Sunday, October 21, 2012

SPIDER-MOVIE - PART I: A Superhero Summer Retrospective

Summer may be well over, but that doesn't mean its impact has been diminished.  Over the last few months the world has seen some crazy things politically, socially, economically, and even globally.  As a result the internet has been all a flurry (as usual) with political rants and tirades both justified and offensive.  During this time I have kept more or less to the sidelines, deep in reflective meditation, contemplating my place in this tumultuous world we live in, biding my time for the right moment to speak out.  Also I was getting married.  Mostly I was just getting married.

Pictured: very tumultuous times.

But now I'm back in the game and ready to make myself heard!  About Superhero movies.

What.  Did you really think I was going to talk about Mitt Romney or something?  Why on earth would I do that?  Everything worth saying has already been said by people far more qualified than me (more qualified people such as WOMEN.  Binders of them, in fact), and the general consensus is that he's a really awful guy.  Like, a REALLY horrible human being.  No.  Talking about him would just make me angry and belligerent, and as a newlywed I'm legally not allowed to be either.  On the other hand Superheroes are (and always will be) awesome, and therefore a topic which I'm quite happy (and always prepared) to touch on.  Also, I'm a shallow pop-culture-obsessed son of a bitch.  Politics and weighty-world-crisis' be damned.

This is as political as I get.

The 2000's have been good to comic nerds everywhere.  Where once it would be a miracle if we could get one good Superman or Batman flick produced once every decade, we're now given several new superhero-themed films per year.  Indeed, Superman and Batman merely scratch the very surface of what's available these days.  And the best part? They're mostly pretty good!  Oh, certainly there have been some duds along the way, but with the exception of a few tragic misfires, the good has outweighed the bad.

I'm sorry Green Lantern, were you saying something?  
I couldn't hear you over the sound of THE AVENGERS BEING AWESOME!

This year has been especially rewarding for comic fans.  First we were given The Avengers, the film wherein Marvel studios finally realized every fanboy's wet-dream when they successfully tied numerous characters from separate franchises into one INCREDIBLE movie.  No small feat, in itself.

As if that wasn't enough we were also given Chris Nolan's final entry into the Batman universe with 'The Dark Knight Rises'.  Whether or not you are amongst those who think the previous entry was the superior film, the fact remains that this is the first time I can recall any third film based on a comic book being even REMOTELY satisfying.  Nolan had a lot to live up to, and in the end he delivered a masterpiece trilogy that redefined how we think of Superhero films.

Yes, it was a good summer for nerds everywhere.  In fact it was a GREAT summer with two great superhero films.  There were only two right?  I'm not missing anyth- Oh.  Right.  And Spider-man also got rebooted.  But who really cares about that?  I mean sure Spider-man's pretty dope and everything, so... yay, but the last film only came out several years ago, and it's not exactly like anyone was having trouble remembering the first one.   I mean, it's a pretty safe bet to write this latest installment off as completely unnecessary.


It would be as easy as that to cast aside "The Amazing Spider-man." No explanation necessary.  Going to the movies is no small expense and there were bigger, better publicized, and substantially more anticipated films to see.  Spider-man already had his turn  in the lime light, and the origin of the character isn't really negotiable, which means the producers must have essentially remade the first film. And so again, the question lingers in the air... "Why would one waste their time on a film that had, basically, recently been done?”  I'll tell you why.  Because it was awesome.  And it definitely hadn't been done before.

"Wait, Fenske" you cry out indignantly "you said it yourself!  Spider-man's story is non-negotiable!  Unchangeable!  So if this movie is as distinctive as you claim, then they must have changed it!  Which is it, Fenske?  Did they change it, or remake it?  You can't have it both ways! You can't!  Good comic book movies USE the source material, and bad comic book movies violently ABORT it with a figurative coat hanger!  NO EXCEPTIONS!"  Then, upon reaching the completion of your indignant tirade I give you a minute to catch your breath before allowing myself to audibly (and smugly) muse, "Oh really? Is that so?"

It's a point that has been made by many a comic nerd, and I am no exception.  With love in our hearts for the books, and fearful hate toward all who would threaten to bring us change, we lash out defiantly proclaiming that “All the GOOD comic book movies stay true to the comics!”  In truth, however, we don’t really mean that.  We never did.

It's true there are films such as “300” and “Watchmen”, and they do more or less follow the source material with religious zeal, but those were self contained stories to begin with, each with preordained plot destinations.  Making a film adaptation for "Watchmen" is similar to adapting "The Lord of the Rings"; The director may change a few things here or there, but the plot, characters and (in turn) their back stories will tend not to stray too far from the original works.  They are not ongoing serials.  Even longer series such as HARRY POTTER or Frank Herbert's original DUNE books are all works that build upon each other to a specific presumable ending of some sort.  In each respective series the character development is dependant upon the plot configuration.  To restate that, in each of the aforementioned stories the characters only become who they are due to the events of plot in books.  Not so for the  comics.

