Friday Flotsam: Thoughts on ‘No Way Home’

1. It being New Year’s Eve, I suppose standard practice would be to give some kind of a retrospective of the year gone by or speculations of the one to come. But we have more important things to talk about today; namely Spider-Man!

I’d thought I was done with the MCU, but the word-of-mouth on No Way Home was so good that I couldn’t resist checking it out. And, well, add my mouth to the word, because yeah, it is really good. I think, on reflection, that I’d still rank Spider-Man 2 above it as the best live-action Spidey flick, but this is a pretty clear second-placer (though, full disclosure, I haven’t seen Far From Home or the two Amazing Spider-Man films…which kind of renders the above meaningless, as that’s nearly half the candidates right there. All I’ll say is that I haven’t seen anyone saying anything that would challenge it).

So, there will be some spoilers, but not really anything you didn’t see in the trailers.

2. I don’t want to go into the plot too much; the short version here is that a plot device courtesy of Dr. Strange brings several classic Spider-Man villains into the MCU from other universes, not to mention two alternate versions of Peter Parker: Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Meaning that we have all three live-action Spider-Mans working together against five classic bad guys.

But the thing that makes the film work is the fact that they don’t just trot these characters out for cheap nostalgia. The writers clearly took the time to sit down and consider where each character is in his respective journey, what he wants, and why he is the way he is. The result is that they actually manage to build on the returning characters, bringing out new dimensions and reaching new conclusions. To put it another way, these aren’t just fan-baiting props trotted out to make the audience squeal (e.g. most of the stuff in the Star Wars sequels), the writers treat them as actual characters with arcs and motivations.

3. The one exception is, unfortunately, my personal favorite Spidey rogue, Sandman. He has some good moments, but his motivations and actions really don’t make sense by the end of the film: he has no reason whatever to side with the villains given his history and motives (which the film alludes to). Of course, if Sandman were on the heroes’s side, the baddies wouldn’t stand a chance, but it’s still something the writers are clearly hoping you’ll just go with.

4. On the other hand, Willem Dafoe knocks it out of the park as the Green Goblin, reminding us that, no it’s not just nostalgia talking: he really was and is that good in the role. If anything, he’s even more vile, dangerous, and downright frightening than he was before, and he recaptures the creepy ambiguity of the split personality as if he’d played the role yesterday. Plus he features in some of the most restrained, yet brutal fights in the MCU between him and Peter (apparently still doing many of his own stunts).

Alfred Molina likewise is just as good as ever as Doctor Octopus, every bit as commanding, arrogant, and yet tragic as he was before (there’s a downright beautiful moment between him and Tobey Maguire near the end). Again, like Dafoe it really feels as though he stepped straight from the earlier film into this one.

Props also to Jamie Foxx as Electro. I remember when I found out he was cast in the role way back when I was interested; he’s a very good actor and I thought he’d be a great fit (an instance of race swapping where it doesn’t really matter). But from all I can tell, he unfortunately wasn’t given much to work with. Here, though, he really goes to town in the role: power hungry and with a definitely dangerous edge even when he seems to be calm and helpful. And, of course, I’m delighted they worked in the character’s trademark ‘star-shaped head of electricity’ image.

5. But good as it is to see the baddies again, the real story is the three Peters. Tobey Maguire is, of course, the oldest and in many ways the most important of the three, and he comes across as definitely a more mature, wiser Peter than when we saw him last. Andrew Garfield, meanwhile, almost steals the whole show as a Peter still haunted by his failure to save Gwen Stacey, but also the one who seems most excited to be meeting the others (“I always wanted brothers,” he says at one point, which is kind of perfect). Though he also has his share of fun moments, like when he reluctantly proves his identity upon first joining the cast.

(Garfield is so good, in fact, that he does the impossible: he makes me want to see the Amazing Spider-Man films)

These three actors have spectacular chemistry, and their interactions all feel pitch-perfect as they support one another, compare notes, share hard-earned wisdom, and so on. Each one of them contributes something, some unique experience or perspective. And again, the story actually develops on builds on their characters from the previous films, especially Garfield, who gets a wonderful redemptive moment in the final act, bringing some closure to his character. Though, fittingly, the biggest moment of ‘what it means to be Spider-Man’ goes to Tobey Maguire.

That’s another thing, I love how positive the film is regarding its cast. There’s no effort to tear down one or another of the three Peters or to take pot-shots at earlier versions of the story. The three men get along well, like each other, and appreciate each other. Even a brief, reactionary fight between Maguire and Garfield when they first meet is both very quick and ends with mutual respect and admiration rather than insults. It all feels, well, very nice.

