After the speculation that surrounded a new Spider-Man film by Marvel Studios, the franchise seems to be facing an impending problem: with reboot after reboot, it might be running out of goodwill with its audience.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Ja is trash and never sold numbers. And you might have a point – at least on the first part – because whether he was good or not doesn’t negate a simple, odd truth that Ja Rule’s albums flew off the shelves. We have the benefit of the big picture so it can be hard to remember the magnitude of short-lived successes (remember Anfernee Hardaway?), but there was once a time Ja Rule sold everything from albums to movies.
Spider-Man and Ja Rule – an unlikely comparison, but the success of Ja’s early discography compared with their actual quality might make for a fairer likeness than you think. Maybe Murda Inc. can shed some light on the potential danger the Spider-Man franchise is facing.
Spider-Man’s big-screen debut featured Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and was a box office smash. That same year, Ja Rule’s debut release was double platinum, having sold over 2 million copies worldwide. Thing is, both were trash. Okay, let me rewind – both are trash, but only in hindsight.
Blame it on effective marketing or youthful naiveté, but I shouted Murda I.N.C. in Cookie Monster’s voice and memorized all 19 tracks of classic garbage. There’s no reason the name Irv Gotti should mean anything to anyone, yet my mind grumbles with “it’s murda” at his every mention, like the most terrible Pavlovian response of my childhood. I watched an Usher movie because Ja was on the Light It Up soundtrack. You might have seen it, too. An Usher movie! Called Light It Up! Where were our parents?
Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and the emergence of Ja share a popularity that can only be attributed to audiences not knowing any better at the time. I paid to see all 3 Spider-Man movies – in theaters! One of them I even watched in Tokyo, where a movie ticket costs a month’s salary, only to see Topher Grace cast as – I don’t even want to talk about it.
But I found reasons to like those movies. We all did, and we’d debate which was best as if it’s a conversation worth having. It’s silly in hindsight; we might as well debate which verse Iggy went hardest on. Suffice it to say that whenever you talk about your “favorite Spider-Man film” it’s probably a movie that you don’t even really like. But man, we did at the time.
The problem for Marvel was the same for Ja – you can only sell bullshit for so long. Soon you have to swap it out with a new product, repackage it, and give it a new name. So that’s what they did.
I mean, what can we say? Mistakes were made. Just listen to this for as long as you can. Let it flood over you. Just like Amazing Spider-Man tried to pivot Parker’s persona while telling the same story, Ja tried dropping tracks like Put It On Me and I Cry while trying to keep it murda musik. We knew his career was impending doom. We saw the writing on the wall saying Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin, but none of that stopped Rule 3:36 from going triple-platinum – yes, 3x platinum – because we were second-time customers, and we were excited.
But it was secretly the beginning of the end. That’s what puts you on a dangerous trajectory – testing your audience’s patience, getting rewarded for it, and thinking you can do it over and over again. Whether anyone knew it at the time or not, Rule 3:36 spelled doom for his career. Like Marlo said, “he was dead when he opened his mouth, he just walking around not knowing it.”
Note: 6 Feet Underground still goes hard, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care.
Tobey Maguire was out and Andrew Garfield was in as the bullied nerd Peter Parker turned wisecracking hero Spider-Man. A new product with a new name, Amazing Spider-Man abandoned the emo-Peter of Tobey Maguire to try more comedy and charm with Garfield. But under the new packaging and behind the new name, what audiences found was really just another origin story. Marvel basically came out of Hamsterdam yelling “WMD’s! WMD’s right chea,” and we lined up around the block.
But when the Sony deal happened and Marvel Studios claimed back the rights to our favorite wall-crawler, fans’ excitement turned into doubt as talk of another reboot started circulating. A new Peter Parker? Maybe it can be Miles Morales? Will it be another origin story? We saw the direction the Spider-Man franchise was moving and we put our heads in the sand because we didn’t like where it was going.
And then came Pain is Love, the death knell of Ja’s career. Not only Pain is Love, but the litany of guest tracks with R&B singers and the rise (and subsequent fall) of Ashanti. This was the year that brought us Mesmorize, the greatest, most horrible, music video of all time. It feels less like a music video than it does a parody sketch on Comedy Central. From the separate intros at the beginning, to the Black Power militia at the ending, everything about Mesmorize just has to be a joke meant for us here in the future. Just watch it.
This was also the year that brought us Rainy Dayz – Rainy Dayz, spelled with a motherfucking z – which is a hysterical Mary J. Blige song featuring Ja. Tracks like Rainy Dayz need to come with a comedy trigger warning so you don’t drop the weight on yourself on the bench at the gym. You haven’t felt real laughter in 2015 until you hear Ja’s voice hitting that track on the chorus when you least expect it.
Would it be Miles Morales? Nope. Would it be an origin story? Judging by the young teen casting choice of Tom Holland, it’s a strong maybe. And just like that, Spider-Man fans find themselves at an inevitably dangerous point for Marvel: indifference. The idea of seeing Uncle Ben die for a third time is one too boring for anyone to care, and whether or not the film is financially successful (let’s be real, it’ll be financially successful), it could still spell the decline of future movies as fans grow tired of reboot after reboot. At worst, a bad movie here can solidify the parody of the Spider-Man movie franchise, even if we won’t realize it until looking back after another ten years.
And here we are, one franchise away from The Last Temptation or Blood In My Eye, albums I never even heard. Albums you might not even know existed. I mean, have you ever heard Exodus?
We’re already getting movies like Ant-Man, which is obviously unambitious to say the least. Ant-Man is Marvel’s heat check – if it does numbers, Marvel knows it has the green light to shoot from anywhere on the court.
Years after the original success of Blade and the record-breaking successes of the Marvel movies to follow, comic book movies have revolutionized pop culture in a way few ever expected, but they’re becoming reckless in how they’re running with it. They’re starting to record Pain is Love. They’re starting to write tracks with Ashanti. The comic book movie industry isn’t too big to fail, and I hope they realize it before Spider-Man gets in the studio to record Rainy Dayz.