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Posts Tagged ‘Spider-Man’

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING thoughts (spoilers)

I don’t have the budget to see many movies this summer, but Spider-Man: Homecoming was one I felt I needed to see (even though I’m waiting to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 until the library gets it). And I made enough money on my recent Shore Leave trip that I felt I could afford to spare a few bucks for recreation. Though of course I went on discount Tuesday.

Anyway, I liked the movie, but I didn’t love it. I guess I’m not the target audience for the John Hughes-style teen romantic comedy vibe they were going for — I don’t think I ever was. I got kind of bored during some of those teen-drama sequences, though the young actors were all pretty good. I didn’t dislike it, and it was pretty fun at times, but it didn’t wow me. I dunno, everyone these days seems to be excited about putting Peter Parker back in high school, even though he spent only three years and 30 issues in high school in the comics (well, more like 44 issues counting guest appearances in other books), but I first became interested in Spidey as a college-age character in the 1990s animated series, and I got to know him best when writing about him as a college graduate and part-time high school teacher in Drowned in Thunder. So I guess the idea of making him a kid doesn’t do that much for me.

Still, for what it was, it worked well. It captured the essence of who Spider-Man is, his sense of fun and his desire to help and his commitment to justice even when it screws up his personal life, as it invariably does — just in a more teenagery way than usual. And in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I can definitely see the value of stepping away from all the big important adult heroes dealing with matters of global or cosmic significance and taking a look at what life in the MCU is like for the little guy down on street level. And Spider-Man is a very good character for that, a hero who often hobnobs with superhero royalty but never loses his connection to the streets. (Which was approached fairly literally here. He tended to stay more on the level of brownstones and bodegas than skyscrapers here, and there was a fun sequence showcasing how hard web-swinging is in suburbia. The few times he did get up high, he had trouble coping with it.) Moreover, it was really interesting to see a street-level villain. Adrian Toomes could soar to any height, but he didn’t want to rule the underworld or conquer the planet, he just wanted to make a dishonest living because he blamed Stark and the government for taking his honest livelihood from him. He wasn’t exactly a victim in the vein of your classic tragic Batman: The Animated Series villain — it’s not like he couldn’t have found a different way to make an honest buck, he just chose to become a criminal and occasional killer because he was ticked off at the system — but he still saw himself as just a guy looking out for his family, making him a more nuanced and relatable villain than the MCU usually manages.

Now — spoiler alert — I could say it’s a huge coincidence that that Vulture turns out to be the father of Peter’s school crush Liz (wait, is she Liz Toomes? Liz Allan-Toomes?), but then, that’s the classic Parker luck. The villain always turns out to be either a family member of one of Peter’s friends, Peter’s own beloved mentor, or both. So I can give that a pass. And it plays out interestingly. We’ve seen the beat of the villain deducing the hero’s identity before in superhero films, perhaps too often, but it rarely plays out on such an intimate scale, and with the villain not really wanting to hurt the hero. Although it does get rather hard to sympathize with Toomes toward the climax, as he’s actively beating up a teenage boy and trying to kill him. That felt like too much of a standard action-movie beat being imposed on the characters. I think that Toomes as established through the rest of the film should’ve had more qualms about such face-to-face violence against such a young opponent.

But I love the way it turns out. I’ve spoken before of my dislike of the way superhero movies insist on killing off the bad guys, either by having the heroes kill them or going the “I don’t have to save you” route or having them die by their own actions or a twist of fate. It was so satisfying to see a movie not do that — to see Spidey risk his life to save the villain, succeed, and even get karmically rewarded for it in the post-credits scene. That’s the way I like to see these stories play out. I was worried about how Spidey, a character largely defined by his refusal to kill, would be handled in the MCU, which tends to make its heroes rather less non-lethal than they usually are in the comics. (Seriously, why would Tony even install “Instant Kill Mode” in that suit?) I’m relieved that they’re keeping that aspect of his character intact.