(Oh, and I very much appreciated it that, though Kirsten Dunst doesn’t appear, Maguire’s Peter confirms that yes, they got their happy ever after and made it work. See, that’s what we want when a hero returns to the screen after a long absence: to know that all his struggles and adventures were not in vain after all).

In a word, the returning cast are treated as people, real characters with motivations and histories, not just walk-on fan-bait.

6. Besides all that, it’s just a really good Spider-Man story; one that really gets the core of the character as a normal man trying to balance his great power and responsibility, who is a hero because it’s the right thing to do and who doesn’t receive any reward for it. Tom Holland, I feel, really grows into the role here, being forced to make real sacrifices and come to terms with real consequences as he struggles to do the right thing.

It also gracefully corrects course on some of the baggage of the previous films (well, Homecoming at least: again, haven’t see the other one). As in, MJ and Ned actually act like human beings and are legitimately likable this time around! Both the romance and the three-way friendship actually worked and I found myself genuinely invested in them! I still don’t like the race and name swapping on Mary Jane at all, but they work with what they have and they made the lemonade!

7. There are some other problems with regards to how the whole multiverse concept works and the rules of who goes through and why, not to mention some, ah, timing issues regarding the villains (can’t say more without spoilers). Oh, and I thought the after credits scenes were a missed opportunity (though the first one is admittedly funny).

But my biggest concern is just that this is going to be the next gimmick; pulling older, beloved versions of franchises into new ones in order to shore up viewership. It’s well done here, but I’d hate to see it become a standardized gimmick the way the MCU crossover cameos did. Expanding the crossover and nostalgia train ever further outwards until everything interacts with everything else.

There is also something I felt just seeing the trailers: that sense of admitted defeat. As if the current overseers of the franchise were throwing up their hands and saying ‘yeah, we can’t do it. We can’t make characters the way that Sam Raimi or even Marc Webb did. We just need to use what was built before in order to make our version work.’ Like the natives in ‘King Kong’, dependent on the wall that they could never have built themselves, but can only maintain.

8. Well, that’s a topic for another day. For now, I’m going to focus on the positive: I actually went to the theater to see a new movie and enjoyed myself again. It really did feel like, for those two and a half hours (which went by remarkably fast, by the way), I was back in the days of Sam Raimi, or even the early days of the MCU; just happy to be entertained by the creativity, hard work, and good will before me on the screen. Contrary to the title, it felt a little like coming home again.

It felt good.

You know, I’m not so sure that this wasn’t a suitable piece for New Years. It makes me think that at least some of what’s ahead might actually be as good as what has been.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Thoughts on ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’

Past entries:
Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger

The Avengers
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

After his scene-stealing introduction in Captain America: Civil War, the next step would be to give Spider-Man, Marvel’s premier superhero, his own solo adventure. With an ideal casting choice in Tom Holland, and a strong ground work done by the Russo Brothers and writers Marcus and McFeely, the stage seemed set to give the webslinger his ultimate big-screen adventure.

We open shortly after the events of The Avengers, with blue-collar contractor Adrian Toomes and his crew hard at work cleaning up the destruction from the Chitauri invasion. But just as they’re getting started, they receive word that the government, funded by Tony Stark, is taking over all clean-up operations with its new Department of Damage Control. Since Toomes has just invested considerable capital in the venture, this threatens to ruin him and his men, so they decide that, rather than turning over the stuff they’ve already gathered, they’ll use it for a new venture; making high-tech weapons and gadgets for the black market.

Eight years later, we find Peter Parker returning from his adventure in Berlin with with his high-tech new suit from Tony Stark and eager for his next mission. But, as the months go by, he receives no word, even though he’s cleared his schedule and quit every extra-curricular activity just in case. Meanwhile, he spends his days after school patrolling for crime in his extremely peaceful Queens neighborhood, more often than not losing his clothes and backpack in the process. Then one night he encounters some bank robbers operating one of Toomes’s weapons and starts trying to track down where they came from, thinking this might be his chance to really impress Tony Stark and finally get to move up to some real action.

I think Spider-Man: Homecoming is probably the most severely mixed bag of the entire MCU: when it is good, it’s really good. And when it is bad, it’s really very bad. It has absolutely perfect casting on both Spider-Man and Vulture, the latter of whom is one of the best villains thus far, but with the exception of Aunt May it completely fails when it comes to Peter’s supporting cast, life, and even botches much of his superheroics.

