Thursday, April 25, 2013

Measure of a Spiderman

            Spiderman has to be in the top 10 of most recognizable figures in Western Civilization.  He is at the center of an incredibly profitable movie franchise at the beginning of the 21st century that was along with "X-Men" the dueling efforts to have the best Superhero merchandising opportunities.

            Strangely "X-Men" and "Spiderman" chose to stick with an abandon the comic stories they were based on in different ways.  Spiderman was unquestionably faithful in a lot of ways, with a spot on J. Jonah Jameson, the best rendition of a super-costume prior to "Iron Man", and a large number of the supporting cast being thrown in and developed to different degrees.  However, much like "X-Men" (and the 90's "Batman" franchise) the drive to sell action figures pushed the creative team to over stuff the 3rd film with too many characters, causing the story structure to get completely butt fucked.  "Spiderman 3" was a bad movie that betrayed or undercut a lot of "Spiderman" and "Spiderman 2" retroactively.  The franchise was then taken out back and shot.

            However both "X-Men" and "Spiderman" are really potent properties, properties that were not owned by Marvel Studios.  The reason Spiderman was not in "The Avengers" is because he is currently owned by Sony, who also own "Ghostrider" (which Sony has no clue what to do with).  In order to hold on to those movie rights Sony has to produce a movie every so many years, so last year we got "The Amazing Spiderman" and this year we will get "The Amazing Spiderman 2".  I'm so far fine with this.  Mostly.

            When you are trying to make something that is not original, but is instead a new installment of something else the wisest thing a person can do is take the elements that are core (in this case Spiderman, Mad Science, and New York) and then take them in a new direction.  Spiderman has a big cast of characters to draw from, love interests, allies, villains, and supporting characters.  What is more the story line is pretty much pre-written and doesn't require much effort.  Almost without fail a Spiderman story revolves around someone who was trying to use mad science for profit and nefarious purposes getting turned into a monster and Spiderman having to stop them.

Not going to lie, if you study lizards for a living I kind of assume you are one lab accident away from super villainy at any minute, regardless of monstrous super power acquisition.
            "The Amazing Spiderman" does this new direction thing not nearly enough.  It keeps inviting comparisons to the old franchise.  While new casting was necessary and the actors were always going to have to deal with being compared, there really was no reason to exacerbate the problem by having that layered over the old story.  They re-tell the origin of Spiderman, a story everyone already knows and has seen on film in the last 10 years.  Then they invite it again with having Oscorp exist, the company headed by the Green Goblin, who will be appearing in "The Amazing Spiderman 2".  WHY?

            As I said, Spiderman has a big universe.  "Amazing" does use a new love interest, Gwen Stacy (played by Emma Stone) and I think she's great, she isn't just a damsel in distress but also uses her abilities to contribute to the ultimate success of saving the city from a mass poisoning.  Unlike Mary Jane (played by Kirsten Dunst) who just seemed like a constant put upon victim objectified by Peter in the original movies.  And it has nothing to do with the actresses, I like Kirsten Dunst, I like Emma Stone, it was the material that they were given to work with that set them apart.

And when they reboot it again in 2018 they'll probably have the Black Cat to work with.
            Now why couldn't they Gwen Stacy the rest of the world?  Instead of Oscorp, why not use Roxxon?  Roxxon is a lesser known entity in Marvel comics, they are less defined but still concretely evil, selling tainted medicine to the third world, irresponsible building practices, and employing mercenaries like Silver Sable to do dirty work for them.  They would actually free up the creative teams a bit to have more mad scientists and programs without being compared to the previous Goblin Industry.

            And why use the Lizard as a bad guy?  Doctor Kurt Connors appeared in "Spiderman 2" and "Spiderman 3" played by a different actor as one of Peter's Professors at NYU, a role he fills in the comics and cartoons.  The bad guy in this movie, a mutant genius with aims to turn everyone in the city into him with vague connections to Peter's past should have been one of two villains that no one has ever heard of, either Smyth the inventor of the Spider-Slayer giant robots, or the Jackal, who created a legion of Spiderman clones to take over the world.  Hell, the Jackal even has a cinematic theme to run with, wanting to create a flawed copy of the original, much as this series will inevitably be called by critics.
A small army of goofy killer robots called Spider Slayers would do a lot to lighten the tone of the movies.

This is Jackel.  One of his primary character drives in the comic was his stalker obsession with Gwen Stacey, to the point where he cloned himself a copy of her to have.

            The sequel actually seems to have this problem in spades, bringing back Mary Jane and both Harry and Norman Osborn.  And the bad guy they chose has some odd casting too.  They cast Jamie Foxx (great actor) as Electro, and he looks nothing like the character.  Electro is a silly looking character so change is appreciated, but if you are going to use a prominent black actor why not use a black character?  Like Cardiac?  Cardiac is a black character, he has electricity based powers and he is an industrial terrorist, fighting against Roxxon, the villainous corporation they should have used from the start.  Cardiac even has a fully body blue costume that actually resembles what Jamie Foxx has been shown to look like in the new movie.

Albeit, more hoody and less shoulder armor.

            "The Amazing Spiderman" does have a lot going for it, the costume looks cool (though they could have made it look really different to further differentiate the movies), the action is just better because special effects and the competitive one upping of superhero movies has compelled action to be more dynamic, and overall the casting is stronger, Andrew Garfield is a better actor than Tobey MaGuire, Martin Sheen is a better Uncle Ben than... That old guy who played him before, Denis Leary plays cops and first responders as well as anyone, and Sally Field is a great actress (though she gets to do next to nothing).  My complaints are not about the execution really, just that it doesn't do enough to stand apart.

            Look at "X-Men: First Class".  Fox Studios owns the rights to "X-Men" the same way Sony owns "Spiderman" and they made "First Class" to meet a deadline.  However they go so far away from the third X-Men movie so as to actually contradict it in places.  They are in a different era, they use characters that almost no one knows off hand, the costumes are totally different, and it really, REALLY worked.  It is hard to compare "First Class" to any of the other movies and it shines because of that.  It is its own thing.

Though I guess the sequel's job is to erase that distinctiveness and drag in all the old actors for a comparison.
            The reason I decided to write this is because I saw the new "Man of Steel" trailer and they are having some problems with differentiating themselves too.  But they are trying to work against that.  Krypton looks different, they are using new music, they have altered the costume a lot (and I think it looks really cool) and they have really good actors in every part because if they can't avoid comparison, they might as well try to vault it.

            This issue is going to come up more and more because actors get expensive and do not want to play a part forever, as of yet only "Doctor Who" has gotten around that problem entirely, and only James Bond has gotten away with ignoring it entirely (something they won't be able to do in the new era).

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