Spider-Man, the MCU and movie-paced storytelling

Wow, it’s been quiet around here hasn’t it?  For me, I blame the United States Postal Service.  Not to say I’m “mailing it in” (har har).  Anyway, just because J.R. and I haven’t been keeping up with the blog (sorry!) doesn’t mean we’re not keeping up with comicdom and pop culture chunks.  Well, I’m a little behind because of work, but I’m doing my best to catch up for work here as well as on a vocal-based project coming soon from me and a comic shop owner.  Stay tuned.

But because I’m known by many of my friends as a comic book nerd (and rightfully so) whenever something happens that makes buzz, someone will likely come to me and ask my opinion on it.  Lately, it’s been the announcement that Sony and Marvel are bringing Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Um, woo hoo?

But don’t get my lack of excitement bug you.  I’m not a movie watcher, per se, as in I don’t really watch movies.  While I am up on my X-Men movies which isn’t a big surprise, as for the MCU I’m really behind.  I’ve seen the first two Iron Man movies, the second Captain America movie and the Avengers.  Now before you jump down my throat screaming HOW COULD YOU CALL YOURSELF A FAN AND NOT SEE THEM ALL?!!! let me roll my eyes and say that if a movie’s theme doesn’t interest me, I’m not going to go out of my way to give time and money to it.  So when you toss out a solo movie for Thor or Hulk (or Superman for that matter, if you’re a DC fan) I’m not going to get excited because the characters don’t appeal that much to me.  If it’s important enough to someone I like and value the opinion of, I can be swayed.  For instance, my friend Andrew finally sat me down and made me watch Winter Soldier, and I give him props for doing so.

But enough about me, let’s talk Spider-Man in the MCU.

Back when I was growing up a little X-Men nerd, Marvel movies were a fan’s wet dream, but something we all assumed would simply never happen.  There was always news about bringing X-Men, Spider-Man or the Avengers to the big screen, but it never got so far as a development phase for any kind of studios.  That all changed in 2000 when X-Men finally hit the big screen and revealed for the first time that a comic movie could actually be good.

Unfortunately, that revelation caused the usual rush to make as much money as possible in a short amount of time, so numerous franchises were optioned out to any studio willing to pay for them, and those studios decided to get the movies going with input on what they thought would make them the most money with each individual film.  That meant declining interest and quality, so much so that many of these franchises like Daredevil and Fantastic Four dried up incredibly quick and went back to their stagnant state.

Spider-Man, however, was a unique example of this in the sense that it had both declining quality as well as an increased interest.  The latter was caused mainly through the public knowledge and interest in the character.  Spider-Man hangs with the likes of Captain America, Superman and Batman as a character that non-fans not only recognize, but love.  So when a Spider-Man movie hit, fans flocked to it in huge numbers causing a cash cow of a franchise.  Suddenly it didn’t matter what went into the movie – fans would see it simply because it was a Spider-Man film.  But because it was suddenly such an important piece of money-earning, suddenly higher-ups with no comic knowledge wanted to toss in whatever seemed to be popular to make the most profit as possible.

What that led to was a clusterfuck like Spider-Man 3 which jammed three unrelated villains and enough plot that could have been stretched into at least two more movies.  Don’t agree?  Let me explain.

Spider-Man 3 has three plots to it, each surrounding one of its villains:

  1. Harry Osborne has learned that his former BFF Peter Parker is actually Spider-Man and therefore theoretically responsible for the death of his father Norman.  Harry has inherited both Norman’s Green Goblin gear and his penchant for insanity and launches a two-pronged attack at Peter in both his super-hero and civilian identities, breaking up the relationship between him and Mary Jane.
  2. A new super-villain has emerged on the scene known as the Sandman, who not only is a new threat to Spider-Man, but also has ties to his origin story.  It turns out that Flint Marko (no relation to Cain Marko – the Juggernaut, bitch) was the partner of the burglar who killed Uncle Ben and in some unfounded and ridiculous cringe-worthy turn was actually responsible for the death of Ben Parker.
  3. Spider-Man comes across an unusual black thing that bonds with him to give him a living costume but causes a severe shift in his personality.  With a warning from Curt Conners, Peter manages to separate himself from the symbiote who in turn bonds with Eddie Brock, a disgraced reporter whose downfall was caused by Peter Parker, to create the villain Venom.

These plots go at a breakneck speed to get to the finale that leaves two villains dead and…I don’t even remember what happened to Sandman.  Peter decides against reconciling with MJ and we are left with something of a cliffhanger to never be touched upon again as Sony decided to wipe the entire thing out and start new.

Oh, the new movies that could have produced?  Here:

  1. Spider-Man 3 brings in Sandman, funded behind the scenes by Harry Osborne as he begins his plot against Peter Parker.  In the process of his first attack on Spider-Man, Sandman soundly defeats him but in the process knocks Spider-Man into whatever it is that brings in the symbiote.  As Harry begins his plot on his civilian life including breaking up him and MJ, Peter begins spinning into depression unaware that the symbiote has begun twisting his emotions and causing a personality shift.  It comes to a head in the final battle with Sandman where the symbiote gives Peter the umph to beat the villain and in the final climactic moment reveals the black costume.
  2. Spider-Man 4 jumps forward a bit as Spidey has redefined himself as a no-nonsense hero in the black suit striking fear into criminals and has managed to move up professionally as Peter Parker but at the cost of the heart that endeared him so much to his loved ones, leaving Aunt May and co. wondering what happened to their wonderful boy.  This shows mainly where Peter ruthlessly strikes back at rival reporter Eddie Brock, debunking a bogus story and humiliates him so badly that it destroys his reputation and career as a reporter.  MJ appeals to Harry to try to stop the monster he’s made, but Harry has gone too far and begins planning a final strike, thinking that Peter’s shift is a successful showing that he has broken him.  Harry strikes as the new Goblin (maybe with a low-level villain like Scorpion or Shocker) but Spider-Man beats them so badly that he finally realizes that the black suit has corrupted him and the climactic battle is Spidey against himself in the belltower where he battles the symbiote (perhaps in a mental battle between himself in the red and blue and the symbiote in the black).  The movie ends with Harry swearing revenge and Peter returning to his loved ones to get his life back in order.  Post-credits, a depressed Eddie Brock finds the symbiote.
  3. Spider-Man 5 begins with a rehashing of the climax of the previous during the opening credits and then opens with Eddie finding the symbiote.  Then the entire movie has Eddie, complete with the symbiote’s memories of Peter’s life as Spider-Man, striking out against him and his loved ones.  Tie it all in together with Harry’s redemption as a good person and joining in the final battle against Venom as Spider-Man finally defeats his greatest villain and redeems his best friend.  The movie comes to a close as Peter finally reunites with MJ, end with the wedding and perhaps toss in something like JJ Jameson toss in that maybe Spider-Man isn’t so bad…then toss it away in classic JJ style.  Anyway, close this era odf Spidey films giving Peter that rare happy ending, and perhaps even give Stan Lee the cameo as the minister.

And there you go.  With some patience and solid planning, Sony could have had three quality movies with the same cast of talent it crammed into one bad one, without ruining the likes of Venom or the black suit in less than an hour of crap.

But let’s go past that, as well as past the Andrew Garfield movies which will likely become a barely-mentioned footnote in the history of the character.  Spider-Man will be coming to the Marvel Cinematic family of films, and that means another shakeup of the franchise with yet another reboot.  And that’s probably a good thing.  Marvel has consistently show that through excellent casting and stories, it can put out quality movies.  And that’s what Spider-Man could use.  He’s arguably Marvel’s biggest hero (sorry, Cap) and Marvel needs him in their web (har har) more than any other hero.  More than the Fantastic Four.  More than the X-Men.

So what’s that mean for the hero going forward?  With the announcement of Spidey’s arrival, Marvel has also announced the pushing back of their release calendar.  One would assume that Spider-Man is going to be fast-tracked so they can get him going.  But remember that this is a top-notch hero in a major motion picture.  Fast-tracking is good in theory as it gets the movie to viewers faster, but rushing things is what leads to mediocre scripts and acting.  Spider-Man has had that in spades, which is why the character is getting a third reboot.

But that’s speculation that I will hope will be revealed as unfounded.  Instead, let’s speculate on what yet another Spidey reboot means in actual storytelling.  For one, where does a new beginning for the Spider-Man franchise actually, you know, begin?

You would think a good place to begin a story would be at the beginning, right?  For Spider-Man that would be geeky Peter Parker gets powers by being bit by a super spider (is it still radioactive?) and using them for selfish means leading to the death of his Uncle Ben which cements all too late that his mantra of With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility is something Peter should have taken to heart.  You should probably also toss in the creation of the costume and the web-shooters.

But aren’t you a little bored with that story?  You should be – you’ve seen it twice now in rather modern films (though the first one is now over a decade old), most recently just three years ago.  It’s a safe presumption that by this point most of the movie’s audience is going to be familiar with the origin story.  So should Marvel waste 30 minutes of the running time telling it again?   I would say no – not simply because I don’t want to see it again, but because it causes an issue with the pace of shared universe storytelling in the cinematic realm.

The creation of the MCU has created an aspect of comic movies that before had been unknown.  Not only are you trying to tell a story in the film itself, but you are also getting the character into a certain place to be used in other films in the MCU.  In comics, that’s usually not a problem.  Say the current Spider-Man story ends with Spidey caught in another dimension or powerless or on the wrong side of the law.  However, the upcoming Avengers story wants to have him as a member of the team for whatever mission is about to take place.  What does the creative team do?  Ideally a storyline comes out that bridges the gap, or less ideally the Avengers story tosses out a line that says the story takes place either before or after current storyliness in Spidey’s own book.  Though really any more Marvel doesn’t even bother and just goes ahead and lets nerds like me try to make sense of it.

The pace of storytelling in the MCU slows way down due to the amount of time it takes to create and release a blockbuster film.  So if you’re going to need Spidey in a certain way for the next year or two’s films you have to get him into that position by the end of his own film.  So in theory Spider-Man is going to appear in the third Avengers?  Then the first Spider-Man film better get him ready for that because you won’t be getting another one to do anything more with him for years down the road.  Since Marvel has so proudly established its movies as a big ongoing story, you have to do that with every film that each character is going to pop up in.  And that’s good – that creates that bigger picture that has never before been seen in super-hero movies, and its why a film like Ant-Man which has a less-known character but falls into the MCU has a better shot at nabbing a bigger audience than the rebooted Fantastic Four film probably will.  After all, who thought Guardians of the Galaxy would explode like it did?  Certainly not me.

So the Spider-Man MCU reboot will probably be excellent and exactly what the character has needed since Spider-Man 2.  But where it goes is the more interesting story for me.  Let’s see where Marvel takes it.


One comment

  1. To be honest I think shoving Spiderman into the Avengers ruined the Peter Parker character, he was always better as the friendly neighbourhood hero that stopped robberies and less world threatening badguys. His developing personal life was nice as well, until he moved in with wolverine and Captain America, then wiped out his adulthood so he became a grown man that still answered to his elderly Auntie for being late to social gatherings.

    I Agree about the subject matter thing, I haven’t watched ASM 2 because Electro has never been the villain to go into deep story telling over, guy has electric powers, commits crimes and deserves a super-beating, why give him a sympathetic back story?

    I know the story reason but has it ever been said why Sandman had his “real”name changed to William Baker?


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