By the same token, I liked the scene with Spidey and Donald Glover’s character (who apparently is Miles Morales’s uncle). Spidey started out trying to intimidate the guy, but it turned out that what did the trick was Spidey’s kindness — he’d invited the bad guys to shoot him rather than Glover, and the latter appreciated that and was thus willing to help, as well as sharing a common concern for their neighborhood’s safety. That’s the sort of thing that really uses the idea of a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and makes it mean something.

I’m a bit disappointed that Spidey ended the film with the same Stark supersuit he started it with. I figured the arc of the film would be that he’d learn that all those gadgets were too much of a crutch and that he preferred something more basic. Maybe that will still be the case, though — maybe he’ll re-enable “Training Wheels Mode” voluntarily. (Although I read a review that pointed out that having the “Karen” AI to talk to was a nice substitute for Spidey’s constant internal monologue in the comics.)

Speaking of Stark, it’s interesting how he has his own parallel plotline sort of running through this movie, even though he’s mainly there to serve Peter’s story as a surrogate father figure and (rather bad) mentor. Even though he seems to treat Peter as an afterthought, he’s invested an awful lot (literally, financially) in this kid and his training as a hero. It matters to him, even if he’s inadvertently following in his own absentee father’s footsteps. One could wonder why he places so much importance on this one young protege, and partly that’s because it’s Spidey’s movie, but it also fits with where Tony is at this point in the MCU. This thing he’s built, the Avengers, has fallen apart. He’s lost almost his entire team, save for War Machine and Vision, and Rhodey’s probably still on the disabled list. So he needs to cultivate new members — not just for the optics or the logistics, but out of his personal need to keep his dream from being a failure. He’s trying not to rush the kid into it, trying to give him a chance to start out small and work his way up, but he’s equipped the Spidey suit with an AI designed to guide Peter’s training and hone him into Avenger material. And once Peter bypasses all that and proves himself by saving the day in his hoodie and goggles, Tony can’t resist jumping forward and offering him the works, just going all-out for the kid the moment he has an excuse. Because he needs this. Not just to rebuilt the Avengers, but because, as he said, he wants Peter to be better than him. He sees himself in the kid and wants to help him be a better man and a better hero than Tony could ever be. It’s interesting how much this film reveals about Tony Stark even though it’s nominally in a different series and even from a different studio. Some might hold that against the film as a Spider-Man story in its own right, but I enjoy the interconnectedness of all this and how unusual it is for movies. I love it that you can put all these individual films together and get an ongoing story running through most of them as a bonus.

Oh, and speaking of bonuses… Yes, as usual, I was the only one in my theater who stuck around through all the credits and got to see the Captain America tag at the end. It was worth it. (Plus, Michael Giacchino’s score was a good one, so I was happy to listen to the whole end title cue.)

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My day at CLCC ’15

The Cincinnati Library Comic Con was today. I don’t have a picture of myself from there this time, and maybe that’s just as well, because I was kind of frazzled. The day didn’t start out well. First, I lost track of time and had to rush through lunch and hurry out to my car. Then I found that my car wouldn’t start — the battery must’ve died. The one other person in the lot didn’t know anything about jumpstarting cars, and in retrospect, that was just as well, since even if I’d made it downtown, I would’ve probably needed another jumpstart to get back home again. Anyway, I hurried down to the bus stop, lugging my bag of books to sell, and just barely made it in time to catch the bus. I made it in time — early, in fact — but it wasn’t an auspicious beginning.

