Spiderman’s reboot’s been getting a lot of airtime in my Twitter feed this week, people stating it is by far the best version of the character as yet committed to celluloid. Except, amongst the platitudes have come some sniffs of unexpected dissent. I’m not talking about the apparent disparity in the Marvel timeline (the nerds can argue that one) but the assertion that perhaps the film could have been… well, a bit darker and dangerous. Everything is, like it or not, the path of least resistance: there is no risk taking. Now, as I’ve not yet seen this movie I cannot and won’t comment on these claims. However, I can use some evidence that does suggest that maybe, possibly, Marvel was never here to be edgy and controversial to begin with. They’re just here to make money.
I watched Dr Strange on its TV ‘rental’ release and was, I have to say, disappointed for the first time I’ve experienced a Marvel Universe title. The conceit is well executed, Mr Cumberbatch exactly the right fit for his character, and the journey that takes us from selfish to selfless well written and presented. However, without doubt, there is something missing. Maybe it is because I’d argue the origins of Strange are a little too close to those of Tony Stark to allow a measure of sympathy, but that isn’t the only discomfort. I’m also not about to get into Tilda Swinton’s casting, which creates more problems than it solves for the purists but finally establishes that, in the male-centric Marvel Universe, women took a while to graduate past supporting roles. One wonders what might have been different here if Black Widow had got a solo movie before this one was made, but that’s a different conversation for another blog.
The problem with the franchise, as it stands, is adequately demonstrated in this video which dissects the musical cues presented in Marvel Universe titles thus far. The key when you look at the bigger picture of the arc, is not to create a series of peaks and troughs in terms of cinematic presentation. All these movies are being produced with a very specific tone in mind, obviously consistent bar in terms of visual and audio cues. It is, like it or not, like reading a comic. Depth is not provided by the film but you: ambiguity kept to a minimum. You’ll rarely see blood either, to ensure the finished product reaches the widest possible audience.
In fact if depth is what is required one needs to go to the small screen: the various Marvel TV shows have been open to a range of criticism and perhaps even higher praise than their film ‘parents’ because it is abundantly obvious a different set of production and narrative values are at play. Ironically here’s where true diversity exists and has been allowed to shine: Agent Peggy Carter, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage presenting a far more realistic view of the superhero landscape as it should exist. The fact it has taken this long for Black Panther to make it to the big screen is, on reflection, not really a surprise. If the trailer is any indicator, Natasha Romanoff’s awful treatment plus the recent arrival of Diana Prince in the ‘other’ Universe is going to significantly redefine our ‘comic’ going forward.
I kop a lot of flack for my love of the DC Universe, almost on a daily basis, because of all manner of reasons, but mostly because nobody likes Zack Snyder. I still maintain that Watchmen is as good an adaptation as was possible at the time, have a soft spot for Sucker Punch (despite the fact it is quite easy to label it soft porn in certain lights) and am one of the nine people who think Man of Steel is a Superman worth rooting for. Here’s a Universe that is refreshing and obviously missing both thematic and narrative consistency: one only needs to look at Suicide Squad to grasp the hit and miss nature of that particular approach. However, this is the same place in which Wonder Woman now looks set to outpace and conquer pretty much everybody else’s origin story, regardless of their affiliation. The unexpected irony of the man who wrote The Avengers now working on Justice League is not lost on me. Movie making is quite a small universe in itself at the top end.
Marvel’s approach to the business of movie making has always been ‘better safe than sorry’ which might make for a lot of fanboy love, but in this case the fangirl in me is being increasingly left wanting. Listening to nerds getting upset over Aquaman’s trident (which isn’t) has been typical of the toothless criticism I’ve seen levelled at DC. Sometimes, looks aren’t as important as actual depth. I suspect the true sweet spot for Superhero movies lies somewhere in between both camps, and maybe Whedon’s influence might have some sway in producing a continuation of the franchise that makes more people happy.
I for one love arguing that both group of Superheroes have equal merit.