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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t due in theaters till July 2012, but Columbia Pictures has already announced May 2014 for the release of its sequel. I’m sure screenwriter James Vanderbilt has hashed through several drafts already, which is a shame since the best Spider-Man 2 screenplay was finished almost a decade ago.

It’s also the only superhero script penned by a Pulitzer Prize winner. After The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay gave comic books their first radioactive bite of literary legitimacy, Columbia Pictures hired author Michael Chabon to write the sequel to their 2002 Spider-Man. Compare Chabon’s script to the filmed version and you’ll understand why he sticks to novels.

He is only one of four writers on the final credits. He shares “story” with two others, but “screenplay” goes to Alvin Sargent. (Perhaps Columbia mistook Sargent’s 1972 adaption The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds for The Incredible Hulk.)

I’m not saying Chabon’s Spider-Man 2 would have won more awards (the Sam Raimi film took the 2004 Oscar for Best Visual Effects), but it did deserve a fuller screening. Columbia rehired Sargent not Chabon for Amazing Spider-Man, so they could still bring in Chabon to take the new sequel “story” and craft an even better “screenplay” than his last.

Admittedly, Chabon doesn’t care much about supervillians. His death of Doctor Octopus reads like an afterthought. Like Cavalier and Clay, it’s the love triangle that gives his story its mutant bite.

Here are my favorite (albeit sentimental) bits (pay attention, Mr. Vanderbilt):

Peter lied to Mary Jane when he told her he didn’t love her. He thought he had to; she and Peter’s best friend James Franco (this is before Mr. Franco ripped off his hand in 127 Hours and caused the end of the human race in Rise of the Planet of the Apes) were already engaged.

It’s also before Doc Ock rips off the Spider-Man mask, and Mary Jane (“with dawning shock and horror”) yelps “Peter!” A few pages later and the two are face to face, the unmasked Peter with several tons of collapsing building on his back and Mary Jane and her broken leg pinned under him. (I didn’t say Chabon was subtle.)

Peter says, “Hi.”

What does Mary Jane say?

“Hi.”

(Improbably, this is one of the few times Sargent retains Chabon’s dialogue.)

Chabon counts down the inches, five, four, three, less than one, until their faces are close enough for a kiss. Only now, his mask gone, the weight of his responsibilities about to crush them both, can Peter admit his love.

It’s also apparently what Mary Jane needed to get her leg free. In the next scene she’s happily bandaged in her apartment with Peter for a bedside nurse.

Narrative law requires that once unmasked a hero and his love interest must immediately have sex and/or get married. Chabon suggests both. But first his Peter has to try the classic superhero excuse for non-commitment:

“I do love you. I have loved you all my life, Mary Jane Watson. I just can’t have you, that’s all. The danger, the uncertainty. The hatred. I can’t ask that of you. . . . ”

Chabon’s Mary Jane is too smart:

“You were given a gift, Peter. I want to share that gift with you. And I want you to share it with me. You don’t have to do it alone. . . . What, you think police officers don’t get to be in love? Firefighters don’t get to be married? That’s crazy.”

“Wait, did you say married?”

“I already know your damn secret identity!”

And there it is, Superhero Intimacy 101. Take off your mask, wear your heart on your spandex sleeve.

Peter carries Mary Jane up the side of her apartment building (I skipped the bit where she jumps out the window to make him save her) and back in through her window.

She asks, “Does this mean I get to see the Spider Cave?”

Peter says no, there is no Spider Cave, but their off screen voices vanishing into the dark of her bedroom suggest otherwise. She’s about to see all of Peter’s secret Spider bits, not just the ones Mr. Sargent liked.

All Chabon needs is “The Amazing” in his title, and director Marc Webb should be ready to start shooting.

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