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

Coulson Lives! (Sort Of)

A god

A genius

A monster

A frozen warrior

 

…..and this guy….

Say what you will about all the miscellaneous Marvel movies, but if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s the fact that Phil Coulson was the best thing to come out of all it. Starting all the way back in the original Iron Man film, and continuing still, Agent Coulson became a fan favorite that is still a big part of what makes those movies fun.

The question is: why?

We’re watching these movies because they’re about superheroes. We’re in the theater because we want to see Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, or Thor smash through villains and save the day. Yet, by the time most of us walk out, it is the non-powered character that sticks with us. I think the answer is simpler than we all believe.

It’s because he IS human.

It’s because Coulson IS us.

Agent Coulson is a mere man among gods and monsters. He has no power, there is nothing special about him, and he is always out of his league. He walks in the shadow of giants, BUT he loves the shade. He’s the character none of us knew we wanted; until he showed up and we realized we couldn’t live without him.

He is a fan, like us. He collects Captain America trading cards. He fawns, with some control, over his heroes that he gets to stand next to when the world is at the brink. He is our window into that world. A perfect contrast to the madness and power that circulates around.

He is who we are, and where we wish to be.

An everyday guy, living in a world of heroes.

Coulson, as a character, is at his best when he is that contrast between us and the heroes. In those moments he becomes incredibly relatable. His victories become all the more sweeter, because we all know the odds are stacked against him, and we hope to believe that we could do the same.

As Joss Whedon puts it, he’s “the little guy”.

“The idea of the Little Guy is something that I am very fierce about, and there has never been a better Little Guy than Clark Gregg. That intrigued me, this world around the superhero community. It’s the people whose shop windows get blown up when the Destroyer shows up.”

So, when someone tells me they’re going to center a show around this beloved character, it’s hard to not get excited…

….then be all the more let down with the result.

Agents of Shield has a fantastic premise, and a lot going for it; mainly Coulson’s inclusion and direct ties to the Marvel movie universe. Yet so far, the ratings haven’t been Avengers-esque and Coulson… well… he hasn’t been either.

Agents of Shield has a lot of problems; though five episodes in things are getting better. Characterization is minimal, it feels very “monster of the week,” and, if I could editorialize for brief moment, their hacker, Skye, is a terrible character. Yet, despite those issues, that’s not the show’s biggest problem.

Coulson doesn’t resonate the way he used to.

I know many of you are screaming out at the monitor, saying that it is because it isn’t the same Coulson, but a LMD or Vision, or something else; but I am not talking about that. I talking about the fact that he doesn’t seem as relatable any longer.

It’s because he’s no longer “the little guy.”

In Agents of Shield, Coulson is the star, the hero; and that in and of itself is not the problem. Having a character in that sort of position doesn’t make him unrelatable; the problem is he is no longer in the shadows of giants.

We all loved him because he was the underdog, because he was surrounded by powered beings beyond anything and still soldiered on. Yet in Shield, there are no gods and monsters, only men; and when that happens Coulson just seems like another generic action hero. [Albeit, with some funny one liners.]

Like stated previously, his character works best when he is contrasted against the personas around him. Yet, whether due to constrained budgets or poor scriptwriting, that isn’t happening in the television series. That amazing relatable spark is gone when all you have is another Alias.

Agents of Shield gives us Coulson, but an Agent Coulson who is not the quiet hero, rather the man of action. One could argue that this is simply another side to the same character, which I could agree with. Yet, the problem lay in the fact that the audience has fallen in love with a very specific side, and to show otherwise may steer them away from the show.

I want Agents of Shield to be great, but more importantly, I want the character that I didn’t know I needed until he was there to come back. He let me experience the Marvel universe in a way that I don’t think will be replicated for years. Like a drug, I desperately want that experience on a weekly basis.

Coulson lived, but my adoration is waning. He’s not the character we all fell in love with, but maybe he can be again. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take multiple seasons or a looming cancellation to bring him back to form.