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Comicscape - August 11, 2004

SPIDEY 2: Your Reactions ("SPIDEY 2 Rocks!")

By Tony Whitt     August 11, 2004


SPIDER-MAN 2.
© Columbia Pictures


OPINION:



Last week I turned the floor over to those who mostly agreed with my extended review of SPIDER-MAN 2, so this week it only makes sense to let those on the other side of the carpet have their say...and some of them are quite voluble about it!



For example, Ian Whetstone has a book's worth of (admittedly good) points to make: "I've no doubt that you'll be inundated with responses to your breakdown of SPIDER-MAN 2, so I'd like to say that I'll keep this brief... but that'll likely become a lie. On the whole, I found the movie to be wonderful, if not perfect, and I must disagree with a number of the criticisms that you lobby against it. I may or may not get to all of them, but I'd first like to focus on a deeper exploration concerning Spidey's missing in-fight wit and the differences between different media. For the record, I recall one example of such wit that did make it into the movie ('Here's your change' during the bank fight (which, admittedly, I either forgot or never heard mea culpa! TBW)), but on the whole the inability to include such dialogue illustrates a prime example of the challenge faced by filmmakers when adapting comic books to the big screen. I'd like to look at a simple example for better illumination: Envision, if you will, a three-panel exchange between Spidey and Doc Ock. In the first panel, Ock flings a car at Spidey and says 'Take this, you wall-crawling cretin.' In the second panel, Spidey dodges the cars via some acrobatic insanity and, shooting his webs back at the good doctor, retorts 'You know what I love about you, Doc? The irony... you've got four giant tentacles but only one tiny wiener.' In the third panel, we see the webbing hit Ock in the face, to which he responds 'Curse you, Spider-Man!'



"Now, my deficiencies as a writer aside, this is a three-panel exchange that, simple though it sounds, CANNOT be directly reproduced on film. Why? Because the bookend panels limit the passage of time in the center panel to the amount of time that it takes a thrown object (the car) to travel from its origin (Ock) to its destination (Spidey) according to the laws of physics. Conservatively, let's say that it's five seconds (it's probably more like one or two). Yet, Spidey's dialogue, contained wholly within the second panel, would require about ten seconds to speak at a comprehendible speed. To film this three-panel exchange, you'd need to either expand the action to accommodate the dialogue, or edit the dialogue to accommodate the time available. Comic book creators, though, have this capability at their disposal wherein they can fudge the difference in time between action and dialogue without it registering with the audience (for a better discussion of the manipulation of time in sequential art, check out Scott McCloud's UNDERSTANDING COMICS, though I imagine both you and most of your readers have already done so). Movie tricks don't allow for the same flexibility.



"The

SPIDER-MAN 2.

Spidey movies offer a great entry point into this discussion, because the change in medium considerably affects such an important and recognized aspect of the character as his in-fight banter. Consider this, too... it doesn't register as unnatural in a comic book when a character engaged in rigorous physical activity also indulges in lengthy ongoing discourse, unlike on screen, where we're more likely to realize that the guy should be too busy acquiring oxygen to be running his mouth off like that. In movies, dialogue beyond one-liners and grunting usually requires breaks in the action to put the characters in situations conducive to speech and to avoid overlap with sound effects. Combine this with the comic book medium's ability to manipulate time in the aforementioned fashion, and it becomes clear that sequential art offers much better support as a medium for this aspect of the character Spider-Man.



"If I may go off on a little tangent, I'd like to offer more about sound... it's a great example of a prime, prime difference between the media. Comic books and movies are related media in the sense that each combines visual elements with another element: sound, in the case of movies; and text, in the case of comic books. Comic books can use sound, to a limited degree. Well, actually, they can't use sound at all. They can use image and text to imply sound (again, check McCloud). They can't use music. They can indicate the presence of music, but it's up to the reader to concoct the actual musical content for themselves. This results in comics being unable to use music for arguably its primary purpose in film: to set a mood.



