A TV Entry – Thoughts on Villainy: Cartoon Villains

So once again I find myself thinking about villains and villainy, and this is where my fevered hamster brain has led me.  Enjoy!

Creating a good villain is a difficult task.  Many villains don’t have much character and are villains for the evulz, which isn’t very interesting.  Villains need character as much or more than heroes.  A complaint of some villains is that they are “cartoon villains.”  That generally means a flat, uninteresting villain who is evil because, well, someone has to be.  Cartoon villains also occasionally have the problem of coming across as a credible threat and instead come across as a buffoon.  But is that really a fair way to describe poorly-written villains?  So I sat down and consulted the parts of my memory dedicated to cartoons (rather than something useful like, say, math) to find the answer.

The Bad (but not in the good way):
1) Skeletor – the evil sorcerer in He-man, whom I remember mostly for throwing temper tantrums when his plans were inevitably thwarted.  His minions were all incompetent, except for Evil-Lyn, and I was got the impression she was just waiting for the right moment to usurp Skeletor.

2) HordakShe-ra‘s counterpart to Skeletor, only he was a cyborg and used technology to rule.  Granted, he was already in charge much of Etheria, which made him slightly more of a threat, but that snorting laugh made him less scary and he also threw temper tantrums when his plans were inevitably thwarted.

3) Cobra Commander – in the comic books, he was a deadly and ruthless villain who actually killed people, including the Joes.  But in the cartoon, well, I mostly remember him throwing temper tantrums when his plans were inevitably thwarted and ticking off Destro for no good reason.

4) Shredder – again, in the comic books, quite dangerous.  But in the cartoon, not so much.  Oh, he came across as more of a threat than Be-bop or Rocksteady, but the fact he kept relying on those two idiots only made him look worse.  Sure, he tried other minions and other plans, but all his minions were equally incompetent.

5) Dr. DrakkenI love Shego, but Dr. Drakken was really incompetent.  In fact, Ron made a better villain than Drakken when he went bad (Shego even said so).  Hell, Drakken’s cousin Motor Ed was a more credible villain.

So, I concluded that yes, in some instances, “cartoon villain” is a fair way to describe poorly-written villains.  This is because many cartoon villains are in media meant for children, and parents are worried about scaring their children, so the villains are not really that scary.  Or they are incompetent.  Either way, there’s little doubt the hero will triumph.  But…

The Good (in the bad way):
1) Batman: The Animated Series – This show had a very fine line to walk.  Batman’s villains are on the surface pretty absurd, which would lend to a young audience, but they also committed horrific crimes, which does not lend to a young audience.  But this show managed to make the villains credible threats and build tension on how Batman was going to defeat them without getting into the gory details.

2) X-men: The Animated Series – the original on Fox.  Again, this show had a fine line to walk.  Comic book villains do terrible things, but I thought the villains were presented well.  I still think Mr. Sinister and Apocalypse are super-creepy, and kudos to the creative team from not toning that down too too much.

3) Darkwing Duck – I sense some readers may be surprised.  This show was supposed to be something of a parody of Batman, so the absurdity of Batman’s rogue’s gallery is heightened and in theory the evil/darkness should be downplayed.  In my opinion, not always.  Quackerjack (kind of a cross between the Joker and Toyman) creeped me out with his catchphrase and doll he talked to.  And of course, there was Negaduck.  Now, Negaduck’s motivation was for the evulz, but damn he excelled at it.  He had no powers but all the other superpowered villains were frightened of him.  And he actually tried to kill Goslyn as Quiverwing Quack fully aware she was just a child.  That is cold.

4) Avatar: The Last Airbender – Wow.  Just, wow.  The villains’ motivations and arcs were as clearly played out as the heroes.  The villains even won more than a few battles which did leave viewers wondering how in the world Aang could possibly triumph.  The Firelord and Azula were just terrifying.

