The Marvelization of Spider-Man

Yet another Spide-Man movie has been released! Naturally, as a huge Spider-Man fan, I had to go see it. I took the wife and kid to the drive-in, and sat down with the popcorn, all hyped up for a great film. There’s a lot of good in the movie, but there’s a lot of disappointment. I didn’t like the film, so what follows is my opinion of Spider-Man Homecoming.

One of the positives that people point out is the lack of origin story. Being the third reboot in 10-15 years, many of us are familiar with Peter Parker’s backstory, the radioactive spider, Uncle Ben’s death and becoming a hero.

The introduction, setting the scene, was great and comical. It introduces the villain, his motivation, and shows Peter’s point of view of the events in Civil War. We see his struggle to prove himself to Tony Stark.

Despite all this, I feel like the film lacks motivation. Sure, seeing Uncle Ben die, yet again, would be boring (supposedly). And the phrase, “with great power comes great responsibility,” has reached new levels of clichĂȘ (they say). Although, cheesy and repetitive, these moments define Peter Parker. They motivate him and drive what he does. They make him Spider-Man.

In contrast, Peter’s motivation in Homecoming is to be an Avenger, to be a hero and save people. But why does he want to save people? That question isn’t answered.

Peter has a sweet suit in Homecoming, especially once he deactivates the “Training Wheels Program.” Then, he gets an Iron Man suit. It’s high-tech, cool and has an AI system built in. It can do anything.

Having a suit that does everything for Peter, takes away from his ingenuity and creativity.

In the Amazing Spider-Man, Peter can’t release his web on his own. So, he invents and creates a device that allows him to shoot webs. Simple and seemingly round about, but it demonstrates how smart he is.

Instead of a computer showing him several different web combinations, he makes them himself. I remember in Spider-Man 2, he lands on a car and two burgalrs turn to shoot him but, before they can fire, he shoots two web balls, like bullets or sandbags, and disarms his opponents. Or when Doc OC breaks the breaks to the metro, (haha, breaks the breaks…) He starts throwing people and Spider-Man shoots these giant webs to catch the innocent civilians.

These are two cases in which Spider-Man/Peter Parker makes his own webs, without the help of a computer. He’s a smart kid that can figure things out, and that’s always been one of his characteristics.

Peter Parker always has a love interest because it’s always about a girl. Now, whether it’s Mary Jane, Gwen or Michelle, Peter likes them because of their good looks. That’s a given, but it’s only the start. As a teenager, that’s usually enough to like a girl, but as one gets older, they realize there’s more and how superficial looks are. You may argue that Peter is a teenager, he’s 15 so he doesn’t need a deeper reason to like Michelle. Maybe so, but it made her a boring, one-sided love interest.

Peter (and the audience) liked Mary Jane because she was more than a pretty face. She stood up for Peter when others made fun of him. Peter (and the audience) felt for her as we saw how her family treated her or as she met with failure trying to find an acting career. Then rejoiced when she did!

Gwen was a brilliant physicist. They laughed and talked. We felt a sting of pain when she was going to move out of the country for her academics. We mourned when she died because we had a connection with her.

When Michelle left at the end of Homecoming, I didn’t feel anything. She was just a pretty face with a crazy dad. Peter and her didn’t have any good screen time or moments. There was no reason for them to like each other apart from good looks.

And yes, they are teenagers and largely incapable of higher thought, but it was still boring.

Spider-Man is now part of Disney, part of the same cookie-cutter Marvel Machine, an assembly line story that looks good and feels good but has no substance. It makes a clean crisp movie that feels fake. It has light humor, which is fun, but then deflates any serious situation and avoids character development.

To demonstrate this stark contrast between previous Spider-Man installments and the newest, let’s remember the boat scene in Homecoming. As you’ll recall, some alien gun or bomb or whatever exploded, ripping the boat in half. Spider-Man desperately tries to keep the ship together, by shooting dozens of webs and then places himself in the middle, trying to hold everything together, whole being stretched in a dozen different directions. He ultimately fails and Iron Man saves the day.

Compare a similar scene with one found in Spider-Man 2. Doc Oc sabotages the trains breaks and Spider-Man desperately shoots out dozens of webs and places himself in the front of the train, attempting to stop it. He is in the same position as Spider-Man in Homecoming, arms stretched out, holding webs, being pulled in a dozen different directions but trying to keep it together.

