Angry Robot

spidey & revisionist superheroes

I saw Spider-Man like everyone else last weekend, and while more or less impressed, was struck by the discrepancy between the Peter Parker scenes and those involving Spidey himself. The first act is a great piece of screenwriting and direction, with his discovery of new abilities told visually and concisely. And McGuire is fabulous in the Parker role. But the naturalism generated during this first hour seems weirdly at odds with the muscle-suited cavorting that begins to occupy the story’s attention. I think something was missing between Spidey’s shoddily-outfitted wrestling bout and his sudden slickness in the real costume. (Did he make that thing himself?) I found Defoe over the top, but this may be a result of the aforementioned style clash – and many whom I have talked with loved him as the Goblin, so possibly I’m on my own here. But I found Parker much more interesting than Spidey, and that has to make you wonder.

Why are superhero characters so popular these days? Weren’t we supposed to be distrustful of heroes, at least moreso now than earlier in the century? Yet the past 13 years have seen a mad explosion in superhero filmmaking. How long will the boom last before superhero films go the way of the western and musical and the franchises come crashing down? Maybe Spider-man, with the geek real-life identity overpowering the fascist fantasy, is a signal that the winds are changing. Hopefully we will see a good revisionist superhero movie soon. Batman came close. If you strip the revenge plot from The Crow, you have a revisionist superhero (a psychopath who pierces a victim’s organs in alphabetical order, amongst other things). But possibly Ang Lee’s Hulk will use the Jeckyll-Hyde material effectively and be remembered as The Searchers in tights.

14 comments on "spidey & revisionist superheroes"

  1. a.m. says:

    I have never particularly cared for Sam Raimi despite being repeatedly beaten with a wooden stick for not properly appreciating Evil Dead 1 or 2 or getting all the nuances of Darkman, tho it was funny when he whispered about wanting a pink bunny rabbit, okay?! And, come to think of it, the second unit stuff with the kid playing with the hula-hoop in The Hudsucker Proxy, which every Sam Raimi-ite I’ve ever met has been quick to inform me he was fully and completely responsible for, was also quite winning. I heard once that Raimi was making a documentary about the Coen brothers, but he just couldn’t figure out how to end it and he didn’t particularly like the idea of wrapping up, so he figured he’d make it a life long project. Recently, I’d come to wish he would just focus in on a documentary about Joel and Ethan’s collaborative process for the rest of his days, instead of wasting people’s time with uninteresting (though spectacular) films like The Quick And The Dead. I was startled– and a bit concerned– when I found out he had found his way to the helm of Spiderman. Who the fuck is his agent and how on earth did anyone manage to stage such a coup d’état on his behalf?
    An additional source of concern from the outset for me was Willem Dafoe (Body of Evidence, Shadow of a Vampire, yes, I saw Body of Evidence), who is consistently good in good movies and outright awful in less than interesting ones. Though I know he’s not to blame for this phenomenon, I’ve also felt he should have been able to do something to avoid being the outstanding element that I somehow specifically fixated upon in reflecting on whatever lame outing he had managed to associate himself with. So, being a bit cynical, I imagined Dafoe would be hamming it up as much as he could in his attempt to out-ham Jack Nicholson, and that Raimi would be too busy on the stylistic front in the hopes of out-doing Tim Burton to properly tone down his principle villain. I imagined this combination could be lethal and that neither the flagrant style nor the endless ham would do anything for me, if, as was the case with almost every other Sam Raimi movie I’d seen, I didn’t find the story interesting. I’m just trying to give you a sense of my expectations going in. I had a lot of hope for it, because it had stirred all my childhood memories of swinging from tall buildings and sending the bad-guys into a lather of cobweb that only the cops could pry them out of—- oh, those were the days!– but I was trying to be realistic too. Meanwhile, I sit through Spiderman and it’s the greatest movie I’ve ever seen come out of any comic book from Ghost World to Superman to The Crow with whatever else in between. I got the sense that you loved it too, which is the sense that I get from most people– they are impressed that a blockbuster manages to get to that nerdy adolescent puberty-is-hell where-is-my body territory that has him accidentally ejaculating web from his wrist before running out of the cafeteria in shame to go off and climb buildings with his bare hands. Yet virtually everyone I’ve spoken to has also voiced some concern about the film’s overall greatness, which causes me to end up feeling that for some reason, right now, it being spring and all, movie goers have become a little spoiled. We’re not impressed with The Rock because he’s just re-making The Mummy and we smirk to hear that the word ‘Clone’ is in the title of George Lucas’s next wooden attempt at a tour de “force”, and we do this because most hyped up action flicks have very little, aside from special effects, worth talking about. Not to mention that the special effects of today have a less overtly apparent element of craftsmanship than they did a few decades ago. I say it’s less overtly apparent because “it’s computers” instead of the detailed model building and puppet work that populate earlier special effects movies. There is something admirably perverse about indulging in a little nostalgia for the good old sci-fi movies of yesteryear. (Ah, yes, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind did have it going on, didn’t it? It makes me almost puffy with a sense of self-importance just talking about it, actually, and I’m being serious.) But you know, I thought Spiderman looked great, and I don’t mean that in a “Wow those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park sure looked great” sense of a decade ago, because dinosaurs didn’t wear costumes made up of mysteriously woven fabric that might well even emit a subtle computer-graphic like glow, for all anyone really knows. Speaking for me, I was glad that the story didn’t foray into Parker’s attempt to design his costume. Through inference, I imagined him, torn apart in anguish over the events that transpired around his uncle at the end of the second act, hunched over his aunt’s sewing machine while his solipsistic and vengeful, (yet plainly refined,) adolescent self honed an awareness of the responsibility that comes with power. And that’s where he gets his costume from—okay D?! Seriously though, something tells me this is one of those damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situations that comes down the pike at you when you try to make a faithful adaptation of a comic book—and maybe the only one Raimi wasn’t able to fully weave his way out of. Doubtless, people would have scoffed at a montage sequence where Parker is seen making the costume, cause then you have to wonder who he commissioned to produce that mesh fabric, and you’re getting diverted from what matters, which is mostly what ruins Sam Raimi films in the first place. Sure, in an ideal world, the first installment of Spiderman could end and Parker wouldn’t yet even have a costume worked out, but try suggesting that to the fat and stupid ad-men who are funding the film. By simply skirting the issue, Raimi may leave some feeling a bit cheated, but in comparison to other movies, this problem is so trivial it should only be mentioned by extremely esoteric bloggers preoccupied with the daily goings on of Julius Caesar (I love you).