Part of the issue is that Spider-Man is in a different position from the rest of the MCU. For the other characters, they’ve mostly been on their first or least first major adaptation. They may have had cartoons or low-budget, half-hearted feature films before, but for the most part the MCU was their introduction to the film going public. The one exception was the Hulk, whose film went out of its way to include the influence of the TV show.

This touches on the whole issue of adaptations. Stories accumulate ‘influences’ as they continue in the public mind to the extent that the affect the audience and are affected by them. For instance, if you’re adapting a little-seen stage play called “Everybody Goes to Rick’s,” you can more or less adjust the story as you like, and when the result is Casablanca, this then transforms the play and any future performances of it have to take the film into account, or else they risk alienating the audience. On the other hand, if you’re adapting “Macbeth,” you are much more limited in how much you can alter it, not only because any alterations are almost certain to be defects, but because everyone going in knows more or less what to expect and has an idea of the story. Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, the Weird Sisters, Duncan, and so on are ‘fixed’ as it were, and you can’t alter them severely without people saying “that isn’t Macbeth!”

To take a nearer example, the early adaptations of Superman had some leeway in his powers; they gave him flight because it looked better in animation than merely jumping would. But now that Superman’s ability to fly has become fixed in the public mind, you couldn’t do an adaptation based on the early comics where he couldn’t fly because it would be a jarring experience for the audience, not to mention being a bit of an insult to the character by not taking his history and development into account (that development being part of the character).

Now, Spider-Man has been adapted a lot; five previous live-action films, multiple animated TV shows, many video games, and he’s one of the most famous and recognizable superheroes in modern culture. His story, character, and supporting cast are fairly well known. So, making a new adaptation of Spider-Man is not like making, say, a Captain America adaptation; the general audience goes in knowing a good deal about him and his world.

This means that if you are going to make drastic, fundamental changes to his story and supporting cast, they had better be improvements, because even those who don’t know the comics have something to compare this to and they’ll start to ask why? Why is Peter’s best friend a fat idiot named ‘Ned Leeds’ rather than Harry Osborne, or failing that, someone like Robbie Robinson or even Eddie Brock (that is, someone actually from his school supporting cast rather than from the Daily Bugle)? Why is Flash Thompson a pathetic nerd? And what in God’s name have you done to Mary Jane?

Now, making Ned Leeds Peter’s best friend isn’t itself a huge deal: it’s kind of odd, especially since they don’t even make an allusion to his original character (this despite giving Betty Brant a cameo as a student reporter: just have Ned be her fellow reporter who tries to ask her out on air. It wouldn’t have been difficult and it would have provided him a bit of independent development), but assuming they didn’t want to bring the Osborne family in, it’s…fine, though again they might have taken any other random name from Peter’s supporting cast.

The real problem is that Ned is a pretty one-note character; he’s just the loser comic-relief best friend, who is kind of an idiot and…that’s it. He cautions Peter on some of his more impulsive decisions – despite himself impulsively making terrible choices relative to Peter’s superheroics at several points – and he gets a laugh now and then, but otherwise he’s just your standard loser best friend.

Contrast this with, for instance, Morgan from the show Chuck, who played basically the same character type, except that Chuck took the time to establish why Chuck and Morgan are best friends and to show that Chuck cherishes their relationship even as his secret identity puts increasing strain on it. Moreover, Morgan was made out to be an actual character, with his own goals and interests, who got frustrated, angry, and hurt by Chuck’s behavior, and who grows and develops over the course of the series. Now, Chuck obviously was a show, so they had more time to work with, but there were ways to bring something like that into the film, and…they don’t. Ned discovers Peter’s secret identity in the first act, so that kills that potential avenue of development, and he remains a largely flat character throughout, which is a problem because he has kind of a lot of screen time.

Meanwhile, the film’s revisionist versions of Flash and especially ‘MJ’ are both huge mistakes. For one thing, I can’t really figure out why Flash has the clout to bully Peter at all; he’s shown to be pretty incompetent himself, and he’s no longer an athlete, so why do people follow his lead in laughing at Peter instead of laughing at him in turn? Especially since Peter’s skill with wordplay ought to give him an edge here (which is one reason Flash has to be an athlete and a physical bully, by the way; it means that Peter can’t push back without revealing his secret identity and / or becoming a bully himself by picking on someone who doesn’t stand a chance against him. Having it be a battle of words and wit means that Peter has no reason to hold back and ought to be able to mop the floor with Flash).

