I’m not sure how definitive or faithful to the original Marvel comics any of the screen incarnations of our webbed wonder have been. Certainly when compared to the 1960’s cartoon or the 1970’s live-action tv-show, the four feature films that we have so far seen are pretty wonderful, abeit individually flawed. For myself though, as someone who grew up here in the UK in the early 1970’s devouring the weekly reprint comics, I remain unconvinced.
Its probably unfair, but remembering the wonderful Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/John Romita creations, the only truly definitive or authentic Spider-Man would be one set in the 1960’s era in which the comic was originally created and set. It’s an wholly unrealistic expectation on my part – its only natural for the movies to re-imagine the characters and stories for modern-day audiences, just as, I suspect, the contemporary comics have done in the decades since I stopped reading them. I guess in the current comics series Spider-Man exists in a world of internet and mobile phones etc. But for me, Spidey is always a part of that distant age that looks like an episode of Mad Men or a Jack Lemmon ’60s comedy. The whole radioactive spider thing, and the retro charm of villains like Dr.Octopus, the Vulture or The Lizard… its a world away from our modern age, and must be a difficulty for film-makers updating it for today’s audience. I’d just love to see a 1960s-era Spidey on screen, complete with the waterfront hoods and film-cameras and printed newspapers and women in those lovely short-skirts and bright colours and… well, its a world long-gone now. But it would be a wonderful movie. Imagine an episode of Mad Men with the characters suddenly reacting as Spider-Man swings by the office window, chased by the Green Goblin on his glider. Sounds daft, probably- but to me, that’s how I ‘see’ the definitive Spider-Man movie.
No doubt that’s because the comics I read and loved were set (although at the time, I don’t think I was actually aware of them being reprints of comics originally made a decade before) in a 1960s New York; a magical, larger-than-life world a universe away from my Black Country home during the grim 1970’s – just as the original Star Trek show was rocking my world on the tv as it took me away to incredible worlds. I remember lying awake in bed early on Saturday mornings waiting to hear the newspaper lad push the latest issue of Spider-Man Comics Weekly through the letterbox, and sneaking down the oh-so-creaky stairs without disturbing my parents to pick it up and bring it back to my bedroom and feverishly devour the latest adventure, and then re-read it again. I loved those comics.
I guess that’s the weird thing about superhero movies; they are inherently silly comic-strip ideas blown up into these huge expensive blockbusters that seem to take everything so deadly seriously. In a way, that’s the secret of Marvel’s current success with these movies- they do take them very seriously and ‘real-world’, not as something to be poked fun at as some earlier superhero films have done. But translated to modern-day settings the Marvel movies in particular can sometimes feel a little out-of-place to me. The best thing about the final battle of The Avengers is that it reminded me so much of Jack Kirby’s wonderful Fantastic Four strip in which New York was attacked by the mighty Galactus. That sequence of The Avengers was really like seeing a comic come to life- albeit it was the wrong comic and the wrong super-hero team. But there you go. I guess I sound like one of those Dr Who fans who think the original 1960s shows were the best, or Star Wars fans who prefer the Original Trilogy to the Special Editions (of course those Star Wars fans are quite correct, and I count myself as one of them). We gravitate to those we grew up with I guess. Maybe there is some truth that modern films and tv shows and comics and other mass media are aimed at a different audience to us. Once you slip past the big 40 you may as well not exist as far as the marketing boys are concerned.
Still, regards the Spider-Man movies, I did quite enjoy the latest incarnation of our webbed wonder, The Amazing Spider-Man movie, which I saw on Blu-ray over Christmas. Wasn’t really the Spider-Man I read when I was a kid way back when- infact, it was nothing like the comic I read- but it was okay. I think I preferred it to the Sam Raimi films and look forward to seeing where they take the next one now that everything is set-up (why oh why do film-makers feel the need to waste screentime -the Conan remake also springs to mind here- with redundant origin films?). Oddly, the thing I really enjoyed about it was the James Horner score. Haven’t really heard a great James Horner score in ages; since Titanic he doesn’t get so many gigs or doesn’t need to pay the bills any more. I recall the period of his Brainstorm/Cocoon/Field of Dreams/Glory/Braveheart/Apollo 13 scores with some considerable fondness, and there was something about them in the new Spider-Man film’s score. It gave the film a little heart it otherwise lacked. I just wonder if they intend to follow the Gwen Stacey arc that the comics did. Man, what they did (in issue 100, was it?) was positively traumatic and would make a great third film in a trilogy. We’ll see.
But I guess I’ll never see the Spider-Man movie of my dreams. It bugs me a little that they felt the need to re-boot the movie franchise so soon (and there’s another rant entirely) and didn’t have the nerve to do something really different, like how a 60’s-set movie would have been.
Anyway, a belated Happy New Year to everyone reading this. Hope to start making more entries here this year. Lets hope for some really great movies/books/tv shows worth writing about, eh?