Thursday, 5 January 2012

Movie Spider-Man Vs. Comic Book Spider-Man

When I first saw Spider-Man (2002) in the cinema I'm not ashamed to say that I wept! Okay, maybe I'm a little ashamed but you have to understand what it meant at the time. The Spider-Man movie had been in development hell for years and despite the success of previous Marvel movies such as Blade and X-Men, there was still every chance that things could go horribly wrong. James Cameron had been linked to the Spidey movie for years, and every now and again we'd hear dreadful rumours about some horrible deviation from the source material such as an evil businessman Electro or a Dock Ock played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even though Sam Raimi was now directing, the fear of some horrible Hollywood bastardisation remained.

So imagine my relief when we got a fun, exciting movie that seemed to bend over backwards to stay true to the source material. Behind the green armour, Norman Osborn was just as twisted as his comic counterpart, Aunt May and Uncle Ben were straight off the comic page, Spidey's stunts and poses were spot on and J.K. Simmons was born to play J. Jonah Jameson. But best of all, Peter Parker was a nerd! One of my biggest fears was that whoever played Pete would just be some Hollywood pretty boy who always got the girl. Tobey Maguire played Pete as a quintessential nerd. Shy, geeky and awkward. Perfect.

Or so it seemed at the time.

Since then we've been lucky enough to have several spot on interpretations of our heroes. As well as the amazing work of director Christopher Nolan and actors Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine in bringing the Batman universe to life we've also been blessed with the recent cinematic output from Marvel. Among their many recent accomplishments Marvel have given us Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark, perhaps the most perfect, loyal and satisfying movie interpretation of a comic character ever. In light of all of these great films, not to mention all of this perfect casting, Spider-Man begins to look a little less great in comparison. More specifically, Tobey Maguire's interpretation of Peter Parker starts to look not quite as spot on as it first seemed.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Maguire's Spider-Man is too wet! Sure, Pete's a nerd, but there's an anger in the Peter Parker of the comic that Maguire never quite captures, especially in the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko stuff. If you read those early Spidey stories there's frustration constantly bubbling under the surface of Peter Parker. It can still be found in Spidey comics today, but it's particularly prevalent in those early issues. Pete is constantly depicted as being flushed with anger at Flash Thompson, or Jonah Jameson. Not just annoyance but genuine rage. Occasionally Pete would even lose his cool completely and snap back at Flash or Jonah. On those occasions he could be quite scathing. This Peter Parker was cleverer than most and he knew it.

Compare the Peter Parker in the scenes above with Maguire's Pete. Maguire's Pete is nice to a fault. You could never imagine him fantasising about Flash Thompson "losing a mouthful of teeth". His Pete would probably hold back even if he didn't have Spidey powers to worry about. He has moments of frustration, and even righteous fury, but he never conveys the ugly, sweaty anger that comic Spidey has bubbling beneath the surface. Comic Pete has to struggle to hold back his anger, whereas it seems to come naturally to sweet, good natured Maguire-Pete. It's this struggle that makes comic Pete a better character than Maguire-Pete; doing the right thing doesn't come as easy to comic Pete, but he still does it! Indeed, Maguire's so ill-suited to showing the uglier side of Pete, that when he finally does have to tap into these qualities in Spider-Man 3, we get a ridiculous, sulky, dancing, emo version of Pete.

Having said that, I still really like Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, but it's hard to deny that aspects of them suffer in comparison to more recent super-hero films. It is worth remembering however that these two films get a lot of things right, and the fact that Pete is played as a nerd at all, even if it is the wrong kind of nerd, is still pretty awesome. Spider-Man, along with X-Men probably played a large part in showing Hollywood that you can stay close to the source material and still have a successful super-hero film. So even though it doesn't tick as many of the boxes as Iron Man or Captain America, Spider-Man probably made it much easier for those films to be as great as they are.

I just hope that Andrew Garfield, who will play Peter Parker in the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man, remembers that Peter Parker isn't just a nerd.

He's an angry nerd!


  1. Pete had nothing really to be angry about. His flash kind of diapered after the fight they had in Spider-Men 1.

    Also lets not forget that the dancing, silly, emo version of Peter was the Under Venom controlled Peter. Also when it comes to the reason people don't like Spider-Man 3, all they ever say is that there where to many villains. Anyone who read the comics knows that Pete just doesn't get the black suit and tares it off. He fights multiple bad guys, and changes into that dark peter before he tares it off.

    Also have you seen the trailer for 'the Amazing Spider-Man' you can't get more emo then Garfield's Peter. Every seen he's just saying "I want to cut myself"

    1. In the comics when Venom takes control of Pete he becomes darker, temperamental and he loses sense of his morals overwhelmed with rage...he does not become a dancing, silly little emo nerd.
      Then there's Eddie Brock as Venom. In the comics Eddie and Pete were old friends and Eddie was a powerhouse. In the movie he's this scrawny guy. Yeah the church screen with the bell tower was right and as the writer of this article says the original three movies were spot on in almost every sense minus the fact that being Venom was a very dark time for spiderman and they made light of that in the third movie.
      They were going in the right direction in a few scenes like when Pete finds out who Sandman really is and when spidey fucks up harry but the majority of the time he was just a dancing queer and a complete joke.

    2. I'm not a fan of Spider-Man 3 and I believe there's plenty about it to criticise, but you seem to be criticising it for not adhering strictly to the comic. I feel this is unfair as the events you describe only happen in the Ultimate Spider-man comics. Eddie was not old friends with Peter in the original comics from the eighties and the alien suit didn't rob Peter of his morals. I can't fault Raimi for wanting to do his own interpretation of Venom. As to whether his interpretation was successful or not, well that is open to debate. I think it's unfair to judge the film for not adhering strictly to the one interpretation of Venom that you happen to enjoy the most. Also, I'd think twice about bandying terms like "dancing qu**r" around if I were you, it's quite offensive.

  2. I think he still had plenty to be angry about, especially in Spider-man 2 where we really get to see how being Spidey messes up his life. And I know what people mean when they say that there were too many villains in third film. Perfect example, there's no space to show Harry gradually struggling with the realisation that his dad was a nutbar, so instead we get that butler just decide to tell him all of a sudden. On another note the alien costume never actually turned Pete evil in the comic, it just took him out for joy rides while he slept. It was trying to bond with him but it never affected his personality.

  3. Raimi's film skips through Pete's high school years so quickly, I think this is the sort of detail that got lost as a result. It would have been much easier, and more palatable, to introduce that aspect of his character when he was a teenager than as an adult.

    It's a world away from the Tim Burton Bruce Wayne or Danny Cannon's Joe Dredd though!

    I hate myself for saying this but I also wish they'd get the costume right. There's nothing wrong with the original design, in fact it's perfect, and the film versions never look like something he could have made in his bedroom.

    Still, like you, I love the first two (the sequel in particular). Fingers crossed that 'Amazing' is at least as good as they were.

  4. I thought the biggest failure was in the banter, especially as Spider-Man. Spider-Man is a RENOWNED loud-mouth and smartass. Maguire makes a few short, unfunny quips between 3 movies. He should have been making about three a minute.

  5. You’re right, Maguire's Peter Parker is just too nice and it gets frustrating sometimes. I really preferred Andrew Garfield’s version, I thought it was more true to the comic books.
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