"Here's one outgrowth of that fact: you can't scare people with comic books. Oh, you can make them feel afraid. You can establish a creepy atmosphere and put readers in a state of fearfulness, but you'll never make anyone over the age of four jump or scream as a result of images and words on the printed page. Why not? Because it's a physical response to the physical stimuli of sound and motion -- the two primary components of the media of film that are lacking in sequential art.



"Okay, back to Spidey. Or, I should say, SPIDEY 2. I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with the train revelation. Might the thought that it could come back to haunt him cause Pete a few sleepless nights? Sure. Practically speaking, will he realize any actual consequences? I can't imagine. A handful of people (in a city of, what, nine million?) saw his face, but they'll likely never, ever encounter him again (out of costume) for the rest of their lives (so long as he, as Peter Parker, never becomes famous or publicly recognizable). Might he be described to a sketch artist? Sure, but he'd be greatly helped by the fact that Tobey Maguire has got to be among the most average looking people in the country. He has absolutely no distinguishing characteristics. Quick, put out an APB for a brown-haired white kid. Hell, think about the much-publicized Unabomber sketch... it looked more like Ron Burgundy than it did Ted Kaczynski. So, their loyalty to the man who saved them aside (and the sequel handled its 'Spidey being embraced by New York' scene much more organically, and less jarringly, than did SPIDER-MAN with its rah-rah 'You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us' bridge citizenry), I just don't see that the train passengers offer any marked threat to Pete. I'd say that he has amply more cause to worry that Harry Osborn could get plastered and blurt it out in front of a roomful of high society (and their accompanying press).



"I also

One of Doctor Octopus' tentacles on display at E3.

had no problem with Ock's arms having personality and wills of their own. That's been an aspect of the character in the comics, after all. I did have a problem with the related ham-fisted exposition that preceded the fusion experiment. A woman asks 'If the artificial intelligence is as advanced as you imply...' What? Who ever mentioned AI? It would have played much better for me if Octavius had simply stated, when describing the arms, that the bright blue chip prevented 'unwanted neural feedback' or something similarly ambiguous. I think that it was obvious enough that he was 'hearing' the arms later on (and not referencing AI could have left the nature of the voices much more in question... do the arms really talk, or is Ock just nuts?), so I didn't find this spoon-fed foreshadowing all that necessary. Molina sold me on his 'listen to me now' delivery at the end... so I was willing to buy into the good man, evil arms angle, but I wish that it had been introduced with a little more subtlety and ambiguity as to the true origins of the insanity.



"Most of the little things that annoyed you (particularly in the vein of comic relief) played just fine for me. That might just be a matter of taste. I will hear no arguments, however, that 'Go get 'em, tiger' was anything but the single greatest line ever written or delivered in any superhero movie in history. On that note, I'll take my leave." The single greatest line ever delivered in a superhero movie, Ian? I'll let your fellow readers chime in on that one... While I think you make some excellent points, I just want to point out that I'd kind of already mentioned the reasons why Spidey can't banter in battle on film in the original review but you explained it far better than I did. The problem with that is, why is it that he can banter to a degree in the various animated series featuring the character? Surely it's a matter of degrees there's more time between action and effect in those series than in the battles in the movies but it still raises a counterpoint that should be considered.



Oh, and if you think a comic book can't be scary, read MAN-THING. I'm still having trouble sleeping. If you mean it can't make us jump, though, I'm right there with you. Thanks for the feedback!



John Fultz takes us to task for focusing too much on one version and not the other: "Man, you came down pretty hard on SPIDEY 2. I think you're simply focusing too much on the comic version. When you see a comic book movie, you have to realize that this isn't a comic. These are characters and situations that are based on the comic, but it's not the comic. A lot of your criticisms talk about the discrepancies between the comic and movie versions. That's a moot point in my book. For instance, I see no credence in the complaint some have made that the movie Wolverine is tall, whereas the comic Wolvie is 5 feet high. It's the SPIRIT the character that is captured by Jackman's awesome portrayal of Logan, and that's what engages us at the movies.



