Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

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Franchise Fracas: Spider-Man

Tomorrow, The Amazing Spider-Man opens in US theaters.  To be completely honest, this is probably the movie I have been looking forward to the most this summer.  I think it is just the character.  I was never into the Spider-Man comics or cartoons when I was growing up; I got into him with the Sam Raimi movies.  There is something about Peter Parker that just instantly speaks to people of all ages.  Perhaps it is the way creator Stan Lee humanized him that makes him so affable.  I do not know, but I am sure there are articles and probably dissertations that go over this.

This new movie is, effectively, a reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise.  A reboot is technically inaccurate; a new adaptation is better term considering that the previous series and this new one are using the same source material to crave out their own stories.  What about that previous series directed by Sam Raimi, though?  Was a restart needed?  The previous movies were extremely popular, so would not carrying-on be the best way to go?  To answer that, let’s take a look at the previous ones.

2002’s Spider-Man found Tobey Mcguire in the title role.  This movie is…not very good.  I take that back; it is and it isn’t.  The narrative is a mess and suffers big time by having, basically, two movies crammed into one.  We start with Spider-Man’s origin, and then we jump into a different story completely.  The only thing linking the two is Green Goblin (played wonderfully over-the-top by Willem Dafoe), as he kills people in the background.  However, what really makes this movie work is Maguire’s earnest portrayal.

Rounding out the cast is Kirsten Dunst and James Franco as Peter’s love interest and best friend.  Personally, I think that Dunst’s Mary Jane is the most interesting character in the movie.  She has this cool arc where she goes from being a part of the in-crowd where everything is great to being someone completely down on her luck because reality hit.  I liked it because it was realistic, and it made me buy into her romantic interest in Peter.  Alternatively, Franco was somewhat take-him-or-leave-him.  There just was not much for him to do (Spider-Man 3 is where he really shines).

While Raimi’s first film was a mixed bag, 2004’s Spider-Man 2 is just fantastic.  Everything works for me in that movie.  I love the psychological approach the film takes when Spider-Man loses his powers, Doc Ock (wonderfully played by Alfred Molina) is amazingly complex and sympatric (although his “scheme” is ultimately kind of stupid, but it’s a comic book movie embracing a comic book world), and the romantic angst comes at a the perfect level without getting obnoxious.  I cannot say enough good things about this movie.  I even was taken aback by the surprise cameo at the end of the movie.  This movie really leaves the viewer wanting more.

At this point, I have to plug Spider-Man 2.1.  It is a slightly different cut of the movie with some added or alternate scenes.  Personally, I think it is a stronger film mainly because it adds a scene with Mary Jane questioning her upcoming wedding.  It is a good scene to add, because it does not make her seem as cold when she ditches her fiancé at the altar.

In 2007, we got Spider-Man 3.  Sigh.  What can be said about Spider-Man 3?  I was really pumped for this movie to the point that I went to the midnight showing even though I had to teach high school the next day.  This film was just a complete mess.  It was trying to do too much and fit too much story into it.  I truly believe there is a good story in there somewhere (and I really like the idea of Peter having to “let go”), but the execution is very, very poor.  Characters and plot elements just disappear for the sake of the plot; others are just shoehorned in.  Some of the humor is too over the top (even for this series) and becomes cringe-worthy.  The movie was an utter disappointment.

That said, there are some very effecting things in it.  I saw this movie three times in theaters (don’t ask), and at each showing, the audience gasped twice; once when Peter almost lost his aunt’s ring and again when Peter punches Mary Jane.  If you can get that sort of reaction out of multiple audiences, you are doing something right.

Also, the acting is pretty good.  Each actor is completely into each of their roles.  The problem is that there were too many characters to work with.  Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) is extremely interesting, but they do not do anything with him.  He has this sick daughter which is why he turned to crime (so she can get medicine or something), but that story is never resolved, and it feels tacked on.  Venom (Topher Grace) is so unnecessary in this story, but since Sandman was not being depicted as a menacing villain, I guess filmmakers thought the movie needed a heavy.  Bryce Dallas Howard’s Gwen Stacey is completely wasted.

