Saturday, June 9, 2012


Spider-Man: A Retrospective

I like Spider-Man.  I never read comic books, but I did see the animated Spider-Man series, of which I was a fan of.  I won't claim to say I am an expert on Peter Parker, but there is something unique about him.  You look at other well-known comic book heroes and you see it's remarkably difficult to relate to them.  Like them, yes.  Admire them even.  However, how can one see themselves as a Norse God, or a scientific genius with anger management issues, or a billionaire in serious need of psychological treatment, or a literal man from another world.

With Peter Parker/Spider-Man, you got a kid from Queens.  Can't get any more common that that.  You also have someone who is in many respects just like the comic book reader.  He's extremely bright but socially awkward, one who pines for girls that might be above him.  Moreover, Petey is a teen, which for younger readers puts him closer to their age without having to leave the protective shelter of home.

I think the Stan Lee tapped, consciously or not, to a character that is the most like the reader: a teen trying to sort out his life, someone from a working-class background, a bit of an orphan, and one whose problems (apart from the criminals and monsters) are no different from ours.   Therefore, we have in Peter Parker someone who an audience can most identify with.

When it came to the film adaptation of Spider-Man, I think they created very good least at first.    

I never objected to Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man/Peter Parker.  I think he was actually perfect for the role.  Despite being 27, Maguire has a remarkably youthful face (even now) that allows him to play younger convincingly.  His height of 5'9" likewise helped him in his interpretation.  There is something magnificent in seeing someone small take on villains and monsters.  In short, for a generation, Maguire WILL BE Peter Parker, and I think he did a great job in the role: mixing the heroics with the sadness Peter has.

I also think he was aided by not just being surrounded by a great cast (Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, J.K. Simmons, Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson), but with good scripts that allowed us to get to know Peter Parker before knowing Spidey.  Formal reviews are for another time, but suffice it to say that Spider-Man and to a lesser degree Spider-Man 2 were fine films.

Spider-Man 3 I thought was a disaster of epic proportions.  Maybe it made a lot of money, but it kept to one of my Golden Rules Of Filmmaking: Part III Will Either Be A Disaster or The Harbinger of A Greater Disaster.   Despite being wildly successful, it should have been clear that 1.) Maguire at 32 was getting too old for all this, 2.) Spider-Man 3 was far too convoluted, and 3.) all the good-will the first two films had been built up was destroyed with Emo Peter's strut. 

Thanks to the nonsense Sam Raimi put in to Spider-Man 3, the franchise appeared dead.  Still, a cash cow like Spider-Man can't be put down forever.  Besides, with all the Marvel movies it looked like a good time for a resurrection. 

I can't say anything against Andrew Garfield.  One of my more hardcore friends complained: he's too tall, he's too old, he's too British.  Well, I don't see how being six feet disqualifies someone from being a mixed-up teen.  Maguire was twenty-seven when he played Spidey for the first time, making him only a year younger than when Garfield slipped his tights on.  He, in a technical sense, is a dual-citizen, but for all intents and purposes is British.  That might be a source of concern: will he be able to maintain a proper American accent?  I think he did a good job in The Social Network (about the only point of reference I have when it comes to Garfield playing a Yankee). 

Oddly, my own private concern is whether Garfield is too posh to play a Nuw Yowka convincingly.  However, I digress.

In any case, Garfield now has the role in the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man.  Today it is impossible to say whether or not he is any good in the role (let alone the film).  There are things that I am concerned about.  First, the trailers make the thing appear a bit too tilted towards humor (whenever Spidey gets a bad guy).  Second, I don't understand why we have to make his absent parents a major part of the story.  As far as I'm concerned, things were fine with just Aunt May and Uncle Ben.  I'm puzzled as to why Mr. and Mrs. Parker have to affect their son's life post-mortem a la Harry Potter

Third, I know ever since Batman Begins there has been this wild push for more nihilistic superheroes.  Tony Stark is not exactly a joyful being, Thor is rather grand.  Only Captain America has no cynicism, and I think that's because he is a product of another time.   I do fear that they will take my friendly neighborhood Spider-Man down a dark road, and whatever problems Peter had he was never one to give in to despair.  Fourth and finally, I don't trust a franchise that already has a sequel before the first film even comes out.  I've been down that road meself with Green Lantern, and I couldn't bear to see that happen to Spidey. 

With all that being said, I've decided to embark on a short Retrospective: all three Spider-Man movies before The Amazing Spider-Man comes out July 3.   Granted, it's not a big retrospective, but I am curious to see how we got to where we are and how well it will work. 

I wish good luck to Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, and may the best arachnid win.

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