How successfully has the Spider-Man franchise developed within contemporary culture?
This essay will compare the success in the world of Spider-Man (2002) directed by Sam Raimi and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) directed by Marc Webb. Both films will be used as case studies in order to show the similarities and differences of the trilogies over more than a decade.
In terms of success, we can study the theory towards characters that “The majority of successful Hollywood film actors are not serious actors, they are personalities” (Fadiman, 1973: 82). Spider-Man has been manipulated into stardom through his on screen traits. He loves science, photography and inventing new things to solve mysteries. These attributes form his superhuman power where the different portrayals of the character have led to different levels of success.
The characters surrounding Spider-Man also contribute to the success with the film as they have changed over the years. For example, the film only had a 53% rating from Rotten Tomatoes but still managed to make $708 million worldwide (Beaumont, 2014). Perhaps the correlation between character personality and financial success of the film is down to fans’ preference of original persona from the novels.
Fans may have a different perception of Spider-Man but still choose to watch his films simply because of the famous superhero that he is. These points will be argued further into the essay.
Audience involvement is essential with any genre as an audience are more likely to view a film, which follow the typical conventions in order to gain familiarity with the product. This suggests what Rick Altman calls the “semantic” features of music; character types, familiar props etc. build our relationship not only with the motion picture but also with the character. (Altman, 1999:90).
On the other hand, both Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man trilogies offer pleasure to the audience with an element of surprise. This encounters boundaries where reassurance is not implied but the motion picture simply offers something new. Spider-Man films have always conformed to the action and superhero genre. They have been shot in large cities along with a mission, which needs to be completed – to save the people in the city.
The plot driven storylines and famous stars are used in order to receive a good reception of reviews, profit and sequels in order to follow the superhero further in upcoming movies. The original Spider-Man trilogy, directed by Sam Raimi between 2002 and 2007, “grossed over $1.4 billion.” (Patches, 2012) which shows that more fans were attracted to the originality of the franchise and want to relate back to the comics.
Whereas, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 made $708 million worldwide (Kit, 2015). Even though it made a lot of money it is not the highest grossing in the franchise, which proves that financially, the original trilogy was more successful. Furthermore, this lends evidence to the fact that fans reacted better to the first trilogy and a third reboot is due to be released.
Comics were the first medium to introduce the heroic Spider-Man in 1962 and the first issue has been sold for $1.1 million (Gordon, 2011). This emphasises the fact that even though it was almost fifty years after the work was published, it still continued to be as successful today as it was then.
Traditionally, the hero’s costume has always been successfully recognised. He has always wore a red fitted outfit with a black spider’s web on it in order to create his artificial star image. The spider symbolises his power and growth – a spider weaves a web, therefore Spider-Man creates an ideology that we must construct our own web in life and make our own choices just as he does.
However, interpretations of the character’s real physical appearance have altered throughout the years. As the media is always changing, so are our interpretations of newness in film. For example, two different actors, Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man trilogy) and Tobey Maguire (Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3), have portrayed the role of Peter Parker because of the existence of multiple universes. The two movie series are based on two separate Spiderman story lines.
Criticism was raised as fans felt that Spider-Man 1 along with the second and third were a closer portrayal of the comics as an outcast whereas in the newer movies, Peter is considered to have the traits that make you a ‘hipster’ in today’s society. This is evident by Wilding’s perspective that, “Garfield gives a better performance, but is not quite the better Peter Parker.” (Wilding, 2012:1).
Therefore The Amazing Spider-Man trilogy promotes more of a contemporary culture through his hipster personality. For example, the latest character played by Garfield, has one thing, which is majorly different. Hence, the denotation of more, thick hair which does not ruin his identity as the superhero.
The idea of having Peter take his rucksack out with him while crime fighting adds authenticity to his geeky personality. Garfield goes without the mask a lot more often than Maguire. This could raise a few problems with loyal fans, as the representation of the hero has changed.
On the other hand, Spider-Man is simply bringing something new to the franchise. Perhaps a superhero does not need to cover his real identity up so much. Garfield is not so afraid, especially as his auntie is gullible when she thinks he has just woken up covered in dirt in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
He attempts to manipulate her into thinking he has just fell down the chimney when their house does not even have one. This shows that “The contemporary representation of stardom is a narrow occupational response to the new conditions of production in the post-Hollywood era.” (Barker, 2003:45).
