THURSDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
Now that summer is over and we've had that reboot of the reboot of SPIDER MAN, I thought I'd revisit that film from only ten years ago callled SPIDER-MAN 2. Many
of the critics thought that the second film was superior to the first - but I had the alternative opinion the
second film dropped the ball. Although the villain and villain's plan were much better in
SPIDER-MAN 2 (probably what the critics were responding to) the film managed to
puncture any dramatic situation that great villain created. The first film was filled with
dramatic tension and unresolved conflicts that continued to simmer under the surface.
Tension is *unresolved* conflict that is still present in the scene. Once you resolve the
conflict, the scene loses its tension. Once you resolve a long-standing conflict in the
film, the story loses its tension. So the key to maintaining tension is to hold off resolving
any big conflicts until the end of the film. In a case like the SPIDER-MAN movies, you may not
want to *ever* resolve major emotional conflicts because you'll need them in the next
film. It's that "CHEERS thing" where everyone wonders wehn Sam & Diane (and then Sam & Rebecca) would hook up, and maybe ger married.
but the minute that happens... the show is over.
The SPIDER-MAN movies were the gold standard of super-hero flicks until that Disco one, and now
we've had two reboots which have made *less* money than the first films. The first SPIDER MAN movie
made over $400m domestic, AMAZING SPIDER MAN 2 didn't even crack $200m domestic. It's even worse
if we adjust for inflation. SPIDER MAN 2 made less than the first film. But this series ushered in
the "serious superhero" movie like the DARK KNIGHT trilogy and IRON MAN and the Marvel films (like WINTER SOLDIER,
which is a 70s film masquerading as a superhero movie). These are serious films... about guys in tights and
capes. But SPIDER-MAN 2 mis-stepped right away with a recap sequence telling us what happened in the first film. Problem is
that the opening titles did such a great job of recapping the first film in an interesting
way (comic book frames) that the film version of the recap became redundant. Hey, we
already know this stuff! For those of us who saw the first film, it was *really* redundant.
But the biggest problem for me with SPIDER-MAN 2 (original) was conflict dissipation. The film keeps
neutering the conflict! The engine that runs the machine of SPIDER-MAN is that Peter
feels guilty about contributing to Uncle Ben's death. That is Peter Parker's motivation
for donning the spidey-suit and fighting crime. In a past tip about the first film, I noted
that the guilt that the character feels is not only his motivation for being a super-hero,
it's also our doorway into the character. We understand the guilt and understand the
character. Without that guilt, he is less interesting and less motivated.
CREATED BY GUILT
Every time there is a scene with Peter and his Aunt, the tension is thick - he killed her
husband. Maybe he didn't pull the trigger, but he's partially responsible. This tension
makes for great dramatic scenes between the two... but in SPIDER-MAN 2 Peter
decides he can't bear the tension... so he confesses to his Aunt and she *forgives him*!
Conflict resolved. Tension over. Now there is no more dramatic tension in the scenes
with his Aunt... and Peter has lost his motivation for being a super-hero and is no longer
as *deep* a character as he once was. Huge mistake!
Peter feels that Spider-Man is too much responsibility for him and presto-chango, his
powers fade! Peter doesn't have to *give up* his powers, they go away. No *decision*
involved. Peter Parker is *passive* in his own life. When his powers fade, his decision
to give up being a super-hero is much easier... it's really not even his choice. Spidey
does not give up using his powers, they gave up on him. You never want things to be
easier for your protagonist, you want to make things more difficult. You want the
character to make the decisions, not to have the decisions made for them.
The story is filled with "easy outs" where problems just solve themselves or disappear.
Conflict - real conflict - just vanishes. This removes the drama from the situation. Drama
(and conflict) is what brings out character - so we end up with a story that actually
weakens the characters instead of explores them. I can't imagine a scene in any super-
hero movie where the super-hero is unmasked in public - and nothing happens!