    The other thing I wanted to address was the comment about how the naturalism seemed weirdly at odds with the muscle-suited cavorting around in the film’s climax. This seems to fit with your other point about how Parker seems more interesting than Spidey by the film’s end. I don’t think that there is anything naturalistic about the script or the direction or anything other than Tobey MacGuire performance and I was thanking God that he was able to humanize the more cartoony aspects of this adolescent parable. That a guy as bright and good-hearted as Peter Parker could exist with all that ridicule around him would seem less palatable were it not for the whole sense of intimacy conjured from the narrative device, and MacGuire’s weary yet confident tone. Let us not forget, this could have been a boring movie with a boring set up and a few run of the mill boring actions sequences. Unlike with, say, Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne, whose life story is relayed in one overly brief, uncontextualized, flashback, Parker undergoes a hugely significant transformation right before the viewer’s eyes that makes us identify with him in a much more meaningful way. While Wayne might be threatened by the Joker, or entranced by Vickie Vale, he remains a wealthy distant man from beginning to end. Parker on the other hand goes from being a hopeless and powerless highschool nerd to a confident hero with a moral code, capable of toppling state of the art government weapons, all the while holding on to his virginity. And while MacGuire’s open faced sweetness may make Parker appear more interesting without his mask, let us not lose sight of the fact that Spidey and Parker are in essence the same being. When it gets to the point where push comes to shove and whatever trace of naturalism disappears (as is the case with all action movies), at least the obligatory climax is mercifully concise. Willem Dafoe may be a little over the top, but hey, so is fascism, and I found his last line in the movie to be among the film’s funnier moments. In answer to your question Why are superhero characters so popular these days? I don’t know. Maybe we should ask Enrique Iglesias, as I’ve heard, or perhaps seen interviews recently, that lead me to believe he has something that’s of note to contribute on the subject.

  2. D says:

    Yeah, I meant to revise that to read “teen naturalism,” which is maybe more to the point, and yes it’s McGuire who generates most of whatever it is I’m talking about there. But the more I watch the TV spots the more I am reminded that Spidey isn’t human. I mean, that’s not a stuntman in there, I’m pretty sure most of those shots are CGI. The goddamned thing looks like a goddamned videogame, and obviously all the computer-generated prancing about is going to clash with the heavy helping of surprisingly believable teen angst.

    What I mean about that costume-making remark: it’s just weird that they show this scene where he sketches a fancy costume (which I thought was an incredible sequence, very subtle pomo), and then he shows up for the wrestling scene in a shoddy piece of trash, and then they make no mention of how he suddenly becomes a high-tech costumer extraordinaire… But also, say, how his heroic identity – swingin’ around, cracking wise confidently – grew out of his teen showoff identity, in which he’s more than a bit awkward.

