It’s been pretty interesting reflecting over some of the articles I’ve written in the series recently given that these dead or dying franchises have suddenly sprung to life again and chosen a completely different course of action than the one I pitched.
Case in point; Spider-man.
My initial piece on Spidey desperately tried to pitch a fourth instalment that could pick up the pieces from the third film and get the series back on track. It was hard enough to come up with something as a bit of fun. It’s saying something that Sony couldn’t make it work either, and they’re getting paid. Now Spidey is in worse shape than ever before in my opinion. The studio is faced with the daunting prospect of starting from scratch, hiring an entirely new crew, getting a script that works, and yet they are still determined to make the same release date they would by aiming for if they were making part 4 with Sam Raimi. And worst of all, Jamie Williams is making me re-write this article because of all these changes. Damn you Spider-man reboot, I hate you already.
I will gladly admit that a slightly sadistic part of me wanted Spider-man 4 to be a car wreck. I’ve been consistently fascinated with the way the series has mimicked the exact pattern of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. I wanted ‘Spider-man IV: The Quest for Peace’, just for a laugh. This is how emotionally un-invested I am in this franchise right now. But let us deal with the cards we’ve been dealt and try to salvage the situation.
The first thing we have to deal with is tone. I know with all the rumours flying around right now of Taylor Lautner being cast as Peter Parker that fans may be having nightmarish visions of a reboot that might as well be called ‘High Spidey Musical’; that Sony are so desperate to focus their efforts on attracting a younger audience that any chance of seeing a more mature vision of the character on-screen is fading away before their eyes. I cannot speak for the studio and have no idea what their vision is. I will say that with a character as iconic and well known as Spider-man, it seems completely unnecessary to aim for any one particular demographic. Kids will always be excited about a new Spider-man movie coming out. Teenagers will see it because it’s a comic book blockbuster and they pretty much know what they’re getting. The rest of us will see it if its good.
So don’t change the style of the piece purely as a marketing aid. Do it because it makes sense for the film you are making; because you are rebooting Spider-man, not remaking it. Although certainly not the best comic book movie made to date, I can hardly think of one which better captured the spirit of a particular era of a character’s run than the first Spider-man film, so infused with the colour and zippy energy of those Stan Lee/Steve Ditko strips of the 60’s. Which is why hiring Raimi to direct it was the smartest move the studio could have made. Which is why hiring a similarly unique filmmaker with their own love for the character (and hiring them now while they have enough lead time to shape the film into something they really want to make) is the smartest move they can make now. Oh, excuse me the phone is ringing. I’ll be right back.
What’s that Jamie? Marc Webb eh? Very clever……….oh, well good for them.
Ok Sony, you‘ve certainly got moving on this, I‘ll give you that. But there is still time to thank Mr Webb for his time, show him the door and hire David Fincher. If you were following the development of the hunt for a director of the first film, you will surely remember Fincher’s name was brought up more than once and he was clearly a front runner for the job (almost certainly higher up on Sony’s list of preferred choices than Raimi was). Fincher was quoted as saying that he turned the job down as he wasn’t interested in doing the origin story, but rather wanted to make a Spider-man movie with the character already established. Whatever his vision would have been, I doubt the words colourful and zippy would have come to mind. But he is, not only a highly competent and proficient filmmaker, but also understands how to make commercial cinema. Hiring Fincher to make a comic book movie would not be the same as hiring Ang Lee and the moment Sony hires him, the fan community not only breathes a little easier but actually starts to take genuine interest in seeing the film. He is the perfect choice for the job…………well, short of Frank Darabont but then I think he should direct everything. I’m sure Webb is extremely competent himself. I’m just not as excited by what he brings to the table. It does feel like Sony has hired a ‘shooter’ rather than a ‘director’; someone who is quite willing to do what the studio wants in exchange for directing a high profile job which will catapult them into the mainstream. Maybe it’s the for the best in this case, maybe it isn’t. Either way, best of luck to you Mr Webb.
I do hope that Webb doesn’t feel the same affinity for the 60’s comic books that Raimi does. It is time for a Spider-man picture which embraces the darker comics of the 80’s and 90’s. Even if Raimi’s 60’s inspired trilogy had ended with a bang, I would be suggesting the same thing. The look of the picture would be set primarily by the design of the Spider-man costume. It’s wonderful design in the first three films was very much the physical embodiment of the character as drawn by John Romita Snr; bold, meaty, heroic and colourful. The studio should not be afraid to go the opposite route in a new film. On the contrary, presenting a totally different looking Spider-man eliminates any confusion outright for the audience that this is indeed a complete do-over. I don’t know how practical it would be to put the character as drawn by Todd McFarlane on the screen but that is the direction I think they should be aiming for. Dare to put a Spider-man on the screen that actually looks darker, weirder and slightly unappealing. Y’know, like an actual spider.