The newer conditions that Spider-Man puts himself in, reveal suspicions to the characters around him yet they choose to let them go. In turn, this reinforces the audience to believe that Spider-Man still has the ability to successfully hide who he really is. However, an oppositional reading can occur when characters are not always loved for their successful character role like they are in films of a different genre.
For example, Andrew Garfield who plays Spider-Man in both of The Amazing Spider-Man films, has starred in films prior to this such as the sci-fi drama of Never Let Me Go (2010) where he has more of a romantic involvement which there is evidence with in the latest Spider-Man film which will be discussed further in this essay.
It is also worthy to note that, Spider-Man uses dialogue to communicate with the love interest as they are the only person who knows that he is Spider-Man while it remains unknown to the rest of the public and his family. However, in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, messages are made in the sky through his web shooters, which again reinforces this trilogy as a more romantic one.
Love interests have played a part with both portrayals of the hero – Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane in the original Spider-Man universe and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spiderman. Sometimes share a small connection but they do not interact in the same way in the different universes.
It is worthy to note that the love interest in The Amazing Spider-Man is more of a central focus in the film than the prequels, which relates to the newness of the different universe and contemporary culture. Intelligent girlfriends have been present with Maguire (Mary Jane Watson) and Garfield (Gwen Stacy), but Spider-Man’s iconic relationship was with Mary Jane as the couple shared a kiss upside down in the rain in the first movie.
In addition, her character is also the one Peter Parker marries in the comic book even though it did not continue into the next trilogy. On the other hand, The Amazing Spider-Man focuses on Peter and Gwen’s relationship. Instead of a wannabe actress, Spider-Man falls in love with a woman whose knowledge for science attract her to him. Gwen helps Peter from the beginning of The Amazing Spider-Man all the way to the end of the The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
She guides him through a building where she works and wants to be involved majorly towards the end of the film even though she risks death. In this sense, The Amazing Spider-Man is closer to the comics than the Raimi movies were – initially in the books, Stacy was always Parker’s first girlfriend. However, a fan was not satisfied with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 where she states,
“Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) dies at the hands of the Green Goblin in the comics. I knew that tragic fact going into the film, but it didn’t lessen the hurt of watching Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) desperately try to save Gwen from the Green Goblin’s attempt to kill her, only to realize he failed.” (Avery Thompson, 2014)
This indicates that while the film conforms to the story of the comic, fans do not feel a sense of equilibrium at the end of the film whereas in the prequels Peter always restored the disruption and is content with his love interest by his side. It reveals that the audience are not satisfied at the end of the film. A female character has died, more specifically a woman who Spider-Man loves.
This looks poor for Spider-Man, as he has failed to protect the woman he loves from death. Also, he has not followed the narrative structure that the Spider-Mantrilogy tends to follow. Todorov’s theory of narrative structure (1980) has not been established as there has been an equilibrium, disruption but no fully restored equilibrium is present. In turn, it perceives the more contemporary version of Spider-Man as a superhero who has lost his persona.
The film has successfully proven that Gwen is as intelligent as Peter as she switches the button off to save the city. Although, the film does not successfully portray Peter’s heroic personality as Gwen is perceived to be Peter’s hero as she is the one saves him and puts an end to the disruption.
In addition, romance plays a role in intertextuality. For example, when analysing The Amazing Spider-Man there is a distinction between the film and The Twilight Saga (2008-2012). Gwen Stacy is a girl whose father is a policeman, who falls in love with Garfield’s big-haired character. Peter adores Gwen, and by the end of the movie, the audience are satisfied to discover that she has fallen in love with him. They share a kiss in the rain, which is similar to the idea of when Mary Jane did but the audience feel more true love in the scene.
As Gwen is Peter’s intellectual equal, we see a connection, which was not evident with Mary Jane, which suggests that an intellectual woman is the right type for Peter as, they complete the mission together. The attraction between the pair is what makes the movie different but so successful right from their first iconic kiss in the rooftop scene. Nothing seems more romantic than to share a kiss at such a peaking point in the city along with the scene where they kiss on the bridge full of traffic.