Conclusion – “Cartoon villain” isn’t really a fair way to describe poorly-written villains.  Yes, many cartoons do have poorly-written villains.  But some villains in cartoons are some of the best villains I’ve ever seen (and I didn’t even get into the Pixar movies).  Heck, sometimes the villains are much more interesting than the heroes.  Now, I will concede that villains in cartoons tend to be over-the-top, but I don’t think that’s the same as poorly-written.  An over-the-top villain can be well-written.  A flair for the dramatic doesn’t mean poorly-written.  Dull villains can be poorly-written too.  And cartoon villains can be well-written villains.

A Media Entry – Good Faith Adaptation

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.

The Theory:
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.

Conclusion:
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.

Shameless Self-Promotion – Happy Halloween Again!

I apologize for the dearth of blog entries.  I have, as has been documented, been frantically trying to complete my newest novel/collection of short stories.  Luckily, I did have a good idea for the cover so at least I didn’t have to spend time getting inspired for that (although the execution was a considerable bit of work).  Actually, the cover art came to me as soon as I settled on the title.  So finally I’ve published the third installment of Nevermore and the Ravens, Saturday Night Séance!  It’s still absolutely free (I’m seeking fame and notoriety now and hopefully one day, money) and currently available through these fine retailers -
Smashwords
Apple
Scribd

Soon to be available through -
Barnes & Noble
txtr
OverDrive
Flipkart
Oyster

Now that this project is finally finished, I’ll get started on the next one of course, but I’ll also get back to regular Wednesday/weekend blog entries as well.  And I will enjoy the season and all the fun things about it and maybe, finally, get around to reading “Justice League: Year One.”

“Pumpkin flavor all the things!”

A Writing Entry – What Idiot Did That?

Oh, it was me.

I’m still working feverishly at my new collection of short stories about my fictional band, Nevermore and the Ravens (see links to the side). I’m behind where I wanted to be because I’m still writing, and it’s quite late for me to still be writing. I should be wrapping up with the editing at this point and submitting to Smashwords for publication. But my best-laid plans have somehow gone awry, and clearly there was no way I could have predicted that happening.

However, as I still struggle to finish up the actual rough draft at this late date, I have loaded up Necromancy for the Greater Good onto my e-reader. I was hoping it could provide me with a source of inspiration and keep me in the writing mindset. Instead, I find myself catching mistakes, hence the interrogative title of this entry, and the subsequent answer.

I’ve already lamented in my misplaced faith in the automatic spell-checker. But the spell-checker can’t even begin to notice when I miss words, and the grammar checker is not very good at that either. Nor does the grammar checker always notice when I’m using the wrong tense, or have used the entirely wrong (but correctly spelled) word.

Writing is hard. I know, it seems easy, but it isn’t. The process is fraught with false starts, frustration, and always procrastination (which is how I find myself where I am, which is behind). And self-publication is hard as well. Not only do I have to be the writer, but also the editor and the cover art designer. Believe me, I wish I had the service of professionals. I want to be a professional, and I recognize that professional help can further that goal. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to hire outside help, nor have I gained sufficient interest from traditional publishing houses to offer those professional services to me. I am, for better or worse, a DIY author.

I dislike mistakes. I pride myself on doing a good job in all aspects of my life and I particularly pride myself on being a good editor. I do a lot of editing work in my real job. The details matter. If I misspell a word, if I use the wrong tense, if I can’t even keep a character’s name consistent, all those details add up to a sloppy whole. That’s what I want to avoid. I know I notice those small mistakes in written works (I tend to overlook them in visual media, though; perhaps this is just a function of my fevered writer’s brain) and I assume that everyone else notices those small mistakes in my written work. I may be just paranoid. Still, if I don’t put out my best effort, I feel I can’t expect to be taken seriously. I don’t want to be an amateur. I want to be a professional.

So this is the first time in a while that I’ve actually taken the time to just read the collection I wrote instead of mining it for details to make sure the subsequent installments are consistent. And because of how my brain works, the mistakes just jump out at me. Really, the farther in I read the more I wonder if it would be worth it to re-publish just to fix the mistakes, but then I think that maybe I’m overreacting especially since I still need to finish the third book and I really don’t have a lot of time (hence skipping a few blog entries).