This scene means much more in Spider-Man 2 than Homecoming. In Spider-Man 2 he’s trying to balance being a superhero, a student, a job, paying rent and maintaining a relationship with Mary Jane and his mom. Much of the film shows his struggle to balance his normal life and his superhero life. While he’s being pulled apart literally trying to save the train, it shows, figuratively, his struggle to balance his life.

The similar scene and imagery are used in Homecoming, but it’s not as strong. His love interest is boring. We don’t know his mom. He’s not struggling to pay rent and his grades don’t seem to be suffering at all.

The comparison between these two scenes shows the contrast between the two movies. It demonstrates the emotional investment of the old ones and the flashy, lack of emotion found in the newest installment.

In conclusion, I compare storytelling to a well-balanced diet. Sure you can fill up on dessert, but it’s not good for you. You also have to eat your vegetables. These Marvel movies are all dessert and they lack the essential vegetables that make for a good story. They are flashy but lack substance.

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Shelob

I am an aspiring author, like everyone and their dog on WordPress. I was trying to figure out what to do with this blog when it hit me today.

Rants.

Yep, good old-fashioned rants about stories, whether in video games, movies, TV, books, comics or any other medium.

To start off I was thinking about one reason I like Lord of the Rings. In the Two Towers Frodo and Sam are headed towards Shelob’s Lair (not Sheldon’s lair you stupid autocorrect).

They know it’s a bad idea. Neither one trusts Gollum or SmĂ©agol. But there’s no other way.

Faramir warns them extensively. Don’t they know the danger within? Well the danger via the Black Gates is to great. There’s literally no other way. 

The situation is explained better in the story, but I like how it’s not a weak, built in defense and I like how they characters think and challenge what is around them. They don’t just accept circumstances or events because it helps the plot move or the author didn’t think it through enough. Instead, they are proactive.

Overall, the sad acceptance that the pass through Shelob’s Lair is the only way, after thinking about it, talking about it, receiving warnings adds to the desperation of their quest. 

New series: Writing Tips

My writing tips

Last Saturday I wrote a small snippet of a story and by using it as a template, I want to highlight important storytelling elements. This will be an ongoing series. 
The Lowest Point

My wife and I enjoy watching Jane the Virgin (on Netflix. We are behind so please no spoilers!!) There is a brief story arc in which Jane’s father, international telenovela star Rogelio, is kidnapped by a stalker. Throughout the episode, he is planning his escape. He is getting friendly with his captor, being on good behavior and then the moment comes and he is about to escape. He is right at the door and he is caught. 

While reflecting on this scene I thought, “I know why he didn’t escape. He hasn’t reached his lowest point yet.”

The lowest point is part of a character’s story arc. They have an obstacle, someone or something is standing in their way. Often, plans do not work out right the first time (just like real life!), and they enter their lowest point. 

Try this exercise. Raise your hand as high as you can. I know it’s silly but no one is watching so go ahead, as high and you can. Now, raise it higher. You were probably able to raise your hand even higher the second time despite, supposedly, raising it as high as you could the first time.

For a character’s story arc, this can be inversed. What is the character’s lowest point? Now go lower. 

It’s mean, as a writer to do that to someone, even fictional, but the lowest point contrasts with the success, making the victory even better. 

In my short narrative, I tried to demonstrate the lowest point. In an instant everything was taken from him, especially the woman he loved. And he was hopeless to save his people. He was in his lowest point. But a question creeps into the mind, now how does he escape?

The deeper the hole, the more the reader wants to see the hero succeed. How do they get out? As one sees the characters succeed it gives hope to real life events. 

Happy writing!

The Dark Lord Arnoch

The man stood looking forward, with determination across his dirty face. The supermoon eriely illuminated the silhouette of the dark castle across the valley in front of him. He clasped the sword at his side. The trusty weapon had gotten him through the hardest of times and would surely help him now. 

As the man stood, observing and pondering, his companion, a woman, stood beside him.

“The Dark Warlock Arnoch must be defeated,” she reaffirmed. “No matter the cost.”

The man nodded in agreement without a word. 

The woman clasped the sword at her side and said, “let us go.”

They ran down the steep slope, the looming castle always watching them. Secrecy was key, but the dark structure seemed to already know they were coming.

Then, they heard a howl!

