Comics vs. Film: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’

By May 2, 2014
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Although The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a film based on, arguably, the face and mascot of Marvel Comics with over fifty years of publication history, for the most part it’s a film that follows the beat of it’s own drum. In order for it to be a legitimate entry in the Spider-Man canon it can’t deviate too far from the source material (otherwise what’s the point of calling it Spider-Man?), but it’s a film that certainly attempts to take characters and situations from a great deal of Spider-Man’s history and coalesce them into something new. This seems to have led to a very polarized reaction among both fans and critics, and while the film is on track to be quite a bit more successful than the opening of the 2012 film, it currently stands as the Spider-Man film with the lowest score on Rotten Tomatoes when compared with both its immediate predecessor, and all three entries directed by Sam Raimi.

Be that as it may, comic book fans will find a lot to digest in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, including an adaptation of perhaps the most defining moment of Peter Parker’s career, as well as the live-action debut of a couple of noteworthy characters that the ol’ webhead has been battling with off and on for the past five decades.

Please note: if you have yet to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and don’t want to be spoiled, you may want to come back and read this piece after you’ve done so.

…Are you still here?

Okay, let’s get into it.

The Villains: Max Dillon/Electro

Although he has a great visual design, Bogging Electro down as an extraneous character to the plot of the film makes for a rather poor translation. Jamie Foxx is still awesome, though.

Although he has a great visual design, bogging Electro down as an extraneous character to the plot of the film makes for a rather poor translation. Jamie Foxx is still awesome, though.

Probably the villain that’s received the most pre-release promotion from the film is Electro, played by Jamie Foxx. In the film, Max Dillon is a brilliant, but rather sad electrical engineer at Oscorp: a faceless cog in the machine, whom people don’t seem to care about. After his life is saved by Spider-Man, Dillon develops a fanatical devotion to the webslinger, which he clings to after he’s caught in a freak electrical accident after being forced to work on his birthday by his supervisor, Oscorp executive Alistair Smythe. After being shocked then dropped into a pool with electric eels who attack him repeatedly, Dillon’s body converts to pure electrical energy, and a confrontation in the immediate aftermath warps his devotion for Spider-Man into a deep hatred. He takes the name Electro, and after a chance encounter with another character (whom we’ll get to), he wreaks havoc on New York.

While the basic concept of the character from the comics is intact, practically all of the defining details are different. In the comics, Dillon was already kind of a bad egg when he works as an electrical engineer and is caught i a freak accident during a lightning storm. After turning down an invitation to join Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Dillon’s first murder of a New York mugger helped him see that he had true power that could elevate him into a major player. From there, Dillon lived as Electro, directly opposing Spider-Man whenever the webhead tries to stop one of his latest schemes.

Of course the comics origin is going to be a bit simpler, but there’s something to be said for that simplicity over the mass of intersecting plotlines and messy execution employed by the film adaptation. Moreover, the biggest fault of Electro’s use in the story for the film is that removing him from the picture altogether has very little impact on the overall plot, which may lead some to question the necessity of his inclusion in the first place. Thankfully, one of the things changed from the comics was the character’s look, which receives a complete makeover from top to bottom for his first film appearance. Part of his look seems to be based off of the “Ultimate” comics version of Electro, but for the most part the film’s chosen aesthetic for the character largely stands on its own. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is certainly a gorgeous film, and much of that visual strength comes from the character of Electro, and the situations his inclusion permits in the story.

The Villains: Harry Osborn/Green Goblin

While not biblically devoted to the comics, but also not uniquely creative as it should be, ASM2's version of the Green Goblin makes for litle more than a cameo, but with a lot of impact by the film's end.

While not biblically devoted to the comics, but also not as uniquely creative as it should be, ASM2‘s version of the Green Goblin makes for little more than a cameo, but with a lot of impact by the film’s end.

One of the more creatively adapted villains is the Green Goblin, never referred to by name, but definitely coming across as the same villain. Dane DeHaan plays Harry Osborn, son of Oscorp founder Norman Osborn, who is afflicted with the same disease that killed his father. In an effort to find a cure, the younger Osborn seeks out Spider-Man and asks for his blood, thinking that the obviously successful cross-species combination that Spidey is may help Osborn find a cure for his illness. When Spider-Man refuses in an attempt to keep Harry safe, Harry instead finds Electro, and uses him to gain access to Oscorp and a remaining sample of the spider that turned Peter Parker into Spider-Man. When he takes it, his appearance is altered, and he grabs a prototype military suit and glider and takes to the skies as the Green Goblin (kind of).

