or, “Not muh Supes!”
Few things irritate me more than reading/watching criticism of an adapted story and then seeing people casually dismiss the criticism by saying, “You’re just mad it’s not your version of X.” It’s as though they do not think that criticism of the faithfulness of the adaptation is valid. I would argue that this is in fact the key metric of the success of an adaptation. To me, if the adaptation isn’t faithful to the original (although how one defines that may be variable), then what was the point of an adaptation in the first place? Why not just create original characters for the story to be told?
So what makes for a faithful adaptation? Shakespeare’s plays are often updated and adapted. Is a version of “Romeo and Juliet” more faithful because it’s set in 17th century Italy than a musical set in 1950s New York City? I would argue that a good story is inherently flexible (to a degree). So while Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is so faithful to the original it’s almost a filmed version of the play, West Side Story is just as faithful to the spirit of the play even though it’s a musical set in New York City. Likewise, while the 1996 film Emma is pretty much a period-piece of the story, the movie Clueless is a 1990s L.A. rich teen adaptation of the same story (with a bonus sassy best friend).
As I said, good stories are flexible, and honestly plots are few and far between. To me, the success of an adaptation is not how faithfully the setting is recreated, or in some aspects even the plot, but how well the characters are adapted. Then the question becomes, how much can a character be altered and still be the same character? Everyone has a different answer for this, and some media make the line between faithful and non-faithful very blurry. Comic books are probably the hardest to adapt faithfully because of the amalgam principle. A contained story, like Pride and Prejudice, is probably the easiest. And in the middle lie novels, television, etc.
I will be presenting my theory through three potentially divisive comic book adaptation examples.
While good characters are complex, a good adaptation has the task of reducing that character to a few key personality traits and fixed reference points. By fixed reference points, I mean events that happen to a character or a particular kind of background that is vital to establishing the character. This will probably make more sense with examples:
“The hero is a rich, white male who comes from money and runs a technology firm. He uses an array of high-tech devices to fight crime.”
Right now there are probably two heroes that come to mind – Batman and Iron Man. And they do have a lot in common. An adaptation that distills either character down to only these points is going to miss the crucial distinction between the two.
a) “The hero is arrogant, selfish, and spoiled, and only became a hero after nearly dying.”
That’s Iron Man.
b) “The hero is brooding, serious, and became a hero after witnessing his parents die in a random act of violence.”
Batman, of course.
Hopefully this illustrates what I mean. A lot of the fixed reference points (rich, technology firm, fights crime with technology) are the same between Iron Man and Batman. But their personalities (Iron Man is a charismatic jerkass with a heart of gold while Batman is Justice) make all the difference in the world.
Next are some examples where I think the adaptation failed. However, many people may disagree with me because of the amalgam principle.
Good vs Bad:
1) Batman – while I’m on record for liking all versions of Batman, I fully understand why many fans eschew the 1960s TV show as nothing but camp with only a passing resemblance to Batman. That show almost feels more like a parody of the current, common amalgam of Batman. Where did campy-Batman go wrong?
a) Character – Well, as I stated in my above example, brooding is a fundamental part of Batman’s character. In the ’60s show, I wouldn’t say that Bruce Wayne/Batman ever really brooded. He wasn’t exactly a cheerful fellow, but hardly brooding.
b) Reference points – I don’t recall the fact that Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered ever coming up in that show. To be fair, it’s been a while since I watched it all the way through, and Bruce certainly didn’t have any parents, but the key motivation for his vigilante career is curiously omitted.
Without the central character behavior and relevant back story, is 1960s Batman really Batman as such? In a lot of ways, no. I really do understand when people say they hate the old TV show or the original movie (“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”). The fact that campy-Batman is not their Batman is a valid criticism of the show/movie. But I will say this for campy-Batman; it is at least a version of Batman present in the source material. Still, this is not been the case for many decades.
2) Spider-man – for all that the web-head suffers in his comic book universe, most adaptations have actually been pretty faithful, even back to the 1980s “Amazing Friends” cartoon (unfortunately, I have not seen anything of the 1960s cartoon except the opening credits). Peter Parker learns that having superpowers makes his life actually a hell of a lot harder, and he struggles to balance being a superhero with his other obligations. He’s also not very good at it. And he uses witty banter to distract both the villain and himself from the crazy situations he gets himself into. Hell, even LEGO Marvel Super Heroes gets this. But the recent Sony reboot utterly failed to understand the character, which I’ve detailed elsewhere.