For a while, too, it seemed like I wasn’t going to sell many books. As I said in my earlier post, I decided to focus on my superhero stuff this year based on what sold last year, bringing mainly copies of Only Superhuman and my last few leftover copies of my two Marvel novels, and as an afterthought I brought a few Trek novels: a couple of copies each of Ex Machina, The Buried Age, and Greater Than the Sum. But somehow, for the first hour or so, it was only the Trek novels that people were interested in buying. Perhaps it’s because I brought TOS and TNG books this time instead of the more unfamiliar stuff like DTI and Rise of the Federation. Anyway, after a while, I was afraid I wouldn’t move any of the OS hardcovers and would end up making substantially less money than I did last year. Fortunately, things picked up right near the end and I finally sold a couple of the OS hardcovers, as well as four of the five Marvel books. I made nearly as much as I did last year — though that new car battery is probably going to eat up all of it and then some.

Still, I wonder why I had more trouble getting people interested in OS this year. I suspect it’s because I wasn’t pitching it as well. The problems with my car and racing for the bus threw me off and tired me out, and I didn’t do that great a job talking it up. So even though I managed to come out of the day okay, I feel I could’ve done better.

Also, when one person asked me to write down my website address for them, I wasn’t thinking clearly and I put an “@” before “wordpress.com” instead of a period. I hope they figure out what it’s supposed to be.

The weirdest question I got from a convention guest today was when someone asked me if The Hunger Games had anything to do with Star Trek. I have no idea what led to that question. (The only connection I’ve been able to find is that Robert Knepper is in Mockingjay and was also in TNG: “Haven” and VGR: “Dragon’s Teeth.” Although you could get a degrees-of-separation thing with Jennifer Lawrence and Sir Patrick Stewart both being in X-Men: Days of Future Past, or Philip Seymour Hoffman and Simon Pegg both being in Mission: Impossible III.) I did have a couple of more constructive conversations with people interested in writing and wanting to learn about the process. Hopefully I was coherent enough to be helpful.

Thanks to LeeAnn and the library staff for their invitation to the event and their support while I was there!

Book signing: Cincinnati Library Comic Con, May 16

Once again, I’ll be signing books at the Cincinnati Library Comic Con on Saturday, May 16. Here’s my post on last year’s event. I did much better selling Only Superhuman and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder there than any of my Star Trek stuff, so this year I think I’m going to focus mainly on my superhero stuff. I still have a good supply of Only Superhuman hardcovers (which moved pretty well last year), and I’ve got a very few copies remaining of Drowned in Thunder and X-Men: Watchers on the Walls that I’ve been holding on to “just in case” for long enough that it’s probably time I did something with them. (And I’ll probably bring a few Trek books too.) So anyone who’s in the Cincinnati area and wants signed copies of those books — with a portion of the sale price to be donated to the library, so it’s for a good cause — should be at the Main Library on 800 Vine Street in downtown Cincinnati between noon and 5 PM on May 16. Here are directions and parking info.

Thoughts on THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (Spoilers)

I finally got around to seeing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 today. I only just happened to discover there’s a relatively new theater that’s a few miles closer to home than the ones I usually go to, although I wasn’t thrilled with the sound system there.

Anyway, I thought the movie was better than a lot of the reviews are saying, though it has some major flaws. The main problems are with the characterization of the villains. Max Dillon, before his transformation into Electro, is a very off-putting and cartoony caricature, reminding me of Gus Gorman from Superman III in a way. And the doctor (Marton Csokas) who examined him in Ravenscroft, named Ashley Kafka but bearing no resemblance to the sympathetic female character of that name in the comics, was an even more cartoony stereotype of a German mad scientist. Meanwhile, Norman Osborn, who was played up as a major threat in the first movie (and of course has been that and then some in the comics), had just one scene that tried to abruptly establish a whole history with his son Harry in retrospect before he dropped dead. It was an awkward infodump scene, and it felt too dependent on the viewers already knowing about Norman and Harry’s history from the comics, cartoons, or previous movies, rather than something that could really stand on its own. Harry himself was okay, but given a rather abrupt turn to the dark side.

