Look Out! Here Comes… (Spider-Man (2002)

Spider-Man_PosterThe anticipation for a James Cameron Spider-Man went from drool to ridicule after Titanic.  Some were fearful he would use Leonardo DiCaprio (and while he is a pretty guy, I think he would have found a way to be a convincing Peter Parker-the guy can act).  But ultimately, the idea of a Cameron Spider-Film faded away.

There was some surprise when it was announced that Spider-Man was in the hands of Sam Raimi (at the time he was still getting recognition for critical fave a Simple Plan).  Raimi, unlike Singer with the X-Men, was a fan of Spider-Man, especially the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko era.  Raimi held promise, based on his genre fueled past, and his films, such as the two Evil Dead sequels suggested he would be a good choice for making sure Spidey kept his wise-cracking ways.

The reaction to Tobey Maguire seemed mixed.  Many thought he was an effective choice for nerdy Peter Parker, but I recall some people complaining-ironically enough-that he was too uh…dweebish.  Kirsten Dunst of course caused nerd panic because Mary Jane Watson has red hair.  Because you cannot change hair color with dye or anything.

The film itself is in the same trap as many that came before it-including X-Men.  The first film is all about the beginning.  It is more set up.  Which is a shame, because right out of the gate, they go for Spidey’s most famous nemesis, the Green Goblin.

Spider-Man begins with a visual trick (the same trick we saw in Drew Barrymore’s Never Been Kissed. Yeah, I saw it.  SHUT UP!!!!) where we are on a bus and Peter suggests that you might not notice him…and then you see Maguire chasing the bus.  We get it established pretty quick that Peter is a science nerd, with no real friends outside of Harry Osbourne (James Franco).  Harry is handsome and looks like the kind of guy Peter would like to be.  But Harry’s frustration is that his father, Norman Osbourne (Willem Defoe) seems prouder of Peter Parker than his own son.  He thinks Peter is a gifted young scientist and wishes Harry were more like him.  Peter has a huge crush on Mary Jane Watson, the girl next door.  His parents are dead, so he lives with his Kindly Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris).

On a field trip to the labs of Oscorp (Norman Osbourne’s company) Peter gets bitten by a genetically altered spider.  Meanwhile, Norman is trying to keep his military contracts, which are slipping through his fingers.  The generals are unimpressed at the pace of his program for creating elite soldiers and a combat glider.

That night, he decides to test the enhancement gas on himself-the result is super strength and insanity.  The two most useful powers for a super-villain.  Meanwhile, Peter Parker awakens to find himself with a more muscular body and the ability to shoot webs from his wrists.  The source of great controversy, it never bothered me.  For one thing?  It saved us the ten minute sequence of him building web shooters.

The film is full of montages showing Peter experimenting with his powers and such, which shortcuts plenty of potentially long scenes.  The film stays quite true to the Spider-Man origin from the comics, with Peter feeling guilt when Uncle Ben is killed by a robber Peter allowed to go free.

Peter sets out to create a new identity, one where he can use his powers anonymously and live out Uncle Ben’s advice that with great power, comes great responsibility.  The film rushes the timeline, getting Peter out of high school and into college.  He and Harry are roommate in a pretty large apartment (but Harry is a rich kid, so this is not entirely implausible.

Norman, of course, works out that Peter Parker and Spider-Man are the same person and starts using that against him, endangering those Peter loves.  In a sequence borrowed from the comics, Peter is forced to choose between a trolley car full of kids and MJ.  Unlike the comic, which ends tragically (and with a character other than MJ), Peter successfully saves both. This undermines the lesson of the original story, that Spider-Man cannot save everyone, all the time.   People on the Brooklyn bridge start hurling things at the Goblin, who seems shocked that people are made at him.  But in case you are missing the point, someone yells, “You mess with one New Yorker, you mess with all of us.” (or something like that).  It was that post 9/11 solidarity that just feels…hokey in the film.  It has no context or depth.

In the end, Peter decides he must be alone, to protect those he cares about most.  This is rather tired as a trope, and to make matters worse, it feels like nerd fantasy.  MJ realizes she loves Peter, kisses him passionately and he gets to shoot her down, walking away all self righteous about how he must deny himself the girl.

In a lot of ways, this is a pretty good movie.  They get to the spider bite fairly fast.  It has a terrific cast (J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson looks like he stepped directly out of the comic book-as does Elizabeth Bank’s Betty Brant).  Rosemary Harris makes a great Aunt May, physically frail, yet strong of heart, she is wise, generous and loving.  Willem Defoe is a terrific bad guy, playing a well meaning but flawed science guy who cracks under pressure.  Who loves his kid, but fails to show it, and often impedes it by fawning over Peter.  Mary Jane seems to lack the spark and confidence of the comics.  She is a little to down all the time, and the Mary Jane Watson of the comics is vivacious and full of life.  Mary Jane in the film seems sad and generally miserable.  Maguire is pretty solid as Peter, bringing both heartache and humor to the role (especially his excitement over his new found powers).