Now some people may argue that Peter Parker was supposed to be more 1610 than 616, and that may be true, but the adaptation still wasn’t true to that character. The only time Peter Parker has ever been remotely cool or good at being a superhero in the comics (as far as I recall) was when he was Doc Ock.
3) Superman – Argh. This is actually the one that started me thinking along these lines. Superman has been adapted more than a few times, and usually pretty well all things considered. Superman: The Animated Series was a decent show, and honestly if it didn’t follow on the heels of the outstanding Batman: The Animated Series, I probably would have thought it was a better show. Alas for poor Superman, the bar was already set very high by Batman (this may be a recurring problem now that I think about it…). Man of Steel was a very divisive movie. A lot of people really liked it, and a lot of people really didn’t. And often those that did like it would fire at the ones who didn’t, “You’re just mad because that’s not your Supes!” Well, yes, and that is the crux of the entire problem, which I’ve detailed elsewhere. I’d also argue that Superman was not portrayed like this in the source material (well, up to the New 52 reboot), so this really isn’t most people’s Superman. If people like it, more power to them, but this is not my Superman, and that’s a valid criticism of the movie.
Adaptations are tricky, and so is judging faithfulness. A lot depends on the reader/viewer’s knowledge of the source material. Some people are very upset with campy-Batman but are less so when they realize that portrayal wasn’t a complete rejection of the Dark Knight; it’s just how it was at the time. So maybe time has to do with that as well. Stories can be stretched further than characters and still be the same stories. The integrity of the characters is much less flexible, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but stretching a character so far that it’s no longer the same character is a bad thing.
or, “The World According to DC/WB”
I’ve noted before that DC/WB has a huge Bat-crush and is determined to turn capitalize on everyone else’s Bat-crush and try to make all the money. I’ve also noted that movie studios tend to imitate success without necessarily understanding why the original was successful in the first place. So here we are and news has leaked that DC/WB has said there shall be no jokes in their future movies. Humor, it seems, is no place for comic books or comic book movie adaptations which is why Guardians of the Galaxy will be one of the highest-grossing movies this year…
Of course, this is a rumor and it may not be true. Unfortunately for DC/WB, no one seems to be doubting that it could be true, and that is a sad commentary on the state of their would-be movie empire. I’m not sure if the Bat-crush is the cause of the other issues DC/WB has with their movies, or if it is merely the most obvious symptom of a deeper malady. I suspect the latter, especially with this latest rumor. I think that DC/WB has absolutely no idea how to duplicate the success of Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy and manage to miss every salient point about why that set of movies was so successful. Here is a list (in no particular order) of the symptoms of this malady, and how to treat them.
1) Bat-crush. Already covered at great length, but in short, Batman is Batman; not every hero can or should be Batman and it’s really obvious when the creative teams are trying to put that cowel on everyone.
Remedy – get over Batman! Good grief there are other interesting characters who deserve books and movies and general exposure. I’d also like to point out that audiences like novelty. If every movie is just a thinly disguised Batman, that’s going to get old pretty fast. Hell, this is something Marvel is already struggling with. Avoid the pitfall of sameness.
2) Embarrassment. Yes, I think DC, and by extension WB (or perhaps the other way around), is embarrassed that one of their iconic figures wore red underwear on the outside for 70+ years. I think DC/WB is operating under the assumption that comic books are for children only, and they desperately want that lucrative PG-13 market. This is true for the movies as well as the comic books.
Remedy – get over it! DC has had something of an inferiority complex since an upstart little company called Marvel started grabbing their previously unchallenged market share. Marvel tried to distinguish itself from DC by telling its potential readers DC was for children, but more mature teenagers should really graduate to Marvel’s more relatable and realistic heroes. Clearly DC internalized that stinging accusation and has done a lot to try to refute it. Oddly, this leads to utterly blind leadership. Even though the leadership at the comic book side of it tend to be fans who read comics from childhood into adulthood, they seem embarrassed by that. This is an adolescent attitude that is not becoming of adults running a company. Kids like comics. Teenagers like comics. Adult like comics. And a whole bunch of them don’t care that their hero wears red underwear on the outside.
