Ah, yes, it’s that time again. Summer blockbuster season. And I am fresh out of seeing Spiderman 2 and raring to blog about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve seen the move. The first section will be spoiler-free, the second won’t… But I’ll give you fair warning when the spoilers are about to kick in. And especially in the spoiler section, there are some good insights about writing that fellow writers will enjoy.
Let’s begin in the SPOILER-FREE ZONE… I won’t give anything away until later, I promise.
I know already what you’re going to say. How many d**n Spiderman movies can the studios make? Short answer: Less than the Batman movies. So far. Long answer: If you see Spiderman 2, you’ll be well rewarded for humoring the studio gods who adore reboots. This movie actually is a very good reboot. By which I mean, it’s arguably better than the Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi era.
I’m a fan of Raimi, no doubt about it, but the scriptwriting in this movie is higher caliber than the old Spideys. In fact, I’m going out on a comic book movie limb here and daring to say it… Yes, this movie actually incorporates two supervillains in a way that is…wait for it… TOTALLY BELIEVABLE. For a change. (For examples of disastrously bad and totally unbelievable use of more than one villain, see Batman & Robin and Spider-Man 3.)
Not only does it make perfect sense that these two villains would develop in the movie, but what happens to one in particular will have ramifications in later Spidey movies. And if the scriptwriting remains strong, those ramifications will MAKE SENSE. This is incredibly refreshing in the world of comic book movie franchises, I’ll tell you that.
Peter Parker in this version of the Spidey-verse is in a lot of ways a much more interesting person than the Tobey Maguire version. People will talk about this as though it’s an issue with acting, but it’s not. It’s the writing. Andrew Garfield gets to play a teen who has some serious issues (rather than just being whiny). I mean, when your parents abandon you as a kid and you don’t know why, it hurts. And it has long-term effects that explain your self-defensive joking.
I also love that this Spider-Man’s world is centered around loss and grief. He talks about not wanting to lose people. And this is a totally fair statement because he’s lost both parents, his surrogate father (Uncle Ben), and Police Captain Stacy by the time Amazing Spider-Man 2 begins. And for someone who’s just graduating high school, that’s a lot of loss. Not all of it’s his fault, but some of it is. That’s a hard burden to bear. And it makes Peter a lot easier to relate to than the very funny, smart, but whiny past version of Peter who is driven in large part by a mixture of guilt and a martyr complex. I have to admit, I like new Spidey better.
And the MUSIC! This movie ups the music ante at least a few notches from the typical film…from Peter’s old-school Spidey themed ringtone, to the dramatic and heavily industrial feel of the scenes with Electro, from a little Jeopardy theme for levity in a scene where levity is ironic to some excellent Pharrell Williams work. (And by the way, is there anywhere that guy isn’t? Dude is scary busy.) There’s a wonderful scene where Electro is in the midst of using electric power and he plays a little music that Spidey talks about disliking. Oh, and the old crazy scientist use of classical music to underscore the crazy is in there too, but who doesn’t like that? This may not seem writing-related until you realize that we are entering a world where the multimedia book experience is a reality. Incorporating music actively into the storyline gives people a deeper sensory experience, and it resonates with the viewer.
OK, now it’s time for SPOILERS… But if you must avoid reading this now, come back later. This is some good stuff for writers below.
Number one – Max/Electro
My biggest complaint about this movie is the writing of the Max Dillon character early on. I mean, do you really have to have the only black/minority character be a creepy goofball? The guy is smart, so let him act smart. I don’t get that. On the other hand, and this is BIG, fellow writers…
Max’s desire to be seen, really seen, resonates big time. Don’t we all want our 15 minutes of fame? Plus, people are constantly demeaning Max, and as a smart man who’s also a black man, that must hurt. His determination to make people see him as someone worth respecting echoes what many people feel, and it even alludes to one of the most famous pieces of American literature of the last century – Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, a story about a black man who is so “unseen” that the reader never learns his name. The character ends up alone in a basement lined all around with lightbulbs as though with enough light, even the most stubborn racist would have to acknowledge he exists. The character of Electro, played by a black man drawing on electric power to be recognized by the city that normally demeans him? If the screenwriters didn’t try to reference Ellison on purpose, I’ll eat my hat. This is absolutely brilliant and makes me proud to say I like a comic book movie for reasons that normally don’t apply to any movie.
My biggest delight in this movie is Gwen Stacy. In a movie field where even strong characters like Black Widow (The Avengers) gets talked about as though she’s eye candy (which she isn’t), Gwen Stacy is a smart, bold, strong woman who makes me proud to be female, proud to be a writer, and proud to write my own strong female characters. Gwen isn’t just smart. She’s smarter than Peter. She figures out how to protect Peter from Electro when Peter himself couldn’t figure it out. Go, Gwen the smart scientist valedictorian chick. Girl power!
I also love that for a change, the female character/love interest in a comic book film is taking aggressive control of who she is, where she’s going, and what she wants. She makes it clear over and over that she is deciding what she wants to do because it’s her decision to make, no one else’s. In the end, of course, Gwen dies. Spidey fans know that at some point, she has to die. It’s part of the canon. But what I love about her death is the fact that as tragic as it is, it happens not because she’s Spidey’s girlfriend half as much as because she was willing to put herself in harm’s way to stop a villain and help the city. Her actions save two planes from colliding mid-air. Who knows how many people she saves by restoring the power to hospitals where it’s life or death to have electricity? She dies, but she dies a hero. Go, Gwen! (And go, writers, for letting her be strong and heroic!)
Her death also has a strong impact on who Peter will be in the future. Again, this is smart writing. We get more loss for Peter to deal with. We also get him realizing at an even deeper level that the first Amazing Spider-Man film that his powers can’t save everyone. No matter how hard he tries, he’s not invincible. And when he does make good decisions, like telling Harry that it’s not safe to share his blood, even his good intentions can backfire. The real-life ramifications of his decisions cause the audience to be a lot more invested in what’s happening. No, we don’t have superpowers. But we all know what it’s like to try as hard as we can and still fail. This leaves me wanting more.
Oh, and nice way to hint at future movie possibilities by suggesting that more villains will rise up directly because of Oscorp, because of what happened to Harry, and because (perhaps?) Peter’s own father did secret scientific work that will have bitter costs down the road. I love that the villains aren’t arising because of happenstance but that things are actually building upon past events. It’s this element of storytelling that sets a good story apart from real life. In real life, coincidences may happen. In good writing, no event in the story is coincidence. Everything has a causal effect. That’s what makes people keep reading.
By the way, is it okay to say I really enjoyed Dane DeHaan’s turn at channeling a young Leo DiCaprio? Especially when DeHaan’s version of Harry gets to be obsessed because he’s dying a slow, horrible death, and wouldn’t you want to use all your father’s secret scientific projects to find a cure if you were him? Of course you would. So would I. This makes Harry a hell of a lot more believable than the version James Franco plays.
And finally, I have to say it… The Stan Lee cameo is officially over for me. I know everyone expects it and looks for it, but if you can’t write it into the story in a way that makes sense, then don’t give him a line. His cameo here is totally clunky and with so much of the storywriting so good, the Lee cameo stands out because it’s so bad. Let’s give Lee a rest from now on (if he’ll agree to it).
Thanks for sticking with me on a long blog post. But there’s so much to talk about! Again, I’d really love to hear what you think of this movie…from a writing standpoint, from a comic book fan standpoint…whatever floats your boat. Let me know about it. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.