Is Sony Mismanaging The Spider-Man Franchise?

Part 1: Send In The B-Team

Looking at Marvel today, it would be easy to assume that they have always been as successful as they are.  Though you’d be wrong because, before they were purchased by Disney, even before they launched their movie production arm, Marvel Studios, they were flirting with bankruptcy.

To stop the bleeding, they licensed the rights to their most successful characters to 21st Century Fox, Sony, Universal and New Line (Marvel received a percentage every time a film was produced with their heroes).

So 21st Century got the X-Men and related characters (and exclusive use of the term ‘mutants’) as well as the Fantastic Four.  Sony got Spider-Man and related characters, while Universal had the Hulk and Namor the Submariner (Marvel’s Namor in terms of his abilities is similar to DC’s Aquaman, except stronger and more awesome).

But Marvel knew that no one could exploit their characters better than they could, so they threw the ultimate ‘Hail Mary’ pass.  To get a loan to build their own studio they borrowed on the strength of their remaining characters.

In other words, it was time for the B-Team to take the field, and Iron Man was released in 2008.  The movie was directed by John Favreau and starred Robert Downey Jr–an actor who at the time was known more of his drug use than his acting ability–and went on to earn almost $600 million (on a $140 million dollar production budget).

Marvel Studios was born, and they were eventually purchased by the Walt Disney Company for $4 billion dollars in 2009 (some analysts thought Disney had overpaid. They were wrong.).

Part 2: Raimi’s Spider-Man Films

As I said earlier Sony licensed Marvel’s Spider-Man and in 2002 released Spider-Man.  Sam Raimi, known primarily for the Evil Dead series of movies, was chosen to direct.  He cast  Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson.  The first film cost $139 million to produce, and earned almost $822 million dollars worldwide; a very tidy profit.

Spider-Man 2, introduced Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and was considered the best in the series.  It was more expensive than the first film, clocking in at $200 million and eventually pulled in almost $784 million dollars worldwide.

Still profitable, though not quite as much as the first film.

Spider-Man 3, the last film in the series directed by Raimi, cost $258 million, and earned almost $891 million dollars.  What set it apart from the earlier films was that it featured three villains, Sandman, Venom and the New Goblin (that’s actually what the character is called on IMDB).  Raimi fully expected to direct Spider-Man 4–even after being forced by producer Avi Arad to use Venom, a character he didn’t want in the movie, or like for that matter.  In retribution he cast Topher Grace as Eddie Brock/Venom because Arad thought he was a bad choice for the role.

Spider-Man 3 did very well, despite being the worse reviewed of the series.  Sam Raimi was apparently prepping the fourth film in the series, before his deal fell through.  As a result he was out and the entire franchise rebooted just five years later.

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More Is Not Always Better (Especially When It Comes To Super-Villains)

Sinister SixI like ‘more’ as much as the next guy. More money, more “Pacific Rim” and more hard drives (I have always had a thing for storage space).

Where ‘more’ doesn’t work so well for is when you have too many villains. After all, Sam Raimi is a pretty talented director yet his “Spider-Man 3” was a mess, primarily because there were too many bad guys (though the giant Sandman monster didn’t help matters).

And in his film, there were only three:  Sandman, Venom and Green Goblin, Jr.

If the image to the left, the studio where Marc Webb’s “Amazing Spider-Man 2” is shooting, is any indicator, the word overreach means nothing to Webb.

That being said, there’s no law that says that it can’t be done, but I suspect that it would be less a Spider-Man movie than a super-villan origin piece that happens to have Spider-Man in it.

Which I think is an interesting idea, but I am willing to bet fans of the character (as he appears in movies) – never mind the studio bankrolling it –  would think otherwise.

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‘John Dies At The End’ Review

John Dies At The End

“Here’s to all the kisses I snatched, and vice versa.”

—Fred Chu

Think about it for a moment, you’ll get it.

One of Marvel Studios’ Phase Two projects is a feature film version of Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts. I still think that Ioan Gruffudd should play Strange, though who should direct?  On the strength of “John Dies At The End” (never mind his rather bizarre filmography) it should be Don Coscarelli.

The reason being is that the movie takes some really odd subject matter, and not only makes it approachable, but fun.  When I heard that this film was coming out a few years ago, I picked up the book by David Wong, so that I would go into the movie with some idea of what’s going on.

I enjoyed the read, but beneath the weird chocolately coating lies a somewhat conventional center.

What Coscarelli did was bring the most interesting, stranger parts of the novel to the screen, while de-emphasizing the conventional elements.  What’s left is a movie that plays like David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch,” with its reliance on mainly practical special effects, while unlike that aforementioned film actually makes sense.

What “John Dies At The End” also reminded me of the Hardy Boys.  On acid.

And apropos of Doctor Strange, wouldn’t Clancy Brown be an awesome Baron Mordo?

I am also resisting the temptation to reveal more about the movie–Trust me.  My restraint has been admirable–but the actors that play John and David Wong, Rob Mayes and Chase Williamson, are a great bit of casting.

I referred to Clancy Brown earlier, though he rounds out a remarkable cast that includes genre veterans like Angus Scrimm, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones and Paul Giamatti (who also executive produced).

Though all is not rosy because “John Dies At The End” deserves a nationwide release, as opposed to the limited one that it actually got.  I live in Washington, DC, and unlike Michael (thanks for reminding me that it was available online) over at Durmoose Movie Musings, I didn’t have the benefit of seeing this awesome movie in a theater.

Pity, that.

Paul Giamatti Is The Rhino

A few months ago I read that Paul Giamatti was interested in playing the Rhino, a member of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery.  At the time I recall thinking that that was some of the most awesome casting that I have heard in a long while–mainly because he actually looks like the character–though I didn’t think much of it because Jamie Foxx had already been cast as Electro in the sequel.

And as much as I would like to have seen Giamatti in the role, I didn’t want to see another ‘Spider-Man 2’ scenario, where you had villains thrown together in perhaps the most inorganic manner possible without the background that would make such an effort successful.

The only thing that reassures me somewhat is that the Rhino and Electro actually have banned together against Spider-Man in the comics, which at least means that it won’t feel as left-fieldish as Sandman teaming up with Venom (though admittedly the problem with that lies more with the writing than the characters because, besides the fact that better writers could have pulled it off, many of the people that will see the film will probably have no idea of the history between the two characters).

This leads me to believe that the filmmakers are building up toward unveiling The Sinister Six (The Vulture, Electro, Mysterio, and Kraven the Hunter, or some variation thereof), which would be all sorts of cool.