshadowing, through two entire films, the heel turn from Harry Osborne (James Franco) into the eventual “New Goblin.” But Franco didn’t have to compete for screen time with this sort of clutter, nor did Raimi work in an industry enamored with the cross-pollination of their superhero brands. “The Avengers” changed everything for superhero films, all of which are now meant to be part of their own separate multi-character franchise. Fox is attempting to re-unite the chaotic “X-Men” universe with “The Wolverine” and “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” while juggling the possibility of subtle crossover with Josh Trank’s upcoming “Fantastic Four.” And Warner Bros. views this summer’s “Man Of Steel” as a possible springboard into a “Justice League” movie.

On its face, 'Spider-Man' offers Sony no such opportunities – the other major Marvel property owned by the studio is “Ghost Rider.” But talk has been bandied about a “Venom” film that would spin off from the new 'Spider-Man' series, itself eyeing a new installment every two years, a Herculean commitment for a studio and filmmaking team considering consistent $200 million budgets. This is about 'Spider-Man' in perpetuity, with the character ready with new installments and/or ancillary extensions ready to go when the public, and stockholders, demand. Which all makes sense for a financial perspective. 

Except that it doesn’t. Sony is lucky that 'Spider-Man' has a considerably large rogue’s gallery. But in the earlier films, they used four major villains, five if you count both Goblins. After Rhys Ifans’ Lizard, the new film will sport at least the potential presence of both Goblin characters, as well as Electro and Rhino, and whomever Jones is playing, as well as a possible Venom shout-out. That’s all well and good, but how do you follow that up? You use four villains this time, next time you’ll have to use eight. You bring out the Sinister Six, you can’t have a sequel featuring only two tougher baddies. It’s short-sighted, based upon the implication that audiences will still turn out for “The Amazing Spider-Man 6” with Jared Leto as Carrion, Blair Underwood as the Jackal, and Miles Teller as the Scarlet Spider. Hell, we still don’t know how “Thor: The Dark World” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” will fare without any direct involvement with “The Avengers.”

What’s galling about all of this isn’t studios making the same mistakes all over again, and it isn’t unwise business decisions. It’s the idea that these film series can trap fine actors into films and film series where they’re not only forced to act alongside green screen backgrounds, but see their dramatic work treated as just another ingredient in a franchise stew to be mixed indiscriminately with other elements. The idea of the talented trio of Cooper, Foxx and Giamatti in the same room tickles us a bit. The idea that they’ll be wearing ridiculous costumes and doing so as the third or fourth subplot in a crowded superhero tentpole, less so. Much less so. 

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16 Comments

  • Craig | May 14, 2013 9:58 PMReply

    ''nor did Raimi work in an industry enamored with the cross-pollination of their superhero brands.'' In one paragraph you've summed up the entire comicbook movie industry's problem !

  • rodie | May 12, 2013 9:39 AMReply

    I think Electro is the main villain in part 2. We'll see Osborn as the "dying" old man with his son Harry, and we'll see Rhino before his transformation. By the end of the movie, Electro will be defeated and Osborn dead, but Rhino and Harry will be set up as the villains of Part 3.

  • berk | March 3, 2013 2:28 PMReply

    Superhero movies could avoid being overstuffed with villains while still having more than one per movie if they followed the James Bond/Indiana Jones cold open. Instead of waiting 45 minutes to see the hero in costume, have the movie start with them foiling a minor bad guy (like Rhino or Scorpion). That way the character has already been introduced if they are brought back later in the film or franchise. Not every bad guy has to be directly tied to the hero or have their own story arc, some can just be a criminal with a crazy costume.

  • berk | March 3, 2013 2:35 PM

    What I meant by some being a criminal with a crazy costume is the old adage that once the hero appears in costume, they will no longer just stop muggers but attract super criminals who will respond in kind to the hero's appearance and techniques. The Sinister Six could easily be done if three of the members are the brains (Goblin, Electro, and say Kraven the Hunter or Dr. Octopus) with larger roles and arcs while the other three are the straight muscle (Lizard, Rhino, Sandman, etc.) who are there for the action scenes.

  • Ian | March 2, 2013 9:28 PMReply

    I don't have much confidence in the filmmakers managing the character overload. We're talking about the same filmmakers who couldn't even handle one villain correctly.

  • mpm | March 2, 2013 11:11 PM

    How did they not handle one villain correctly? The movie was awesome and we finally have a writer and director who gets what and who spidey is and an actor who can pull it off. If anything was wrong with the villain it was the lizard is a weak villain and would be a fitting first foe for any first time hero I thought they did the best with the villain they were handed and would be a fitting first piece to a great sinister six story cause the lizard could really thrive with a supporting cast

