“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Uncle Ben’s words have guided Peter Parker for decades, and they provide the thematic backbone of The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, as well as the previous Sam Raimi-helmed Spider-Man trilogy. Uncle Ben’s wisdom and tragic death are an immutable part of Spider-Man’s origin, going back to the original comic book story created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962.
Being responsible once you are given super powers may sound obvious to an adult, but it’s a lesson that Peter Parker must learn because he’s still a kid, another crucial element of the character’s foundation. But he’s not just any kid, he’s a love-sick weakling orphan, which immediately elicits our sympathy. And he’s intrinsically linked to New York City, which makes for lots of colorful characters and famous locations to stage an action set piece. In other words…
Peter Parker is a nerd, a love-sick teenager and a diehard New Yorker.
We can relate to him more than other benchmark superheroes of the Silver Age: Bruce Wayne is a billionaire…Reed Richards is the smartest man on Earth…Super Man is an alien visitor…but Peter Parker was a kid who got bullied and had no chance with the cutest girl in school. Then, when he gets bitten by that spider, he instantly embodies the perfect archetype for young male comic book readers: the nerd turned superhero. (Captain America also went from zero to hero, but sprung from a slight variation on this archetype: the supersoldier.) But there’s a problem with the original radioactive spider bite scene that doesn’t translate to modern adaptations: it’s pure coincidence. Peter is on a field trip with his class when he happens to get bit. It’s too random—modern movie audiences demand more causality from their Inciting Incidents.
[SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 1 AND 2!]
Compare the random field trip to the active sequence of beats in the first act of The Amazing Spider-Man: Peter finds his father’s satchel with a file marked double-zero, which takes him to Oscorp to meet his father’s former partner, where he spots the same file and it leads him into a secure lab where radioactive spiders spin super-strong fiber webs. When he touches a web, the spiders fall on him and the inevitable occurs. The consequences stem from his pursuit of his father’s legacy, which is Peter’s overarching goal of the franchise thus far, and I’m willing to bet it will continue in the third and fourth films, possibly with the reveal that Richard Parker is alive (You’ve noticed they haven’t actually shown Richard Parker die, right? Last we saw of him was in the opening 7-minute flashback in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 when he was going down in a plane…but we didn’t actually see it crash.).
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
The mystery of his father’s work deepens in the second film of the franchise, which, like most Part Twos these days, uses similar elements of its predecessor (e.g., the burden of his father’s legacy, Oscorp and its advanced technology, the rocky relationship with Gwen Stacy and his sometimes controversial actions as New York’s wise-cracking vigilante, to name a few) but just makes everything bigger.
The superhero movie playbook dictates that Part Twos should be darker, feature more characters (at least two villains), blow us away with bigger set pieces and end on a cliffhanger. We recently saw this exemplified in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. We’ve also seen it in X2, Iron Man 2 and The Dark Knight.
To go along with Spidey’s fight to save New York in a safe and responsible manner, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 introduces the theme of “time” from the very first image: Richard Parker’s wristwatch. He and his wife are literally running out of time as they flee the country. This theme also invades Peter and Gwen’s relationships as they decide what to do with their lives, post-high school graduation. And Harry Osborn’s time is nigh as his father’s deadly disease (goblinohrrea?) spreads throughout his rapidly decaying body.
Webhead’s latest cinematic adventure is already off like a rocket at the domestic and international box-office, and Sony has announced several films in the Spidey-verse to come: Amazing Spider-Man parts 3 and 4, The Sinister Six (which is clunkily set up in Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Venom. It’s all about the franchise, people. I’m cool with that as I enjoy big-budget superhero movies, especially when they are shot in 3D, as are the latest Spider-Man films, rather than retro-fitted for 3D, but I’d like to see more variation on the genre from up and coming writers and directors. Whether or not that means films based on existing IP (Intellectual Property) or a wholly new cinematic universe, I don’t care, as long as the superhero movie envelope is pushed.
We can really use some new voices in this incredibly popular genre, and I know they are out there. To that end, I have developed a complete analysis of the genre for my next webinar, Writing the Superhero Movie, live on May 15, 2014 at 1:00 PST and to be archived at The Writers Store. I invite you to join me as I dissect the genre, giving tons of examples from hit movies, and offer tips on crafting your own superhero screenplay.
The webinar also includes two bonuses: a Full Story Map of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and an option to receive a logline analysis by me and Hollywood lit manager Lee Stobby of Silent R Management!
I invite you to join me for the online event.
Good luck and happy writing,
P.S. Why not an Aunt May solo movie?! Sally Field has kicked butt onscreen before and she can do it again. It could open against that Yoda movie Disney has put into development. You know, because they’re both old. To the Facebook campaign!
“…as much as an analysis of Nolan the filmmaker as it is an analysis of story structure within his films.”