3) Assumed maturity. Related to the embarrassment issue, DC/WB has been desperately trying to make their product more mature in order to appeal to mature readers (who again apparently don’t include adults). So many of the stories concern tortured anti-heroes with a thirst for vengeance and a bunch of sex and violence and gore and apparently severed arms. Bright and colorful heroes who have more black and white moral codes are discarded as being too simple, or too immature, because clearly there needs to be more Batman (or Wolverine).
Remedy – get over it! Having storylines in which there is a bunch of sex and violence and gore does not make for a mature story in and of itself. See pretty much any comic of the early ’90s. Yeah, sure, it was pretty obvious Cable and Domino were getting it on mostly off-panel, but the stories still concerned randomly blowing up stuff with impossibly large guns. Some of the most puerile, juvenile, low-brow comedies ever produced have been rated “R” and no one would ever label those as “mature” just because there’s some nudity and swearing.
4) Dark and edgy as substance, not style. By this I mean the powers that be look at Batman, which is all dark (literally and figuratively) and assume that this is substance that made the last set of movies so successful. They see a dark, brooding figure with no hints of bright color anywhere who lives in a gray world that on its surface is devoid of joy and hope. And that is what the executives are trying to duplicate, hence the edict of “no humor” and hence shooting an entire movie through a gray filter. As a sidenote, Sony is trying this too, and with no more success in my view.
Remedy – learn the difference between style and substance. Honestly, as a writer I am embarrassed when so-called professionals don’t seem to know the difference. The appearance of a thing is not the same as that thing (unless you are a really, really good illusionist). The Nolan Batman trilogy the executives seem to so love is not entirely devoid of humor (the villain of the second one is the Joker!), and there is some hope, in the end.
5) Gray morality. The executives at DC obviously favor anti-heroes, or don’t know the difference between anti-heroes and heroes, or between anti-heroes and [Denis Learys], or don’t care. But there seems to be this pervasive idea that a hero can’t have a black and white morality. That’s immature; that’s for children. Mature people favor protagonists with questionable morality that occasionally make the wrong choices, or have to do wrong first before they realize what’s right. Honestly, there is a lot of evidence on their side, which is something that bothers me on a different level. But…
Remedy – actually watch Nolan’s trilogy. There’s almost no gray morality in that entire set of movies. Ducard/Ra’s tries to tempt Bruce, but as soon as Bruce realizes “League of Shadows” is a euphemism for “Society of Assassins,” he burns down their headquarters and gets the hell out of there. Gotham City is so corrupt that Batman taking the law into his own hands actually seems like the more morally correct choice since it’s so obvious there is no justice in the actual system. Batman stays on the side of order and law. It’s Harvey Dent who’s tempted to compromise his principles, and he does, and that destroys him. Nolan’s direction is really not that subtle. There are blatantly obvious and straightforward conflicts between law and crime and order and chaos.
6) Not Marvel. So DC in many ways wants to be Marvel (and WB sure wants that sweet, sweet cash), but is determined to anchor the success of its movies in how it is not Marvel. Does Marvel have a counterpart to Batman? Not really. Batman’s literal and figurative darkness is a contrast to the brighter and more colorful Marvel Cinematic Universe (although in general Marvel’s universe is darker than DC’s; Batman just happens to be the exception). In fact, DC/WB may think they cannot succeed trying to be Marvel because look what happened with Green Lantern. That movie had a bright, colorful hero and failed.
Remedy – be DC, and don’t just be Batman. Honestly, it amazes me that movie executives, who are supposed to make movies that make money, are so bad at understanding why a movie doesn’t make any money. Green Lantern failed because it was just a mediocre movie. Nothing was done well and some parts were done badly. Of course it failed. That’s like saying an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice failed because romantic comedies fail, or because that’s an awful story. No, it’s because it was a bad adaptation.