The film’s effects range from impressive to really obvious CGI-especially when Spidey is swinging through the city on his webs.  Overall, though, they work well enough to sell the film.

The writing ranges from good…the Uncle Ben sequences are strong…Raimi and the writers really get how important this is to “who Spider-Man is.”  Peter Parker can be a bit of a selfish jerk, and it is that loss that propels him to look beyond himself.  Chris Sims at Comics Alliance addressed this incredibly well in his column on why Spider-Man is the best character ever.

On the other end, the writing can get hokey…see the Brooklyn Bridge scene.

The other thing that just does not work is the Green Goblin costume.  Frankly?  It is terrible.  The character in the comic could look kind of goofy in his purple costume, but he had an expressive face.  You have Willem Defoe-a distinctive face that is full of character…and instead of makeup that would be let us see his eyes and mouth we are given an emotionless, frozen helmet.  Terrible idea.  And speaking of that helmet…this was a military project…why are you offering the military a helmet that says “a super villain might wear this”? That Goblin outfit is just a huge miss, and surprising to boot.  Raimi clearly loves the Ditko era Spider-Man, but his Green Goblin screams 90’s EXTREME COMICS.  The only thing missing is big shoulder pads and 70 pouches.

The story is kind of dull, Green Goblin really has few motives…first revenge and then to hassle Spider-Man…it is not that Spidey is getting in his way…he just wants to hassle Spidey since he is the good guy.  And then, when Spider-Man is gone…he…uh…well…uh…

Like I said, it is decent enough entertainment, with some really strong moments, but overall not terribly great.  It gives us a rough idea of who is who our leads are, but feels more like set up than a story being told for it’s own sake.

Mary Jane Watson May Have a Tan

So, Nerd Rage is beginning for the upcoming Spider-Man movie.  Why?

Well, it appears that a character known for her model level good looks:

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Will be played by a person with model good looks:

mary_jane_watson_Zendaya

So, Mary Jane Watson will be played by Zendaya.  Truth be told, I know little about her.  I actually did not know who she was at all until earlier this year, style folks at the Oscars condemned her choice of hairstyle.  She was cast back in March, but even though Entertainment Weekly claimed it was for the Mary Jane role, it appeared to go under the radar.

While some fan reaction has been very “DON’T TOUCH MY TOYS!”  Creators have reacted a bit differently.  Long Time Spider-scribe offered this after one angry tweet that came his way:

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First, no, it does not spit in the face of the source material.  That is a ridiculous assertion on it’s face.  Some have tried to paint Slott as a hypocrite, because he dismissed the the idea of making Luke Cage white as racist.  But there is a large canyon between making a white character black, Asian, Indian, etc and making a minority ethnicity white.  There is no shortage of solid roles for white actors.  There is no shortage of white characters in movies or comics.  Race-bending a character like Luke Cage when there are still so few black characters damages what we see.  And of course white people do not understand the power of seeing “yourself” on TV.  We are the overwhelming majority of what people saw when growing up.  We have always seen “ourselves” in film and television and books.  Heck, the Hunger Games had a character who was explicitly black, and people still were upset when a black actress was cast.

But Guardians of the Galaxy director put it best:

James_Gunn_Zendaya

Spider-Man Swings Past the Origin

The site Collider has a discussion with the writers (though, the actual interview occurred on the Andy Greenwald Podcast) of the rebooted Spider-Man franchise.

comics-spider-man_00426012Much talk has been given about Spider-Man’s second reboot and his entering the the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The hype is getting so ridiculous that an article appeared in my Facebook feed *confirming* Spider-Man would appear in Civil War.  People are so desperate for angles that they are confirming stories confirmed months ago.

The more interesting part is the address the most common concern people seem to have about the reboot.  Are we getting stuck with another origin story?  The fact that Spider-Man is appearing in Civil War would indicate the answer to be no.  The MCU has been fairly good at not jumping backwards.  The timeline appears as if they will be jumping into a story with an active Spider-Man.

This interview suggests that, currently, they are not writing an origin movie:

“I think that everybody feels like you know he got bit by a spider and you know Uncle Ben died, and we probably don’t need to revisit that.”

“We want to explore the fact that just because you get superpowers doesn’t make you into a really sophisticated, successful adult. He’s still a kid and he’s clumsy and he’s a geek and he’s a bit of an outcast, and in many ways the superpowers amplify that and exacerbate his trying to fit in.”

