Examining "Rebirth's" Treatment of Legacy & Promise of a Less "Grimdark" DC Universe
Spider-Man and Superman have very similar jobs in the world of comics: Both are the mascots for their respective publishers, both embody what kind of stories those companies tell (from the extremely powerful DC comics to the more personal Marvel style), both are unique in the realm of superheroes (or at least were at the time of their inception), and both underwent fresh reboots recently to update them for a new generation, much to the chagrin of their established fan bases.
On Thursday, we got the trailer for the second dose of Andrew Garfield and his super-excited-to-be-here hairdo swinging above New York City and facing down his next big threat. Or should I say threats, as this will not only continue his journey to find out about his parents but also about OsCorp’s role in their disappearance, making him the enemy of the Osborns plus Electro and the Rhino. We all saw the trailer, right? Spinoff Online has a nifty video with commentary from the actors and director.
After watching it, I wanted to compare the new Spider-Man to the new view we have of Superman, but really that’s just comparing apples and oranges. There are similarities, but the tone, style and message of both heroes are geared for different things. Especially now, with how modern movies are redefining major heroes for more general audiences and what’s in vogue story style-wise, both of these heroes are going to do different things for different people and to compare them would be a little antagonistic. A much better comparison would be looking at the new Spider-Man … and this guy:
Yeah, remember him? Just from the trailer, it looks like the new Spidey might not be that far from the old Spidey, just simply different by way of focus and hairstyle. Take a look with me, won’t you?
Quick refresher course: Go watch the Spider-Man 2 trailer. It’s pretty cool and holds up as an exciting nibble at what I consider to be the best of the Sam Raimi Spider-trilogy.
Back? Great. We start out with Aunt May in voiceover: “I believe there’s a hero in all of us. Gives us strength, makes us noble. Even though sometimes we have to give up the thing we want the most.”
In essence, being a hero is good, but it requires sacrifice. Pretty strong life lesson that is really the main focus of this Peter’s story. He’s late, and people are disappointed in him. “No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, it’s the ones I love who will always be the ones who pay,” Peter tells us. Being Spider-Man is taking a toll on being Peter Parker, so he declares “Spider-Man no more” and focuses on himself. (“There was something I thought I had to do, I don’t have to!”) Meanwhile, Doctor Octopus is out there with his mechanical arms, and he and Harry Osborn want to get Spider-Man because they’re villains and it’s loudly stated in the trailer that Spider-Man killed Harry Osborn’s father. Motivations are airtight and we’re only a minute into this thing. New York City needs Spider-Man, and Peter seems to have all the motivation to want to help, he just has to make a choice. The trailer ends with Harry, dagger in hand to make his own choice, ready to pull the mask from Spider-Man’s face.
OK, now the Amazing Spider-Man 2 trailer.
Peter starts off by telling us that, “Every day, I wake up knowing that the more people I try to save, the more enemies I will make. And it’s just a matter of time before I face those with more power than I can overcome.” Big difference in tone and focus here, but both trailers want to start you off with essential quotes. Here, the focus is on power, who has it, who wants it and what you do with it. Peter Parker is shown late (again), but here it’s treated as a dalliance rather than disappointing Gwen (do note: it may sound like she knows who Peter is from the voice clips, but I think that won’t come until later in the film and this is probably clever editing).
Harry Osborn features prominently again and seems incredibly sinister, but that just might be the actor’s choice and his emo Spider-Man 3 haircut. Aunt May is here, but less with words of wisdom and more with words of doom: “I once told you that secrets have a cost. The truth does, too.” So you’re pretty much damned if you do, damned if you don’t, as opposed to the previous Aunt May’s “being a good person takes work” style of parenting.
Harry asks his dad about what all this (meaning OsCorp’s crazy labs) is, and Norman responds, “The future.” This movie is setting up a third right from the get-go — why else show us Easter eggs like Doc Ock’s arms, the Vulture’s wings and six (count ‘em, six!) mysterious bay doors? When Harry Osborn asks about Peter (all but rubbing his hands in fiendish glee), Norman tells him that not everyone has a happy ending. Spider-Man makes a choice, tells Gwen about his path, Electro brings us back to the main conceit about a world “without power, without mercy, without Spider-Man,” cut to dazzling light show and fight scene.
Basically, what we have here are two movies telling the same story, one through the lens of power, the other of responsibility. Where The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s fight is over multiple enemies and threats, Spider-Man 2‘s is mostly internal and ethical. Peter Parker fights with making the choice to be Spider-Man in both movies, one with the idea that he’s a pawn in a larger scheme, the other based more in personal sacrifice. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s likely going to be a sacrifice made by the end of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but going just by the trailers, the divide between the internal and external is clear.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has completely lost the “doofy Peter” of its predecessor franchise ,and presents us with a more self-possessed Parker who’s fighting against forces that are beyond him. Questioning who he is isn’t an introspective or moral problem, it’s external in the hunt for the truth about his father and his connection to OsCorp. Evil corporations, while a trope, are a clear example of what the every man can’t take down on his own and such a battle is left to our hero. You can’t fight power, but Spider-Man is going to punch Electro in their face off. We’ll just have to see what next year brings us.