Positive Cynicism – With great power comes weak movies

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

This week, Sony Pictures announced that they had cast the lead role in Marc Webb’s “reboot” of the Spider-Man series. They cast relatively lesser-known actor Andrew Garfield, which makes sense because this movie is supposed to be about Peter Parker as a high school student, and Garfield is 27 years old.

I can’t say I’m really down with this whole project.

You guys know I tend to spend my holidays alone, and the Fourth of July was no exception. With family out of town and my wife at work, I ended up indulging in that great American holiday tradition: flipping channels to see what was on cable.

I ended up watching Spider-Man on HBO Zone. It really is one of those movies for me — like Superman or The Godfather or The Wizard of Oz — that I immediately get caught up in and just have to watch through to the end. Sam Raimi’s 2002 movie is one of the very few times that Hollywood ever got a comic book movie right, and it’s really because there’s a genuine heart at the center of it. Sam Raimi didn’t waste an entire movie in anticipation of a franchise or meander about trying to find his characters. He already knew who his characters were, and they spring fully-formed into the narrative, directly from the pages of the comic book and right onto the screen. That’s why Spider-Man and at least its first sequel were so popular. Sure, Raimi delivers on the comic book action and he delivers on the fanboy front with great casting (particularly JK Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson) and elements of classic Spidey stories. But without strong characters that we genuinely care about, there’s nothing there. This is one of the few times a comic book movie doesn’t feel like it was made to sell action figures or to justify more movies.

Marvel Comics has had a rough time of it when it comes to cinematic adaptations. Until this decade, their best-known film based on one of their characters was Blade — and before that it was the much-despised Howard the Duck. Thanks to a series of poorly conceived deals in the 1980s, the rights to Spider-Man and other films languished in courtroom arbitrations while Marvel itself went through bankruptcies, buyouts and multiple owners. There’s actually an entire book about the battle Marvel went through trying to get the film rights to Spider-Man back from the multiple studios they had dealt with. It was something of a small miracle when the film was finally able to be made.

By the time it was able to be done, Marvel had already dipped its toe into the cinematic waters with the surprisingly successful X-Men — a movie which succeeds on charm and recognition, despite how unsatisfying it actually is — and Blade. But with the incredible success of Spider-Man, Marvel went whole hog into the movie business, rewarding its fans with confused Hulk movies, more unsatisfying X-Men flicks, obnoxious Fantastic Four films and the cool-but-flawed Iron Man. I don’t think we’ve had anything with the heart and the genuine love of comics and characters that you can feel in Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. Instead, we’ve had attempts at what filmmakers think passes for character these days: attempts to make things cool. When you see that in kids, people generally refer to it as “obnoxious.”

My feeling that way about the Spider-Man movies — and yes, I love the third movie, too, though I recognize some of its more obvious flaws — is why I’m so disheartened by Marvel’s decision to reboot the franchise. Why would you want to take a Mulligan on the one film series you’d managed to get almost entirely right? I understand that Marvel’s a business and that they’re in business to make money. But I wish they would care a little more about the stories they’re telling instead of making this their MO.

It’s depressing to see Marvel willing to ankle the best movies they’ve ever had just because Sam Raimi wants to use the Vulture as the villain in Spider-Man 4. Frankly, the idea of attempting a do-over on a movie series whose last entry came out just three years ago seems insanely fickle to me. The fact that it will probably do well shows the short memory of an increasingly ungrateful movie audience.

Marvel’s already talked about rebooting Fantastic Four. They’re already rebooting the X-Men series with this X-Men: First Class movie they’re making, even though the last X-Men movie, the awful Wolverine, came out just last year. And it really feels like Captain America, Thor and Iron Man 2 are being thought of less as stories than as some kind of continuity orgy that exists only to justify the eventual existence of an Avengers movie.

So I won’t be going out of my way to see this new Spider-Man movie. For me, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is MY Spider-Man. The characters are the way I’ve always seen and imagined them while reading the classic series. I’m glad to have had movies that were that good in the first place, and I plan on following my own advice to people who aren’t interested in a movie that’s coming out: I’m going to shut the hell up about it and just not go see it.

I don’t really expect much from Marvel, which does at least give me the option of being pleasantly surprised in the future. But for now, I’m just not interested in a different Spider-Man that really only exists to ingratiate itself with the audience’s money.

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com.

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Comments(2)
  1. Joel Murphy July 6, 2010
  2. Aaron R. Davis July 8, 2010

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