    And in fact, I have the remedy for this. Insert a scene early on, where the pre-bite Parker is working out his frustrations playing a videogame. When people play games, they tend to throw out a lot of effortless taunts, the sort the Spidey character makes a lot. It would show he has no other outlet for this sort of confidence and sense of superiority… or something like that.

    Good point about the Batman flashback scene. Makes one almost wish for an intertitle, that could be inserted into any of these films: “and then the hero’s loved ones are killed by a criminal, giving him ample reason to fight crime obsessively for no pay.”

  3. a.m. says:

    It’s a very valid point about Spidey just not being human. Funny, the ads have been hammering that point home for me too, much more than the film ever did. Nonetheless, it’s a trade off I can live with.

    I‘m not sure why I so manically set out to defend the absence of any explanation regarding the costume. Perhaps what I meant to emphasize more than anything else is that it would be unforgivable in a lesser film, but because the story was so tightly constructed, I was able to look on it as a considered decision, designed to provoke an imaginative leap. I did not in any way feel that the omission was insulting to my intelligence, or a mistake, as I regularly feel when watching action movies. To me, this truly is “one of those rare films that lives up to the hype,”— a phrase that is every bit as grotesquely abused as what it describes is elusive. It’s a classic movie I think, one that’s going to stand the test of time.

  4. king says:

    Praise on bitches. Spidey was wicked bad — and like you says — fuckin’ A ‘pomo’ yo! With the wicked-ass teen naturalistic vibe, it was totally in no need of the solipsistic and vengeful sewing bullshit.

    p.s. what’s fascism?

  5. D says:

    Fucking A plus, yo!

    a.m.: I’d have to agree, if you look at it compared to any superhero film since Superman it’s one of the best. But I have to ask, are you the a.m. of fritzilanimous fame? That would make sense to me.

  6. king says:

    I would also like to know if a.m. is a girl.

  7. a.m. says:

    I’ve been de-masked! It’s a nightmare come true! What can I say? It was the coffee’s fault!

    By the way, I’ve thought about it, and I’m really down with the video game suggestion– I think it would have worked some magic.

    PS Is this a particularly bad time for me to reveal that I don’t know what ‘pomo’ is?

  8. a.m. says:

    wow– an unfortunate turn of events for me. king posted while I was posting. to be clear: I am fritzilanimous– D and I used to Big Wheel around Cabbagetown together back in ’78. Anyone curious about the real D? I can tell you all stories! Now will someone tell me what pomo means?

  9. D says:

    postmodern, my bigwheel buddy!

    No girl for you, king, you sleazeball.

  10. affan says:

    Heay when u go for a movie just watch and enjoy instead of wasting time on thinking how he has made that fuckin` costume…Man fuck u all!

  11. sameer bihari says:

    abay mai gando hoon meree gand mai lun day dooo saray ..plzzz mujhay koi choday mai sex kurnay k leeyaya mara ja raha hoon…saree saree raat gand mai ungal daita hoon…plzzz mere gand mai apna lun dubba dain…i will be very thankful.

  12. Hasan Konio says:

    to my dearest Shahbaz bhai (and his little shahbaz),
    pichlee dafa aap kaa pooraa lun naa laynay pay aap naraaz ho gayay…aap nay kirkee pay ana band kar diya! ‘Na din ko chain hai, na raat main araam hai… aap kee yaad main, ungal main tail ligaa kar gaand main laitaa hoon’ aap ko pata hai meray paas waqt kam hai..main marnay wala hoon..humain chahiyay apnay burhapay kay rangeen lumhaat saat bitayain!! aap kee yaad main mut maar maar kay mera lulla meray moon jaisa hogaya hai… bund main aik aag kaa toofan hai, jo sirf aap kee Multani mut kee barish say bujh saktaa hai! meraa shareer sirf aap kay liyay bana hai, aur main aap kay shareer say shararat kernaa chahtaa hoon!! mujhay aaj bhee wo din yaad hain, jub aap kay tutay meray moon main, aur lun kaa topa kabhi meree aankhon kay is taraf, aur kabhi us taraf lag raha hota thaa… aap kay tutay yaad aa rahay hain!!! mujhay yaqeen hai aap kay tanhai kay in lamhat main aap kaa lun bhee meree tarha tarap raha ho gaa!
    🙁 🙁 🙁
    gandu kOnIO

  13. D says:

    Alright, what’s going on back here?

  14. ÿ says:

    I don’t know, but I like it!

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