  • Alan B | March 2, 2013 8:57 PMReply

    At Comic-Con, Shane Black commented on the difference between 'Iron Man 3' and 'Spider-Man 3', suggesting that - although both films have big casts - they are very different in terms of story construction: "We've got all these pieces, all these interlocking parts, it's not like Spider-Man 3 where they're all separate." THAT's the distinction between 'Spider-Man 3' and all these other superhero films with ensemble casts. In the Nolan Batman films, Bruce's actions drive the stories (he inspires The Joker, his responsibility in Ra's death prompts retribution in the final chapter); in the first 'Iron Man' film, Tony's actions ignites the narrative (if Tony had been less selfish and reckless, Obadiah might not have tried to kill him). In contrast, a science experiment that NO OTHER CHARACTER has anything to do with causes the Sandman transformation. The problem with 'Spider-Man 3' is that there is little unification in regards to any of the stories, everyone exists in their own small world and there is little cross-pollination between the various stories (unlike the first two films). I almost laughed at the end in which Gwen attended Harry Osborn's funeral: these two characters didn't even know these characters AT ALL, yet Gwen has taken time out to chillax at Harry's funeral (Gwen was originally going to be the damsel-in-distress at the end. I am not sure whether this was changed before or after the shooting of the final action sequence, though, so Gwen's appearance might be as a result of this change). The 'Spider-Man 3' problem was story construction, and I thought Raimi made the mistake of keeping Sandman if Sony was forcing him to include Venom: he thought he could balance these elements into the narrative and he was wrong, so something had to go. He needed to make a sacrifice, but was unwilling to let go of his baby and the film suffered as a result. It might not have been right for Sony to pressure its director after the phenomenal success of the first two films, but all studio filmmakers - in some shape or form - have to deal with executive notes, and Raimi needed to react responsibly.

  • Salvador Litvak | March 14, 2013 3:30 AM

    Thanks for inviting me to the party, Alan B. I'm at a loss as to why we're having this discussion on IndieWire, but not altogether surprised. Mr. Toro's snark and sarcasm - the tools he uses to to mock that which confuses him - are apt for $100 million trequels. There was a time when film critics employed a measured tone in their work, as well as a bit of heart and respect for the art and history of film. Now, however, it appears that whoever shrieks loudest and foulest is qualified to for the job.

  • Well if Salvador Litvak disagrees | March 3, 2013 8:53 AM

    Oh shit. Well, then.

  • Alan B | March 2, 2013 9:00 PM

    Oh yeah, and Gabe: Salvador Litvak also disagrees with you, so yeah ...

  • mpm | March 2, 2013 8:51 PMReply

    I don't think we will see cooper as green goblin I honestly believe they will take a page from the spectacular spiderman cartoon and just make Harry the goblin it makes it more relatable and more personal without making Norman look like a big old pervert like he was in the comics. The reason I say that was because Norman was in love with Gwen and if memory serves me, that's why he killed Gwen not to just get after Pete but because if he couldn't have her then neither could Peter which would be a lot more relatable with Harry taking reins as goblin. But I don't think u go that route until ASM3. Who knows we could see the rhino not as a hard suit clad dumb villain but as a Russian mob boss, which I could see more fitting with Paul's talent. They did the same thing with the scorpion in ult comics spiderman recently with Mac gargon being a Latino mob boss so that could be a possible route but I would really hope not but removing the old rhino would make way for green goblin to be the main antagonist in this film because u wouldn't have to spend as much time on that rhino character. With saying all of that I'm not gonna get all in a tizzy about the movie just yet. Amazing spider man was a great movie and I won't pass judgement on the 2nd until I see it. Plus u could really just introduce electro and rhino in small parts just for a big sinister six plot for ASM3 and that way u have goblin as the main bad guy and the death of Gwen Stacy in this movie then u introduce doc ock and another 2 bad guys in the next movie they all break out and want to go after spidey for locking them up. That's what I would do anyways.....

  • Andrew | March 2, 2013 9:39 PM

    Just yesterday I read the Amazing Spider-Man issues involving Gwen Stacy's death, and while I believe the whole Gwen-Norman thing was elluded to before (or it may have been in an alternate Spidey comic title much later) there was no mention of it in the actual issues. Norman had amnesia and Harry was struggling with drugs and the emotional toll of this eventually caused Norman to snap and embrace the Green Goblin once again. The amnesia ended, therefore Norman remembered that he knew Peter Parker was Spidey and thus he captured Gwen as a way of drawing him in. And yeah, I've always subscribed to the belief that it was Spidey who actually killed Gwen, although Norman put her in that position.

  • Burnsy | March 2, 2013 4:44 PMReply

    Honest;y, they never say Cooper is playing Green Goblin, just that he's playing Norman Osborn. Also who knows how much screen time Rhino is gonna have. This is all speculation and you guys are getting ahead of yourselves.

  • bapi | March 2, 2013 3:19 PMReply

    Giamatti was announced only one week before first shooting day but THR story about Foxx was online in October and had first costume tests in October/November so I doubt that we'll see a lot of the Rhino. Same with Cooper.

  • TheoC | March 2, 2013 3:18 PMReply

    I guess you fill his universe with potential villains, so whist Norman Osborne is in this, maybe we only see Green Goblin in the third movie, but having those characters already on the periphery of the story makes it easier to introduce them, i.e Dylan Baker in the Raimi movies, who sadly we never got to see Lizard up.

    What if Giamatti's Rhino is only at the start of the film, an end of a previous adventure, like Indy or Bond , it might be a nice way to kick it off, yet not stuff the actual plot with too many villains at the one time.

    I liked the first movie, up until the lizard actually came into it, I just zoned out after that, big dumb CG monster again.

  • RNL | March 2, 2013 2:29 PMReply

    I don't understand why a trend of shooting two-part films hasn't caught on with these guaranteed money-making brands. I first thought that with Spider-Man 3 - that was two films mashed together: Part 1, Peter with the symbiote, Sandman and Green Goblin 2 (or preferably Harry as Hobgoblin) as the villains, ends with the creation of Venom, death of Harry, and creation of the Lizard. Part 2, Venom and Lizard as the villains, etc. They could have released them on consequtive years and they'd have made a billion dollars. They did it with The Matrix, they did it with Pirates of the Carribean. They're doing it with Avatar. Why aren't they just making two or three Spider-Man movies back-to-back?

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