7) Poor character marketing. I’ve gone about this at length too, but I recently read an article that tallied the revenue for DC’s direct-to-video animated movie sales. Out of more than twenty movies, the first four top grossing ones were either Batman or Superman or both, but the fifth was the Wonder Woman movie. Sixth place wasn’t even close. Notably, the Justice League movies weren’t close either. But instead of making a Wonder Woman movie, DC/WB chose to make Green Lantern and are rumored to be working on a Flash movie. Wonder Woman gets to cameo in a pre-Justice League movie. Green Arrow (well, a Batman-Punisher-ized version) gets a TV show, Flash might get a TV show, Gotham City gets a TV show, and not Wonder Woman (because the god-awful pilot failed for multiple reasons, not because it was about Wonder Woman).
Remedy – market your icons! Marvel had a harder fight to put its movies out there because while I am a Marvel fan its most iconic hero is Spider-man, and Marvel didn’t own the rights to him. So the creative team had to look to the rest of the vast cast of characters. The Avengers has had many iterations, and for me Captain America is the most iconic, and perhaps the Hulk because of the ’70s TV show, but Marvel started with Iron Man. This was a risk since I only read about Iron Man when he appeared in other comics I was reading. He wasn’t a particularly well-known character outside of fandom. But Batman, Superman, and WONDER WOMAN are the DC trinity. There have been television shows for all three of them at one time or another. Batman has had several adaptations, and Superman just a few less. All appeared on various “Justice League” adaptations as well. When the Smithsonian Institute put together a list of the 101 most important objects in American history, they picked Sensation Comics #1, the origin of Wonder Woman. I’d also argue for marketing these three because they are and have always been (except briefly in the comics but always in the public eye) Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, and Diana Prince. Other heroes have passed down their titles so those aren’t as easy to market because you have to pick one version, which some people may know and some won’t and thus might be confused when their hero is not who they expected (in fact, I read an article titled “Why is Green Lantern White?” because at the time of its release, John Stewart was the Lantern on the Justice League cartoon).
Conclusion – DC/WB executives are astoundingly clueless. They are missing the point of their most successful recent franchise so completely I almost wonder if this is self-sabotage. Listen, I know I don’t make movies, but that’s not my job. I do, however, understand stories. I understand style and substance and theme. I understand character development and dialogue. Hey, DC/WB, if you really can’t figure this out, try listening to the fans again whom you’ve so steadfastly ignored, especially since New 52. They get where you’re going wrong, and would really relish the chance to help you out. Really.
I really didn’t want to write this entry. “It’s overdone,” I told myself. “It’s divisive,” I told myself. “You don’t need to go there,” I told myself. “The trilogy isn’t even over,” I told myself. But then I actually saw Amazing Spider-man 2 and all of my good, rational arguments were rejected by irrational but irrepressible feelings. I don’t like arguing from emotion; I prefer logic. That said, I am a human being (by most accounts) and unable to completely divorce my logic centers from my emotional ones. That also said, I will present what may turn out to be an unfair comparison between the previous Sony “Spider-man” trilogy and two-thirds of the current Sony Spider-man trilogy. In way, this also falls under “Storytelling Failures” for the reboot trilogy, which is why I have tagged it as such.
1) Visuals/Special Effects – I’m starting here because this is an easy argument, and one I’m less emotionally invested in. The Sony reboot has ten years worth of special effects technology on its predecessor. There really is no comparison. The original Spider-man looks like a rubber CG cartoon. The rebooted Spider-man almost looks real. Almost.
Winner – Reboot.
2) Direction – I’m narrowly focusing here on the consistency of presenting a vision for Spider-man, whether viewers agree with that vision or not. The original trilogy was tonally consistent; there was some Silver Age camp, a lot of seriousness, and for the first two the focus was very tightly on one villain per movie. It did start to go off the rails in Spider-man 3 both for the overall vision and tonal consistency (who the hell thought ‘jazz hands’ were a good idea?), but the third movie still managed to hold to the overall vision, even if it clearly wasn’t executed as well as the first two.
But the reboot? The first movie was fine as far as overall vision and tonal consistency, but the second movie went right off the rails. It was 45% romantic comedy, 45% blockbuster superhero movie, and 10% “Wait, what?” moments. Examples – the way everyone in that movie talked to Peter Parker, I thought they knew his secret identity, and then when the Green Goblin shows up, he suddenly figures it out? The origin of Electro is very Silver Age camp (he falls into a vat of electric eels!!!). This vision is supposed to be more realistic and yet it seems Peter Parker has made zero plans for what he’s going to do after graduating high school. Also, the soundtrack noticeably changed when the movie switched tone from superhero movie to rom-com and back again. That is a literally inconsistent tone. The reboots also had half-developed subplots (the second more than the first) that ended up feeling like padding to already quite long movies.