I really don’t mean to complain. I mean to inform. This is a one-person show, and the more I plug away at this, the more I feel the pressure. Much is what I put on myself, but if I’m not happy with my work, and think it has mistakes or feels sloppy, I don’t have any reason to expect my intended audience will think any differently. That’s not what I want. I want to write stories and share stories and I want people to enjoy those stories, and not think, “What idiot did that?”

A Movie Entry – The DC Movie Machine 2

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 movieGreen 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.

My Fiction – Fool Me Twice

This is actually based on a true story, and this is an original story for your reading this fine autumn evening.  Now, while the narrator is first person, you should not assume the narrator is me.  While I’ve documented some of my thoughts on narrators, I do occasionally try to write with different narrators just to hone the craft of writing, and this particular story seemed well-suited to a first person narrator.  The names have been changed to protect the guilty and innocent alike.  This makes for a long blog entry, but trust me the story is short (only seven pages on my word processor).

“Fool me Twice”

“What the hell?”  I looked around the one-bedroom apartment with its sheer amount of junk spilling out of every corner and my second thought was the same as the first, only with more emphasis.  “What the HELL?”

Allow me to pause in the narrative a moment for some exposition.  It is said that weddings and funerals are fabulous crucibles of stress that reveal a person’s true character.  I will add that a moving day can also serve this purpose, although moving days are so common that unless one is the middle of them, one doesn’t generally think of the stress involved as one might with a wedding or funeral.  I have moved several times, both myself and others.  Generally moving is a thankless and grueling task that relies on the generosity of your friends to help move your stuff for little more than pizza and beer.  But, in theory, you’d do the same for them.  In practice, however, this crucible can reveal the true character of your friends, and the results can be either enlightening or discouraging.  Please understand I know that my own character is being revealed for your judgment.

