HISTORY OF THE SPIDER-MAN FILM (AND TV SERIES): The Webb Era

For the next few days, in honor of Spider-Man: No Way Home‘s release, we will be tracing the circuitous path Spider-Man took from the comic book page to screen both small and big. This draws on this site’s HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM feature that ran from 2011 to 2016, with new and updated information for your enjoyment.

The Raimi era was over and Sony needed a new director to take over the reins. The found him in a director with only one film credit to his name, and that was a quirky romantic comedy.

But before they could return Spider-Man to the big screen, they returned him to the small screen in animated form. While Sony was figuring out what to do with their film rights, The Spectacular Spider-Man debuted on Kids’ WB block of The CW network on March 8, 2008 before moving over to Disney XD for its second season. Overseen by  Greg Weisman, the series focused on Peter Parker learning how to be a crime fighter as he begins to become embroiled in a battle for control of criminal underworld.  The show was well received, and was intended to go beyond it’s two seasons, but rights disagreements between Disney, who by that point bought Marvel and had negotiated an agreement that they would control any Spider-Man show under 45 minutes, and Sony, who owned the media rights to the character prior the Disney purchase without qualifications when they started producing this series, led to the show’s cancellation.

Disney replaced the series with Ultimate Spider-Man, which debuted on April 1, 2012 on Disney XD. Despite its title and the fact that Brian Michael Bendis was a producer on the show, it wasn’t an adaptation of the popular comic book series of the same name. Instead, it features a relative novice Spider-Man who is being trained by Nick Fury to become the “ultimate Spider-Man” he can be. The show ran for 4 seasons, ending its run of original episodes on January 7, 2017 with repeats running until August 30, 2017.

In between, there was also a Broadway musical, Spider-Man-Turn Off The Dark. The less said about that abomination, the better. But if you really feel the need to read something about it, click here.

Marc Webb-AES-074713When it came time to bring Spider-Man back to the big screen, Sony put the character in the hands of a relative novice. Outside of a handful of music videos, the only credit on Marc Webb’s resume was 2009’s (500) Days of Summer. That film made a splash, but it’s not the kind of film you’d expect would inspire confidence in directing action films.

But Webb got the job nonetheless and began the process of building a script around a screenplay written by Alvin Sargent, James Vanderbilt, and Steve Cloves. The Lizard would be the main villain, although two other villains—Proto-Goblin and Big Wheel were also considered. Gwen Stacy would be the romantic interest instead of Mary Jane Watson in this go around.

Webb began to looking for a cast for his movie. For the teenage Peter, he chose British actor Andrew Garfield. Garfield was 27 at the time he was cast, making him older than Tobey Maguire when he was cast as Peter Parker. Emma Stone was chosen for Gwen Stacy, with Rhys Ifans playing Curt Connors/the Lizard, and Martin Sheen and Sally Field playing Peter’s Uncle Ben and Aunt May.


Amazing_Spider-Man_theatrical_poster_02The first half of the film was a rehash of the origin and it was a bear to get through. It was like someone was sitting with a clipboard and a check list and just going through the beats needed. “Okay, this is how he gets bitten by the spider, this is what we are going to use instead of the wrestling scene, here’s the discovery that he has powers…”

But I think a lot of the changes were good, if not an improvement on the original. Peter Parker in this one wasn’t a put-upon loser, he was a kid who never got over being abandoned by his parents. He was an outcast because he was damaged, not because he was a nerd. This rose criticisms of him being “too emo.” Well, A) I like emo music and B)it makes the character more believable in my eyes.

Giving Peter his advanced aptitude in science back was also a great step. Yes, he makes his own web-shooters again after Raimi took that iconic part of the comics away from him because he thought it was unbelievable. However, I always considered it an important part of the character, and was glad to see it back.

The-Amazing-Spider-ManPeter being good at science also made the romance more believable this time around. Of course, that was due to the filmmakers turning Gwen into a science prodigy (how’s that for believability, huh Raimi?). Both the both character’s love of science gave them a common interest, which is more than Peter and Mary Jane had in the first set of films. Add to this the fact that Peter is a good man who sticks up for those weaker than him, much like Gwen’s police captain father, and you have another level of attraction.

The film made $752,216,557 worldwide, which was the least of all the Spider-Man films but still good enough for a sequel. Or two. Or three. Sony not only announced that there would be The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but also an Amazing Spider-Man 3 & 4 as well.

amazing_spiderman_two_ver4_xlgJames Vanderbilt was back to write the film, and his screen play was rewritten by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman.  After a brief period of uncertainty about his return, director Marc Webb signed on, and Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were contracted for two more films.

The first sequel featured Jamie Foxx as an OsCorp employee who is transform into the supervillain Electro. It also featured Paul Giamatti as a Russian mobster in an OsCorp armored suit in a modern take on the Spidey villain, the Rhino. Dale DeHaan played Harry Osborn, who spent some time as the Green Goblin. There were also references to the Vulture and Doctor Octopus in the film as well.

movies-the-amazing-spider-man-2-filming-7Who was not in the film is Shailine Woodley. The actress was cast as Mary Jane Watson and spent week filming the role before it was revealed that the part was cut from the final film. Rumor had it that negative Internet reaction about her looks might have played a part in the cut, and that the part was to be recast for The Amazing Spider-Man 3. I spoke about that here.

The film itself was an overstuffed mess. Sony was hellbent on squeezing a cinematic universe out of its Spider-Man rights, and used Amazing Spider-Man 2 to it. In addition to the sequels to the main film, Sony also announced at the time that it would be producing films on The Sinister Six and Venom as they try to spin off the franchise into a shared universe.

The result is a film that was more concerned with setting the table for future spin-offs and installments than actually telling a captivating story. Well, two stories actually. The narrative with Electro and the narrative with Harry as the Green Goblin would have been better served if they split them into two different movies, especially considering the latter introduced a seminal storyline from the comics into the film universe. But they smooshed them together into one because they were universe building, dammit!

The film made over $709 million worldwide, which would lead to over a $70 million profit by some pundits estimations, but was still considered a failure. That gross was the lowest in the franchise and Sony was expecting a gross in excess of a billion dollars. Sony went into panic mode as if the film lost $70 million dollars instead of earned $70 million. The sequels and spin-offs were put on hold as the studio tried to figure out what to do with the franchise.

When the dust settled, Sony did something that many thought would be unthinkable. They partnered with Marvel Studios. We’ll cover that tomorrow.

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About William Gatevackes 1981 Articles
William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken Frontier.com, PopMatters.com and in Comics Foundry magazine.
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