Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Peter Parker's Glasses

As the summer movie season is already in full swing it's worth taking a moment to appreciate the fact that rather than suffering through the bloated, special effects laden superhero blockbusters of yore we can now depend upon comic book films to deliver both balls out action AND compelling melodrama in a single package.

After the Batman & Robin debacle, studios had every right to throw in the genre towel (like they did with westerns and musicals) and search for a new direction; however, luckily for summer film goers everywhere, studios continued to green light new franchises and in the hands of capable directors and talented actors, the superhero blockbuster has (with some exceptions) been elevated from forgettable escapist pap to thematically complex and emotionally engaging cinema. This summer is bookended by Iron Man and The Dark Knight, serious, big budget productions featuring awards caliber actors in the title roles; not too long ago the best we could have hoped for was George Clooney playing cute in a rubber suit.

Whether you enjoy superhero films or not, there is no denying that the increased care and attention that has gone into their production has yielded surprisingly high-minded and well-made results.

Jump back to 2002. Yearning to be taken seriously, the producers of Spiderman 2 brought an early draft of their script to Pulitzer prize winning author Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) for a rewrite. According to Chabon, the original version featured numerous costumed villains and suffered from a lack of focus. Chabon did a full rewrite, paring the narrative down to just two costumed characters, Doctor Octopus and Spiderman, and offering a more thorough treatment of their respective alter egos, Otto Octavius and Peter Parker. The script would undergo more revisions before filming but many of Chabon's key plot points remained intact (he was given a credit for screen story) and Spiderman 2 stands as arguably the most compelling and fully realized character study in the superhero film pantheon.

Recently released for a limited time as part of a promotion for his new non-fiction book Maps and Legends, Chabon's script lacks certain memorable scenes such as Mary Jane's disappointing attempt to recreate her upside down kiss or Peter gratefully accepting a piece of cake from Mr. Ditkovich's niece, but as a whole it is a more elegant and serious treatment of the film's basic themes of identity and duty.

Development of some of the side characters is lacking - Harry Osborne and Aunt May feel penciled in almost as an afterthought - but Peter and Dr. Octavius both benefit from Chabon's more thorough attention. Octavius especially comes across as a much more intriguing character and his romantic relationship with Mary Jane would have added an interesting dimension to the film. Chabon also authors a more graceful and physiologically plausible explanation of how Peter loses and eventually regains his powers.

Spiderman 2, for all its considerable merits, is admittedly uneven and at times benefits from an indulgent viewer's willingness to forgive certain inconsistencies and extrapolate meaning from subtexts that are very thinly explored. Fans of the movie will find much to appreciate in Chabon's script as it more candidly addresses some of the film's darker qualities and provides a more consistent and carefully considered view of Spiderman's world.

Michael Chabon's Spiderman 2 script - it really takes off about halfway in...

I understand that this script may be of limited or no interest to many Dinner on the Molly patrons; so, for the rest of you, here is Michael Chabon offering up his eloquent - yet strangely twitchy - endorsement of Barack Obama:

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