I looked at the faces in the apartment.  My friend Joe, who is normally a laid-back kind of guy, looked ready to put his fist through a wall.  My friend Alton just looked tired.  Marie and Oliver were obviously desperately seeking an escape route.  I was surprised to see them there since their friendship with Rich and Genny had been somewhat strained the past several months.  Rich, who shared the cockroach-infested firetrap with his girlfriend Genny, looked like a man who knew he was in over his head.  As for Genny, there was no sign of her.
We had gathered to help Rich and Genny move out of the 450 square foot third-floor walk-up apartment to a new, and much nicer place, about a short dozen blocks away.  They had just graduated college and were celebrating Rich’s new-found employment with a place that was not the aforementioned cockroach-infested firetrap.  Said firetrap had a simple floor plan, as there wasn’t much space for a complicated floor plan.  The front door opened into the living room.  To the right was the bathroom and an oversized closet that was nearly the size of the bathroom.  To the left was a kitchen so narrow that opening the refrigerator door blocked it completely, and next to that was the bedroom.  That’s all there was to the place.  Now, I also knew Genny was quite the pack-rat, especially of clothes and books.  And I knew everything would have to be carted down the stairs, which slows down the process.  The weather was good, however.  I think two people could move all the stuff in such a place in a day by themselves, provided they were properly prepared.  “Properly prepared” being the key phrase.
As I understood the plan, Rich and Genny started moving at 9 AM.  Alton was scheduled to show up at 2 PM and Joe at 4 PM to accommodate their college schedules, and I was scheduled to show up at 6 PM to accommodate my college schedule.  Marie and Oliver weren’t even in the plan.  Quite frankly, I expected to arrive and find all that needed to be done was some cleaning.  And yet, here it was, nine hours after Rich and Genny had supposedly started moving, four people helping including the unexpected help of Marie and Oliver, and the only sign of moving that I could discern was that the massive DIY entertainment center and bookshelf had been cleaned off and the couch was missing.  Clothes, books, and papers filled the living room, bedroom, and oversized closet.
“WHAT the HELL?”  I thought, sizing up the situation before me.  It was obvious that Rich and Genny had done absolutely no packing.  Now, I realize everyone operates a little differently, especially with such a complex task, but I thought everyone knew the basic principle of moving, that is, you have to pack your stuff.  I took a breath and then took charge of the situation.  “Rich, where are the boxes?”
“Right there,” he said, gesturing to a half-filled 3 foot by 3 foot box sitting in the middle of the living room.
“Where are the rest of the boxes?  For the rest of your stuff?” I asked.
He sort of shrugged.  “I only got one box.  I figured since the new place was so close I’d just fill up one box, take it to the new place, unload it, and come back here and fill it up again.”
“You were going to move using a bucket brigade?” I asked incredulously.
“Well, yeah.  I didn’t want to buy a bunch of boxes or get a truck for such a short trip.”
I took a deep breath and reassessed the situation.  This explained why nothing was packed, anyway, although it didn’t make the task before me any easier.  Clearly the bucket brigade method wasn’t going to work.  That mess needed to be containerized.  “Do you have garbage bags?”
“Garage bags?  Like in the kitchen?” he asked, puzzled.
“Yes.  Bring them here.”
He went into the filthy kitchen and brought me a box of standard sized 13 gallon garbage bags.
“Rich, Alton, move the furniture out of here.  Marie, Oliver, load up that box with anything that will fit.  Take some bags and start shoving clothes into them.  Joe, you and me will tackle the bedroom.”
No one objected to my ordering them around.  They all hopped to and I took the opportunity to talk to them outside of Rich’s earshot to figure out where Genny was and how everything had gone so wrong.
First I went over to Marie and Oliver, who were gamely trying to clean out the closet.
“So what happened?  I thought you two were busy,” I said.
“We didn’t plan on coming,” Marie snapped.  “But we were coming back from lunch around one and Rich happened to walk by.  He asked if we’d come over and help.  We didn’t want to, but we didn’t want to be rude either.  Anyway, we figured they were probably close to done, right?”
“Right,” Oliver said wryly.
“Well, I’m pretty shocked the apartment is like this too.  Where’s Genny?” I asked.
“We don’t know.  She wasn’t here when we got here.  We just tried to clean off that entertainment center thing and bookshelf,” he said.
“It’s not our stuff,” Marie said defensively.  “We didn’t know what was supposed to go where and Rich wasn’t being a big help.”
That explained why the presence of the extra people hadn’t really sped up the process.  With no boxes, there was no place to put anything unless they wanted to move one armful of clothes down the stairs at time.  With no organization, they had no idea what papers could be thrown out, what needed to be kept, and what was ready to go to the car.  I joined Joe in the bedroom.
“Where’s Genny?”
“She’s not here,” he growled, angrily stuffing clothes in bags.  “I asked Rich why she wasn’t here and he said she started to feel bad around eleven and just decided to stay in the new place and take it easy.  I helped him move that box over there.  She’s just sitting in a chair drinking soda with a blanket wrapped around her.  It’s over 60 degrees outside and she’s in a blanket!”
Well, that explained a lot as well.  Rich had been left to move on his own since eleven.  Still, I was puzzled that more progress hadn’t been made between Rich and Genny for the two hours they worked together, or the other two Rich was on his own.  When I got a minute to talk to Alton, I got that answer.