Worse, Flash’s fundamental decency and heroism under his loudmouth, bullying persona are explicitly removed (e.g. during the crisis on the Washington Monument, he shoves Liz out of the way to get out first).

The issue here is less that this is different from the original character than that it’s considerably less interesting, rendering a complex character simplistic largely for the sake of a few cheap jokes. Having a swaggering bully who torments our hero while being himself heroic in a crisis and holding to a strict, though imperfect code of honor is interesting. Having a swaggering bully who cracks at the first sign of pressure, never one-ups the hero, and has no visible redeeming qualities is not.

But worst of all is the film’s take on ‘MJ,’ which amounts to taking one of the most famous and well-establish superhero love interests in all of comics and…basically changing everything about her except her nickname (she’s called ‘Michelle’ here. Why?). Gone is her chipper, outgoing, party-girl personality masking emotional trauma, gone is her confidence and charisma, gone even is her basic likability (and gone too is her trademark red hair. Again, why?). She’s continually sullen, belligerent, self-righteous, and scowling. The way she follows Peter around while denying it’s what she’s doing is a good idea, or would be if she were a more sympathetic character and if they actually had any kind of payoff to it. But they don’t, apart from the mere reveal that she is meant to be ‘MJ.’ Her presence doesn’t affect the story or the characters at all; you could cut her out and the film would function almost exactly the same.

Now what they could have done is have a scene where she actually pitches in to help Peter somehow. Like, she could use her knowledge of him to perk him up when he’s at his lowest point, reaching out to him and, for once, actually being sincere and offering some kind of support or comfort. It would be something like the scene in Naruto, where the title character is feeling doubtful about an upcoming fight and Hinata perks him up by revealing how much he inspires her (this being the first time they’ve really spoken to each other and hinting at a deeper connection than with his other friends), or like the scene in the fifth Harry Potter book where Ginny is the one to snap Harry out of his black depression by reminding him that she’s been through the same thing he’s worrying about. That would have given us some reason to want to see these two get together, establish some kind of positive side to her character, given them just some kind of relationship. But, no; she just glowers, snarks, and makes ‘woke’ comments throughout the film, meaning that their relationship is basically non-existence, and the only reason we have for even caring about her is that they slapped the nickname of a beloved character onto her at the last second to let us know this is supposed to be that character, so we should be invested in her.

All this is compounded by the fact that the film takes Peter’s inexperience at crime-fighting way too far, in my view. Yes, it’s funny to see him awkwardly fail to intimidate a thug, and the underlying theme that he really isn’t used to dealing with people who legitimately want to kill him is interesting. But they seem to forget that Spider-Man, even lacking experience, is an extremely dangerous foe. Civil War showed him tackling seasoned Avengers with relative ease and casually overpowering the Winter Soldier while quipping up a storm. Here, Shocker is basically able to knock him around with impunity simply because he lost his web-shooters. Earlier he struggles to keep up with and stop and ordinary van, even with his high-tech suit, and in the climax he ultimately fails to overpower or defeat Vulture in single combat. Granted they wanted to keep the drama level high, this is still too much and, again, too one-note. Spidey gets his heroic and impressive moments – the Washington Monument, the ferry battle, etc. – but he’s never allowed to be as powerful as even a rookie Spider-Man ought to be. In particular, the film seems to forget about his spider-sense and his incredible agility quite a lot. When he’s forced to run across an open golf-course, for instance, he just runs as fast as a normal, athletic kid. He ought to be able to cover the distance in a few moments. It would have been a good chance to remind us that he can move very fast even without web-slinging, but, again, they have to go for the joke.

Contrast this with, say, the show Spectacular Spider-Man, which also showed us a rookie Spidey as a sometimes-thoughtless teenager. But there, Peter’s lack of experience showed in making believable mistakes, jumping the gun and making the situation worse, and that sort of thing; not simply being unable to use his powers effectively.

Which brings us to another problem; the high-tech suit. I really have a problem with this, because giving Spider-Man a computer-powered, gadget-laden suit, complete with targeting systems and an on-board AI seems to me to be missing the point. Spider-Man is supposed to be the kind of hero with a relatively limited and fixed set of abilities; wall-crawling, agility, leaping, strength, spider-sense, etc. the challenge being to use his ingenuity and cunning to come up with creative applications to solve whatever problem he faces. Here he can just tell the suit what kind of webbing he wants to use (which half the time is the wrong type) rather than coming up with the idea himself, while the targeting system seems to render the whole spider-sense redundant. During the ferry disaster, the computer calculates where he ought to put his web to save the ship for him; how much more interesting would it have been if Peter had had to work it out himself using his own intelligence, super-senses, and knowledge?