"I feel the same way about Toby as Peter Parker. Let's face it-you can't 'act' with a full face-mask on, so he's limited to sheer dialogue and body language when he's in Spidey mode. This is the very reason why Raimi had Spidey remove his mask during the train scene-he knew it would be more powerful if we saw Peter's face as he attempted this Herculean task of stopping the runaway train. And it worked beautifully. Imagine that scene with the mask on, and while it may have looked cooler, it would not have had the same emotional impact. As for Peter Parker, I find Toby's performance endearing and charming, and he captures the 'everyman' factor that makes PP so relatable and believable. As for Dunst as MJ-she provides the perfect 'girl-next-door' fantasy, and that's what the movie relationship is all about. (In the comics, it was more about Peter trying to score with an untouchable bombshell, but this isn't the comic-see above.)



"Whenever you compare a movie too closely to its source material, be it comic or novel, you're bound to be disappointed. The trick is to enjoy the movie as a separate entity. When they're made well, it's easy to do that. When they're not (PUNISHER, anyone?), it's best to avoid them altogether.



"I'd also

Doctor Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) hails a cab supervillain style.

like to echo Steven Grant's recent comment that people who like 'comic' movies like them because they are movies. They're not going to run out and start reading comics. The comics industry is finally figuring this out, because the phenomenal success of the Spidey and X movies has not translated into million-selling books. Most people are simply going to wait for the next movie. Still, these movies are good for the comics industry because they funnel massive profits to the comic book companies, and hence on to their creators." In most cases, anyway, if the companies are being scrupulous. I agree with many of your points, John, especially the one about the very nature of the movie's Peter-MJ dynamic being a different thing altogether. However, as obvious as it seems to point out that the movie is not a comic, the movie might have some difficulty existing without the comic, which is why I feel some justification in the comparison. Besides, there are other movies (X-MEN, X-MEN 2, and HELLBOY, just to name three) that are so far removed from the source material that they feel like new creations and yet they don't strike me in the same way as my reaction to SPIDEY 2 does. I can accept each of those movies and enjoy them as their own separate entities. With SPIDEY 2, I can enjoy it and I wouldn't want you to think from my review that I did not enjoy it but that acceptance of the alternate reality is slightly harder to muster. More of an emotional investiture in the characters, perhaps? Maybe. Anyway, that's my rationale though we're going to have to agree to disagree about Tobey!



"billiam" writes that he "happen[s] to agree with most of your points about the film, even though I'm one that gives it an almost 100% approval rating. [While] your points did take me back to re-think and put the grade down a bit[,] I still have to say it's one of the best comic book based movies ever made. I truly agreed with Spider-Man's quips in the comics that are left out of the movies - those quips are what got me into the comic in the first place rather then the reality of Spider-Man's saga and that he has more in common with regular people then other superheroes do.



"There are a few points that I don't agree with as much, although I understand you feeling that way towards them. One would be the train in New York when it really should've been in Chicago. And I'm sure that's deadly accurate, I've never been in New York but when people argue about the train being there when it really isn't, I believe them. But the New York in the Spiderman comics, cartoons, and novels all had some differences from New York in reality[...]Marvel's New York is different than the real New York. So why should seeing a train in New York in the movie be such a bit deal? Another point I didn't agree with is that Bruce Campbell is never a bad thing, especially when it's a small role as that one. Ted Raimi, though...yeah, he doesn't need to be there.



"One thing I have to ask, though, because I'm not sure that I know the story all that well, but isn't John Jameson, aside from being the Man-Wolf (which I honestly never heard of but will assume it's true), also 'the' astronaut that goes to the moon and brings back the symbiote (I doubt I spelled that right but you get the idea)? But whether he is or he isn't, couldn't that be the hint that the movie is giving for the future, the arrival of the symbiote rather then the Man-Wolf?" By "symbiote," I assume you're referring to the black costume that later led to the creation of Venom, right? That's where my history gets blurry I thought for sure that John Jameson had nothing to do with that and that Peter picked that up himself while fighting the Secret Wars... Can anyone shed some light on this?