Not convinced?

Take a look at the films for the ongoing serial characters of the comic books (Iron Man, Superman, or Batman etc.) and you'll see that the films themselves are all relatively independent from the source material.   Some of the stories are ‘inspired’ by the comics, and certain character outcomes admittedly are predetermined (for example: Loki is bad, Xavier becomes paralyzed, Galactus is a giant cloud- ...oh wait)

Pictured:  Fox pooping on your childhood

But at the end of the day we, the fans, don’t really care if the specific little chain of events in the films are different from the funny books.  Indeed, most of the plots are usually original in themselves, and. we. don't. care.  We say we care.  We don’t.  The ONLY part of the story we care about, that we want to resemble the comics, is the basic origin story. We want eight year old Bruce Wayne’s parents to be gunned down in front of him (because we are TERRIBLE people), and we want him to train for years afterward to become Batman.  In other words, we want the inciting incident to be the same, but that’s it.  Beyond that, as long as the characters behave in a way that is recognizably consistent to what we're familiar with, the rest is a relatively open book.   It doesn't matter if Bruce is 25 or 28 when he comes back, or that Joker is his first villain or second.  We don't EVEN mind that Bruce trained under Ra's Al Ghul in 'Batman Begins'. (it never happened once in the comics, but we loved the HELL out of it in the movies)

Because we will allow this man to do ANYTHING.

Not only do we not care if changes are made, we secretly desire it.  Why do you think Superman's origin story has been allowed as many incarnations as it's had?  Half the fun is seeing what the latest version of Krypton will look like, and what new twist the writers will put on it's inevitable destruction.  No one wants to see the exact same thing over and over, so we start to bend and rearrange the framework of our hero's mythology, just so long as the hero is more or less recognizable.  These are serial characters after all, and as such they have no ending in sight.  What better way to maintain our interest than by bringing something new to the table?  The Wheel itself may not need reinventing, but that doesn't mean the wheel couldn't use a new hub cap and a good polish.

'The Amazing Spider-man' did that for me. The problem is that a lot of people saw (or heard of) changes in the story and cried blasphemy, and upon reading the reviews and talking to a number of my friends and acquaintances I found that I was among the few who really loved it.  The film was still a success financially (enough to warrant a sequel) but then so was Spider-man 3, a film which is universally mocked.  No, the general consensus from fans and the critics would seem to be that Marc Webb's film was unnecessary at best, and destructive to the character at worst.

It's for those people (and all who would listen to them) that I am writing this, because I could not disagree more. Perhaps when I've said all I have to say you will still disagree with me, and that's fine (because I'll be adding your name to a very particular list of 'extra special friends').   But if you'll hear me out I will list off all the reasons why I not only loved 'The Amazing Spider-man,' but also why it far surpassed any of Sam Raimi's Spidey films in both quality and relevance to the character.

Initially I was going to voice my all of arguments here in one go, but after I got started it became apparent to me that I would have to divide it all into several entries.  My goal is to cover one or two points (hopefully) at least once per week, with the intent to get the bulk of it finished before the release of the DVD (on November 9th)

In my first entry I will discuss the Origin of the character, which elements of that story are completely necessary, and then compare Sam Raimi's first film to Marc Webb's and analyze the different ways the films handled the birth of our hero.  Look for it next, in...

Until then...

Thanks for Reading


P.S.  I hate neglecting to acknowledge those friends and peers who help an idea come to fruition, so allow me send a shout out to my dear friend, and sometimes partner in crime (writing crime), Rachel.  It was because of her that I was able to bounce ideas around, speak my mind on the subject, and even consider some points that I hadn't prior to our conversation.  You can blame her for inspiring me to spend hours in front of a computer screen avoiding human contact at all costs.


I would also like to thank my wife for re-watching all the Spider-man movies with me (yes, even the 3rd one).  She's a keeper!

Somehow this woman saw my comic book collection and decided to read
 them instead of breaking up with me.  That's how I knew she was the one.

If you want to check out what Rachel is up to you can follow her on Twitter, because she's cool.

Conversely, If you want to check out my wife you can start running now.  I'll count to five before I hunt you down and make a public example of you.

1 comment:

  1. Reading.
    Respecting opinion.
    Shaking my head at "TASM is better than any Raimi film".
    Curious to see how you explain that.
    Wanting to read more.