Granted, part of the theme of the film is that Peter needs to learn to do without the suit, but the trouble is that, again, he really doesn’t do very well without it, and anyway the whole concept of it seems unnecessary and, well, not very Spider-Man (though I do like the AI, Karen, and Peter’s ‘relationship’ with her, which is perfectly in character for him).

But on the positive side, Peter’s relationship with Tony is excellent. It’s interesting to see Tony trying to be a mentor to an up-and-coming young super hero, and his stern, but affectionate treatment (which, continuing Tony’s own character arc, he comments reminds him of his own father) is perfect. The scene after the ferry disaster is excellent, as Tony lays into Peter for his mistake while letting him know that he actually was listening to him, and that things would have worked out if Peter hadn’t jumped the gun and gone behind his back. That’s the kind of mistake Peter ought to be making, and Tony’s rebuke is right on the money.

(I also really like Tony’s earlier comment: “Trust me; if Cap had wanted to lay you out, he would have,” not only neatly showing the difference between fighting other heroes who don’t want to hurt you and criminals who do, but also allowing Tony to show respect to his now-estranged friend).

This version of Aunt May is also pretty much perfect, despite the decision to cast her as much younger than usual (which, to be honest, makes a good deal of sense; if Peter’s this young, his aunt ought to be of an age with his parents and hence about forty or fifty). Though she doesn’t have as much screen time as I would have liked, their extremely close, loving, and trustful relationship is captured very well, and she gets to show all the stern, loving concern that she ought to in these circumstances. There are also good bits where she helps him prepare for the homecoming dance, and where they just go out to eat together. I also like that Peter doesn’t tell her about being Spider-Man because “she’s been through enough lately,” making another oblique reference to Uncle Ben.

I will also say that this version of Liz Allen is at least likable. She doesn’t have much personality, and Peter’s pursuit of her kind of just fizzles out, but she’s pleasant and good-natured enough (much more so than just about anyone else at the school), and Spidey actually gets to rescue her, so that’s good.

We also do get some good scenes of Spider-Man in action, including a recreation of the famous panel where Spidey finds the strength to lift a huge pile of debris off of himself. The final assault and battle on the plane is also extremely cool, while serving as a nice showcase of the difference between Peter and Toomes (one is trying to prevent as many deaths as possible, the other is only concerned about not leaving empty handed).

But the best part of the film, by far, is Vulture. This is an example of changing an established character and making him better. The Vulture of the comics and earlier adaptations was always something of a B or C list villain; not bad, but conceptually not very interesting. This one is not only a much more imposing threat, but they take the ‘vulture’ motif in a different direction, with him stealing the ‘scraps’ from the Avengers’ various missions, making them into weapons (Phineas Mason, AKA the Tinkerer is another supporting villain), and selling them for profit. Which, as Toomes tells Peter in a late-game speech, is what they, the working class, have to do any way; the rich and powerful run everything, and the little guys pick up the scraps.

Toomes is a really interesting character, played perfectly by the great Michael Keaton; a blue-collar, but hypocritical and ever-resentful bad guy who turns to crime out of a combination of desperation and resentment, grabbing at the rich lifestyle he nevertheless sneers at (listen to the way he says “that school,” describing the upscale high school Peter goes to). He’s sympathetic in that he really was treated unfairly, and he has his own particular code of honor, giving Peter a chance to walk away out of gratitude for saving his daughter’s life (the end credits scene reveals that this carries on past his defeat). That and he isn’t really looking to hurt anyone; he just doesn’t care whether anyone does get hurt by his actions. He and Schultz (Shocker) even have a brief exchange where they lament having to work with a man named Gargan (the future Scorpion), who is a legitimate psychopath. And all the while he has this strong, working-class, good-natured personality that would be likable under any other circumstances.

I also really like the design on his costume; the huge, imposing wings, green-eyed helmet, and even the feathered ruff of his bomber jacket, referencing the original design while updating it.

Really, Vulture is such a good villain and so well-conceived that he makes the film worth seeing just for his sake.