Alexandra Erin really needs not apologize when she writes, "I just read your thoughts on SPIDER-MAN 2, and I'm sorry, Tony, I'm going to have to differ with you in a big way on the matter of the intelligent, evil arms. I was impressed with that particular decision from the moment the nature of the arms became clear. Clunky foreshadowing aside, they weren't a cheesy plot device... they were the only saving grace that allowed a Doc Ock movie to have any plausibility whatsoever.




"The only

Harry Osborne (James Franco) prepares to bring an end to Spider-Man.

reason Doc Ock has become such an iconic character at all is that he's the most generic supervillain imaginable, meaning he could be plugged into any story at any time. To wit: brilliant scientist has an accident, gains special powers, goes non-descriptively insane, starts robbing banks. Yeah. Okay. I know that's what I'd do, if I had an accident that left me essentially unharmed but in control of super-strong yet amazingly delicate metal arms. Rob a bunch of banks. You want to talk about how comics used to be, the image the industry ought to think more strongly about shedding? this is it.




"By ditching the all-too-vague, all-too-cheesy 'He's gone mad!' and replacing it with an artificial intelligence, they explained:


"1) Why 'he' was so willing to kill. Freed from his control, the arms acted to protect their own existence... these first acts of violence would make it easier for him to direct the violence himself as his persona and the arms' merged together.


2) Why he would go out and rob a bunch of banks: the driving need to create a fusion reaction programmed into the arms... 'going mad' aside, this isn't the sort of funding solution that would leap into the mind of a respectable scientist. The machines know no scruples, they would only know they needed money that the bank had.


3) Why he would recklessly endanger the entire city and beyond recreating a failed experiment: the cold, inflexible nature of the machine intelligence. The arms had been created and programmed based on the idea that all the underlying theories were sound and the technique was safe. Therefore, they would have cheerily blown up the entire planet rather than rethinking the procedure.




"Yeah, they could have gone other ways with this. They could have used Spider-man's presence at the lab as an excuse to convince him that the experiment was sabotaged, making a mostly sane but unhinged Ock blame Spider-man for his wife's death... but that wouldn't create the broader, city-wide threat. As compelling a spectacle as a super-battle might be, a hero isn't quite as heroic when he's just cleaning up his own mess. Ock could have robbed a bunch of banks to rebuild the reactor himself after failing to draw out the retired Spider-man any other way... but if you want to talk cheesy plot devices, I think that would definitely qualify.




"I do

Aunt May goes swinging around the town with Spider-Man.

think the Ultimate version of Octavius's motivation (mad, rather than... well, mad) is a great idea for that particular series, as it rather neatly dodges the cheesiness, but I think that kind of plays out better when the individual is a recurring in an ongoing series rather than a central figure in a single movie... and it only really works when the Doc is a self-serving sleaze from the get-go, which would have totally taken away the tragic air of the character. Since these movie villains tend to be one-shots, making him into the redeemable tragic figure helps make an otherwise interchangeable character into something memorable. It might seem predictable and overdone... but really, how many comic book movies have ended that way?" Good point since the answer is, almost all of them!



I appreciate you all writing in, as you make very sound counterarguments. However, just to show that not all the disagreement out there was quite so reasoned (or even comprehensible), I include the response of "kirksmith", and I do so without editing a single word or commas. In an e-mail with the subject line "sad sad little man", he writes the following (if you can call it "writing"):



"See it's people like you, I can't fathom how you ever became a film critic in the first place. I'm a big comic book fan, and SPIDER-MAN 2 never came off cheese! why don't you take some time out from what ever you do read some spidy comics then watch the movie! Tobey nails the role of peter parker perfectly, so please do me a favor get a job because frankly you have no idea what your talking about."