“So Genny isn’t helping us today?” I asked, as we carted some bags of clothes down to the car.
“You know how she gets,” he said with a sigh.
“But why aren’t they farther along?  Didn’t they start at nine?”
“Well, yes, but apparently the new place requires carpeting over 90% of the floor and they don’t provide it.”
“That’s weird.”
“Yeah, it is, but that’s the rule.  So Rich bought a bunch of big throw rugs to cover the floor, which is fine.  If he doesn’t want the carpet, it’ll be easy to get rid of when they move out.  But instead of loading it in the car and driving over to the new place, he decided to carry the rugs over.”
“What, one at a time?” I asked.
“Well, Genny wasn’t going to help.  You know how she says her arms are weak,” he said with a slight shake of his head.
“But why didn’t he load up a lot in the car?  I mean, I know he’s got a hatchback, but he could put the passenger seat down,” I said.
“I don’t know.  But he spent the morning walking over rugs.  And he wrenched his back out.”
“Of course he did.  Some of those things weigh 80 pounds!  He’s not exactly in great shape either.”
“I know,” Alton said.  “But it’s too late now.  He didn’t really get to start moving until I got here around 2.  Marie and Oliver were trying to load up that box, but they weren’t going very fast.”
“Well, they didn’t know what was supposed to go where.  And they weren’t even going to be here, so I’m sure that didn’t make them move any faster.”
He nodded.  “I wondered why they were here.”
“Well, since they are here, we’ll make this work out,” I said with a sigh.  “I hope you and the others don’t mind me telling them what to do.”
Alton shrugged again.  “Hey, everyone knows you moved a lot as a kid, probably more than the rest of us.  And if it gets us done, well, I’m not going to get mad at you.”
Progress was starting to be made.  The bags of clothes were being loaded into the car.  Everyone seemed to be moving a little faster now that they had an assignment.  Let it not be said I didn’t do my best.  Sure, it probably wasn’t nice to throw Genny’s unsorted clothes into garbage bags but we really didn’t have a lot of options.
The final room was the kitchen.  Kitchens are always tricky to pack because that’s where the food is, and items to eat the food.  There are a couple of ways around this which include eating take-out for a week, or eating sandwiches off of paper plates.  Rich and Genny had opted to do nothing.  The dishes hadn’t even been washed.  Of course, they didn’t have a dishwasher, and I imagine they often put off washing dishes for that reason.  However, since they knew they were moving, they should have washed their dishes.
I pulled out the stash of plastic grocery bags out.  “Alton, Joe, please load the food into these.  The food came out of these, so this should work.”
They set to work cleaning out the refrigerator and cabinets.
“Marie, Oliver, use these to wrap plates and glasses,” I said, handing them more grocery bags.  I wondered if in the years of shopping trips they’d ever thrown any bags out.  Still, the stockpile was a benefit in this case since they hadn’t thought to stock up on newspaper to wrap up their dishes.  “I guess since we don’t have any boxes, put the cups and plates in the pots to protect them and load that up in the box.  The plastic stuff can just be tossed on the top.  But don’t make it too heavy.  That box is way to big for just dishes.”
They set to work on this task.  Rich was taking care of some odds and ends in the bathroom, which no one wanted any part of.  And what did I do?  I washed their dirty dishes.  There were a lot of dirty dishes.
The last box was loaded up around 10:30.  I stayed to help Rich with the final cleaning, although I doubted he was going to get his deposit back.  The place was pretty run-down to begin with, but it was clear that two years of their occupancy hadn’t improved matters.  Finally around 11 we were all over at the new place.  And yes, Genny was just sitting in a chair in the living room wrapped in a blanket.
“So, who wants pizza?” Alton asked, looking meaningfully at Rich.
Rich, notably, said nothing.
“Oh, no thanks.  It’s late and we should be going,” Marie said, taking Oliver’s hand and both made a hasty exit before anyone else could object.  I couldn’t blame them.  But I was hungry, and apparently Joe and Alton were as well.  And at least for my part, I wanted the pizza I was promised.  I found out later despite Alton reminding Rich and Genny they had promised us dinner, the most Rich would do was drive Alton to the pizza place.  Alton paid for the pizza.  Not Rich.  Not Genny.  Alton did that in an effort to soothe the bad feelings stirred up by the whole affair.  I didn’t get home until after midnight.
So, in theory, Rich’s moving day was 20 hours long.  I showed up the latest and I still helped for five hours.  It took six people a total of 61 man-hours to move two people out of a one-bedroom apartment.  I worried for the fate of the new apartment.  It was probably closer to 650 square feet.  The front door opened into a very large living room.  At the far side was a kitchen with an eat-in booth.  Next to that was the bathroom, and next to that was a bedroom.  With Genny being the pack-rat she was, what would the place look like the next time they wanted to move?
So what did I learn from this experience?  I learned Rich and Genny were largely clueless about the most basic logistics of moving.  I learned that Genny couldn’t be counted on in a tough situation.  I learned that Marie and Oliver’s friendship with Rich and Genny went from strained to non-existent.  I learned that Joe’s friendship with Rich and Genny was strained after that.   Rich and Genny took advantage of our generosity.  Rich and Genny took advantage of Alton’s generosity in paying for the one thing they said they would do in return for the help they received.  Honestly, only Alton’s friendship with them emerged unscathed.  Shame on Rich and Genny for their behavior.