Winner – Original.
3) Plot/Character – I regard these as inseparable. The focus is Peter Parker, and as such everything in the plot is to develop his character. If his character is not well-represented, many of the plot twists will fall flat.
a) But here’s a brief mention of plot for both. As the Honest Trailer points out, the plot for each movie in the original trilogy is kind of the same, in a general sense. Peter Parker tries to be a superhero, messes up at it, tries to maintain relationships with his family, friends, and romantic interest, messes up at it, faces a crazy villain, and usually ends with a funeral. That tight focus isn’t necessarily bad. Sequels are almost bound to tell close to the same story (because that’s what people liked in the original) with just enough changes people aren’t bored. So in the first one, Peter Parker learns to be a hero. In the second one, he struggles with the consequences of choosing that kind of life and for a while gives it up. In the third one, he struggles with the temptation of his own power and anger. But the plot is consistent, and that’s due to characterization.
On the surface, the reboots are following the same kind of plot. Where the reboot messes up, especially with the second movie, is not having enough time to develop the characters or enough time to develop the various subplots.
I) Why are Peter’s parents even in the reboot? So far they have added nothing to the plot or character except to give Peter something to whine about and to give him a destiny, which kind of misses the point.
II) Why is the vulture harness, octopus harness, and rhino suit in Oscorp to begin with in the reboot? This franchise is having trouble focusing on individual plots; trying to throw in hints and allegations regarding sequels and spin-offs is just distracting (although I’m okay with this in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; they do it better).
III) Why is Aunt May’s nurse training a secret? It doesn’t make any sense; in fact, there’s no reason for this subplot at all.
IV) Why are there two planes about to collide? The main character doesn’t know about this impending disaster and can’t know about it, so how does it raise the stakes in the final combat? It just comes across as unnecessary padding in a movie that’s already very long, or a creative team who doesn’t understand how to construct a dramatic climax and thinks more lives in danger = greater drama.
b) The Hero – Okay, this is where my feelings start fighting with my emotions. I’m very tied up in the comic book Spider-man. I can’t judge an adaptation without judging how well I think it adapts the source material. For example, part of the reason Ghost Rider didn’t work for me, was that the movie wasn’t nearly as dark and edgy as it should have been for the character and the world (yes, I am actually arguing for more dark and edgy). So, I’m going to try to parse out the adaptation from the presentation.
I) Peter Parker as an Adaptation – Having read a good number of 616 mainstream universe Spider-man comics and nearly all of 1610 ulti-verse Spider-man comics, I believe the original trilogy much better adapts the character of Peter Parker than the reboot movies. Peter Parker is a loveable loser. He’s too smart for his own good and the subject of near-constant bullying from his peers. He tries, and he fails, and the world won’t let him catch a break. The original encapsulates this perfectly. Hell, at the beginning of the first movie the school bus driver thinks it’s funny to drive off without him. Yeah, the guy whose job it is to pick up kids thinks Peter Parker is such a loser he’d rather just leave him behind. Wow. This does make Mary Jane’s interest in him somewhat inexplicable, and I’ll get to that.
The reboot Peter Parker is, well, cool. He’s a good-looking, emo, hipster skater kid who gives the impression that the reason he doesn’t have friends is because he’d rather be a loner. There’s really no sense of oppression or ostracism. And yes, I know Flash beats him up in the first movie, but there’s nothing else in that scene to convey that anyone is siding with Flash. As far as Peter’s intelligence? The first movie tries to make him look smart (complete with nerd glasses) but that falls apart when he has to look up YouTube videos to figure out how batteries work. He clearly tries several experiments to protect his webshooters but fails to come up with a solution that Gwen gives him after all of two minutes consideration.
Winner – Original.