Goodness. Well, I'm assuming this guy can't read in addition to not being able to write, since he obviously read a totally different review than the one I wrote. I don't remember ever saying it "came off cheese," for instance, nor would I say it that way if I did. And don't I already have a job? Hmph. (Come to think of it, he must have seen a totally different version of SPIDER-MAN 2 from the one I saw, as well...)



Oh well. If you still have thoughts about all this, send them to me via the web site contact address here or to me directly. And remember, if you should happen to make reference to a title of a comic series please use CAPS when giving the title. I do the HTML coding on this column every week, and having the titles in caps already makes my life much easier. Finally, as always, don't forget our discussion boards! I don't know quite what's going on next week yet, but in the meantime here's this week's listings:




THIS WEEK:



For the kids this week, DC offers up more spooky ghosts (zoinks!) in SCOOBY-DOO #87.



San Diego is now "Sub Diego" in AQUAMAN #21. I'm only taking my first semester of Spanish right now, but even I know that's just not right...! Oh, well, hope all the Comic Con people made it home first!



Just

Cover to AVENGERS 500 DIRECTOR'S CUT.

as John Fultz pointed out to me above (however unnecessarily) that a movie is not a comic book, someone should tell Marvel that comic books are not movies. Oh, well...the "director's cut" comics trend continues with the AVENGERS #500 DIRECTOR'S CUT for $3.99. Oh, well at least that means that everyone who did get it last week can get it this week, I guess.



That whole "War Games" thing is still going on with Part Two appearing in LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #182; Part Three happens in NIGHTWING #96; the ROBIN: UNMASKED! trade paperback ($12.95) collects issue #s #121-125 and thus has nothing to do with "War Games" at all (thank goodness); and GOTHAM CENTRAL #22 deals with the High School Baseball Massacre, which sounds like it should have something to do with "War Games" but doesn't. Whew.



BLOODHOUND gets a leash (no, really, that isn't a joke!) in issue #2, out this week. Sounds like a joke, though, dudn't it?



Just when you thought Robert Kirkman's run on CAPTAIN AMERICA couldn't get worse...Batroc the Leaper. Oh, Death, where is thy sting? It's all in issue #30, for those masochists who want to read it.



Inspired by the cover of THE FLASH #163 (the old one, you know), Dennis O'Neil & Doug Mahnke and the SUPERMAN/BATMAN team of Loeb, McGuinness & Vines take on the challenge of crafting new stories in DC COMICS PRESENTS: THE FLASH #1.



Another handpicked writer of JMS, Samm Barnes, writes the DOCTOR SPECTRUM miniseries for MAX, starting this week with #1 (of 6). Nice work if you can get it!



Emma

Cover to EMMA FROST #14.

went to Empire State? Funny, she seems more like the Cambridge type to me... Anyway, the continuing (but not for long) story of her school days continues in EMMA FROST #14. (Good Lord, doesn't she look like a wall-eyed Reese Witherspoon on that cover?)



Reed and Namor are still at it in MARVEL KNIGHTS: 4 #9. (Honestly, do these off-shoot FF series ever deal with anything except Namor coming back to get Sue to love him?) Meanwhile, for a non-Namor storyline, check out the MARVEL KNIGHTS 4 VOL. 1: WOLF AT THE DOOR trade paperback, collecting #s 1-7 of this series, for $16.99.



There's a new mystery man in town going after the heads of the crime families in Star City (both literally and figuratively) in GREEN ARROW #42, and he doesn't play by the rules like Ollie does. Snort! Yeah, right! We are talking about one of the members of the JLE, a member of the cabal from the next title on our list, and a member of that laws-of-physics-breaking faction called the "Risen from the Dead" and Ollie plays by the rules???



Mysterious murders continue and yet another cabal, this one of super-villains, emerges in IDENTITY CRISIS #3 (of 7). Gee, I wonder whose brains they've scrambled magically lately...



And speaking of villains, it's downright villainous of Marvel to release the similarly titled and numbered IDENTITY DISC #3 (of 5) the same week as DC's title, y'know? Of course, this series is about villains and not about heroic people doing somewhat villainous things, so that's ok.