But what worked marvelously well was Spider-Man. This is the most perfect live-action depiction of Spider-Man in action I’ve ever seen. They totally nailed it. Well, not totally — some of the action choreography was implausible, like the way Spidey just ignored the dozens of cars being smashed in the opening truck chase in order to save one pedestrian. I think the conceit the filmmakers were following was that anyone inside a car or bus was immune from being killed in a wreck, which would be really great if it were true, but since it isn’t, that didn’t work so well. Aside from that, though, Spidey was note-perfect — his methods, his attitude, his banter, his compassion for the little guy. And the costume looked great too. Not only that, but they actually let him keep the mask on for most of his scenes, really let him perform as Spider-Man, let him be Spider-Man, even in dramatic scenes. That embrace of his iconic design and silhouette, of Spider-Man as a character rather than just a disguise for Peter Parker, gave it an extra bit of authenticity. This is the real deal. It’s the best Spidey action ever, not because of the special effects, but because of Spidey himself.

The way Peter is portrayed out of costume is almost as good, although the thread about his search for answers about his parents doesn’t really feel that connected to the rest of the story. But his relationship with Gwen Stacy is really great, and Gwen is really great. Spidey here is basically like he is in the comics (at last), but Gwen is so much better a character in these movies than she ever was in the comics. I mean, sure, we all revere the memory of Gwen Stacy, but the most significant thing she really did in the comics was dying. Before that happened, she was just another superhero love interest, the Betty to Mary Jane Watson’s Veronica. Emma Stone’s Gwen is a hero in her own right, every bit as impressive as Spidey himself — probably more so, because she gets by on sheer brains and chutzpah. These films have their detractors, and not without reason, but I think their (and Stone’s) portrayal of Gwen Stacy will be remembered as one of the high points of superhero cinema.

But of course, what defines Gwen is the ending of her story, and even this more heroic Gwen couldn’t escape that, although I kind of wish she had. The film telegraphed it rather blatantly, first with Gwen’s graduation speech which was a valedictory in more ways than one, and then with Harry and Peter talking about Peter’s girlfriend with the Brooklyn Bridge looming ominously in the background. Of course, the bridge isn’t where her death scene happens in this version (though the fictional power station where the climax occurs is right next to it), but every comics fan in the audience probably knew at that moment that Gwen wouldn’t make it out of the movie alive. Still, I’ve been expecting all along that she’d die in the movie — as soon as I saw a shot in one of the commercials with a falling Gwen reflected in Spidey’s eyepiece, I knew. Mainly I’ve just been hoping that they’d get it right. Gwen’s death scene as scripted by Gerry Conway in Amazing Spider-Man #121 (the key pages of which are reproduced here) is very powerful and poignant to me, and what really hit me was the way Spidey initially believed he’d saved Gwen, boasting to himself of his prowess, and then was confused when she wouldn’t wake up because “I saved you, honey — don’t you see?” That was such beautiful writing, and it’s the key thing I always wanted to see preserved if the scene was ever adapted to the screen. (Which is something I wasn’t sure would ever happen, since every prior cartoon and movie that adapted it substituted MJ for Gwen and let her live — or in the case of the ’90s animated series, dropped her into an alternate dimension so Peter only thought she was dead.) Unfortunately, though, this movie left it out completely. More, the mechanism of her death is changed — rather than her neck snapping from the sudden deceleration, her head hits the ground just as the webbing snags her. I think that changes it, because it gives the impression that Spidey was just too late, rather than it being a case where he couldn’t have saved her because she was just falling too fast. (Oh, and the slow-motion shot of the webbing strands literally reaching for her like a hand was pretty silly.) So I feel they didn’t get it right, or at least they didn’t preserve the part that matters most to me.

Also, I’m not sure it was needed. Gwen Stacy is a classic example of a female character killed to motivate a male lead, but this Gwen was so strong and heroic in her own right that it feels wrong to force her back into the fridge, so to speak.

