Spider-Man rebooted – lizard villainy and beyond!
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Could Spider-Man's very first adversary in the comics prove to be a sure-fire hit in the reboot movies?
[Contains some comic book spoilers]
Barely a decade after Evil Dead auteur Sam Raimi brought New York’s friendly neighbourhood web-slinger swinging onto the big screen for the first time, we’re already into reboot territory courtesy of (500) Days Of Summer director Marc Webb and Zodiac scribe James Vanderbilt. (Spidey had, of course, already hit the small screen in the The Amazing Spider-Man series on CBS between 1977 and 1979, with Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker and a stunt double wearing the webs, but that’s another sorry story for another day.)
Spidey fans are, of course, always going to be concerned about the casting of the main players, though with Social Network pretty boy Andrew Garfield signed up to play Peter Parker, Zombieland’s Emma Stone on board as Gwen Stacy (Peter’s first love, who he inadvertently killed in issue 121 of Amazing Spider-Man, ‘The Night That Gwen Stacy Died’, after snagging her with his webbing when the Green Goblin threw her off the Brooklyn Bridge but snapping her neck in the process), Denis Leary as her dad Captain George Stacy, and Martin Sheen and Sally Field as the web-head’s Uncle Ben and Aunt May, the core characters seem to be in safe hands.
This brings us to the most important question, though, the answer to which will be crucial in whether the movie swings its way to success: who will Spidey be going toe to toe with?
Raimi got the choice of villain spot on in his first movie, pitting Peter Parker against best friend Harry Osborn's dad Norman, even if the Green Goblin suit looked like an oversized Japanese action figure, and Alfred Molina's star turn as Doctor Otto 'Octopus' Octavius (who was originally slated as the first movie's villain) in the first sequel was nothing short of magnificent, but the over-egging of the arachnid pudding in part three - by pitting the Daily Bugle's star snapper against not only the Sandman, but also Venom and the Green Goblin Mark Two, while trying to juggle a love triangle with Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy - was an alien symbiote too far for this fan, and I know I wasn't alone.
So, what to do for the remake... sorry, reboot? Take the path well-trodden and dust off the Goblin suit, perhaps hoping for a Heath Ledger-style rejuvenation of Spidey's greatest nemesis? Or reach out (and out and out and out) to the good Doctor again in an impossible attempt to come anywhere near the genius of Molina's Ock? Maybe even have Eddie Brock come roaring back in black to give Venom the respect he deserves rather than feeling like a shoehorned in after-thought (though not treated as thoughtlessly as Bane was in Batman and Robin (1997) where he was reduced from the status of being the only villain ever to ‘break the Bat’ by literally snapping his spine to that of an inarticulate thug in the employ of Poison Ivy who can barley speak his own name)?
As much as I love these three characters, my hope has always been that they’ll leave them locked away in the Vault (Marvel's maximum security prison that was frequently anything but until its destruction in 2006) because while Spidey versus the Goblin is the stuff of legend (not least because of a long rumoured disagreement between Stan Lee and Steve Ditko over the Goblin’s identity – Lee allegedly wanted him to be somebody known to Peter Parker while Ditko favoured a stranger – which resulted in Ditko leaving the book before Norman Osborn’s unmasking in Amazing Spider-Man issue 39), and Otto Octavius is the perpetual thorn in Parker's side (to the point where he almost married Peter's Aunt May way back in issues 130 and 131 in a dastardly plot to get his hands on an island with an atomic plant on it that she had unknowingly inherited), I believe that it's time to let some of the other members of the web-slinger's extensive rogue’s gallery have a shot at him.
"There's plenty of scope here for thrilling face-offs in dirty, dingy sewers, stripping Spidey of his high-flying advantage and forcing him instead to use his brawling skills that hark back to the amateur wresting chapter of his origins"
It’s heartening, therefore, to see Rhys Ifans (most recently seen as Luna Lovegood’s father Xenophilius in the latest Harry Potter movie) donning Doctor Curt Connors’ lab coat (formerly modelled by Dylan Baker who wore the whites in both of Raimi’s sequels but never got to go all reptile on Spidey’s ass), thus finally giving fans the chance to see the Lizard unleashed!
Bringing Connors to the fore is in many ways a genius move, in that although there will be the inevitable need to retread at least some of the wall-crawler’s origin story, what better way to achieve a two-for-one than have the accident in which Peter Parker is bitten by the radioactive spider be the same one (cue explosions, falling machinery, balloons – well, maybe not balloons) in which Curt Connors loses his arm, setting the birth of the Lizard in motion as he develops his reptilian serum while we get to see Peter work through his new found abilities (including organic webbing, which though out-of-line with classic Spidey canon, I would personally like to see retained).
In stark contrast to Raimi's first movie, which favoured aerial battles, there's plenty of scope here for thrilling face-offs in dirty, dingy sewers, stripping Spidey of his high-flying advantage and forcing him instead to use his brawling skills that hark back to the amateur wresting chapter of his origins.
In addition, the pathos of the piece is well served by Peter's conflict over seeing Curt Connors as something of a father figure and mentor after the death of his Uncle Ben, made deliciously complicated by the fact that Connors is the amnesiac Jekyll to the Lizard's Hyde, which renders it very difficult for Spider-Man to beat the crap out of the primal, psychopathic alter ego of the man that he admires and respects, knowing that in doing so he is injuring the innocent man within. Mix in the dramatic juxtaposition as Connors / Lizard constantly shifts between being ready to die to protect his wife and son, and wanting to dine on them, and you have more than enough to keep our favourite web-slinger too busy to devote enough time to Gwen Stacy.
Given that you can bet your life that they’re already thinking trilogy, where next for old web-head once the Lizard is taken care of? In my mind, considering we’re being promised a darker take on Spidey this time around, it’s time to go all Empire Strikes Back and revisit one of the wall-crawler’s most traumatic defeats, one that will have serious repercussions for the final movie in the trilogy. Step forward, Kraven The Hunter!
Often overlooked in Spider-Man mythology, but famous for being the one man to have completely and utterly bested Peter Parker's alter ego to the point that he actually became him for two weeks as part of writer J M DeMatteis’ legendary Fearful Symmetry storyline (aka Kraven’s Last Hunt), Sergei Kravinoff has more than earned his shot at Spidey. Having been repeatedly outsmarted by the wall-crawler in the early years of the comic book, Kraven is driven by the desire to defeat Spider-Man and prove himself to be the greatest hunter in the world. Reasoning that the only way to beat the spider is to become the spider, Kraven sets about ingesting all manner of mystical serums and live arachnids before shooting Spidey with a tranquiliser dart and burying him on the Kravinoff estate while he dons the black costume to prove himself the superior man.
Spidey eventually comes around, digs his way out of his grave and confronts the Hunter, but is distracted when Kraven releases another dangerous villain he has captured called Vermin, forcing the web-slinger to go after him. Left alone, Kraven retires to his mansion, believing his work to be complete having finally bested the wall-crawler, and blows his brains out.
This dark second episode of the trilogy could easily be set up in the first movie by way of a brief skirmish with an apparent small-time loser in a jungle suit, and gives plenty of scope for flashbacks of his burial to haunt and distract the wall-crawler during his third outing, and even be actively used against him by someone who has the perfect motive. Come on down, The Chameleon!
"The Chameleon, with his ability to perfectly mimic anybody he chooses, effectively becoming them, brings a chilling sense of paranoia to Spidey’s life, in that he could quite literally be anybody - even the wall-crawler himself"
Dmitri Smerdyakov, aka The Chameleon, is not only the oldest of all Spidey's adversaries, appearing in the very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man in 1963, but is arguably the most cunning. The Goblin may have been devious and resourceful (he did, after all, own the Osborn empire) but he was too many pumpkins short of Halloween to be genuinely creepy, whereas the Chameleon, with his ability to perfectly mimic anybody he chooses, effectively becoming them, brings a chilling sense of paranoia to Spidey’s life, in that he could quite literally be anybody - even the wall-crawler himself.
Further adding to Spidey’s woes is the fact that The Chameleon is Sergei Kravinoff’s half-brother, and the rage he feels at Kraven’s suicide is the perfect motive for some serious subterfuge and misdirection that would keep both Peter Parker and the audience on the edge as they watch The Chameleon unravel the wall-crawler’s increasingly fragile sanity, while destroying his public reputation by impersonating him and behaving out of character.
However, given that neither Kraven nor The Chameleon are particularly well known outside of fan circles, I’m all but resigned to the fact that due to Gwen Stacy and not Mary Jane Watson being the prominent love interest in the reboot, she’s being lined up for a date with destiny on the Brooklyn Bridge with a certain jolly green psycho, particularly in light of Slumdog Millionaire actor Irrfan Khan’s recent casting as a character called Nels Van Atter, which is a little too similar to a certain Nels Van Adder who appeared in Amazing Spider-Man issue –1 (minus one) as the ‘Proto-Goblin’ to be anything but a set up for the return of Norman Osborn and the Green Goblin.
Ah well, a fan can but dream!
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