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Web of sighs: Why the 'Amazing Spider-Man' films may be underwhelming to some

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is underwhelming at the box office.  But why?
"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is underwhelming at the box office. But why?
Courtesy of Sony/Columbia Pictures

By breaking records left and right, and constantly exceeding expectations from both critics and box office analysts, it's easy to see why Marvel's movies are now always under intense scrutiny. With all eyes on both DC's highly anticipated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (the title just announced earlier today, May 21) and Marvel's next big ensemble Avengers: Age of Ultron, neither comics giant can afford any cinematic misstep.

Which is why it seems critics, box office analysts, and other movie editorial writers are being so harsh on Marvel's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a sequel to the 2012 reboot that, let's face it, no one was asking for originally. Yes, its predecessor – which found Andrew Garfield behind the iconic red-and-blue jumper, little-known indie director Marc Webb (whose first film, (500) Days of Summer, is far from an action film) behind the lens, and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacey filling in for arguably the more popular Mary Jane Watson – was much closer to the comics, opted for a more grounded take on the mythology, and was far better quality than the acrid taste left in fans' mouths after Sam Raimi's much-maligned Spider-Man 3 in 2007. However, due to the latter faltering big time (emo Spider-Man...need I say more?), many audiences opted for the “wait-and-see” approach to Amazing Spider-Man. The problem is, while some audiences enjoyed the new take, the diehard fans of the original trilogy found it too dark.

And the darkness only gets worse by Amazing Spider-Man 2. But that's far from the reason why the film is doing poorly. In this article, I'll be breaking down the various factors. Now, if you haven't seen either Amazing Spider-Man or Amazing Spider-Man 2, this article CONTAINS SPOILERS TO BOTH FILMS. If you do NOT want to have either film spoiled, STOP READING NOW!

So, I'm going to assume that anyone still reading on does not mind spoilers. You have been warned after all. Without further adieu, let's begin our own scrutinizing, shall we?

#1. Timing

As is with everything in the world, timing is key. What will succeed at one time could possibly falter at another. No greater example of this is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which opted for an early April release date instead of the typical Summer bow you normally see big studio actioners take. With 2014's calendar already chocked full of similar action films, The Winter Soldier's April release wound up breaking the April opening weekend record, and is quickly catching up to The Lego Movie as 2014's top grossing film (unless, of course, you count worldwide grosses).

Amazing Spider-Man 2, in many ways, faced the same scheduling problems its predecessor did. Both were sandwiched between very strong holdovers and arguably bigger films – Amazing 1 was crammed between holdovers Brave, Ted, and Magic Mike, as well as Ice Age: Continental Drift, the fourth installment from a consistently high-performing franchise with families (a demographic popular with the previous Spider-Man films); Amazing 2, on the other hand, found itself between The Winter Soldier's unpredictably strong run and other counter-programming holdover The Other Woman, as well as the one-two punch between R-rated surprise hit Neighbors and the much-talked-about Godzilla reboot.

Now, comparing the performances of the two films is far from apples-to-apples. Amazing 1 had the good fortune of landing a crucial Fourth of July release, allowing for a rare six-day gross after its first weekend, padding its initial numbers. Amazing 2, on the other hand, only had a three-day weekend gross to compare it to. Because of this, after 19 days, Amazing 2's $175 million domestic is a far cry from its predecessor's $225 million domestic total after 19 days of release. While the difference is staggering, however, the comparison is still not quite fair. While Amazing 1 bowed in July, when all kids were out of school, Amazing 2 was released the first weekend of May – when school, for many, was still in session. Combine this fact with more big-name blockbusters released this May (and the incredible performance from Neighbors, which no box office analyst could predict), and it was almost doomed before it began.

#2. Franchise Fatigue

Many box office analysts attributed Amazing Spider-Man 2's disappointing ticket sales to franchise fatigue. While I take issue with this argument in the bigger picture, it can be seen as contribution to the aforementioned timing issue.

It was never distributor Sony's attention to call 2012's Amazing Spider-Man a follow-up to 2007's Spider-Man 3, which is why I tend to rail against the “franchise fatigue” argument, since Raimi's Spider-Man franchise can clearly be differentiated from Webb's Amazing Spider-Man series (which will see a third and fourth installment in the next four years). It would be like claiming Man of Steel is a direct follow-up to 2006's Superman Returns – the two films are about the same comic book hero, but are clearly different franchises.