The Spider-Man mythology is about Peter who lives with his auntie and uncle, who have raised him after his parents died. They play a central part in The Amazing Spider-Man – especially with Peter’s discovery of a briefcase that his father left behind on the night he left. That briefcase establishes the conflict with Peter’s father and his best friend. An extra scene takes place in the credits, which suggests that Parker’s father will continue to figure into subsequent films. They are more like spies, which were not relevant in the first trilogy.
Unlike the original Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man has more 3D advanced technology in order to reinforce Garfield’s performance. Special effects and advanced technologies have altered these storylines and the multiple universes. This has sold Peter as a unique selling point. For example, when Maguire’s Spider-Man wanted to swing from tall buildings, he shot spider webs out of his wrists.
Nevertheless, Garfield’s superhero did not show such a mutation; therefore, he built his own mechanical version. Point of view shots have always established the action and the emotion of characters. As contemporary cinema has progressed in Hollywood, an audience are “more selective” when choosing a film as it is seen to be more of “a movie” rather than “the movies” (Fadiman, 1973:14).
Fans have been introduced to a new franchise, which risks the fact that studios can run the risk of dissatisfying them. Again, spectators are more likely to pay to see a Spider-Man film if it relates to conventions of other action/superhero films. For example, the remake of the Spider-Man franchise attempts to follow a closer path to the comic book, hence why Garfield creates the web shooters like in the comic book.
Similarly, other action films like The Hulk have different conceptions and different actors in order to portray the adaptation of the lives in the alternate worlds. On one hand, Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider Man 2 could be criticized because there are too many villains in the film.
Whereas, another perspective looks at the instalment of more villains and their advantage of giving the Spider-Man trilogy something new. Perhaps more of an element of surprise rather than disturbance for fans. This shows that the franchise has gained success with its originality as well as new elements.
Accordingly, Sony have rights for Spider-Man hence they have always been a stand-alone movie but now he is due to be in Marvel’s cinematic universe, Sony still have final creative rights so they have the last say on the movie even though the hero is going to be a crossover. This crossover will establish whether the Spider-Man franchise will remain to be as successfully as it been independently.
The fact that The Amazing Spider-Man ‘trilogy’ was not an established trilogy as it only consisted of films, reiterates the fact that the original trilogy was more successful. On one hand, the crossover could give Spider-Man the reboot that it needs in order to keep its fans as it has been present over five decades.
On the other hand, it is possible that introducing the audience to another new world and its traits may not necessarily be what leads the film to further success. For example, the 53% of success mentioned earlier with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was due to changes in the more contemporary versions.
Finally, both Spider-Man trilogies have been known for the superhero’s individuality and conquering society’s problems by himself. This leads us to contemplate whether Spider-Man will build a strong relationship with the Marvel cinematic universe or if he will bring a disturbance in his attempt to adapt to the world.
In Conclusion, to determine which of the two trilogies are the most successful, there are different aspects to take into consideration. For instance, whether it’s the total revenue generated from the trilogies or which of the trilogies show a closer portrayal to the comics. The first set of films generated the most revenue out of the two and cost much less to produce, therefore this lends evidence to the notion of the first trilogy being the most successful.
However, if it is the portrayal of Peter Parker and Spider-man that is being examined, then it is a much more in depth analysis that is required as both trilogies have their pros and cons for the character. For instance, as mentioned above, the first trilogy give a much closer rendition of the ‘geek’ turned hero that Peter Parker was, resulting in praise from fans, but it did not give accreditation to his intelligence as the second set of movies do. In addition, the love interest in the first set was closer to the comics as Marie Jane was his first love.
Taking all pros and cons into account, the first trilogy is seen to be the more successful out of the two. In addition, an argument can be constructed when suggesting that the real success is pleasing the die-hard fans, however, Sony seem to be solely concerned with creating a wider appeal to a wider audience rather than pleasing the die-hard fans by creating multiple versions of Spider-man, both of which, have differences to the comics and changes have been adapted in order to generate more revenue.
Which in turn, has lead Sony to give a third reboot of the famous web-slinger via Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe, in the hope that it will regenerate the initial success of the franchise.
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Never Let Me Go. (2010). [Film] United Kingdom: Mark Romanek.
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The Amazing Spider-Man 2. (2014). [Film] United States: Marc Webb.
The Twilight Saga. (2008). [DVD] United States: Catherine Hardwicke, Chris Weitz, David Slade, Bill Condon.