Thursday, July 5, 2012

Reboot Me

Spider-Man Theme - The Ramones (mp3)
Men Called Uncle - Elvis Costello (mp3)

“This might be a fun summer blockbuster if only it even remotely needed to exist.” -- Dana Stevens of Slate, on “The Amazing Spider-Man”

The significance and weight of Spider-Man on my young life -- and therefore on my life as a whole -- cannot be overstated. Still, my initial reaction to finding out about this “franchise reboot” was tepid at best, annoyed at worst. A reboot after less than a decade? WTF?

On Independence Day, I caved into my eldest daughter’s request and took her to see the new movie. I entered expecting disappointment and left both greatly impressed yet still believing the reboot was a tad bit premature and unnecessary.

In 1985, Spider-Man starred in at least three separate comic book series: “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man,” and “Marvel Team-Up”/“Web of Spider-Man” (one was transitioned into the other in 1985). Peter Parker circa 1985 lived in at least three dimensions. Rarely did the books attempt to share a plot, and when they did, it was a failure and confusing. The whole point of the books was to take The Mythology of Spider-Man and create distinctly separate visions from it.

In Comic Book World, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield can both play the role at the exact same time, and no one is bothered by it!

“The Amazing Spider-Man” generally attempted to respect the original founding heart of the character and his world. “Peter Parker: The Spectacular...” often told slightly grittier stories. It focused on Parker’s life as a graduate student instead of around his “Aunt May” universe, and it introduced us to the Black Cat, the kinkiest superhero love interest since Catwoman.

[Aside: Black Cat was a petty criminal with shock-white hair and -- shocker -- a supermodel’s body. She fell so head over heels for Spidey that she sacrificed her wayward life for a relationship with him... even if she prefered he keep his mask on. She loved Spider-Man, not necessarily the man behind the mask. Felicia Hardy (her real name) wasn’t wholesome, wasn’t innocent, and wasn’t interested in holding hands. She was flirty, intense, unpredictable... and at least a little bit certifiably insane. I was 13, and I fell in love with her even as I knew she was bad bad news.]

The Amazing Spider-Man (movie) is ironically more like “Peter Parker” the comic book. It’s darker, with more angst and less wide-eyed naivete.

I’ll never believe high school senior Gwen Stacy has enough security clearance and know-how to navigate OSCORP (think: GlaxoSmithKline meets Stark Industries). The origin reboot portion of the movie was drastically more enjoyable than the Lizard crisis that wrapped up the last 45 minutes of the film. Despite these flaws, and thanks to Martin Sheen and Sally Field, and to a few supremely poignant John Hughes-esque moments of commentary on high school life, it was every bit as good as the Sam Raimi stuff, arguably better.

When Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben gives his version of the “With great power comes great responsibility” speech, it still moves me to tears.

When Sally Field’s Aunt May tells Peter, “All secrets come with a cost,” it feels like the voice of experience giving the audience a much-needed and beautiful proverb.

When Peter and Gwen arrange their first date without being able to complete a sentence or express anything coherently, it feels like every awkward smitten encounter in the history of adolescence, and in a good way.

The Myth of Spider-Man is ultimately dark. He’s orphaned and raised by an elderly aunt and uncle. He’s nerdy and bullied. Almost every mistake he makes results in tragedy or seismic upheaval, from his own origins and the death of his uncle to the genesis of half the villains he ends up facing. Don't even ask about Gwen Stacy.

What makes the character and his stories so appealing is how much his particularly awkward life reminds us all of our own young lives: awkward, confused, in desperate need of someone to give us answers, weighted down with this sense, this pressure, that we are supposed to be something important and do big things but with no idea where and how to start, learning that sometimes our best intentions earn little gratitude and sometimes makes things worse.

What makes Spider-Man so timeless is that he’s our hero. He’s not wealthy. He’s not successful. He’s just brilliant and burdened with a sense of responsibility, and even as Peter Parker struggles to pay the rent and care for his frail aunt, Spider-Man must continue the thankless job of saving the world.

He's just a myth, but my love for him is real. I’m gonna go dig up my old comics now.

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