Fast forward a few years later.  Now married, Rich and Genny bought their first house on the other side of town.  They wanted help moving and they asked their friends who were still in town and still their friends.  This was a shorter list than a few years prior, although not entirely due to their behavior.  Several people moved away as they finished their college careers.  Then again, Marie and Oliver, who were still in the same town, had pretty much not spoken to Rich and Genny since the first move.  I was not a complete sucker.  As I had more interaction with Rich than Genny, I told Rich point-blank that he and Genny needed to pack or I was not going to help them. I asked Rich often as moving day approached if they had packed yet.  I might have been a bit rude and actually nagged him about packing.  Unlike Genny, Rich seemed to understand a whole lot of people had been ticked off by the last moving day debacle.  He assured me that packing was occurring.  In fact, an old friend from his home town had recently moved to the city and was staying with them until he could find a house.  His friend, Roy, had agreed to help them pack.  Personally, I don’t think a houseguest should have to do that, but perhaps Roy felt obligated since Rich was letting him crash at the apartment for free.  It’s also worth noting that Roy had been in a bad car accident ten years prior and had messed up his back and shoulders and therefore couldn’t move heavy loads.
Here was Rich’s master plan.  He had actually rented a truck and bought some boxes.  He estimated that two trips should take care of all their stuff.  The new house was a 45 minute drive from the old house.  The moving crew was scheduled to arrive at 1 PM.  There were two important deadlines to keep in mind.  The truck was due back by 9 PM, or Rich would have to pay for another day.  But more importantly, the lease was up at midnight, so the keys had to be in the drop box or else Rich would be charged rent and other penalties for another day.
The moving crew this time consisted of me, Alton, Rich’s friend Roy, our friend Jay, our friend Jerry, and Jerry’s brand new girlfriend Ami who was clearly very sweet (or Jerry was pretty clueless if he asked his new girlfriend to help his friends move, but that’s not the point).  Genny was sitting out on the entire event.  She was going to take down wallpaper in the new house.  Now, I will say I’ve fought with wallpaper before and I understand that’s a time-consuming task.  “Surely,” I thought to myself, “Genny feels that this is something that must be done immediately and not just an excuse for her to get out of helping her own husband and all her friends move all her stuff again.  Surely that’s the case.”  I tried to be charitable, but I had doubts.  I also questioned the wisdom of  removing wallpaper instead of ensuring all of her stuff was out of that apartment before the lease was up.  Yes, there were seven of us total to move that apartment, but the more the merrier, as they say.
Well, in this case the more appropriate old saying would have been, “Misery loves company.”  Roy was already at the apartment with Rich and the other five of us showed up at 1 PM as planned to help them load up the truck.  I’ll admit; I was a little worried to begin with.  I was not assured by Rich’s packing updates.  It had taken 61 man-hours to move the last time.  We had an eight-hour window which was cut short by the driving time for two trips.  That reduced the practical moving time to a five-hour window.  With seven people, that was only 35 man-hours.  But Rich had assured me the packing was done.  Then I walked into the apartment.
“What the HELL?” I thought.
Rich and Genny didn’t have a lot in the way of furniture.  They had acquired a new couch and chair that were tucked into the far right corner with slight space between them.  But the far left side of the living had a desk.  Or least, there was probably a desk at the origin of the tidal wave of papers that spilled across half the long living room.  No work had been done in the kitchen at all and there were still dirty dishes in the sink (still no dishwasher).  The boxes Rich had purchased were filled with Genny’s clothes and books and there weren’t enough.  I didn’t even venture into the bathroom.
I looked at the faces of my friends.  Jay, at least, had heard the epic saga of the first moving day, and Alton of course was there.  Jerry and Ami were just aghast.  “Can we talk a minute?” I asked.
Rich and Roy were loading up a box in the bedroom, but that didn’t mean they weren’t paying attention.  Still, they left us alone as we huddled.