Fans of both the comics and the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man film from 2002 will remember that the Green Goblin, originally, was Norman Osborn. While Norman appears briefly in the newest film, it’s little more than a cameo and has very little bearing on the rest of the film’s story. In the comics, the Goblin was created after Norman fires one of his scientists, Mendell Stromm, whom he feels has embezzled money from him. When searching the fired employee’s possessions, he comes upon an experimental serum that’s supposed to vastly increase the subject’s intelligence, strength and speed, but when Osborn attempts to create it himself, it literally blows up in his face. The exposure to the imperfect duplicate has the desired effects, along with a deeply-seeded insanity. Taking to the skies as the Goblin, Norman has aspirations to run organized crime in New York before being thwarted by Spider-Man. This eventually leads Osborn to become the webslinger’s greatest enemy, especially after a fateful encounter involving one Gwen Stacy.

While it was nice to see the Goblin represented, it was all pretty convenient and not nearly as well-conceived as Norman’s appearance in the original film, but it’s hard to fault Dane DeHaan’s efforts as a version of Harry with a harder, more manic edge.

Which brings us to…the moment. Rhino was technically in the film, but it accounts to less than five minutes of screen time, and it’s both thin and massively removed from the character in the comics. So, let’s talk about an historic comic book moment brought to life.

Gwen

"The Death of Gwen Stacy" stands as one of the single most powerful superhero stories ever told, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 brings the titular moment to life in a very effective way.

“The Death of Gwen Stacy” stands as one of the single most powerful superhero stories ever told, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 brings the titular moment to life in a very effective way.

Perhaps one of the most defining moments in the history of superhero comics came in the form of the death of Spider-Man’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, at the hands of the Green Goblin. The story was published in The Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 in the summer of 1973, and managed to completely change the tenor of superhero fiction at the time by truly removing the certainty from the lives of both the heroes, and their supporting characters. While recent continuity on the mainline Marvel Universe has attributed the death of Gwen to Spider-Man’s relative inexperience in using his webs since it took place so early in his career, at the time the story was seen as a true turning point in comics because of what it had the audacity to do.

By this point, Marvel had gained notoriety among readers as being the publisher promoting a more “real” brand of superhero. While at DC you had a bulletproof alien and an obscenely rich guy with every gadget under the sun, characters like Spider-Man had identifiable problems like keeping a job, or making the rent. Adding the death of both a loved one and a major character made for a massive shockwave with both readers and publishers, and it’s a moment that lives in immortality as a result.

Cover art to The Amazing Spider-Man #121 by John Romita, where the actual death occurred.

Cover art to The Amazing Spider-Man #121 by John Romita, where the actual death occurred.

The grandeur of this particular moment culminates The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and it does so very effectively. The translation of the scene doesn’t go beat-for-beat, but it doesn’t really have to: it manages to preserve the tragedy and the immediacy of how Spider-Man has to confront death, and director Marc Webb even manages to add a rather harsh exclamation mark to the moment with the way he interprets the very moment that Gwen dies. Even after a rather mashed together plot and a crowded character lineup, the strength with this film was in the dynamic between Peter and Gwen, which carries over into this defining moment in the life of the Amazing Spider-Man.

While The Amazing Spider-Man 2 likely won’t be called the greatest superhero film of the year (or the month, for that matter), it’s always a thrill seeing favorite characters or moments adapted into live-action. Regardless of how ultimately effective or ineffective this film is at weaving so many different elements into one story, the cast and designers do a highly respectable job in trying to bring these characters to life. Spider-Man is back in theaters once again, and apparently we’ll be seeing a lot more of his world in the years to come. Hopefully, the storytellers themselves can create their prospective universe around more than a few disparate elements of the source material, and focus instead on not the flashy costumes or the mind-bending powers, but the heart of the characters that have allowed them to stick around for over a half-century.

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.
  • Jana Clow

    Hi Chris~ This is your mom. Your article make me want to go and see this movie. . pronto! Beautiful writing as always. Makes the mom proud!