Friday, May 11, 2012

Garfield, plus Spider-Man, minus Jon

Is it time? I like to time these posts just right...I'll time it with the box of movie tie-in cereal  I just bought. It was terrible, like stale Frankenberry. Oh, and Mr. Kellogg, Curt Conners is The Lizard, not The Green Lizard. Though judging by the teeny-tiny photo provided, he looks like what Killer Croc could look like.

The only thing that could top a new Spider-Man movie would be an Avengers movie, or a new Batman movie by Christopher Nolan. Both are out this year. So is that why the reaction to the new film with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacey) is a bit "hm...okay."? What happened?

Well, we're getting a retelling of the origin. Do we need it? The 2002 film was loosely based on the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko original, but it also mish-mashed with/incorporated bits and bobs of Brian Michael Bendis' update from Ultimate Spider-Man. A brightly-colored spider bit Tobey on his hand as he tried to use the class trip as an excuse to get off the bench and reach first base with Mary Jane. Something new was added: Organic web shooters. No, that's not an exclusive kitchen gadget sold at Whole Foods, that means that Spidey's webs came out of his arm - his body could secrete spider silk, conveniently through his wrists and not his buttocks, like a real spider. You know, if Stan and Steve had spider silk emerge from Peter's buttocks, then Kim Kardashian would be cast as Spider-Woman. Yes, that is the train of thought I'm riding on - welcome aboard. I'll derail that train now.

Spider-Man's powers were that he gained the proportionate strength and reflexes of a spider - which meant that he didn't grow eight arms (though that happened later as a side-effect of an attempt to remove his powers), but he did have the ability to stick to surfaces voluntarily and also a psychic "Spider-Sense", which warned him of danger. Since he was not born with these powers, he is not considered a mutant. The spider silk that came from his arms was a manufactured  super-strong polymer he invented - along with the "web shooter" a touch-sensitive gadget that fires this compound like silly string. when fired, the webs are flexible enough for Spidey to manipulate it, sculpting into shapes like a club, glider wings, a shield, a sphere and even decoys. It hardens after a few minutes and dissolves completely after an hour. In Ultimate Spider-Man continuity, the formula for this compound was an unfinished project of Richard Parker, Peter's father, who was a scientist. In "classic" continuity, Richard and Mary Parker were S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents - it's not clear if Marvel ever tried a combination of the two approaches, but perhaps the upcoming film will. The cartoon spin-off of USM eschews the continuity of that book in favor of an idea hinted at - that all superhuman are drafted into becoming government agents and put into active duty.

When Raimi ditched the "mechanical web shooters" in favor of "organic web shooters", it launched a flame war on the Internet. Why? The big reason is that it takes away an important element of Peter Parker's character - his intelligence. Without that, or without something in its place, he can come off like a cipher. Stan and Steve opted to show how bright Peter was in a distinctive way - not some backyard project that he had been tinkering with, but an invention that he created for one purpose - to fight crime as Spider-Man. Raimi made Peter more lovestruck and less cerebral, so he came off as a sap. Regrettably, the comic books followed suit. Writers now create suspense by making you wonder if Spider-Man is going to be a patsy to another character's schemes in every new storyline. Raimi's decision created a ripple effect that changed Spidey's characterization. He reasoned that it was more realistic than "...creating a miracle polymer and not even think of selling it to 3M for a couple million bucks," yet very little about superhero comics is realistic. Consider how in X-Men comic Wolverine has always been the big  draw, while more-powerful characters like Storm, Jean Grey and even Iceman wind up sidelined in some way or other.

One choice Raimi made that made sense was to feature Mary Jane Watson as the main love interest in the series. This is because in the comics, she eventually became Peter's wife - and still is, if you're reading the Spider-Man newspaper strip. In the comic books, however, the marriage has been written out of continuity to allow for a more flexible status quo. (I'm staying out of that particular debate right now - that's an entry for another time)

Peter Parker's only had two love interests that could be considered serious - Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane. Gwen was killed-off in a memorable storyline in the late 70's. Writers often find her to be a more plausible love interest than M.J. and have been tempted to bring her back from the dead, first as a clone, then as part of new spin-off media tie-ins/retro-continuity. The past is a different country - they did things differently there. I'm sure if Gwen were still around, the writers would have the same problems that they have with M.J. or Aunt May - and they killed her off in 1994, bringing her back from the dead in 1998!

I actually dread seeing Dennis Leary as Captain George Stacey. The clips we saw in the trailer hint a leaden performance and some cliched, kitchen sink conflict/melodrama, yet in the comics, George was an likeable character - his death is actually technically more effective than the death of Gwen, whose final scenes were as a limp rag doll tossed around.

There's not much to be said about the Lizard beyond the "The Green Lizard" rubbing the rhubarb. He's a popular villain, but every story with him is usually the same. Oh, well, he gets his moment.

I recall Sam Raimi's idea for the 4th Spider-Man film would have been to feature The Sinister Six - just mad,mad,mad - but brilliantly mad! I think he wanted to show off that it could be done, since the most villains we've had in a superhero movie to date is four, if your counting the film tie-in to the 1966 Batman show with Sir Adam West. Speaking of Batman, I can't help but wonder who the heck is Joseph Gordon Levitt playing...he's eating up too much trailer footage to be anyone but the Riddler. Well, the trailer talks in riddles...

Oh, and  yellow eyes! The last time I saw this was the old Spider-Man cartoons of the past. Every idea gets used. Almost. I think a live-action Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends would work. Jennifer Lawrence or Emily Browning as Firestar, Ryan Gosling or Taylor Lautner as Iceman. Mr. Muggles (from Heroes) as Ms. Lion. Judi Dench as Aunt May. Megan Fox as Spider-Woman. Tobey Maguire as The Beetle. Flo Rida as The Hypno Hustler. John Slattery as Silvermane. Seth Macfarlane as the voice of Video Man.  Go for it!

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