Spider-Man: Homecoming and the art of the twist

Spider-Man: Homecoming poster

No spoiler unless you consider mention of a plot twist a spoiler.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, this weekend’s big movie opening in the U.S., has a lesson about how to spring a plot twist on the audience.

We’ll avoid details here. However, this paricular plot twist may be a bigger surprise to those familiar with the original source material, i.e. the 1962-66 original comics run by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

The movie’s creative team does take some creative liberties with those Lee-Ditko stories in updating them for a 21st century setting.

That’s not a surprise in and of itself. Ever since Marvel began making its own movies, it has picked and chosen among comic story lines going back decades. The first Marvel Studios film, 2008’s Iron Man, moved the site of the character’s origin from Vietnam (as in the 1963 comic book) to the Middle East.

In any case, Spider-Man: Homecoming’s plot twist works.  Viewers who know the original stories may not see it coming.

One other non-spoiler note, the movie also adapts a major sequence from the original (plotted and drawn by Ditko and scripted by Lee). That will probably also catch the attention of fans of the original comic stories.

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Spider-Man Homecoming goes for the Romita look

John Romita Sr.’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 52 in 1967

The publicity machine is gearing up for Spider-Man: Homecoming. There are stories about how this third movie version of the character came about, how Marvel Studios is collaborating with Sony Pictures, etc.

Less attention is being paid to something more basic. Namely, how, with Marvel actually producing the movie for Sony, the cinematic Spider-Man looks more like Spider-Man in the comics. Specifically, how he looks more like the version drawn by John Romita Sr. starting in 1966.

Romita, now 87, assumed the assignment after Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko quit Marvel that year. Romita essentially got a try out when he drew a two-part Daredevil story featuring Spider-Man as the guest star.

The change didn’t hurt Spider-Man’s popularity. Romita had a long run on the title. At times, other artists such as Gil Kane were brought in, with Romita doing the inks to maintain the basic look.

Romita also helped launch a Spider-Man newspaper comic strip in the 1970s. Eventually, Romita became Marvel’s art director before retiring.

Sony eventually got the film rights to Spider-Man as the result of a 1999 deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  Prior to Spider-Man: Homecoming, Sony made five Spidey films from 2002 to 2014.

In all five, the costume crew put its own spin on the Spidey suit. For example, the one worn by Andrew Garfield in two of the movies had a spider design more elaborate than the one in the comics. You can view previous the Sony versions in this video:

Now, with Marvel and Sony collaborating (Sony is financing and distributing, Marvel is handling the production), there’s yet another new movie look for the character.

Spider-Man: Homecoming poster

This version, with Tom Holland as the character, made its debut in last year’s Captain America: Civil War.

Spidey in full costume looks almost like a Romita drawing come to life. There were a few changes, including some blue stripes not in the original. The web shooters are visible outside the gloves.

Still, the resemblance to the Romita version is there.

It is perhaps strongest on the poster for the new movie, where the largest image is Spider-Man in costume.

All of this may be overthinking the topic. It’s natural that Marvel Studios would want its Spidey to look different than the five previous Sony films. Still, consider this post a kind of shoutout to one of the stalwarts of the Marvel bullpen.

Happy 94th birthday, Stan Lee

Stan Lee's cameo in Captain America: Civil War

Stan Lee’s cameo in Captain America: Civil War

Stan Lee turns 94 today.

Over the past few years, Stan’s legacy at Marvel Comics has been re-examined in books such as Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story and a detailed article in New York magazine early this year. This blog even did a modest post on the subject a year ago.

Today’s post is merely intended to wish “Stan the Man” (one of his many nicknames when he was Marvel’s editor-in-chief) a happy birthday.

Marvel was a lot more than Stan Lee. But he is one of the few survivors of the 1960s when the stories were done that laid the foundation for the Marvel Comics film universe.

That doesn’t mean Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko (another survivor), Wally Wood and others weren’t important. Their contributions were enormous (their plotting in addition to their art) and they should be better known than they are.

Still, for many fans, Stan remains endearing. He still shows up in cameos in Marvel films. Comingsoon.net said in September said Lee has filmed additional cameos in advance.

So, once more, excelsior, Stan Lee.

A few thoughts about Spider-Man 3.0’s trailer

Steve Ditko's cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Steve Ditko’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

The official title is Spider-Man: Homecoming but a more accurate moniker might be Spider-Man 3.0.

The 2017 movie will be the sixth film, and third different version, of the Stan Lee-Steve Ditko character since 2002. It’s also the first Spider-Man movie produced by Marvel Studios, though it will be released by Sony Pictures, which made the five previous Spidey movies.

The latest actor to play Spider-Man, Tom Holland, 20, was introduced in Captain America: Civil War in May. Once again, Peter Parker is in high school. This time, his Aunt May (originally drawn by Ditko as elderly) is younger in the person of Marisa Tomei, 52.

The first trailer for Spider-Man homecoming was unveiled on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night talk show on ABC Dec. 8.  What follows are a few reactions:

Hedging your bets: The Marvel-Sony combo isn’t taking any chances, making sure to include an appearance by Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.

In Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker was already active as Spider-Man. Stark provided him an upgrade in his uniform and equipment. This, of course, is a major deviation from the original 1960s comic books but fit the plot of Civil War.

Downey is in the new trailer. Presumably, the actor will only have a cameo appearance. After all, the movie is supposed to highlight Spider-Man, not Iron Man.

What happened to Aunt May?: Tomei appears only fleetingly in the first trailer. The guess here is she’ll show up more in later trailers. One of the more amusing bits of Civil War was Downey’s Stark commenting how surprised he was by Aunt May being so hot.

Michael Keaton’s villain: Keaton, now 65, played Batman in Warner Bros. films released in 1989 and 1992. Here, he plays the Vulture, one of the earliest Spidey villains. The character was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man No. 2, published in 1963. The Vulture hasn’t yet made an appearance in the Spider-Man movies.

One tidbit not in the trailer: Spider-Man: Homecoming’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists six writers. That can be an indicator of scripting turmoil. It remains to be seen how many actually get a credit once the Writer’s Guild of America is consulted. WGA have a bearing on the final credit.

Anyway, here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it.

UPDATE (10:05 p.m. ET): Here’s the international trailer. While shorter, it has more Tony Stark footage, including an interesting shot toward the end.

Dr. Strange conjures an $85M opening weekend

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange poster

Marvel’s Dr. Strange movie conjured up an $85 million estimated opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada as the studio successfully introduced another one of its characters to the screen, according to a Twitter post by Exhibitor Relations, which tracks movie box office figures.

That was better than initial projection for the film with Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character to open up at $55 million to $75 million.

Since then, there was a surge of positive reviews. Dr. Strange has a 90 percent “fresh” rating at the Rotten Tomatoes website. Dr. Strange was the 14th Marvel film to open at No. 1, according to Exhibitor Relations.

The U.S. opening was another example of how Marvel has reached deep into its roster of characters and translate them to the screen. The Walt Disney Co.-owned studio previously adapted The Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, both relatively unknown to the general public, into financially successful films.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strange also is doing well in international markets. The movie has generated international ticket sales of $240.4 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Its worldwide total is $325.4 million, according to the website, which compiles box office information.

Dr. Strange was created in 1963 by artist Steve Ditko. The Sorcerer Supreme’s first appearance was a five-page story by Ditko and Stan Lee in Strange Tales No. 110.

Here’s the tweet by Exhibitor Relations.

 

Dr. Strange: Marvel conquers the mystic realm

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange poster

Last month, this blog ran a post saying the Dr. Strange move was a test whether Marvel’s movie juggernaut would continue.

The studio’s answer, essentially, was, “C’MON, MAN!”

That’s because the movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch successfully translates one of Marvel’s quirkiest characters to the screen while still retaining the studio’s basic style, which includes a health amount of humor (without going overboard).

Put another way, Dr. Strange is a movie you can enjoy without every having read a Dr. Strange comic book story or, for that matter, having watched another Marvel-produced film.

The Scott Derrickson-directed film uses the eight-page Stan Lee-Steve Ditko Dr. Strange origin comic story (the sorcerer’s third appearance in Strange Tales) as a springboard for a much larger epic.

Dr. Strange also is an example of how computer effects are integral to the movie. Realizing the mystic realms devised by Ditko (the artist created the character) would be impossible without them. At the same time, the Dr. Strange movie tells an actual story, complete with an arc for its lead character.

James Bond film fans should take note. The lead villain is played by Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre in 2006’s Casino Royale). Another sorcerer, Mordo, is portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was in the conversation to play Blofeld in SPECTRE before Christoph Waltz was cast. Readers of the original Dr. Strange comic book will recognize the significance of the Mordo character name.

This being a Marvel film, Dr. Strange makes a (brief) connection to the rest of the Marvel movie universe. There are two brief scenes in the end titles. If you’re one-and-done with Dr. Strange, you can pass them by. If you’re a Marvel film fan, you’ll want to see them.

By now, Marvel has shown it can adapt virtually any of its characters successfully to the screen. The ride continues. GRADE: B-Plus.

Happy 89th birthday, Steve Ditko

Dr. Strange as drawn by Steve Ditko

Dr. Strange as drawn by Steve Ditko

Nov. 2 is the 89th birthday of artist Steve Ditko, one of the “founding fathers” of the Marvel Comics universe. His co-creation, Spider-Man, is the leading  character in that universe.

He’s more than that, of course. Ditko produced stories for other publishers and created other characters.

His birthday this year takes place the same week that the Dr. Strange movie, based on the Ditko-created character, comes out in the United States.

Ditko doesn’t do interviews. There are very few photographs of him. He’s the opposite of the outgoing Stan Lee, who makes a cameo in all movies based on Marvel characters.

To his many fans, however, Ditko is unique. The Dr. Strange movie wouldn’t have been possible without his unique vision. So, happy birthday Mr. D.