We also get two versions of the Shocker, another C-list Spider-Man villain, one of whom is a slacker on Toomes’s team whom he eventually kills for threatening to rat on them, the other is Schultz (Shocker’s original name), who doesn’t get much personality, but is able to more or less match the aesthetic of Shocker, including the padded yellow suit, and at least gives Spidey a hard time (The fact that at one point we have Shocker making his escape by riding Vulture had me momentarily in a state of pure comic-book bliss).

The humor in general is, again, a mixed bag. I laughed a fair amount; Peter’s quips are generally good, some of his mistakes are genuinely funny (I like his reaction when ‘Karen’ turns on the ‘instant kill’ mode), and Tony Stark gets some good jokes in. Again, I like Peter’s interactions with ‘Karen,’ and some of the awkward moments do work pretty well – such as when Happy Hogan summons Peter to a secret meeting in the men’s room, only to discover partway through than one of the stalls was occupied. But then again a lot the low-brow humor falls flat; such as the pathetic teacher saying he couldn’t lose a student on a school trip…again, and most of the antics of Ned and the rest of the high schoolers. Spidey’s pratfalls also get old very quickly.

I looked up the director and main writers of this film, and found that they had previously mostly worked on mid-level comedies. That’s kind of the problem with the film as a whole; it is too broad, too one note, and too crude. Far too much of the film’s potential is sacrificed in the name of making a cheap joke. The high schoolers apart from Peter and Liz Allen, his crush, are pretty unpleasant for the most part, the teachers are ‘comically’ pathetic, there’s a deal of crude humor sprinkled throughout (though thankfully not too much), and of course Spidey’s many, many pratfalls and mishaps. We passed on from a group of expert storytellers in Civil War, to…well, frankly, a bunch of hacks. What they produce is more or less serviceable, and again has some very strong elements, but is noticeably clumsier, cruder, and over all lesser than their predecessors (and I can’t resist: no, you idiots, the Washington Monument wasn’t built by slaves. How hard would that have been to look up?).

Speaking of which, I like Peter’s ‘home-video’ of the trip, but the continuity really doesn’t match up with Civil War. When does Tony take Peter back to New York? Either it’s right after the airport battle, or after coming back from Siberia, and he is way too chipper and cheerful for either of those. Not to mention both Peter and Tony are missing their bruises from the battle. We get a bit of a sense of what the public have been told about Cap going vigilante (a bored gym teacher comments “I think this guy’s supposed to be a war criminal now or something”), but not much. On the other hand, having the bank robbers wearing ‘Avengers’ masks was a great touch, and some of the ‘series continuity,’ such as Toomes explicitly stating that they’ve spent all this time trying to keep off the Avengers’ radar and that they’re done the moment that changes, or reference to the fact that they’re still cleaning up the ‘Triskelion mess’ from Winter Soldier, are very clever. And at the very end, Pepper Potts herself makes a triumphant return to the franchise, ending the film on a high note.

So, in summary, I really can’t say I like Spider-Man: Homecoming that much. The highs are great – Vulture, Tom Holland’s performance, Aunt May, Peter’s relationship with Tony Stark – but the lows are painful – Spider-Man’s incompetence, the desecration of the supporting cast, and the general clumsiness of the characterization and storytelling. It’s frustrating; they have probably the best live action Spider-Man yet, but they dropped the ball on building his story and his world. It’s still worth seeing, especially for Vulture, but for a series that has been doing such great work with almost every other Marvel hero, it’s a real disappointment to see them fumbling the Big One so badly.

The Federalist Spider-Man

My latest article is up at The Federalist


The show is also creative in how it handles the villains. Rather than an increasingly ridiculous series of accidents and coincidences, we have one accidental event (Electro), which directly leads to another (the electricity discharged during Electro’s rampage gives Doctor Connors’s Lizard formula an unexpected boost, sending it into overdrive), which then makes Tombstone realize that if Spider-Man is busy fighting supervillains, he’ll be too preoccupied to go after his crime empire.

So he hires Osborne to start making more, which gives Osborne funding and test subjects for his more “questionable” experiments. The show therefore quickly brings a large portion of Spidey’s excellent rogues’ gallery into play while continuing to tell a seamlessly coherent story, developing the already established characters, and without placing undue stress on the audience’s credulity.


That brings me to another aspect of the writing: it flows marvelously well from one episode to another. Actions and events have real consequences that may not come into play for several episodes down the line, meaning that everything the characters do has real weight. A thoughtless decision on Peter’s part in an early episode starts a chain reaction of events that continues to affect the story until the very end. When characters have to make hard choices on this show, we’re completely invested because we know it could affect the whole course of the story.

Read the rest here.