Here Lies Spider-Man 4

Posted: January 12, 2010 in comic books, Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , , , ,

Huh. So after all the trouble I go to to fix Spider-Man 4, Sony goes ahead and pulls the plug on it.

Hell, even John Malkovich was up for it! Thanks a LOT, Sony!

Actually, no, wait. Thanks. Really.

Because here’s the thing: I never really liked the Spider-Man movies.

What’s that? Comics geek didn’t like Spidey? FIE! FIE ON THIS HOUSE OF QUALITY THREATS!

Calm down, nameless reader, I will explain:

I didn’t hate them, because, hey, look, that’s  Spider-Man! Flipping through the Manhattan skyline! Who can’t get behind that? And oh, those kinetic fight scenes with Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus, and (to a more baffling extent) Sandman AND Venom!

But…man, the minute you start letting Peter, Mary Jane, Aunt May, or Harry Osborne TALK, the movies grind to a complete, stagnant, pseudo-melodramatic halt.

Who’s fun in these movies? Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, and Topher Grace. Those guys seem to be enjoying the hell out of themselves (less charitably, they seem to be chomping down scenery left and right, but it’s hard for me to say a bad word about any of those actors – I just like those guys!).

Peter Parker, on the other hand, seems to be basically constipated by his duel identity (except when he’s possessed by an evil space-costume and dancing around like an evil goofball). Mary Jane is always borderline tears. Aunt May has a strangely appropriate speech to Peter about responsibility ready for any occasion (which, OKAY, May, we GET IT, now maybe nag ask him how his job’s going, like a decent parent might?), and Harry…well, James Franco has a couple of good settings, but “brooding schemer” isn’t exactly in his wheelhouse.

And that’s the problem, in a nutshell – the lead heroic characters are written in Stan Lee’s voice – florid, bombastic, and a bit ridiculous. And while I can appreciate Sam Raimi’s love of Stan Lee, comic book movies have never done well when aiming for direct homage of one particular creator or era (see: Daredevil, or Batman Forever).

The best comic book movies cherry-pick the best aspects of a particular character, from whichever era that still works to tell a story that resonates with, that says something about, the current world climate. That’s why Iron Man and Batman Begins/Dark Knight stand out as Good Movies. They’re not trying to adapt a comic, so much as create love-letters to the wonderful concepts of the featured characters.

And that doesn’t mean doing “Dave Michelinie’s Iron Man,” or “Frank Miller’s Batman*.” There are also parts of Warren Ellis and Mark Millar’s version of Tony Stark, and Denny O’Neill and Chuck Dixon and Greg Rucka’s Bruce Wayne in those movies.

They say something about the Super-Hero as the idea exists in the 21st century – Iron Man isn’t about “What’s it like to be a guy in a tank-suit?” It’s about what it takes to reinvent yourself as something good, after making a phenomenal mark on the world being something practical. And the Batman movies are about something as huge as the effect an urban vigilante symbol might have on the city you’re trying to protect – for good AND for bad.

These are movies that Say Something. Maybe not something extraordinary, but ones that shoot for relevance. For some kind of broader meaning, after all the great fights and explosions are over and done with. That’s why they left a mark, while, say, Ghost Rider is just a weird memory for a lot of people.**

But the Spider-Man movie franchise never aimed for that – granted, it’s a high target to shoot for, but…the Spider-Man Franchise was never anything more than, “Hey, don’t you think Spider-Man is neat?” It never said anything. Raimi only wanted to put 100% of Stan Lee’s vision of the character on the screen (part of the reason Venom stood out like a sore thumb in the last one). And Lee’s writing does not exactly stand the test of time.

So Sony’s decision to reboot the franchise with a new, high-school-age Peter Parker and friends makes a lot of sense. Not only is there a wealth of modern material to draw from (in fact, outside of the current “Amazing Spider-Man,” pretty much every Spidey book published these days – Ultimate, Marvel Age, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane – features the teenaged version), the idea of a teenager whose life is actually made infinitely more problematic by powers that most teenagers would kill for is a theme that works, as long as you write the character like, well, a teenager. Which…well, the teenager Lee wrote 40 years ago is not what a teenager is today. (I wouldn’t mind seeing something closer to Brian Bendis’s sweetly neurotic geek-teen featured in “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Also, he’s funny. That’s something I also hope for – that the next iteration of movie-Spidey is actually FUNNY, like the character’s supposed to be when he’s in the costume.)

Which isn’t to say Peter and company should be making constant references to texting and Facebook and Lady Gaga or whatever it is the kids are into these days…and yes I AM cringing as to the flavor-of-the-month teen actor Sony’s already licking their chops over.

But now maybe Sam Raimi can go off and do something he’s got more enthusiasm for. I, for one, would pay good, theater-gouged prices for a sequel to Drag Me to Hell (Drag Me From Hell? I dunno. Give Justin Long a chance to save his girl!).

(And while I doubt this will lead to further unification of the Marvel movie franchise – the rights issues might preclude that – I think it would be kind of neat if Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury made some comment about a teenage kid in Queens with spider-powers in the Avengers movie.)

*Seriously, you guys gotta click on that link – this is maybe the most ridiculously, crazily, awesomely wrong-headed script I’ve ever read…outside of the astonishingly bad “Batman Vs. Superman” movie Wolfgang Petersen was prepping prior to Batman Begins.

**Not for me: I love Ghost Rider. It’s fucking RIDICULOUS. Well…it stars post-2000 Nicolas Cage. Of COURSE it’s going to be ridiculous.

  1. Tad says:

    so basically Sony has modified their pitch from “hot woman in skintight black leather” to “hot teenaged woman in skintight black leather”

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    Clearly, those guys know what they’re doing.

  3. deb says:

    Huh. Isn’t that “teenage” thing exactly what happened with the cartoons?

  4. Jeff Holland says:

    That is correct – and “Spectacular Spider-Man” is (was) awesome.

  5. Dave says:

    Does this mean I don’t get the Spidey and his Amazing Friends movie I’ve dreamt about?

  6. Jeff Holland says:

    No, but on the upside that means you also don’t get a crappy CGI Ms. Lion.

  7. Carl says:

    YES! Thank you.

    Oh Spider-Man 3, woe unto you for this transgression. WHAT THE FUCK is up with the evil Peter Parker dance-sequence? Is it truly possible that no-one took a gander at that in post-production and pulled Sam aside to have a heart-to-heart? IS THAT TRULY POSSIBLE? Terribly conceived, terribly shot, terribly executed, painful to behold, awful in all ways a sequence in a would-be killer-summer action flick can be awful. This cancellation is actually good news. If George Clooney and Alicia Silverstone’s rubber nipples were enough to kill the first Batman film franchise, than surely– SURELY– the evil Peter Parker dance-sequence should be enough to deal this one a swift death.

  8. braak says:

    This is the kind of danger that you risk, I guess, when a director makes a movie that makes three billion dollars.

    “Sam, uh, about that dance sequence…”

    “Oh, you don’t like my dance sequence? YOU DON’T LIKE VENOM JAZZ HANDS!?!?!? Well, fuck you guys then, you can make this movies yourselves.”

  9. Saw your Blog bookmarked on Reddit. Nice Blog.

  10. Craig says:

    I really would like to SPIDER-MAN4. i miss seeing Tobey playing Spidey.

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