This summer, Marvel and Sony Pictures gave us the sixth Spider-Man film of the last fifteen years, offering their third iteration of the character. Spider-Man has been rebooted so many times that it has created a division among fans, with constant debates as to which which Spidey was the best version.
A great number of people love Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s Tom Holland, who has been said to practically be the living embodiment of Peter Parker. However, some fans still favor the classic Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire, and there’s a small group who prefer Andrew Garfield’s Amazing Spider-Man series.
The two Amazing Spider-Man films get a lot of hate, primarily because of the cluttered plot in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Additionally, these two films are practically the “middle child” of the Spider-Man reboots, and thus tend to be overlooked.
Despite being largely ignored in comparison to both its predecessor and successor, the first of these films, The Amazing Spider-Man, is actually the strongest Spider-Man origin film – at least when looking at it from a screenwriter’s perspective. While 2002’s Spider-Man was significantly more successful at the box office, the film’s plot made one major mistake:
Double Mumbo Jumbo.
This term was coined in 2005 by screenwriting legend Blake Snyder in his book, Save the Cat. ‘Double Mumbo Jumbo’ is, in a sense, the screenwriting law that audiences will only accept one piece of magic per movie. If you add more than one use of magic in a movie, the story will lose its believability.
This law isn’t to say that you can’t use magic more than once in a film, otherwise the Harry Potter franchise would be screwed. The trick is that you can’t have two different sources of magic in the same film. For example, if Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone introduced a giant UFO halfway through the movie, it would be hard for viewers to believe. This was arguably one of the major issues people had with Indiana Jones: The Curse of the Crystal Skull, which randomly introduced a UFO during the final act of the film.As a kid, I loved 2002’s Spider-Man. I would watch it religiously and even thought of ways to be just like Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker when I grew up – so don’t think I’m slamming this film entirely. Spider-Man not only broke the Double Mumbo Jumbo rule, but also broke it so notoriously that Blake Snyder called it out in his book.
“The makers of ‘Spider-Man’ ask us to believe two pieces of magic in one movie. Over here on this side of town, a kid is bitten by a radioactive spider and endowed with superhero powers that combine nuclear fusion and arachnia. Okay. I’ll buy that. But then, over on the other side of town, Willem DaFoe is getting a whole other set of magic powers from an entirely different source when a lab accident transmutes him into The Green Goblin … you’re saying that we have a radioactive spider bite AND a chemical accident?! And both give one super powers? I’m confused! They’re straining my suspension of disbelief. They’re breaking the reality of the world they asked me to believe in once already.”
After being called out on this issue in one of the best screenwriting books in the business, it’s no surprise that Sony sought out to fix the problem in their 2012 reboot of the famous web-slinger. This was obviously quite the challenge when developing a character like Spider-Man, but the solution they came up with was quite impressive.
How The Amazing Spider-Man Got It Right:
In order to keep Spider-Man’s origin story in the film while creating a challenging supervillain, there would clearly need to be two instances of ‘magic’ in the film. The key to avoiding Spider-Man‘s mistake was to make both uses of magic come from the same source.
The spider that bit Peter Parker was a genetically enhanced animal at Oscorp, and the experiment performed on Dr. Conners (which turned him into the Lizard) was also from a genetically enhanced animal at Oscorp. By giving both of these separate cases the same source, they no longer seemed so separate – making the movie miraculously more believable than the first.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers took this trick too far with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, when practically every obstacle in the sequel was at the fault of Oscorp. Spider-Man chases Rhino, who escaped with a powerful chemical weapon from Oscorp and not long after, we meet Electro, who works at Oscorp (and ultimately gets his powers from Oscorp). Then we meet the other major villain of the film, Harry Osborn, who happens to be the new CEO of Oscorp.
So, by the end of the film we learn that Oscorp is building an entire army of supervillains! The Amazing Spider-Man 2 didn’t risk introducing any new forms of magic, but it still stretched one source of magic too thin, making it hard to believe. In a way, the Double Mumbo Jumbo saved the first Amazing Spider-Man, but set its sequel up for disaster.Marvel Studios have also avoided Double Mumbo Jumbo, creating doppleganger villains for each superhero’s origin. While many call this a “villains problem” for Marvel, it helps maintain the believability of these films if the main hero and villain are closely connected. For example, Iron Man‘s villain was Iron Monger, who made an enhancement on Iron Man’s suit. They were connected, and the unlikely events that followed were believable as a result. Now, imagine if Marvel had chosen a villain like Fin Fang Foom (Marvel’s giant, green Chinese dragon) to fight Iron Man. We would have been asked to believe that superhero technology exists, as well as dragons. In the course of two hours, it just doesn’t work.
While it would be a long shot, and extremely controversial, to say that both Amazing Spider-Man films are better than Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man trilogy, there’s no denying that The Amazing Spider-Mancorrected a major story issue that 2002’s Spider-Man got wrong. Say what you will about the reboot and Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, but from a screenwriting perspective, The Amazing Spider-Man was a stronger film.