“Rich said he packed!” I snapped.
“Well, he’s got a different idea of packing,” Jay said mildly.
“I told him that I wasn’t going to do this again!  I told him I wasn’t going to pack his stuff!”  I was really mad.
“But Rich doesn’t have the money to pay the landlord if he doesn’t get out tonight,” Alton said.  “Besides, Roy will have to work that much harder and he’s not in the shape to move anything.”
I looked around at everyone else, and realized that although they were angry, they were willing to err on the side of compassion.  I sighed to myself.  “Alright.  We’ll do this, I guess.”
We broke up the huddle.  Jay and I would start getting rid of papers while the others helped load up the furniture, which was going first.
“Just shove everything into bags,” I said to Jay in a low voice, outside of Rich’s earshot.  “We have no time to sort through this and figure out what’s important and what’s not.”
“I agree,” he said, and started on the mess of papers that covered the two couches.
I tackled the desk.  Genny, having graduated college, was working part-time on a graduate degree in the liberal arts.  As she did not work, cash was a little tight so she didn’t have a laptop to take with her to classes.  She wrote down all her assignments on actual paper.  That’s why the desk was so covered.  When she sat down to watch TV, she just brought paper with her, which is why the couches were so covered.  There were also various pieces of mail mixed in.  I hoped she had entered in everything she needed on the computer and that the bills had been separated from the flood of mail because it all went into the trash bags.
The others got the truck loaded up and headed out on the first trip.  Jay and I were still throwing away trash.  Silence descended as we waited for everyone to come back and continued to throw away trash.
Suddenly Jay burst out laughing.  “I’ve found it.  You need to come see this.”
Puzzled, I paused in my cleaning and walked over to Jay.  He was pointing down into the clear space in the corner where the couch and chair touched.
“It lost.  I found it,” he said, and started to laugh that much harder.
I looked down.  Hidden by the furniture and long forgotten, a Dustbuster sat on the floor, completely covered in dust.  I also burst out laughing.  Clearly one of the main elements of the universe is irony.  After a few minutes mocking our own situation, we returned to our work.  We were not done throwing away trash until the moving crew had returned.
“I can’t believe they did this again,” I growled to Alton during a water break.
“At least you weren’t in the bedroom.”
“Why?”
“Well, let’s just say now I know what method of birth control Rich and Genny use and can hazard a guess at how often they have to use it.”
I worked out what his diplomatic reply actually meant and then put my head in my hands.  “They couldn’t even clean up the wrappers?”
“Rich said he did, before got here.  I guess he didn’t bother to look under the bed,” Alton said wryly.
“How much is left?” I sighed, thinking, “If that’s the condition of the bedroom, I really glad I’m staying the hell out of the bathroom again.”
“Everything else.  But most of it is packed, more or less.”
“Which leaves the kitchen.  Again.”  I entered the kitchen and looked around critically.  It was getting late in the day to wash most of their dishes.
Ami walked into the kitchen behind me.  “Um, so what can I do?”
I pulled out the stash of grocery bags.  “Start loading the food up into these.  I’ll pack the dishes.”
She wrinkled her nose.  “They’re dirty.  They didn’t even wash their dishes?”
“Nope.  They didn’t last time either.  And I’m not washing them again.  I know it’s not nice, but I’m going to pack their dishes dirty.”
Ami shrugged and started to unload the cabinets.  “Hey, that’s their problem.  If Jerry hadn’t asked me to stay, we would have left.  But he said that Rich and Genny have been his friends since college, so I decided to help.  But I wouldn’t wash their dishes either.”
I felt a little better.  “Right.  We agreed to move their stuff, not pack it.”
“Exactly.”
So Ami bagged all their food and I packed up their dishes.  I did mark on the boxes, “dirty dishes.”  Typically people unpack their dishes first on account of needing them to eat of off them, but given the obvious laziness on their part, I wasn’t going to bet on that.  At least Rich and Genny would get fair warning.  This time I helped load up the truck.
“Hi,” Roy said, walking up to me.
“Hi.”
“Would you like to ride over with me in the truck?”