The problem is that the numbers don't lie. Anyway you spin it, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is still the seventh film featuring America's favorite web-slinger in a 12-year span – the most installments of any comic movie franchise in such a tight time frame. Audiences often don't like being inundated with film after film featuring the same characters, which is why the first three Fast and the Furious sequels failed to retain much of the same success of the first film in 2001. It wasn't until Fast Five in 2011 where the franchise managed to find a second life.

However, the bigger problem here isn't franchise fatigue necessarily, but, as I mentioned before, audience's continued “wait-and-see” attitude towards the new franchise. “Why's that?” you may ask. I'm glad you did.

#3. A MUCH Darker Tone

Spider-Man is seeing the same kind of transition Batman saw seven years prior. With Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins in 2005, the franchise reboot was much darker in tone than the cartoony Batman & Robin in 1997, and many audiences didn't know how to handle the transition right away. 2012's Amazing Spider-Man, much like Batman Begins, is a darker take on the popular films, exploring the titular character's origins far deeper than before.

However, the darker tone has a two-fold problem.

First off, while it was a bit shocking to see the severe change in tone, Batman has always been a bit darker. If you look at them, Tim Burton's two installments, while not quite as dark as Nolan's trilogy, weren't exactly lighthearted and kid-friendly. So, while Batman Begins went through a similar wait-and-see period upon its release, audiences were accustomed to the brutal violence and near-R-rated nature of the films by the time 2008's The Dark Knight bowed. Where The Dark Knight resonated with audiences across the board, mainly because critics and fans looked at it as a movie and not a comic book movie, audiences just aren't connecting with Amazing 2 the same way, since, while it truly is a remarkable film, is still a comic book movie.

Audience reactions tended to be relative to the reactions of the source material as well, which caused a lot of problems for Spidey. Nolan's films certainly raised eyebrows, but the violence wasn't particularly shocking. Thanks in part to runs by legendary comic writers Frank Miller and Alan Moore, Batman was no stranger to cringe-worthy fight scenes or the brutal killing of main characters. Despite the often comical and sardonic nature of books, the previous Spider-Man films were quite kid-friendly, ditching darker story arcs written by Steve Ditko or Brian Michael Bendis. So, by the time that audiences witnessed Gwen Stacey's sudden, heart-breaking demise, word of mouth dropped significantly for the sequel.

Unfortunately, modern cinema-goers tend to like some sort of consistency in film franchises. And while many audiences may not consider these two films as part of the same franchise Sam Raimi started back in 2002, the differences are quite noticeable. While this darker tone and return to the comics is welcome to fans of Stan Lee's original vision, it's arguable that most movie-goers are not as familiar with the comic mythology of Spider-Man, and, therefore, find such scenes as the one mentioned earlier to be jarring at best.

Sure, the tone of the film may not be such a factor for audiences, but it could truly be a long road ahead. The new vision for Spider-Man is not as far-reaching as, say, Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige's collective vision for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and, by appeasing the die-hard comic fans, Sony may have very well alienated the fans of the original franchise – something that's never a good thing to do.

Is there a way to fix it? Possibly. While I belong to the half that truly loves Amazing Spider-Man's new direction, and am probably not the best judge of things, I honestly believe that things are looking up for the new franchise. Despite a dark, dour climax, Amazing 2 managed to end on a truly uplifting note, giving audiences a small glimpse of things to come. All Sony needs to do is be a little more careful choosing dates. Amazing Spider-Man 3, for instance, is being released in June 2016, closer to the first installment's date – remember how I said audiences like consistency? This doesn't change for release dates. It's the reason why Warner Brothers put the final Hobbit movie in December rather than July of this year as originally planned.

Whether you're a fan of the new Spidey films or not, one fact is simple: Webb's Amazing Spider-Man is not Raimi's Spider-Man. Not even close. Remember, Raimi's films were made during a time when comic book films had not achieved the respect they have now, and, therefore, were not given the means to make a comic-fan-friendly film. So, even if Webb's films don't gross as much as the three prior films, it should never matter. These are a brand new set of films, and should be held to a different standard instead of being seen as installments in a now-dead franchise.

Spider-Man will be swinging back to theaters in The Amazing Spider-Man 3 on June 10, 2016, and again in The Amazing Spider-Man 4, slated for May 4, 2018.

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