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.)
Here I am at the Cincinnati Library Comic Con 2014 this afternoon:
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.
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.
The list is here:
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).
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:
I really ought to post something about New York Comic-Con, but I’ve been too busy or too tired. I’ll try to keep it concise.
I ended up driving after all due to the cost of plane fare after waiting so long to buy tickets. I planned out my route carefully this time, so it went fairly smoothly — but I set out too early on the second day and had a hard time staying alert. I didn’t really feel recovered until after lunch. So on the way back, I think I’ll spend the morning of the second day in the motel just resting, then get a good lunch, then drive the rest of the way home.
I’ve been staying with friend and fellow author Keith R.A. DeCandido, his fiancee, a family friend, several cats, and a large Golden Retriever. I was nervous about the latter, but he’s a friendly dog and I’ve been getting used to having him around. Indeed, there’s something reassuring about knowing a dog that big is sleeping outside your bedroom door, on sentry duty as it were.
The two days I spent at the con are kind of a blur right now, so to sum up: both my signings on Friday went pretty well. The GraphicAudio booth is in a good location and drew a lot of attention from passersby, and we got to sell a number of copies of my audiobooks, along with free copies of the prose books as a bonus — courtesy of Tor in the case of Only Superhuman, plus a few Spider-Man; Drowned in Thunder copies which I provided myself. I was expecting Tor to be offering the paperback, but their giveaway copies (half of which I took over to GA, the rest of which I signed for them to give out at Tor’s booth) were hardcovers instead. I guess that makes sense — they want to use up the stock now that people will mostly be buying the MMPB. But it made it more of a slog to carry them over to the GA booth through the Comic-Con crowd. Anyway, the giveaway copies moved pretty well, I was told. My A Choice of Futures signing at the SImon & Schuster booth went well too; this time people actually came to see me specifically rather than just happening to pass by.
I got to talk with a number of colleagues — Keith, of course, and the GA people, and fellow Trek author Kevin Dilmore, who works for Hallmark and was manning their display. It was nice to catch up with him. Unfortunately my former Trek editor Marco Palmieri, now at Tor, was too busy to talk much. I also had fun meeting Lilly, a friend of Keith’s who’s a professional balloon artist, and who performed at his booth to attract passersby. It’s an interesting craft, improvisational yet requiring a lot of meticulous manual control and precision.
Today I just stayed in and rested while Keith et al. went in to the con. I needed a day of quiet to recover before undertaking the drive home tomorrow. I did go down to the local pizza place for lunch, though, and had an excellent slice of white pizza with spinach.
That’s all for now. Maybe I’ll mention more details later, if any come to mind.
Sci-Fi Bulletin, a British genre site edited by my former Star Trek Magazine editor Paul Simpson, has just published an essay I wrote for them comparing the writing of Only Superhuman and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, timed to coincide with the release of the OS paperback in the UK. You can read it here:
Oddly enough, it’s indexed on the site under “Fantasy.” I guess that’s because superheroes are generally treated as a subset of fantasy; my hard-SF approach to the subject seems to be pretty unusual, though as the article points out, sometimes there was more science in Stan Lee and his Marvel cohorts’ creations than you might think.
Well, it’s been a bit of a mess trying to make arrangements for New York Comic-Con, since apparently they didn’t have enough tickets or something. They actually sold out of professional passes prematurely, before I could get one, so I had to buy regular tickets, and all they had left were Thursday and Friday tickets. So I’ll only be in attendance at NYCC on those two days — well, assuming my tickets ever arrive. The paperwork said they’d begin mailing them in mid-September, but I haven’t gotten mine yet. But there’s still two weeks to go, so I’m hopeful.
Anyway, I have two signings tentatively scheduled, both on Friday, October 11.
11 AM, Booth 838: GraphicAudio hosts a combined signing for the Only Superhuman audiobook, which will be on sale at the booth, and the mass-market paperback. which will be a free giveaway. There might be copies of the Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder audiobook on hand too, though I’m not sure.
4 PM, Booth 1828: Simon & Schuster’s booth hosts a Star Trek signing, which was hoped to be a group signing but so far is just me. I assume I’ll be signing copies of Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures.
There won’t be any scheduled event for me at the Tor booth (2223), which is why I’ll be doubling up on the MMPB and audiobook at the GraphicAudio event (and I’m very grateful to the GA folks for accommodating me). But I’ll surely be hanging around the Tor booth for a fair amount of time on Thursday and Friday, and there will be signed copies of Only Superhuman there as giveaways. No doubt I’ll drop by the S&S and GA booths on Thursday as well. Ticket gods willing, that is.
If there are any changes to the schedule, I will of course announce them promptly.