II) Peter Parker as Represented – more or less what I mean by this is how well was the acting and characterization. I will grant that the original actor was somewhat blank-eyed and a little wooden, and I will grant the reboot actor is more engaging. However, the reboot actor also mumbles and stutters all the time and believe me I don’t find that nearly as endearing as Gwen. I want to be able to understand what the actor is saying.
That aside, this is where the characterization ties so closely with the plot. At the heart of these movies is a hero’s journey. Nothing more, nothing less. We, the viewers, are to go along with Peter Parker on this journey as he discovers his powers, learns how to use them, and most importantly, learns why to use them. We watch Peter grow and learn both how to be Spider-man and how to be Peter Parker. He learns what responsibility means.
The original presents this characterization and journey much better. Peter reacts to the terrible events that happen in his life. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. The death of his uncle fundamentally changes him. The death of Norman Osborn fundamentally changes him. He makes a lot of mistakes, and eventually comes to terms with the external and internal forces that pull him in too many directions.
The reboot Peter doesn’t learn anything. I’m not sure if this is because there isn’t a lot of time given to his character, but it seems to me his only emotions, especially in the first movie, are stereotypical angry outbursts, being cool, and being goopy-eyed over a girl. In the second movie, his only emotions are stuttering angsty, being cool, and being goopy-eyed over a girl. He’s also a selfish jerkass, especially in the second movie. It’s clear he’s been jerking Gwen around to the point she gets fed up, everything is about his guilt and his desire to know about his parents, and when Gwen decides to pursue her own life, he decides the most romantic thing he can do is declare his love for her and abandon the city that clearly needs Spider-man so badly.
Winner – Original.
III) Spider-man – the character of Spider-man is different than that of Peter Parker. Spider-man is Peter being able to cut loose and enjoy getting a view of the Big Apple pretty much no one ever has. He is witty and friendly and dodges a lot. I’m not sure how much of the characterization of Spider-man depends on special effects. Believe or not, despite the flaws of the second part of the reboot, I actually thought what little time they devoted to Spider-man was quite good. I was annoyed with some of the casual destruction and disregard for human life, but I can overlook that.
Winner – Reboot.
c) The Villain – a superhero movie must have a good villain. Weak villains do not challenge the hero and the movie doesn’t work.
I) Norman Osborn/Green Goblin – this is almost an unfair comparison. In the original trilogy, Norman was the villain of the first movie and a recurring nightmare in the other two. He was awesome.
In the reboot, he was literally a man behind a curtain. He was mentioned in the first and onscreen long enough in the second to seemingly die. I understand that the reboot crew wanted to distance themselves from the original’s portrayal, but even having Norman at all invites comparisons.
Winner – original by default (Norman was barely a character in the reboot).
II) Green Goblin (Norman Osborn) vs the Lizard (Curt Conners) – looking at the main villain of the first two, there are actually a lot of similarities. Both are green, for instance, and both are supposedly brilliant scientists. Both get impatient for results (albeit for different reasons), and both inject themselves with an untested super-soldier serum. The results are actually generally successful, except for the crucial side effect of a split personality. The Green Goblin goes on a murder spree for Norman Osborn and that makes a lot of sense given the background on Norman. The Lizard decides he’s going to turn the whole city into lizard-people. Yeah, the Lizard’s plan doesn’t actually make any sense at all, but in theory it raised the stakes for the climax of reboot movie.
Winner – Original.
III) Harry Osborn/Green Goblin II – this character is supposed to start out as the likeable, if obviously troubled, son of Norman Osborn. Part of the depth of Harry’s character comes from his interaction with his father. So the reboot already starts out handicapped because there’s almost no Norman Osborn. While the actor in the original may have been somewhat understated in his performance, the reboot actor goes too far into madness too fast. The original Harry’s character/story arc was built over three movies. The reboot Harry’s character/story arc took place in only part of one movie. Honestly, for such an abbreviated arc, I would argue the character of Norman Osborn is even more vital to establishing who Harry is, and the reboot tries, but there isn’t enough time. I’d also argue the reboot Harry starts off, well, a bit creepy to begin with. This may have been the creative team’s solution to getting around the short amount of time to develop his character – just start with him kind of creepy. And while my friend D disagrees with me, I felt that Harry’s stone-cold murder of Gwen Stacy came out of nowhere. She’s really more of a victim of a random psychopath than a calculated attempt to break Spider-man/Peter Parker.
