Does Whatever a $100 Million Movie Can

Catches co-branding deals just like fliesUh-oh. The new Spider-Man movie premiers in only seven weeks, and I haven’t begun inoculating myself yet. Only by convincing myself ahead of time that it will totally, completely suck ass can I protect myself from disappointment. If one nanobot of hope remains hiding among my microprocessors when I step into that theater on May 3, I’ll be vulnerable to a let-down at least as bad as last summer’s Planet of the Ape debacle.

This should be easy. After all, Spidey’s history as a live-action character has been one train wreck after another. Remember the live-action Spider-Man TV series from the 1970s? If not, count yourself lucky.

Spidey also used to show up on the Electric Company, but he wouldn’t talk. Word balloons would appear over his head while everyone around him talked in the normal way. He came across as a kind of Spider-Mime. Ick.

Spider-Man fared better in a 1992 live-action movie called The Green Goblin’s Last Stand. But get this: filmmaker Dan Poole didn’t have Marvel’s permission to make that movie. I guess to do Spider-Man right, you have to go behind Marvel’s back.

For the new film, Sony Pictures did not go behind Marvel’s back. And Marvel, well, they’re the folks that subjected Spidey to the Clone Saga a few years back. Fans still gripe about that one, and rightly so.

I can pretty much extinguish hope for the new movie, except for one thing: Ultimate Spider-Man. Marvel currently produces several Spider-Man series and spin-offs, but this one stands out as excellent. And just what makes it good?

We’ll, it’s not set in the mainstream Marvel continuity. But hell, which Marvel books are these days?

It features Spider-Man as a teenager. But so did boring old Untold Tales of Spider-Man.

No, what really sets Ultimate Spider-Man apart is good writing. Spider-Man acts like a real kid–we’re talking mood swings and seriously poor judgment. Aunt May does more than fetch the milk and cookies–she’s a strong, stern woman torn apart by the death of her husband and the burden of caring for a teenage boy. Spidey’s classmates’ relationships are ever-changing and complicated, just like real teenagers. J. Jonah Jameson isn’t a complete idiot. Even the villains seem more like real people.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis makes Ultimate Spider-Man a believable coming-of-age story–or, as believable as the fantasy elements allow. I’m tempted to say he balances the high school drama with the superheroics, but that’s not actually the case. The two elements don’t pull the book in opposite directs, they build on each other.

We can’t assume that the quality Bendis brings to Ultimate will bleed over into the movie. And yet, the very existence of Ultimate Spider-Man suggests that maybe Marvel is starting to get it. Is it possible they pushed for a decent movie script? And check out this announcement–it says Bendis is working on a new animated Spider-Man series set in the same continuity as the movie.

Bendis leaves me with one wafer-thin sliver of hope that the Spider-Man movie won’t suck. And as Nietzsche wrote: “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of man.” Ditto the torment of robots.

Damn you, Bendis. Damn you to HELL!

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