Let’s see, what else? The 3D wasn’t as impressive as it looked to me in the trailer. Not sure if that’s because of the different theater, or if it’s just that I’ve gotten more used to 3D movies since I saw that trailer. Still, there were some good moments, especially of Spidey’s webslinging and high-flying antics. As for the music, I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve found Hans Zimmer to be an occasionally excellent composer, doing interesting things in movies like the Sherlock Holmes duology, but his superhero work (with Batman and Superman) has been little more than atonal droning and blaring, so I wasn’t expecting to like the score here. But it was actually a really impressive score, very imaginative and rich, with an actual melodic theme for Spidey that was very heroic and satisfying. The most fascinating part, though, was the scoring for Max/Electro, the way his music included a relentless whispering voice part, almost subliminal at first, that represented the unstable Dillon’s internal monologue, or maybe the voices whispering in his head. I’m generally not a fan of anything in the vicinity of rap music, but this was subtle and intriguing and really helped make the character unsettling in a way the script failed to do. In the excellently done confrontation between Spidey and Electro in Times Square, the whispering gets louder as Dillon gets angrier, and you can finally make out the lyrics as it builds toward a rasping crescendo. It’s startlingly effective. I wouldn’t want to hear it done all the time, but I really admire the creativity of it.

So, in sum, it’s a more uneven movie than its predecessor, and where it fails, it fails badly (or at least isn’t what I wanted), but where it succeeds, it’s nearly perfect. The parts of this movie that work best are better than almost anything in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. I just wish those parts were a larger percentage of the whole.

(And don’t worry, fans of my Godzilla reviews. I’ll be seeing that movie before much longer. I just prefer to avoid the crowds of opening weekend.)

Cincy Library Comic Con report

Here I am at the Cincinnati Library Comic Con 2014 this afternoon:

Me at Cinti Library Comic Con

(Thanks to library volunteer Lori for taking the photo for me.)

As you can see, I brought a variety of my books with me, but I still had most of them by the end of the event. Still, I sold a bit over a quarter of my stock and earned a decent chunk of change, with 20% donated to the library. Not shown in the photo: the one copy I had left of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder. Since this was mainly a comics event, my Spidey novel and Only Superhuman sold significantly better than the Trek titles, a change of pace from what I’m used to. It makes me think I should’ve tried harder to market OS at comics events back when it first came out.

The library had snacks available for the guests, including mini-quiches from Panera. I’m not usually a quiche eater, but I was hungry and I saw that they had a spinach-artichoke variety, so I decided to give it a try, and it was quite good, as one would expect from Panera.

Another thing that really impressed me was the material covering the table, that gold sheeting you see there. The texture had a good firm grip to it and it nicely held my books in that upright position. I usually have trouble keeping them from falling over when they’re like that, but they were all very well-behaved today, so I can only conclude it’s because of the tablecloth material. If I knew what it were called, I’d recommend it to all my conventions.

SPIDER-MAN: DROWNED IN THUNDER makes AudioFile Magazine’s Best of 2013 list!

December 4, 2013 1 comment

The folks at GraphicAudio just sent me some excellent news: AudioFile Magazine listed their audiobook adaptation of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder as one of their Best Audiobooks of 2013 in the “Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Audio Theater” category.

Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder audiobook

The list is here:

http://digital.audiofilemagazine.com/i/215700

It may take a few moments to load, but the entry is on page 11. And here it is at GraphicAudio’s Facebook page.

I’m really pleased by this. I’ve always been proud of Drowned in Thunder, but the paperback didn’t get as much attention as I’d hoped. I’m glad to see the story getting a new lease on life thanks to GraphicAudio, and I hope this attention may eventually lead to Marvel reissuing the book (since Pocket’s license has lapsed by now).

New podcast interview on Trek Mate

The Trek Mate Family Network in the UK has just released a podcast of an interview I did for their “Captain’s Table” feature in which they interview Star Trek prose authors. The discussion covers my Trek work, my Marvel novels and their audio adaptations, and Only Superhuman. You can find it here:

http://www.trekmate.org.uk/ten-forward-captains-table-interview-with-christopher-l-bennett/