Both warriors removed their blades as a pack of wolves encircled them. The wolves barred their fangs, growling with a deep madness in their eyes. The Warlock had bewitched them with unholy strength.

The wolves pounced. Fang was met with sword. The warriors heavy armor took many serious bites, but for every bite, two wolves were slain.

While the man stabbed his sword deep into an attacking wolf, another wolf jumped, going for his open neck.

The woman saw it coming before it happened and her sword, flying through the air, met the wolf’s own throat before its fangs pierced the man.

The wolf fell to the ground, its lively body now a shell. The sword was sticking up and she recovered it. That was the last of the wolves.

“Thank you,” said the man.

“It was nothing,” replied the woman, sheathing her sword.

“You have saved me in more ways than one,” and he embraced her.

She smiled and hugged him back.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you,” she replied.

Their lips met, briefly, but passionately. Then, the reality of their situation returned to mind, and they proceeded with caution through enemy territory.

At once, they approached the gates. They were huge, iron spokes, emanating from the ground. The man went for the gate, but the woman’s hand stopped him.

“There’s always more than meets the eye with these warlocks,” she said. She bent down, grabbed a fist full of dirt and threw it lightly at the gate. Sparks burst from where the dirt touched the gate. 

The man recoiled. “Good call.”

“I do pretty well for myself,” and she smiled.

The gates suddenly flew open.

At the steps of the castle a cloaked figure opened his arms and shouted, “welcome! Welcome to my home!” As he descended the steps, the two warriors recognized him, the Dark Warlock Arnoch.

“Did you think you could mess with my traps and not be noticed. Sure, you avoided incineration but, now I know you’re here.”

“We should leave,” the man said quietly but fiercely to companion.

“No!” She whispered back. “He must be stopped! For my people –our people!” She said. 

The man looked at her. He loved her determination and he felt, deeply, that with her at his side, together, they could do anything. That feeling surged through his body and he stood boldly within the gate facing the Dark Warlock Arnoch.

“Sup,” he said, giving a short nod. “Nice place you got here. A little dark and dreary but it’s nice.”

The Warlock replied, “as a young child my eyes were sown shut and I didn’t see the sun or the world for over a decade. When I escaped my bondage, I removed the stitches and found that my eyes had fully developed while in the dark. Now I cannot bear the light.”

“That sucks man,” he said, trying to show empathy. “Well, listen, it’s been real but you’re a Dark Warlock, terrorizing my wife’s people. We’re not cool with that so we’re going to kill you.”

And with that the warriors charged. The Warlock opened his cloak and bats flew out. As the two warriors fought bats, two trolls emerged from the dungeon of the castle. 

The warriors were no strangers to battle, especially of the supernatural kind. They fought gracefully against trolls ten times their size. 

The man, using his handy sword, sliced off the trolls kneecap. It fell to the ground and, without hesitation, he climbed atop and drove the blade deep into the trolls brain.

The woman was fighting against the other troll. The troll lunged at her, and using the momentum, knocked it to the ground. She went for the kill when a dagger appeared in her chest.

The man saw the lone blade pierce his love. She fell to the ground, dead. He looked across the carnage and saw the Warlock waving his hand. He had magically controlled the small dagger, biding his time with bats and trolls.

The undefeated troll arose and in one fell swoop, knocked out the warrior.

The man saw the world through blurry eyes and a screaming headache. He was in a dungeon, a cold stone prison cell, stripped of his armor and his sword. He lay naked on the barren floor. 

Before him stood the Dark Lord Arnoch adorned in his finest cloaks.

“Enjoying the guest room?” He asked.

“Five stars easily,” the man replied. “Is there a free continental breakfast?”

“‘Fraid not.”

“Four stars then.”

“However,”Arnoch switched subjects.”For your entertainment I have this.”

A liquid substance stretched in front of him, lining all the walls of the dungeon. Then, there appeared an image of the Warlock’s army. Humans and trolls and other monsters stood in military formation.

“You will see your people fall, alone and unable to do anything.” And with finality, the Dark Warlock Arnoch turned away and locked the cell door.

As the war began, he saw his wife’s people fall before the forces of evil, as sword and axe and arrow killed them. The man curled up on the floor. Without her, his love, he felt hopeless. He wept softly as he recalled how she had died, he couldn’t protect her and now he couldn’t save her people- his people.