Winner – Original.
IV) Doc Ock vs Electro – I realize this isn’t entirely fair either since Doc Ock had a whole movie devoted to him and Electro had only part of one. Still, a lack of time is one of the flaws in the reboot. The match-up here isn’t actually that bad either. Doc Ock is a brilliant physicist and Electro is a brilliant electrical engineer. Both of them fall victim to the malfunctions of their creations. Both of them have a psychotic break which leads them both to attempt to destroy New York City. However, Doc Ock was a well-adjusted person prior to his psychotic break while Electro was a stereotypical nerd with some creepy slash-fic tendencies. I think Doc Ock’s indifference towards Spider-man worked better than Electro’s sudden hatred of Spider-man. There’s more tragedy with Doc Ock. I was sad he went crazy because I wondered what other great things he could have done. But with Electro? I was sad, but less so because it was so obvious that Electro was going to have a psychotic break at some point. Doc Ock had more depth.
Winner – Original.
V) Venom, Sandman, Rhino – Venom was present due to executive meddling. Consequently, Sandman’s story arc was sharply abbreviated. And Rhino was mostly a cameo. I’ll give this one to the reboot. Instead of actually trying to juggle three villains in the second movie, Rhino was left as a cameo. In third installment of the original, Harry/Green Goblin II was practically reduced to a cameo. Then again, there was almost no help for that as Harry’s arc needed to be finished. But still, Rhino was meant as a cameo and cameo he was.
Winner – Reboot.
d) Supporting Cast – all those other people who interact with Peter Parker who don’t go crazy and try to kill him.
I) Mary Jane Watson vs Gwen Stacy – my friend S saw the first movie with me, and not being a comic book fan in general, told me that she thought the Gwen Stacy character was exactly the same as Mary Jane, except the creative team gave her a new name and hair color to separate her from the original’s Mary Jane. I don’t exactly agree, although I think both characters were a little flat. I also think Gwen was a little too perfect. MJ came from an obvious abusive household. Gwen behaved much better, but MJ was emotionally damaged. Still, I understand why people don’t like MJ much. And at the end, MJ was meant to be a damsel in distress more than her own character. Gwen had a little more character, but again that was calculated emotional manipulation (although I know that’s what movies do). But the actor playing Gwen is more engaging, and there is really no reason MJ goes after Peter (unless she really is that damaged) instead of marrying the astronaut.
Winner – Reboot.
II) Uncle Ben and Aunt May – both sets of movies really brought out some acting chops for these two supporting roles. The reboot cast the Parkers a bit younger than the original, and I don’t object to that. Especially since the reboot added in Peter’s parents, the age gap between Richard Parker (his father) and Ben Parker might seem out of place. On the other hand, I know people in real life who have big gaps like that between siblings. The reboot also decided to make Uncle Ben a little more action-oriented, which I don’t necessarily agree with, but the actual execution of the encounter with the robber made the rebooted Ben look like kind of a dumb-ass. What sort of unarmed person charges a clearly armed person? Both uncles are dead in the first movie leaving it to Aunt May to care for this surly teenager. I’m not sure why the reboot brought in a subplot with Aunt May trying to be a nurse unless they wanted to make her look also more action-oriented. Then again, as the reboot May is portrayed as so much younger, her looking for another job only makes sense.
Winner – Tie.
III) J. Jonah Jameson vs Captain Stacy – From a narrative standpoint, JJJ serves as the voice of hostility. He’s the one that views Spider-man as a menace and he’s the one that constantly causes Peter to doubt if what he’s doing is the right thing. While yes, JJJ is full of bluster, he also sometimes has a point. Captain Stacy was meant to serve this purpose in the reboot, and I think served his role well. In the second reboot movie, the debate over whether Spider-man is a menace is done through background sound bites on the radio or television. Every single sound bite describes his as a menace. However, this proves to be pointless as at the end of the movie, the citizens are cheering for him. So the desired dynamic is completely lost, and part of that is because there was no character to give voice to it. The ghost presence of Captain Stacy to underscore Peter’s guilt is just unnecessary.
Winner – Original.