Personally, I feel really sorry for Dunst.  She did the best she could with the material, but Mary Jane is not written well at all.  It is as if the writers did not know what to do with her, so they just made her grumpy for reasons which viewers cannot sympathize with.  For example, Mary Jane is down because she was fired from a play and Peter tries to encourage her with a Spider-Man-related story.  Her response: eye daggers.  I think I get what they were trying to do, but the direction was lousy.

Even though Spider-Man 3 was a mess, I still think Raimi had it in him for a fourth entry which would have corrected the problems of the third.  However, Raimi bowed out as director with Mcguire and Dunst following soon after.  With the creative staff leaving and all the plot lines wrapped up, where else could they have gone?  A fresh start was probable the best decision for Sony to make.  That way, they are not beholden to anything that came before (and, let’s face it, the series was getting a bit heavy with the continuity).  Also, if they pulled a “James Bond” and just did a simple recast, the internet would never cease with the “it’s a reboot/not a reboot” argument.

All that being said, if this new Andrew Garfield series takes off, they need to try to keep one thing: J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson.  Neither the actor nor the character is apparently appearing in the new movie, but it is not too late to add both to The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

~N

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8 responses to “Franchise Fracas: Spider-Man

  1. CultureCast-Z July 3, 2012 at 10:29 am

    It’s hard to look back now and actually believe that Spider-Man was a bigger hit than Star Wars in the summer of 2002. Spider-Man was such a cheap-looking and generic origin story, that I couldn’t believe that it was such a massive hit. Weren’t other people seeing the flaws and ridiculousness of the movie that I was seeing? That movie was soooooo cheesy.

    Spider-Man 2 was an upgrade in almost every single way. It’s still one of my favorite superhero movies. I’ve never been a huge fan of Parker/Dunst in the leads, but they do their best work in the sequel. Doc Ock is also awesome as a villain. I wanted more of him in the movie. I like how the sequel continues to focus on only one villain (like the Goblin in the first) and doesn’t feel the need to arbitrarily add characters for no reason like Spider-Man 3.

    Of all the problems with Spider-Man 3 that I have, I think the biggest one is how Peter gets a hold of the black suit. It was just so lazily written that it took me completely out of the movie. There was no going back from that point on. I was one of the few people who didn’t mind Topher Grace as Eddie Brock, but man they did a horrible job with him as Venom. I still haven’t given this movie a second watch. Haven’t seen it since the original friday it debuted in theaters back in 2007.

    • Nick! July 3, 2012 at 10:02 pm

      The real strength of the first one was that all the actors were totally into it. Yes, it is cheesy and corny, but the acting saves it and makes it incredibly watchable. Mcguire, in particular, plays it straight which makes the comedy work. “Go, web, go!”

      With 3, I don’t mind the rock landing near Peter mostly because everything else that has happened to him in the previous movies happened by just as much pure chance. I think if the rest of the movie was solid and delivered on its promise (and didn’t rely on another happenstance encounter), the landing rock wouldn’t have been even an issue.

      I liked Topher Grace in the movie too. He plays a really great scheming rival for Peter. The problem with Venom was really in the writing. He seems very tacked on. The stuff with the suit was interesting, but it seems as if the filmmakers didn’t know what to do for a third act. Then again, I don’t think that Venom is a workable character in a live-action movie.

      It also doesn’t help that Mary Jane is kidnapped AGAIN! It worked in the first one; it was a stretch in the second one (but they made it work contextually); it was completely preposterous in the third one. I’m surprised that no one has made any connection between her and Spidey since she is always used as bait for him. In fact, the entire context for that climatic battle was stupid. Tons of people and reporters just watching like it is some sort of outdoor entertainment. No cops (or National Guard, for that matter) show or nuke the hell out of the giant Sandman? What about when the battle is over. Does Spider-Man just walk out and say “Okay. Show’s over!” Won’t Mary Jane be questioned on what happened, especially since one of the most wealthy men was at the scene and was killed? And, what about…arg…this movie is so dumb!

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