Sacrificing Peter; or Why the Amazing Spider-Man may not be so Amazing

I’m a fan of superheroics. Whether it has been Superman, Captain America, Batman, Green Lantern; I’ve always had a soft spot for those sorts of stories. Yet, despite my ever changing tastes there has always been one character that will always stick with me…

Peter Parker.

Parker 3

Let’s rewind a little bit…

Growing up, school was always rough for me. By the time I had reached middle school being picked on had become routine, and the question had become whether or not I was going to get beat up in the process. I didn’t have many friends, and the fact that I was into video games, computing, and Star Wars sure didn’t help my case any. Most days ended with me getting home and wondering if I should ever go back to that place.

I dreamed of escape. I prayed for some way to fight back. I hoped for a way to make it all end.

It was about that time that I ran into Peter.

To this day, I can’t remember what exact series of events led me to stumble into Spider-man’s adventures, but it was just what I needed at the time.

Here was a story about a kid in high school, not too unlike myself. He was picked on, beat up, and could talk to girls just about as well as I could. (Which was not at all.) He was completely powerless until one day when some spider bit him. Then everything changed…

Parker 4

It was complete and utter wish fulfillment for me. I saw myself in Peter Parker and took hope that if this nerdy guy can make it, albeit with superpowers, maybe I could get through this as well.

I firmly believe that Peter Parker is one of the reasons I made it through those rough years. Many, many years later now, I can still look back and read those comics and feel that connection to the character.

It’s probably why I was so shocked to see Peter as a skateboarding hipster in the newer film, The Amazing Spider-man.

My initial reaction was that my own nostalgia was getting in the way, but the more I thought about it, the more it got to me. This Peter was cool, a social outcast, maybe; but cool nonetheless. This Peter saves a nerd from getting beat up in the film, a role classically reserved for Peter himself. This Peter could charm Gwen Stacy.

Parker 5

Everything had seemingly flipped upside down.

The Amazing Spider-man was a good action movie and did well enough that the sequel is coming out this summer. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling that it doesn’t feel like a Spider-man movie.

The CG may be better, and Andrew Garfield’s body build looks better in the suit than Toby Maguire’s did, and the fight scenes may be a heck of a lot cooler; but there’s something missing.

What made Peter Parker so wonderful for so many of us was that he was just some kid thrown into unimaginable situations. He had the same problems that we all had; being picked on, school, girl trouble, plus the added stress of super-heroics and all the problems that caused.

Parker 1

In this new film, Peter might has well have been destined for fights and tights. His parents were scientists and if the trailer for the sequel is to be believed, it’s implied that his father is responsible for many of Spider-man’s classic foes.

This cheapens his hero’s journey and takes away something that made him so amazing (pun intended.)

It is not heroic to fix your father’s mistakes, nor to solve your own. What makes Peter great is that he was an average kid, with un-average powers, that decided to put life and limb on the line for others for no other reason than he believed it was the right thing to do.

It is the fact that Peter is just, “one of us,” that makes his choice to don the mask truly incredible. He’s not just another guy in tights fighting super villains. He’s our “friendly neighborhood Spider-man!” For better or for worse, the new film seemingly loses that amidst the spectacle.

Parker 6

It’s ironic that my last post here on the Playground was about the dangers of nostalgia and how it can effect our experiences; and one could argue that I need to listen to myself on this one. The difference here is that unlike other “re-interpretations” [see Transformers] that keep the spirit of the original, The Amazing Spider-man completely changes the core of the main character.

This is not the Peter Parker who inspired me to survive. This is not the nerd who had to be set up on a date with the prettiest girl in school by his aunt, because he was too busy with science projects. This “new” Peter is hip and trendy and coming from a totally different place. He’s the outsider, the underappreciated genius, the teen with the charming smile. Growing up, I would say I want to be this Peter; yet I look to the classic interpretation and know I am him.

As I have said in previous posts, I am glad we are getting more Spider-man stories. Nerd culture is better for it, and they always make for a good summer blockbuster. It’s just unfortunate that we had to sacrifice Peter Parker to make that happen.