4) Final Thoughts – the third movie, if it even gets made, would have to knock my socks off, wash them, dry them, and put them back on to begin to really have a chance against the original trilogy. And for me, here is what the difference really is – I cannot root for the rebooted Peter Parker. Adaptation aside (really, I am not comparing the reboot to the comics), the rebooted Peter Parker is a selfish jerkass that pretty much gets everything he wants with few to no consequences. “Oh, no,” I imagine I hear some detractors say, “but Peter’s beloved uncle and girlfriend and girlfriend’s father died!” To which I say, so what? Uncle Ben died? Bummer. Captain Stacy died? Bummer too. Gwen could get killed? Eh, worth the risk. Gwen died? Super bummer. There’s a grieving montage and Peter mopes and then eventually goes back to being Spider-man to a cheering crowd no less. If I want to watch a movie about a selfish jerkass trying to be a hero, there are much better movies out there.
Sorry, Sony, but the magic is gone. Your aim for a superior Spider-man failed. You got an amazing Spider-man, but not in the good way.
This was written for the January 2013 edition of Pagan Edge. The theme was awaiting to arrive, and anticipation. The meta-theme was the cycle of life and was meant to be carried through that entire year of editions from birth to eventually death. I tried to figure out what would be a good example of waiting to get somewhere, and sort of a pre-beginning, if that makes sense (it did to me anyway). So here’s the result.
“Don’t Wait For It”
“Well, Jake, what are you waiting for?”
Jake blinked slowly and turned his attention to the bartender. “What?” he asked, having to raise his voice slightly over the noise in the sports bar.
“Man, I know you haven’t had that much yet. I asked, what are you waiting for?”
Jake sighed. “I don’t know. Every single day it’s the same thing. I wake up, I go to work, I stare at a computer for nine hours, I go to the gym, I go home, I warm up a frozen dinner and watch TV until I go to sleep. On weekends, I come in here and watch the game for nine hours. Every week is exactly the same as the week before and nothing changes and here I am. Give me another.”
“I was just asking about the Bowl Games pool,” the bartender said. “The pool closes tomorrow and you still haven’t paid in.”
“It doesn’t matter. I never win.”
“You pick bad teams, man.”
“Same thing, again and again and again.”
The bar erupted in cheers but Jake didn’t seem to hear them.
“Listen, man, you’ve been coming here a long time.”
“Tell me about it, Dennis.”
“And you always sit at the same stool and you always order the same thing. So how come? How come you don’t do something different? I’m not saying go to another bar, of course.”
Jake smiled weakly.
“But you never take a vacation. You never take sick days. Sometimes you talk to the other guys, sometimes you don’t. You never bring a buddy in here.”
He shrugged. “Well, I don’t really have a lot in common with my co-workers.”
“So all you do is watch sports in my bar?”
“Pretty much,” he said, taking a big gulp. “Since I got this lousy job. It pays the bills but it is so boring.”
Dennis shook his head. “You need to get your head out of your glass. Sure, times are rough, but there’s other jobs. There are places to go. Heck, if you want to start small, how about trying some of the seasonals on tap?”
“You were this close to making me feel better,” Jake said wryly.
“I’m serious, man. You’re moping. I don’t like it. My customers don’t like it. You can’t wait for life to happen. You have to make it happen.”
“It’s not that easy,” Jake sighed.
“Sure it is.” Dennis gestured for a server to come to the bar. He set a glass of beer on the tray and sent the server to a small table where a woman was sitting all by herself. When she looked up at the bartender, clearly puzzled, he pointed at Jake. She smiled and accepted the glass.
“Hey, what was that?” Jake asked.
“That woman has been in here the past three weeks and she’s always alone and she’s always looking at you. You’ve just been so busy moping into your beer you didn’t notice. So now she thinks you bought her a drink.”
“She took it. That’s a good sign.”
“Damn it, you can’t just do that,” Jake snapped.
“Hey, you’re the one waiting for life to happen. There you go. It’s happening. Now go talk to her before she realizes what a loser you are,” Dennis said, mostly good-naturedly.
Jake was angry, but then he realized the bartender had probably done him a favor. “Alright, you win.”
“Good luck. And ask her if she wants to join the Bowl Games pool.”
Jake rolled his eyes and walked over to the woman’s table. She smiled, and he sat down.