Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Saving Spider-man

There are spoilers in this blog. That's how you know I'm a nerd because I pay attention.

Apparently the new Amazing Spider-man franchise with Andrew Garfield needs to be saved. Despite raking in some nice cash on opening weekend, it apparently is lagging behind the last franchise starring Tobey Maguire. While there are some proposals on the table to save this franchise, I have to ask myself, wearing my nerd hat, why should this franchise be saved?

I know it's worth a lot to Sony. My heart bleeds. But I'm speaking as a comic book nerd who has loved Spider-man for years and could not wait for a movie franchise to open when Tobey Maguire first landed the role. Of course, being a nerd, I had my reservations; Tobey at the time seemed too skinny, I didn't like the webslingers being a part of his mutation, and I was fully aware that the original girl next door is, in fact, Gwen Stacy and not Mary Jane Watson.

But I got over it. I was satisfied with the first 2 Spider-man films with Tobey and Kirsten. I didn't particularly like Kirsten Dunst being cast as the red-headed dream girl, but I accepted the iconic 'soaked in the rain upside down kiss in the alley'. It's been parodied enough times in pop culture to be considered an iconic scene, which, despite the obvious chemistry of Garfield and Stone, who we all know are real life main squeezes, never happens. Garfield and Stone don't have a single iconic scene like this; their relationship is full of angst, big eyes, staring, and emphatic declarations of independence (I break up with you Peter Parker).

One critic made the argument that the new franchise is losing its emotional core without Garfield and Stone together in the future. I strongly disagree. The scenes between the two star-crossed lovers in this film are more Twilight than Marvel. It's often prophetic, like Gwen Stacy's absolutely horrible graduation speech, which features the kind of statement about life that sound absurd coming from a teenager. Not to mention all the cute moments having ice cream which nobody came to the theater to see. The film builds up to Gwen Stacy's eventual demise in such a way that the emotional impact is not so much 'WHY?' as 'Oh, they actually did it.'

Then there's the new Peter Parker, very clearly a teenager, very clearly full of angst, who is about to put on his headphones, fall on the bed and have a timeout to emotional pop music. The old Peter Parker is clean-cut, geeky, nerdy, and a bit of a boy scout. It's only when he dons the mask that he becomes a smart ass full of quips and attitude. The distinction between Parker/Spider-man for Garfield is not that clearcut, although, he still is a pretty good kid. But would Tobey's Peter Parker dip the valedictorian at graduation? Nope.

And that's another fundamental problem I see with the new Amazing Spider-man. Garfield spends a lot less time being Spider-man in these films than he does being Peter Parker. There's more in this franchise about who he is, who his parents are, what Peter experiences, what his relationships are like. But it's the essential dual identity problem; we don't want to spend more time with one character than the other. We all want to see Superman films, but who wants to see the film about Clark Kent? NOBODY.

The new Amazing Spider-man films are better movies overall; they have good pacing, great effects, nice montages, solid acting, decent writing. They try to expand on background stories, with the many flashbacks to the Parker family tragedy and Peter's leftover emotions. The film attempts to tap into the complex feelings of abandonment, treason, ethics, and the constant theme of protection, and it's partly successful. It's a much more serious look at the underlying issues that intrigue all nerds at heart and part of the reason why nerds take comic books personally.

They don't resort to the sort of kitchiness that most comic book franchises use. That said, the kitchiness is a big part of what works; the Tobey series embraced the comic book franchise, stayed true to the dorkiness of Peter Parker, and had a little fun with their villains. Until the third film, which was admitedly a disaster, they didn't try to make Peter Parker cool. The new Amazing Spider-man films are better movies, but they aren't better Spider-mans.

I think the new franchise suffers from its attempts at pathos and complexity; this film wasn't as fun as the others. Who doesn't love the scenes where Spidey saves a bunch of people on a passenger train or when Doc Ock is wreaking havoc and poor aunt May gets caught up on a trip to the bank? I also think the timing of the franchise was poor; many people are beginning to tire of superhero films and the first 2 Tobey films were successful, so there wasn't a need for audiences to experience something new and redeeming. The first two were charming and fresh; the new series is dragged down by the dark side of Peter Parker's past, the tragedy of Gwen, underdeveloped villains and generic action scenes padded with emotional teenage exchanges.

But I am a true nerd, which means that I did pay to see this movie in UltraVX and I probably will watch it when it's on tv one day. I will also re-watch the old series and make comparisons and get angry and try to educate the unitiated and because I liked it less, I will only watch it 3 times and only buy the blu-ray combo pack because it was cheaper at Wal-Mart than the traditional DVD format. And I won't get the collector's pack with the Jumbo mug- oh hell, I'm a nerd, of course I'll get the collector's pack with the jumbo collectible mug, I still have the popcorn bucket from the original Tobey franchise and now my mom uses it for clothespins.

And as for the Amazing Spider-man 3 and 4, I say: dial it back. Don't try to be so smart. We like it when Spidey saves people, not when Peter Parker has a bad day.

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