There was no escape. 

“Sigo en la lucha”: I’m still in the fight

Like all idioms and sayings, it doesn’t translate perfectly. “Sigo en la lucha,” means, “I’m still in the fight.” (Not to be confused with “Sigo en la ducha,” which would be, “I’m still in the shower”).

When I lived in Argentina. I’d ask, “how are you?” to which many replied, “I’m still in the fight.”

Writing is tough. Sure it’s not football tough, or, construction job tough, or social worker tough. Writing has its own difficulties and challenges. It fatigues my mind and makes me restless. The emotional strength needed to handle criticism, or just friendly advise, is monumental. And finding the time… I don’t time to talk about that!

As writers, let’s “stay in the fight.” One day we will reach our goal. And honestly, even if we don’t, we write because we love to and that’s reward enough. 

Beats in a Book

I have my book completely written, but it’s just the first draft. While trying to edit my writing, I feel so scattered and disjointed. I can’t seem to clear my mind and organize my thoughts and my draft.

The remedy for me has been segments, that is, organizing my writing into smaller pieces. By doing so, it’s easier to manage many smaller pieces rather than one huge piece. If you’ve ever eaten food in your life, you know what I’m talking about. 

Segments can include chapters, books, and acts, but what I’m talking about are the unseen divisions, those being the organizational segments that the reader doesn’t notice as blatantly as something like, “Chapter 12.”

I read an article about these a few years back and I’ve adapted it to myself. There are: beats, segments, sequences, chapters, acts and the book.

A beat is the smallest unit. A beat denotes a sentence or a small paragraph. For example, if two characters are conversing, each reply would be it’s own beat.

From there a segment is the next biggest. A segment is a group of beats (obviously) that convey an idea. In my writing a description of the room or a scene is a segment, then the characters talk in said room and that’s another segment.

A bunch of segments make up a sequence. Building from our previous examples a sequence would be all the segments put together. The following segments, description of the room, the conversation in the room, the fight that took place in that room and then how the bad guy got away, all make up a sequence. 

Now this is where it gets tricky. A sequence could be a chapter. But you could also string several sequences together to form a chapter. The determining factor would be that the sequences build from each other and generate a gratifying chapter ending.

Some books point out the acts and others don’t. Regardless, they are present. Most stories have the classic three act structure. It’s stood the test of time, it portrays a story well and why should a new writer try to reinvent the wheel? (So to speak).

Act one sets the stage, introducing the characters, the setting and before the end, tells us what the main conflict of the story will be. It’s in act one where the reader will determine what kind of story this will be, the genre, and whether they want to invest the time or not. 

Act two is where the drama and the conflict play out, as protagonist and antagonist fight (sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally). Our main character reaches their lowest point and curtain close.

Act three the protagonist finds what he/she needs to keep going and to overcome obstacles. The conflict is so wound up, to tight it could explode at any moment and it all culminates at the climax.  After which, the tension releases and there is a nice conclusion to the journey we have shared with the characters. 

With all this combined, we have a book. From there, there could be more books, trilogies, series and “expanded universes.”

In conclusion, writing a story, organizing a story, is all about purpose. One should ask introspectively, “In writing this beat, this chapter or book, what am I aiming towards? What does it all lead to?” Some of those answers could be character development, plot development or world explanation. It builds and grows and little by little a wonderful story is born. The story is greater than the sum of the parts, but would be nothing without each tiny beat.

The Writer’s Life: Perception vs. Reality

You know those scenes in movies where the character(s) are determined to work? They get into it, all happy with awesome music playing in the background. They wipe their brow off all tired, comical scenes ensue and within the three minute song the goal is done?

This happens with writing portrayals too. The writer sits at a computer, the ideas flowing and the sentences are running across the page. The writer looks pensively out a window, probably with their fingers at their temples, gazing through their glasses. 

How about the writer who has all the cool accessories? They have a cool notebook and pencil, or a laptop with cool stickers on the front and probably a cool bag to boot. They are well put together and look smart. 

The reality is that writing isn’t easy, despite the words rolling off the page and having a cool notebook.

There is so much more to it!

What isn’t shown is the editing and the daily struggle, the endurance to keep rewriting. 

Honestly, that is the bulk of being a writer, revising what you already wrote. It’s tedious, the opposite of cool, but the reward of achieving a fine narrative… worth it!