I barely knew Roy.
“Go on,” Alton said.  “You should get to know him since he’s going to be around for a while.”
“Sure, why not?”  So I rode with Roy, who got stuck with the task of driving the moving truck even though it was Rich’s move.  It turned out to be a good thing.  Roy was pretty funny and managed to distract me from how angry I was.  I felt a lot better by the time we got to Rich and Genny’s house.
When it came time to unload the truck, I stayed in the truck and handed off items to the others.  I didn’t really want to go into the house and face Rich or Genny.  The boxes marked “dirty dishes” made me angry all over again.
But finally the truck was unloaded and it was time to figure out who was going to drop it off.  Jerry and Ami made a very hasty exit and I could only hope Jerry was going to treat her to a nice dinner.  I went inside and found Rich.
“These boxes have dirty dishes,” I said, pointing to the marked boxes.  “You’ll need to unpack these first so you can wash them.”
He nodded and responded that he understood, but I wasn’t so sure.
Genny came down stairs to say hello to everyone.  I noticed that she had a box of french fries with her and I wondered if an offer of dinner was still forthcoming.  Then she started to complain about how hard it was trying to take down wallpaper.
“She’s taken down about three square feet,” Alton muttered.
I was startled.  Genny had spent eight to ten hours and only removed three square feet?  How in the world had that happened?
As though in reply to my thoughts, Genny said, “And the wallpaper remover stuff started to make me feel sick, so I had to just stop for a while and get some air.  I really wanted to get more done today, but I just couldn’t.”
I was ready to give her a piece of my mind and a very angry piece at that.
“So, how about dinner?” Roy interrupted, as though sensing the impeding tirade.
Rich and Genny made a vague offer for dinner without much enthusiasm or sincerity.
“Let’s just go take the truck back,” I said.
Jay had reached his limit and just decided to leave.  Roy was going to drive the truck and asked me to ride with him again.  Alton offered to trail us with the car so he could drop Roy back off at Rich and Genny’s and give me a ride home as well.
But I couldn’t leave without saying something.  I didn’t want to start a fight or anything, but I felt they needed to know that they had taken advantage of the kindness of their friends and that it was not acceptable.  “Never again,” I said to both of them as I prepared to leave.
“What?” Genny said, obviously baffled by my anger.  Rich seemed less surprised.
“I will never do this again,” I snapped, nearly shouting.  Then I turned around and walked away.
Roy tried to cheer me up on the way back to the truck rental.  Alton offered to take us both to dinner since it was obvious even if Rich and Genny were sincere in their offer for dinner I wasn’t about to accept.

I remained friends with Rich and Genny for a little while after that, although our friendship was significantly strained.  I had to move within a few years and Rich offered to help, and so brought Genny along.  She was pregnant at the time, but offered to at least hold open doors.  Then she had the nerve to make snippy remarks to Marie (yes, the same Marie from the first move) about how she would have been so much more organized.  Marie was apparently left at a loss for words, which is very unusual for her.  Worse still, Genny somehow assumed my anger at the whole moving debacle was the result of Roy!  Roy was the person who calmed me down.  But Genny didn’t much like Roy, so it was easier to blame him than acknowledge her own astounding self-centeredness, even though I am certain all the packing that occurred was either done by Roy directly or at Roy’s direction.
So what did I learn?  Rich and Genny didn’t learn from past experiences very well.  They didn’t learn how to prepare for a move and in the larger sense they didn’t learn to not take advantage of the generosity of others.  I learned people will err on the side of compassion.  I learned that’s not always the right choice.  To this day, I’m not sure Rich and Genny fully understand the consequences of their actions.  And I learned the truth of the old adage.  I was fooled twice, so shame on me.  But  hopefully I’ve also learned not to be taken advantage of, and how to choose my friends more carefully.

A Movie Entry – An Inevitable Comparison

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.

The Raging Fanboy

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