This is good to see.  Truthfully, the origin movie is rarely needed.  I get that there are all sorts of fun that can occur with someone learning their powers.  But a simple solution is set the story early in the hero’s career.  This allows for amusing and dramatic stumbles  due to inexperience.  You can still set up the rivalries.

affleck_batmanIn that sense, I get the idea that DC is working with.  It seems like Batman v Superman will be introducing characters who are already active.  I am not fully behind the “older Batman” approach…but in a way, I appreciate the way they seem to be avoiding another Batman origin story.  Sure, it appears we will see some flashbacks, but comics have always reflected on characters origins in their storytelling.  But Warner Brothers and DC seem to be realizing they can start the story later in the career of the character.  Really, I think it would have helped Man of Steel to start in his early career, instead of the introduction to his world as fighting a massive and destructive battle with Zod.

To be fair, Marvel has not just given us origin films.  The Incredible Hulk was not an origin tale and really, Thor was an established Asgardian Warrior.  But Marvel really has leaned heavily on origin films.  And it certainly worked for the best with Captain America.  So it is good to see that Marvel and their screenwriters understand that it is just not necessary to retell the Spider-Origin all over again.

Super Heroes All Grown Up…

Batman_Vs_Superman_MovieJeet Heer has made a rather thoughtful piece on the “grown up-ness” of Super-hero films.  This is not an entirely new phenomenon, after all, the Burton Batman films faced criticism of being to scary.  But yet, the family friendly super-hero film does seem to be progressively scarce.

While Marvel seems hit or miss, some films being lighter than others, DC seems to be making films aimed squarely at the Frank Miller and Alan Moore* fanboys.  I’ve have expressed frustration in the past that DC has set a dark tone for their universe.  And the next film we get is March’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.  And while I think the latest trailer is a little more promising, I still feel like it sets the trajectory in the wrong direction.

Man of Steel was a mopey and grim affair.  And the very next step is to pit the flagship heroes against each other?  And then we get Suicide Squad?  Understand, I have a soft spot for the original Suicide Squad, and by no means am I opposed to Amanda Waller getting back to the big screen.

But the Suicide Squad being the third entry in DC’s shared cinematic world keeps the tone overwhelmingly dark.  Where is the light toned DC film?  Where heroes are fun?  That you can take your kids?

suicide-squadOn the one hand, I feel Heer goes overboard.  The article has deep implications that super-heroes films aimed at adults should not exist.  I just cannot agree with this.  I dare say it is a genre that is at home with adults.  And telling artists and writers they must write for kids or stop writing super-hero material (although Miller has written fairly little Super-Hero fare in last decades)…seems absurd.

On the other hand?  Jeet is right about the lack of fun super-hero movies that are aimed kids or at least families.  There are far to few, and while the Avengers franchise teeters back and forth, Marvel’s TV side is just getting darker.  I loved Daredevil.  And Daredevil has long been more for college students and older in all his formats.  But the only fun Super-Hero on TV right now is the Flash.  We need more shows in that vein.  Superman should be in that vein.

But I have two little nephews (ages three and four) who like super-heroes.  My older nephew loves the Avengers, in spite of not seeing any of the movies.  They both think Spider-Man and Batman are awesome.  They like to pretend to fly like Superman.

The_Amazing_Spider-Man_2_posterI have no idea how old they will need to be to see any of those characters recent films.  But I can easily say it might be years.  And that is a bummer.  I am not calling for an end to super-hero films for adults…there should be room for movies like Deadpool and Kick Ass.  I am simply asking that we get more all ages super-hero films.  Hey DC…how about a rollicking comedy centered on Plastic Man?

*Moore has switched to slamming grown up heroes and anyone who likes super-heroes over ten.  Not a change for the better.  he is also a guy who thinks the sexual awakings of young literary heroines is worth writing.  Unsure how that is better than adding rape to Super-hero comics.

Aunt May’s Fountain of Youth

marisa_tomeiThe reports are coming out that Marisa Tomei is going to be Aunt May in the Spider-Man movies now.  Which just feels crazy.

Not because she is a bad actress.  Not because I dislike her.  I like her a lot and think she is talented. But you know…this is Aunt May…

Auntmay

aunt_mayShe is an older woman.  Now granted, they made her a bit less frail in the Ultimate Spider-Man Comics.  I appreciate and get that.  Old does not feel quite the same in my 40’s.  But when Sam Raimi made the first Spider-Man in 2002, Rosemary Harris was 75 at the time.  I loved Harris in all three of Raimi’s Spider-Man films.  She had a strength of spirit and a kindness, even though she was not physically imposing.aunt-may-harris

When they rebooted the franchise with the Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, Sally Field was 66.  I liked this casting, it put a slightly younger spin, but Aunt May was still advanced in age in comparison to Peter.

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But Marisa Tomei is barely 51.  I mean, I guess it is not that crazy to think of a teen having an aunt in their 50’s…but for some reason this ongoing de-aging of Aunt May just feels…off.

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