In retelling Spider-man part one, you are faced with the same problem Warner Bros has rebooting Superman. Peter Parker’s transformation into your friendly neighbourhood Spider-man following the death of his Uncle Ben and the responsibility he feels for that are as well known (and un-screwed with in comic continuity) as Kal-El’s journey to Earth from the exploding planet of Krypton. Further more, Raimi told that origin as perfectly as Richard Donner did for Superman. So although the Spider-man reboot will probably follow the same approach as the recent ‘The Incredible Hulk’ to a certain degree (skipping the actual creation of the character and getting straight to the action), the filmmakers can’t change the origin like in that film because there is nothing to change it to. At the same time, I don’t think anybody wants to sit through Uncle Ben’s mugging and death again. Start the story several months after Ben’s death with Peter Parker firmly aware of his powers, if not his responsibility. The access point for the audience to Parker and those powers would be the kids around him. As far as they are concerned, Parker is a recluse who has isolated himself because of his uncle’s death and yet rumours persist of his bizarre talents. Maybe, in a twist on the traditional origin story, Peter creates the Spider-man character for fame and fortune after the death of Uncle Ben, in order to support himself and his widowed Aunt May and to escape from the pain and grief he feels in the adoration of the public. But it certainly isn’t to selflessly fight crime initially. If Peter needs the death of someone close to him to be able to fully accept the mantle of Spider-man then don’t make it Uncle Ben; make it Gwen Stacy.
The one problem I had with Raimi’s storytelling approach to the first and second films was replacing Gwen with Mary Jane, all apparently because of his dislike of the character. Well that would be fair enough except for the fact that the actual character of Mary Jane as played by Kirsten Dunst reminded me more of Gwen Stacy; and then of course they just brought in the character anyway and wasted her. Looking back on the series, it just seemed a pointless change. The reboot has a chance to rectify that. Keep Mary Jane out of the series, at least for the first film. If the filmmakers want to introduce her then they can afford to be playful about it. Introduce her exactly as she was in her first appearances in the comics; partially obscured so we couldn’t see her face and all building up to the iconic reveal. It will get the films the exact same kind of attention and curiosity that ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is receiving at the moment thanks to the hidden cameo appearance of Professor Moriarty.
In my Spider-man 4 article I mentioned that the special effects needed a drastic overhaul. For all the kinetic and elaborate sequences of Spidey swinging through New York, it’s all for nothing if it is a CGI cartoon. I was sort of awestruck to see, after all the great effects work accomplished in the second film (where Spidey’s action scenes were rendered well enough to be credible), the CGI of the third took two steps backwards and became cartoony again. Sony are probably looking at ‘Avatar’ now and saying that creating a photorealistic Spider-man is quite doable. But I would really hope that they realise that stuntmen pulling off practical stunts (physically swinging on blue screen and integrating them with live action plates of the city for example), even if they have to scale down the size of the action, provides a far greater rush and sense of satisfaction for the audience.
And as far as the villain is concerned, regardless that we are no longer discussing a sequel to the third film, a still feel very strongly that we need to see something different than the usual costumed loons. We cannot have a repeat of the Green Goblin storyline. Doctor Octopus, recast for this film as an out and out evil guy would be great but seem old hat to the audience from a visual perspective. And so many of the other villains in Spidey’s rogues gallery just don’t seem strong enough to carry a film (I’m looking at you Vulture). If the story is going to be about, for example, power and temptation then you need a villain that is the embodiment of those things. As I mentioned in my previous piece, give us a villain in the mould of ‘The Kingpin’ (who cannot be used as Fox still have the rights to both him and Daredevil - though they won’t bloody do anything with them); a ruthless and evil man with no personal connection to Peter Parker, no way to psychologically justify his behaviour or redeem him at the end of the film, but with real power and muscle behind him. A man whose command over both organised crime and sway with legitimate government and law enforcement makes the odds against Spidey seem insurmountable. And if you cast Hammerhead in the role, then you have someone with an interesting physical attribute rather than just a common hood who wouldn’t be out of place on the live action Spider-man TV show from the 70’s. I loved the small, personal and intimate scale of the Raimi’s first Spider-man and how, for all the mayhem, the final battle between Spidey and the Goblin was a clash between a surrogate father and son. But there is also something to be said for an earnest high school dork who, because of the gift he has been given, has the balls to take on the biggest crime syndicate in the city all by himself. What Peter Parker is really fighting for are the ideals his uncle stood for and to create a city where such a tragedy can hopefully never occur again.
In conclusion, the real investment I have in a Spider-man reboot is the hope that this time, having learned from their mistakes, the studio will be able to devote the proper time necessary to tell the symbiote/Venom saga properly, obviously once the first film has successfully launched the ship. I don’t know if you feel the same way I do but with Spider-man, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Superman and, in all likelihood, X-Men, what a bizarre indictment of these comic book properties it is to see so many of them being rebooted barely a few years after their previous cinematic outing. What is that magic quality that allowed movie series like Bond, Star Trek and Rocky to just crank out a long series of films consistently? Why does it allude the studios making comic book movies which are more suited for that kind of multiple film treatment than any others? If they could just get it right all the time, I could have Fridays off and not have to write these ramblings.
Oh well, NEXT............