So, the big news in Hollywood’s superhero sphere this week is that Marc Webb, director of The Amazing Spiderman, is rumoured not to be returning for the second film in the arc of Marvel’s latest reboot (nope, can’t think of anything else grabbing the headline!). So what will this mean for the future of the series if true? Well for me at least, the move is a positive one. Although I enjoyed The Amazing Spiderman a lot, I couldn’t help thinking that there was a better film in there somewhere, screaming to be let out.
I recently re-watched the original Spiderman trilogy of the noughties, and it was a reminder to me of how enjoyable those films were. It also reminded me what a clever director Sam Raimi is, whose presence is obvious in the character of the films. What I love about Raimi’s trilogy is that it is perfectly cast. Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker is the total nerd who is beaten down at every turn and makes our hearts melt in the process. Kirsten Dunst, much like most women in Spiderman unfortunately, is the damsel in distress and isn’t given a lot to do throughout the trilogy, but nevertheless does it well. Willem Defoe and Alfred Molina give the series memorable and maniacal super-villains, and J.K. Simmons was born to play loudmouth Daily Bugle editor Jameson who steals the show. What is most impressive is that through the screenplays and Raimi’s direction, the city of New York itself is characterised and becomes a driving force behind the story. Raimi also strikes a perfect balance between Peter Parker and Spiderman in regards to the pacing of the films. Personally, I have always found the life of Peter Parker far more gripping, and it never feels like we are rushing through his story to get to what inevitably puts bums on seats – our arachnid hero swinging across New York’s famous cityscape.
It’s difficult to claim that a two-and-a-quarter-hour film is not long enough, but in the case of The Amazing Spiderman, there is an argument to be made. Although we are given plenty of Peter Parker; the transition from one key event in his life to the next is handled clumsily by Webb in my opinion. The audience is given very little time to enjoy Parker’s transformation into his alter ego. It is as if Webb could not wait to get to Spidey’s all-action showdown with his nemesis, though when it arrives it is horribly CGI’d. Despite this the film is still very enjoyable. Regardless of small issues that nagged at me, like the wise-cracking and slight arrogance of our web-slinging protagonist, Andrew Garfield is still very good in both roles. It also doesn’t feel quite right that a Peter Parker with model good looks and fabulous hair should woo Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy even before he has become New York’s finest hero, but Garfield still pulls off the character’s knack for communication breakdown that comes with his social anxiety. The other commendable thing about The Amazing Spiderman is that it provides a mainstream outlet for the acting talents of Rhys Ifans. Those who know Ifans’ work will know that he has the ability to deliver powerfully creepy performances that make your skin crawl. They will also know that he has a habit of being the best thing in often forgettable films. Finally earning a leading role in one of the year’s biggest blockbusters, he once again goes to town as the conniving and villainous scientist turned lizard.
I have always felt that Sam Raimi nailed the only appropriate tone for Spiderman – playing on its fantasy and comic elements to create a spectacular and brilliantly cheesy popcorn movie. However, to justify a reboot so soon after Spiderman 3 (five years to be exact), The Amazing Spiderman was vocal in its aim to quite rightly reinvent the franchise in a completely different guise. According to screenwriter Steve Kloves, the film’s tone and imagery would be “grounded in…reality”. A scientific thread therefore infiltrates the film in an attempt to maintain its realism even in its most fantastical moments. So we get a more in-depth look at Oscorp’s scientific explorations into cross-species genetics, which goes some way to explaining the transformations we witness during the course of the narrative. We get Peter Parker designing web-shooters (in keeping with Brian Michael Bendis’ modernisation of the origins story in Ultimate Spiderman) in order to exhibit how Spiderman is able to swing freely from building to building. The film falls down when faced with the challenge of representing a realistic-looking giant lizard. A task that is of course impossible without the aid of CGI visual effects, which are unfortunately not yet at a level whereby the audience is fully convinced of their realism.
This is not to say that CGI is worthless. One look at Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy proves that as long as they are used to complement actual physical effects; visual effects can be absolutely stunning. And The Amazing Spiderman obviously owes a huge debt to Nolan’s re-imagining of Batman, in its attempts to rebuild a franchise in a ‘real world’ setting. But for me, Batman is the only superhero that makes sense in that kind of setting, as Batman is not a superhero. He is a human being, and his most infamous foes at least are also human, psychotic, but human. His DNA is not fused with that of a radioactive spider, and he has so far not been faced with giant lizards on the big screen. No matter how grounded Peter Parker’s tale becomes, the unreal and fantastical must eventually take centre stage.
As for Nolan’s grand finale to his re-telling of the Bruce Wayne/Batman story – The Dark Knight Rises, all I shall say is that it does not disappoint. Bale, Hathaway and Hardy’s career best performances are forged together with epic spectacle and thrilling revelations that will please gleeful fan-boys, forming in my opinion the very best of the three. The significance of the trilogy in hindsight, The Dark Knight in particular, is that they caused the realisation that superhero movies had much greater potential than first forecast. Nolan not only produced three great superhero stories, but also three crime epics, on par with the likes of Heat and The French Connection.
The Dark Knight Rises 13-minute preview:
With a Justice League film now in the pipeline, a potential reboot is already being discussed. Living up to the most complete movie trilogy of all time is far from an ideal project for a would-be director. It will be interesting to see if the ‘real world’ style of Gotham city is maintained, or if something completely different is attempted. Last time I checked Darren Aronofsky’s name was attached (probably inaccurately); who could certainly bring a stylistic and psychological depth to the film. Aronofsky had been attached to the Batman franchise even before Nolan, with a proposed Batman: Year One adaptation which fell through.
This got me thinking about the future Justice League movie and its potential characters – Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash and of course Wonder Woman. I have lately found Wonder Woman the most intriguing of the bunch, due to her role as arguably the most famous female in the DC universe. So what of her character and its translation onto the big screen? Is she capable of being a crime-fighting bad ass in a Dark Knight-esque ‘real world’ setting? Or is she simply to be a sex object, equipped only with her flimsy ‘lasso of truth’, in a camp and comic romp? The character was famously scheduled for a television outing back in 2011 on NBC. With Jeffery Reiner directing and Adrianne Palicki in the lead role; the series if green-lit described itself as a ‘reinvention’ of the original comic. However, when the pilot was filmed and some subject stills were released; Wonder Woman herself looked to be just as objectified as ever and the project plummeted into oblivion. With the influence and success of Batman looming large, perhaps NBC felt that audience tastes now leaned to the more serious tone of Nolan’s caped crusader.
Since then, a cinematic version has been briefly discussed and Olivia Wilde has been rather unofficially and speculatively tied to the lead role. Apart from supporting roles in sci-fi flicks In Time and TRON: Legacy as well as Cowboys and Aliens, Wilde hasn’t really carried a big release solely on her shoulders yet. A more surprising rumour is that Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn has expressed an interest in helming the project, with Christina Hendricks potentially involved as its protagonist. Refn has a real sense of style, yet never lets it outweigh his films’ substance. He also has an affinity for extreme violence which would make him a very interesting choice. Refn has a way with costume, as seen with the iconic scorpion jacket from Drive, and those skills may come in handy when dealing with the iconic but highly sexualised Wonder Woman costume. For me, a modernised and grounded look at the myth would require a costume modification, perhaps keeping recognisable elements of the original whilst incorporating them into a more practical design. That said, the filmmakers that eventually take on the challenge may decide upon a completely different path, as not to live in the shadow of The Dark Knight.
All the speculation you need on the Justice League movie and its related spin-offs: