MovieBob - Intermission
The Accuracy Trap in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Bob Chipman | 2 May 2014 12:00
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The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Never mind the fact that, costume design and employment of comic book arcana as series-branching plot devices aside, the Marvel Studios features aren't nearly as slavish to their progenitors as they occasionally seem to be. Sure, Iron Man's armor looks "right," but Robert Downey Jr.'s starmaking conception of a snarky rich cad slowly growing a conscience is a pretty far cry from the Tony Stark of the comics: an ideological anti-Communist whose "playboy" lifestyle was a cover both for his dead-serious secret career as Iron Man and the near-crippling heart condition that necessitates his bionic implants in the first place. The films' version of Thor is so far removed from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's original conception as to be an entirely different character. I could go on, but you get the point.

This sort of thing wouldn't bug me if it didn't start to metastasize into a willingness (an eagerness, even) to trade "revisionist but great" for "faithful but mediocre." But that's exactly what I'm starting to see, and it's... worrying, to say the least - Exhibit A currently being a seemingly fandom-wide reappraisal of the Sam Raimi-directed original Spider-Man movies in comparison to the more recent ones from Mark Webb. Obviously, there's no accounting for taste, but I can't wrap my head around the idea of Raimi (one of the great living American genre filmmakers of the last several decades) reshaping visual and tonal aspects of the Spider-Man mythos to fit his signature directorial style not being preferable to the newer films' offering of "Here are some generic action beats, featuring Spider-Man." Never mind the ceaseless cheerleading for Webb's attempt to translate Spidey's standup-comedy mid-fight monologuing from the comics to screen... only to ably demonstrate why previous live-action versions of the character decided not to bother. What reads as "fun loving hero antics" on the page winds up as "sub-Schwarzenegger quip-machine" obnoxiousness on-screen.

It's an awkward line to straddle. Sure, I eventually got sick of Christopher Nolan's reimagined "realistic" Batman like a lot of folks did; but I'll still take it over a hypothetical "faithful" version where everyone wears their proper costume only to go through rote action scenes and a cookie-cutter plot. As for the Marvel movies, I find that their strength is drawn not from the details they get "right" but from strong appreciation for what the material got right in the first place: Where other filmmakers might have looked at these various licenses and said "This is all silly and it needs to change," they seem to say "We own this and we've watched it be successful and resonant already, so figure out how it did that in the first place and get as much of it up on-screen as possible." The "accuracy," whether we're talking about costumes or third-tier fan-favorite characters, is a byproduct of that - not the source.

We're probably going to be finding out Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman will look like in "Man of Steel 2: Sorry About Man of Steel 1". I'm hearing lots of interesting rumors. If, as has been widely speculated, the various uniforms (Batman's in particular) embrace a Marvel-style from-the-page frame of reference, I imagine there will be much rejoicing from the fandom - and I imagine myself likely to join the chorus. A Wonder Woman outfit overseen by Zack Snyder? Which gods did I please?? Would I like to see Batman finally ditching, as Ben Affleck himself has hinted, the "Matrix-like black armor?" Of course I would. But it won't be the thing that tells us whether or not the movie will be good - that comes later.

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