Jul 11, 2012

Spider-Man: Raimi or Webb? or Why the Reboot is a Good Thing for Spider-Fans

So it's been over a week since Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-Man debuted here in the Philippines, and I'd racked my brain for how to write about it. I don't do movie reviews, since I like to make sure every post I do talks about the comics medium or industry or fandom somehow. So I waited several days, and I read people's posts on Facebook and over the Internet, and I listened to my coworkers and friends of friends talk about the movie, and here's what I noticed.

Everyone is comparing it to Sam Raimi's first film, Spider-Man. Virtually no one is judging it by its own merits. They try, but it always comes down to comparison.

And now you're saying, "Well, duh, Duy. I noticed that too. What's your point?" My point is that it's a good thing if you're a Spider-Man fan. (And if you're not, why are you even reading this article? Wait, why did you even see the movie?!)

Look, it's just human nature to compare things. To paraphrase Bill Simmons, we always want things to be great, and to prove a new thing is great, we have to tear down the last one. If we're particularly attached to one thing, we want to tear down the new one. It happens with everything, and superhero movies are no different. Avengers is being compared to Dark Knight, for crying out loud. People make lists for these things, and that's just the way it works. It's just more blatant this time because it's obviously the same source material done only 10 years apart. (As a digression, people make too much of a deal out of that "10 years apart" thing. Superman Returns was instantly compared to the Christopher Reeve films when it came out, and that was like 30 years apart. Smallville was too — I remember people comparing Tom Welling to that dude who plays Clark before Christopher Reeve shows up. That's just the way it works.)

In the interest of full disclosure, there really is no comparison for me. I like Webb's version much better. Yes, the first version was truer to the comic in terms of details and chronology (although Kirsten Dunst was still playing a Liz Allan/Gwen Stacy hybrid), but in terms of emotion, pathos, and overall tone, Webb's version was much closer to Spider-Man. I could explain it, but my buddy Paul Cornish already did right here, when talking about where Raimi's Spider-Man went wrong:

Comic Pete has to struggle to hold back his anger, whereas it seems to come naturally to sweet, good natured Maguire-Pete. It's this struggle that makes comic Pete a better character than Maguire-Pete; doing the right thing doesn't come as easy to comic Pete, but he still does it!

But although it's no contest for me, obviously, there are people still loyal to the original movie. And that's fair. What's more, that's great.

You see, no matter where you are — the Internet, a comic shop, a bookstore, the coffehouse, a bar, school, work — when you talk about comics, one of the hottest topics is always which interpretation you prefer more. It's one of the topics that keep a character vital, and it's a topic that never dies. Superman has multiple interpretations, and people are still talking about which interpretations they prefer. Batman, arguably the most successful superhero in history, is the one who's gone through the most extreme reinventions. Spider-Man is no different.

Spider-Man is my favorite character in fiction. But I didn't buy every Spider-Man comic, and I have no desire to. There was a whole stretch from 2000-2008 that saw me buy a very small number of Spider-Man comics, simply because I didn't like that particular interpretation of him. Every time I went into it, or saw scans on the net, I thought he was moody, depressing, and incredibly boring to read.

But I can't deny that fans responded and bought the product. Do I think it was bad? Absolutely. But I'm not a be-all end-all authority on what is "good." I can analyze things on a technical level and call it bad, but there's a visceral component to these things that can't be judged, ever, and if people respond in droves, then it did its job.

Spider-Man, probably more than any other character aside from Superman or Batman, probably has more of a precedent for varying interpretations. His first two artists (both of whom controlled a bulk of the storytelling, along with Stan Lee) were so drastically different. Whereas Steve Ditko portrayed Peter with an angry grit (and couldn't seem to draw a conventional superhero face), John Romita had him more calm and more mellow (and couldn't seem to draw anything but a conventional superhero face). Check out these two scenes.

I can't even think of Ditko and Romita's Spider-Man as being the exact same thing, but the important thing is they both come from the same core: a relatable character who makes mistakes, and is driven to do the right thing due to the death of his uncle. And if both versions can exist (not to mention the ones that came after), why can't Webb's and Raimi's?

Which interpretation you prefer ends up saying something about you. If nothing else, it at least says a lot about your preferred choice of entertainment. Look, I don't like 2000-2008 Spider-Man because it was too melodramatic for me and removed a key aspect of Spider-Man that I prefer (the loner aspect). I love Lee and Ditko's run, so much so that I wrote about it. I love Dan Slott's run. They entertain me, a lot.

Maybe it also says something about you as a person. If you thought Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker was a bully, that speaks a lot to your morals. If you thought that his reactions were just relatable and human, that means you empathized. If you thought Garfield wasn't enough of a nerd and was simply of a different but not necessarily outcast clique than the popular kids, maybe you were one of those kids in school but you were comfortable with it. If you were one of those kids in school but were always bugged by how you were treated by the Flash Thompson types regardless, maybe you loved his portrayal. Or if you're anything like some girls I know, maybe you just liked Tobey better because he's more built.

It's more true of some than others, but the fact that you can easily compare these two movies makes it even more blatant for this one: a large part of these stories is about you, what you bring to the table. We can dissect the technical aspects and analyze them to death, but as long as they're done with some level of proficiency, it comes down to how you feel about it — how much it grabs you.

And it's specifically because of this variety of our experiences that some will prefer the Raimi film and some will prefer the Webb film. And people will will talk about it. They'll debate it, and they'll argue, and no side will ever be right or wrong for preferring something over the other. It will come up every time either movie is brought up. The general moviegoing audience is given something that was once exclusive to comic book fans: the ability to discuss multiple versions of Spider-Man, which will keep the character vital and in the public consciousness. All it takes is a handful of people who fell in love with the character via these movies and in turn infect their friends, and the debate will rage forever.

And as someone whose favorite character is Peter Benjamin Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, I have only one thing to say.

I love it.


So, which one did you like more?

1 comment:

JV said...

There was a time I loved the Sam Raimi Spidey flicks specifically the second one. I scoffed when Sony decided to reboot with an indie director with only 1 film to his name and judged it as a sign of desparation to prevent Marvel reclaiming the rights to the character. But after watching Amazing, it basically eclipsed the last three films in quality for me. I'm of the opinion that regardless of whether the movies is a progression or a reboot, the objective of each succeeding flick is to top the prior ones. And that's just what the latest iteration did. Can the two interpretations mutually exist? Sure but they can always be gauged on their quality no matter what.

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