Taking a page out of Marvel’s playbook, Sony Pictures wants to create a cinematic universe based on everyone’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. And, if you look at the bevy of trailers and clips from the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man sequel, nothing could be more evident. With the presence of a rogues gallery of classic villains including Electro, Rhino, Green Goblin, Norman Osbourne, and Alistair Smythe, not to mention that clip featuring Docor Octopus’ mechanical arms and Vulture’s wings in a laboratory room, it seems like Sony is clearly trying to plant as many seeds as possible. The question is: will it work?It’s hard to emphatically say at this point. Is Amazing Spider-Man 2 going to have a centralized story that captivates, or will the picture merely serve as a bridge between films with a lot of action thrown in? Also, will these villains have the gravitas to hold their own movies? These are important questions, because despite recent evidence to the contrary, it probably takes more than the words “Based on the Marvel comic book…” to guarantee success. While these characters are well known in the comic loving community, they’re mostly one dimensional bad guys that lack pathos and sympathetic motivations, meaning they may be a tough sell to a broader audience that is a bit more focused on the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?” of it all.
That’s a challenge that producer Matt Tolmach seems to both recognize and relish. Here’s a bit from an interview that he and producer Avi Arad did with SFX on the status of The Sinister Six and Venom, and the other Spider-Man films. Here’s Matt Tolmach says:
“It’s a challenge in every sense. Obviously questions of traditional hero/villain dynamics have to be looked at. At the same time it’s an awesome challenge, because some of the greatest characters are in fact villains, and how you construct that is so much fun. People love those bad characters if they’re good bad characters, and love to watch them. And nobody’s all good, nobody’s all bad, and so where we end up with that story, I think, is a really awesome challenge, and we all smile when we think about what you can do. It’s definitely a bad-ass group of people and I think it’s going to be a ton of fun to watch them.
Meanwhile, former Marvel head Avi Arad, who still produces the Spider-Man films, shed some light on Venom:
“Venom hated only one guy – Spider-Man. He wasn’t innately bad, he was a shortcut guy, not really into fighting hard for achievement. That’s the Venom story. Can he also be a good guy? As you know, Venom was also called ‘lethal defender of the innocent’. We had a great history with him, especially caring for the homeless, which is a very sensitive issue and something that many of us are very concerned with. Our villains all represent a different side of the misunderstood, and some of them unfortunately turned to the dark side. Venom happened to be a phenomenal character. With Eddie Brock, or if you do Flash Thompson, it doesn’t matter who is going to be inside the suit – what’s important is that a man like him is going to realize there comes a time when you wake up in the morning and say ‘How did I get here? There must be a better way.’”
In this age of TV anti-heroes, maybe Tolmach makes a point, but comic book heroes and villains tend to be a bit more cut and dry, and if you go to far out on a limb to humanize a bad guy, you diminish the hero and you lose the core audience. Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight is probably the most well drawn big screen comic book villain of all time. There is a depth and a clarity to his emotions and his inspirations, but he is still a bad man, all bad, and we still root for Batman. People adored that performance, but it couldn’t stand alone and I’m skeptical that any of these other villains, or even a collection of them, can.