Monday, November 26, 2012

Spider-Man Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man

Or What To Do If The Story You Want To Tell Has Already Been Told.

  The Amazing Spider-Man PosterSpider-Man Poster  

They shared the same suit. They shared a production company, and a studio. They even share a plot. In both tellings, Peter Parker gets bit by a radioactive spider. Uncle Ben dies in both. Parker fights a bad guy and saves the world and a pretty girl both times.

It sounds as if you've seen one (and who hasn't seen the 2002 version), why go see the other?

I'll tell you why. The Amazing Spider-Man is better.

Don't get me wrong. Sam Raimi's version is fun, and awesome, and CGI-riffic. But, something always bugged me about the 2002 version of Spider-Man, that I couldn't put my finger on it until I saw the movie done right. 

That's just my opinion. You can see for yourself in this side by side(ish) comparison.

Peter Parker

Andrew Garfield Picture
Andrew Garfield

Tobey Maguire Picture
That guy you saw at a supermarket once and couldn't decide if he was
 cute, or maybe related to you, or you met him once at creepy navel gazers anonymous.*

In the 2002 version, Peter Parker is a nerdy, shy, bullied kid, who accidentally gets bitten by a spider and develops super powers.

In the Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker is a smart, hurting, outsider whose active search into his fallen father's scientific research on genetically altered spiders (say that five times fast) results in a spider bite. 

Active vs. passive characters. Yay!

The main strength of The Amazing Spider-Man, is the depth of the characters. So, when you want to tell a story that has already been told before, give the characters truth. Show us that they lived before the story starts, give them hobbies, skills, reputations, goals, love interests, shame, fears, and by all that is holy make them hot. 

Let your characters lead the story actively. Make the inciting incident happen because they made a choice, not because of random chance. Random things happen, but interesting people make random things happen. 

Gwen Stacey vs. Mary-Jane Watson

Spider-Man_Blue_Vol_1_5.jpg (350×536)

Fans of the comic will know that the Mary Jane  vs. Gwen Stacey is like...a thing. I-just-watched-the-movie people, like myself, may just be confused as to who this blonde girl is, but let me tell you; Gwen Stacey kicks Mary-Jane in the hiney.

Mary-Jane is a beautiful redhead who kind of likes Spidey, and wants to be an actress. She comes from a troubled home, and constantly needs saving. She is, IMO, more of a plot device than a character.

Gwen Stacey, on the other web-shooting hand, is smarter than Peter, beautiful enough for the elite of the school to respect her, but weird enough to be excluded. She is strong, kind, brave, and willful. She is so awesome, that Peter Parker had to get super powers in order to become equal to her. Basically, in all ways, she wins. Which breaks my heart, because I like her so much, I've looked into her story-line, so I know how this love story is going to end.

(giddy evil giggling)

Ahem. What I like is that she's a real person, and not written as a cartoon. 

So, if you're telling a story that has been told before, why not change up the love story? Romeo and Juliette's Age-Appropriate Cousin, might make for a fun option. Instead of killing the witch, Hansel and Gretel could bring the witch home to marry their father. Feel free to take liberties, and change things up. Even though you are telling a story that has been told before, that doesn't mean you can't let the story live.

Moment of Reveal

In the 2002 version of Spider-Man, Peter Parker falls asleep and wakes up wondering why his glasses aren't working, then takes his glasses off and checks out how buff he is in the mirror. Look, Sam Raimi points out, he's changed.

In the Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker falls asleep on a bus, and a drop of water falls on his nose. Chaos ensues. The moment of reveal is panicked, and violent, and awe dropping. Mark Webb (who also directed 500 days of Summer) shows what it would be like to go from normal to super power, in an instant, while keeping pathos, and attention, focused on the character's experience.

Screen bean character wearing a top hat and looking in a mirror

Lesson to be learned; if you ever have a character looking into a mirror and wondering about how much they've changed, then you are approaching the character from the outside, and your characters are probably a bit too shallow. 

One of the beautiful things about retelling a story, is that you can make a character that readers already love, and turn it into a real person. You get to turn a daydream character, into a friend, into an experience. How awesome is that?

In conclusion

At the end of the movie, Peter Parker walks into his English class, and his teacher says the following, (this isn't a direct quote, just from my memory, so I apologize for any errors), "In college, my Literature Professor told us that there were only ten plots, each retold over and over again, but I think he's wrong. I don't think there are only ten plots, I think there's only one; Who am I?"

I love that. What I want you to get from this post, is not matter how many times a story like yours has been told before, no matter how many cliches, or old tropes, or whatever, it's never been told by YOU before. Focus on the characters, focus on the experience, put yourself onto the page, and it'll work out.

Oh, and also, rent this movie. I enjoyed it as much as I would have if it were a book.

And that's saying something.

* Meetings every Wednesday at your local Starbucks.


  1. Maybe the sequel to Who am I is Why am I, followed by the unfortunate third installment written by drunken script writers, Where am I.

    Also, lol @ navel gazers anonymous.

    This is my favorite line of the post: "Lesson to be learned; if you ever have a character looking into a mirror and wondering about how much they've changed, then you are approaching the character from the outside, and your characters are probably a bit too shallow."

    I know characters looking in the mirror is bad, but I never had it so eloquently explained before.

    1. My first draft said navel grazers anonymous...which I hesitated to change.

  2. My favorite line is "by all that is holy make them hot." And that, in a nutshell, is the difference between me and Sabrina.

  3. Excellent advice on how to improve on an original. I did enjoy both versions of Spiderman of them, but Amazing Spiderman was the far better story for all the reasons you so eloquently stated.

    Gwen Stacey was such an awesome character. So much better than Mary Jane, who I agree was more of a plot device (and kind of a whiny plot device at that). I really cared about Gwen and Peter getting together. I loved the line about "promises you can't keep being the best kind" or something like that.

    It was a great movie, and this was an excellent post. :)

  4. I was torn about seeing the new Spider-Man, but I am with you where the earlier version is concerned. It was lacking in a lot of ways, though I don't think I could have explained it as well as you did. Now I'm so excited to rent the new one. Great post, Sheena!

  5. Oh, now I'll have to go watch the new one (loved the old one). I agree with your assessment on looking in the mirror - excellent point. Well, really, the whole post was just great. So much to think about. Thanks!

  6. Thanks Sheena. I liked the new movie so much better but couldn't really explain why. Now I don't have to because you did it for me. :)

    On a side note, I watched the new movie with my parents recently and it sparked an interesting discussion. They liked Toby Maguire's portrayal of Peter Parker better for one reason: the nerdy kid is their generation's version of the typical outcast. They find it so strange how today, nerd is almost a compliment. Brainy people have really taken up the banner of "I'm a nerd and I'm proud of it!" Kind of like Gwen Stacey, I guess.

    Our generation's version of a typical outcast is the dark and angsty teen whose anger at everything alienates him from others, like the new movie's Peter. Probably why I related to him more. However, in my parent's day, he had all the markers for a dark and mysterious cool kid, what with his skateboard and his sarcasm.

    Anyway, I don't know if that has anything to do with writing better. Maybe, umm... know your audience?

  7. We just watched it last night. Loved it! I really liked the first Spiderman, but this just blew it out of the water. Thanks for the recommendation! I'm not in tune enough with the movie world to have even known the movie existed. Sad stuff.


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