All manner of secrets are revealed in INCREDIBLE HULK #75, but perhaps not how the Hulk ends up in a post-apocalyptic future. As long as he doesn't meet Mel Gibson playing his banjo, that's fine with me...



IRON FIST #6 is out this week, and while I could make a joke about the title of the ESSENTIAL IRON FIST VOL. 1 trade paperback being an oxymoron, I won't. It goes for $16.99, if you want it.



Someone dies in the "Avengers Disassembled" tie-in in IRON MAN #87. Gee, a tie-in in which something important happens how about that?



Cave

Ethan Van Sciver's cover to JSA #64.

Carson, no less(!), appears in JSA #64 as the team goes looking for Sand, while yet another Sandman emerges above ground and this one doesn't go in for goth gear and talking in weird black dialogue bubbles.



It's John Stewart's turn to cross the line in JLA #103. Gee, it's not easy to be a hero in the DCU these days, is it?



Speaking of not having it easy, the teens from the future continue to deal with villains dressed like heroes from the past and the rather "old school" menace of a power blackout (which hurts them rather more than it would hurt us) in THE LEGION #37.



Bendis' Icon-based version of POWERS continues with issue #3 this week, as a new hero's identity is revealed.



That whole Hell's Kitchen thing is still going on in PUNISHER #10 oh, well, at least it's not another "Avengers Disassembled" tie-in. And if you missed the first six issues (as I'm sure you didn't), then go pick up the PUNISHER MAX VOL. 1: IN THE BEGINNING trade paperback for $14.99.



Jen blows her cover at work though how anyone could not have known who she is by now is a mystery to me in SHE-HULK #6, bound to be a nominee for next year's Eisners. Just watch!



Frank Cho doing art on MARVEL KNIGHTS: SPIDER-MAN #5? Totally excellent, dude! Meanwhile, all the "Avengers Disassembled" madness is still going on in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #18. Oh, well, at least there's one good Spidey book to read this week...



All

Cover to SUPERMAN: THE GREATEST STORIES EVER TOLD.

the bad guys are trying to kill a newly vulnerable Superman in ACTION COMICS #818 (though if they do, they've got to know by now he'll just come back, wouldn't they?), while the SUPERMAN: THE GREATEST STORIES EVER TOLD trade paperback collects all sorts of cool Super-crap in 192 pages for $14.99.



An entire school is infected with the same rare virus that changed Gar into Beast Boy in TEEN TITANS #14. Aw, aren't they cute when they try to morph into a horse for the first time and end up as a goat?



And speaking of "teen titans," didja know that the THOR: SON OF ASGARD series has been extended? Why, yes, it has! Thrill to more tales of the godly teens in issue #7! Or not, as you see fit.



You will respect Wildstorm's authori-taa! Or at least respect the fact that THE AUTHORITY #14 is out this week, and I'm sure you do.



Wanna see something cool and yet distinctly un-American? Then check out the Humanoids THE METABARONS trade paperback for $14.95. (Disclaimer: this is not meant to suggest that un-American things are cool. No, sir, not at all. Of course, some American things, like the Patriot ACT, blow chunks, but...)



From

Cover to 100 BULLETS #52.

Vertigo this week comes the Eisner Award-winning 100 BULLETS #52, this issue of which is set in New Orleans (so of course they deserved that award!); vampire mobsterism continues unchecked in BITE CLUB #5 (of 6); Bill Willingham takes us back to 1944 in FABLES #28; and if you were unable to afford another Eisner Award winner because it was too much in hardback, you can now get THE SANDMAN: ENDLESS NIGHTS in softcover format for $17.95.



And finally, you X-Philliacs out there have only DISTRICT X #4 and WEAPON X #27 to keep you happy. They'll be riots in the streets, I know it...



More next week!




Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think by e-mailing us here!

Comicscape is our weekly Comics column.


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