 Parker 7

 

Advertisements

How Stylish are Nostalgia Goggles

“Nos-tal-gic,’ Akira said, as though it were a word he had been struggling to find. Then he said a word in Japanese, perhaps the Japanese for ‘nostalgic.’ ‘Nos-tal-gic. It is good to be nos-tal-gic. Very important.’

‘Really, old fellow?’

‘Important. Very important. Nostalgic. When we nostalgic, we remember. A world better than this world we discover when we grow. We remember and wish good world come back again. So very important.”

-Kazuo Ishiguro, from the novel When We Were Orphans

Nostalgia will always be the double-edged blade of geek culture. With it, we are able to keep our favorite passions alive. Yet, when they do return, it is always in new forms and we long for the way we remembered it.

Take, for instance, one of my personal favorites.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

TMNT1

Growing up, these “radical dudes” were a large part of my life. I owned tons of toys, too many VHS tapes, and dreamed of learning ninjutsu, just so I could be like them. I was in the heart of “turtle-mania,” and when the cartoon ended in 1996, I was heartbroken.

What happened the next year may have been described by “lil’ Jonny” as a miracle. A new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show was coming on the air; and not only that, it was going to be a sequel to the live action movies. Few of you may remember the abomination that was “Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation,” but suffice it to say I wasn’t the only kid disappointed in it.

This was my first lesson in nostalgia. Sequels and relaunches are hardly ever are as good at the first one.

The Turtles have had success since that initial relaunch. They went dormant for a while after The Next Mutation flopped hard, but came back for a six year run in 2003; and three years after that series had ended the current version of the show started. Each series attracts new fans and gives the world another take on the Ninja Turtles, garnering some level of success along the way….

…and each time I am there watching at least that first episode, trying to recapture that small happy moment I had when I was a kid.

In that was my second lesson in nostalgia – You can never recapture that original magic.

This rings true throughout all of geek culture. Whether you are talking about Star Wars, the new Hobbit films, Transformers, Star Trek, Indiana Jones…the conversation always remains the same.

Clone Wars

The version of the cartoon, the movie, or the comic that you experienced first will always be the best. It will always be our first love, and we will fight to the death to defend it; because nothing has ever been able to recreate that sense of wonder that the original experience gave you.

There was still one thing left that I had to learn about nostalgia, and it was one I had to learn the hard way. After watching one of the newer incarnations of the Transformers, and being left indignant as to why it would sully the original cartoon that I held in such high regard, I decided to re-watch said original Transformers cartoon.

Luckily, the whole series was on Netflix, and I set aside an evening to watch the first handful of episodes. Before the first episode had finished, I was questioning my entire belief structure. The animation was poor, voices would be matched up to the wrong characters, and what little plot there was made less sense than the stories I had made up for my figures as a kid. Not to mention that it became painfully clear that the show existed to sell me those very same toys that I played with.

This was my last lesson in nostalgia: sometimes it is most definitely not as good as you remember it.

TFGen1

This brings me back to geek culture, because sometimes we seem to forget that last lesson. We can get so wrapped up defending our version, our take on the characters, that we drive others away. We have an uncanny ability to love something so much that we drive others away from sharing in it.

Does it really matter that much if someone’s first experience with Star Wars was the prequel trilogy, or that they actually LIKE Jar Jar Binks? Maybe what really matters is that they like Star Wars; that there is one more person in the world who enjoys something the same way you do, even if it isn’t the EXACT same way.

Does it matter if someone’s first experience with the Turtles wasn’t the Eastman and Laird comic by Mirage, that their first Star Trek was Enterprise, or that their first take on the Transformers was the Michael Bay movie?

No.

What matters is that we all love our little part of geek culture. Our nostalgia for our past creates an opportunity for others to experience something similar in the future. We may never be able to recreate and recapture that magic for ourselves, but we have the opportunity to create that experience for those after us.

It will always be someone’s first Star Wars movie.

It will always be someone’s first Turtle story.

This is the joy and heartache of geek culture; and of nostalgia itself.

Enjoy the fact that there is more of it, and smile that there are others who are revelling with you.

Criticism because it is not how you remember it only serves to hurt those experiencing it for the first time.

We will never have that magic moment again; but we can always make sure that someone else can.

(You can find me this summer in line for Transformers: Age of Extinction and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at your local cineplex).