Monday, June 1, 2015

Recap: "Spider-Man" Intro

There are some movies that people continually bring up when you’re talking about terrible superhero movies.

Elektra. Hulk. Steel. Batman and Robin.

And then there are the ones that people hold up as shining examples of the genre.

The Dark Knight.

Batman.

Superman.

Iron Man.

Spider-Man.

And yet, as more time passes, fewer people have seen these movies. Especially when they get remade.

More of those in the key demographic for superhero movies these days have seen Man of Steel than Superman. The Dark Knight has supplanted Batman, and will probably be supplanted in turn with Batfleck. We find ourselves on the verge of Spider-Man being supplanted by a second reboot of the film series. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is set to give us a Spider-Man adaptation which will most likely define how an entire generation sees the character.

Someday, the 2002 Spider-Man movie may find itself forgotten by pop culture, but does that necessarily mean it will ever be irrelevant? Let’s examine how 2002’s highest-grossing film came out of the planned “film to define the 80’s.”

And let's see how it dodged a bullet by skipping that particular decade.
I probably don't even need to talk about Spider-Man's humble origin. How Stan Lee saw a fly on the wall and decided to make a character who could crawl on walls. How he wanted to make the hero have personal problems instead of being perfect. How he wanted to have a teenage hero who wasn't a sidekick. How his editor rejected the proposal by saying "People hate spiders!" How Stan talked his way into having the character appear in the final issue of Amazing Adult Fantasy (renamed Amazing Fantasy for the 15th and final issue, where Spider-Men debuted in 1962). How popular the character instantly was, getting his own self-tiled series ASAP.

Nope. Don't need to bring any of that up.

The film adaptation of the guy who can do whatever a spider can had been in development since the early 80’s. “Famed” B-movie maker Roger Corman held the film rights to the character briefly, but they soon ended up in the hands of Cannon Films in 1985. Roger Corman actually would make a Marvel movie a few years later, though, with The Fantastic Four. A movie so bad that I’d probably need a couple people to help me get through the darn thing, but that’s neither here nor there.

Cannon promptly commissioned a script where Peter Parker was turned into a half-spider monstrosity who would rebel against the other half-animal mutations that a mad scientist was creating as a “master race.” If you think that sounds like a stupid idea, Stan Lee would agree with you. He hated it.

The next round of scripts had Doctor Octopus trying to harness the fundamental forces of reality to create anti-gravity, threatening to destabilize and destroy New York. Deals were made, actors were spoken to, but nothing came of it.

Carolco Pictures soon became involved with a “scriptment” by none other than James Cameron. It kept the classic origin, but had evil businessman Electro as the villain with Sandman as a henchman. Lots of sex, lots of profanity, and two separate sex scenes, one of which would be between Spider-Man and Mary Jane. The only thing from this script that would make it into the actual movie is Peter’s biological web-shooters as opposed to mechanical ones.

James Cameron was utterly intent on directing Spider-Man, with Michael Biehn as Peter Parker. This is why in pretty much every James Cameron movie that Michael Biehn appears in, his character gets bit on the hand in some way or another. But snags happen, and the Spider-Man film was ground to a halt with James Cameron’s contract.

When he signed onto the project, they used his contract for Terminator 2 as a template. Long story short, the contract gave Cameron the right to decide on movie and advertising credits. Which Menaham Golan of Cannon Films objected to, seeing as how he had been working on the film for quite a while with basically no credit to his name. There were lawsuits, countersuits, and when the dust finally cleared, the year was 1999 and Columbia Pictures ended up with the film rights, having traded their rights to create a new 007 series based on Thunderball, which has separate rights than the rest of the James Bond movies for reasons that are too long and complex to go into detail about when I’m supposed to be talking about Spider-Man.

Sam Raimi of Evil Dead fame was brought in to direct because he was a huge Spidey fan with an extensive comic collection. David Koepp was brought in to create the screenplay, which ditched almost everything but the organic webshooters in Cameron’s script. Green Goblin was chosen as the villain to highlight the father/son theme and parallels between Peter/Uncle Ben and Harry/Norman Osborn. Doctor Octopus was in a few drafts, but was cut out eventually.

You can still spot him in some of the concept art on the DVD, though.
Tobey Maguire was cast in the lead at Sam Raimi’s request. He finally convinced the higher-ups at Columbia that this was the right decision when Maguire did a screen test shirtless to show off his physique and acting skills at the same time. Before then, Wes Bentley, Leonardo DiCaprio, Freddie Prinze Jr. and a relatively unknown actor named Heath Ledger were considered for the role.

Yes. That Heath Ledger.

The rest of the casting would soon fall into place before filming began, as would the look of the characters. Legendary artist Alex Ross submitted a redesign that he posited would look better on screen than the classic red-and-blues.

And it was eventually used in the comics.
But before that, the design would later go on to be the basis for several other heroes over the years.
Some of them would be Spider-Men...
...And some would be Captains.
Personally, I find it amusing that it also bears a striking resemblence to the suit from the Mark Webb reboot. Almost as amusing as the fact that a guy named Mark Webb directed the first Spider-Man reboot.

Speaking of which, director Albert Pyun has since revealed that he wrote a treatment for Cannon Films in the 80's that involved Spider-Man fighting the Lizard in the sewers, which also sounds suspiciously like the Mark Webb reboot…. But enough about that for now.

In 2002, the 40th anniversary of Spider-Man, over $100,000,000 later, Spider-Man hit theatres. It was nominated for two Academy Awards and set the record for opening-day box office profits… at the time. Although it made back its own costs in the first weekend, it has since been beaten by its own sequels in that regard. Then the whole series was beaten by The Dark Knight, The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and Iron Man 3.

"Hope you enjoyed it while it lasted, Webhead. See you in 2016."
Speaking of crossovers, Hugh Jackman was supposed to have filmed a cameo as Wolverine for this movie, but they couldn’t find the costume in time. One can only imagine what the world would be like if a shared Marvel Universe existed earlier....

Amazing or awful. You decide.
But Spider-Man truly is an important movie. After Batman and Robin and Steel showed how over-the-top and goofy superhero films could be, there was a buttload of backlash, as I’ve said over and over again when reviewing these movies. X-Men and Blade were filled with leather outfits and nighttime scenes to try and succeed in spite of being based on comic book material.
But Spider-Man was really the first post-B&R film to embrace the ridiculousness of the genre while simultaneously grounding the film in reality, much like most superhero films do these days. So in a way, you can thank Spider-Man for paving the road for Iron Man and the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.

"I can. But I won't."
Coming up in Part 1! From wallflower to wall-crawler.

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