Nothing. Since the beginning of super-heroes, the most important thing has always
been to protect the secret identity. That's why they wear those spandex outfits and
masks in the first place (it's not just an alternative lifestyle decision). Once a super-hero
is unmasked, they are powerless - villains can destroy their lives and the police can
arrest them as the vigilantes they are. There's this whole spiel in KILL BILL 2 about
Superman and his secret identity. If there's a single rule in movies like this it's that the
super-hero can never be unmasked. If they are, there's hell to pay... Except in this film.
A whole train load of people see Spider-man without his mask... and nothing happens
at all! There are no repercussions. An action without any equal and opposite reaction.
That's just not possible in the real world - and rings false in the *reel* world.
The film has a lot of "easy outs" where problems solve themselves, but the biggest one
for me was that big, juicy scene I imagined when Harry Osborne peels off that mask to
find out who murdered his father and discovers it's his best friend. That scene in the
film's trailer was the reason why I had really high hopes for this film. Wow! Talk about
drama! Talk about conflict! But instead of juicy stuff, we get a fine example of conflict
dissipation. "Now isn't the time to deal with you and me" and we cut to *after* Peter has
been released by the best friend he betrayed who wanted to kill him! Easy out! Not only
does this cheat us out of what could have been the best scene in the story, it creates an
unresolved conflict that requires a couple of tacked on scenes to hold it over until the
next film. We end up with a RETURN OF THE KING never-ending end trying to deal
with all of these conflicts that get pushed under the rug (when they should have been
explored in juicy scenes in the film). If the purpose of this was to set up Harry Osborne
as the villain in the next film, maybe it should have been saved until the next film... or
they should have found some way to save it for the *very* end of the film as a cliff-
hanger. By placing it before the final battle with Doc Ock, it ends up not making any
sense. Harry has to work his revenge against Peter into his busy schedule? Again - we
have the action, but no equal and opposite reaction. Just an easy out.
The problem with easy outs in the SPIDER-MAN movies is that they are all about
responsibility. They are all about tough choices. They are all about how Peter's *not*
going after the guy who robbed the Wrestling Promoter results in his Uncle's murder.
For every action - even the small ones - there is a reaction. So when something
happens that should logically create a problem - and the problem just doesn't happen -
it goes against the core theme of the story and what the *character* is all about. We have removed that "great responsibility".
TALK OR DO
There's a quote from Robert DeNiro that pops up every once in a while on the
Wordplay message boards that goes something like, "Don't talk the scene away, do
something!" One way of avoiding or dissipating conflict is just to talk the problem away.
A big problem on SPIDER-MAN 2 was that everyone *talked* about problems instead
of giving us scenes that showed them dealing with them. It's Death-By-Exposition. This
also lead to a bunch of really clunky dialogue.
In the first film, the action scenes keep forcing Spidey to save MaryJane or go after the
bad guy. The end scene where he must make a decision between saving the woman he
loves or a busload of kids is all about how with great power comes great responsibility.
Scene after scene in the first film gives him difficult choices between what he wants and
the responsibility of being a super-hero. Mary Jane is on the falling balcony - rescue her
or stop the Green Goblin from killing innocent people? The action scenes were
*thematic* and all about exploring the character. In SPIDER-MAN 2 the train scene is
exciting, but isn't really about Spidey (unless one of the early drafts was about Spidey
losing faith in himself and this was illustrating renewed faith). Peter never has to make a
difficult decision in the entire film! The action scenes are just action - they don't explore
character,. There is no emotional component to the action scenes in the second film. I
think when the action scenes are telling the story, the dialogue doesn't have to do as
much heavy lifting... which leads to those clunky lines and exposition scenes.
The one conflict you don't to have watered down and made less exciting is the main
story conflict - the one between the hero and the villain. That's the whole story! The
SPIDER-MAN movies are all about guilt and responsibility and making the tough
decisions. You all know I'm in favor of having villains explode at the end... the villain
has put our hero through hell for the past two hours and it's time for him to pay! There's
a karma thing to the ending of a movie. You want the villain to die. A film that ends with
the police showing up and the villain being arrested is just not satisfying. So when Doc
Ock suddenly changes into a good guy for no apparent reason, the film just dies. I
wanted to see the battle of the titans - the story has been promising this battle for the
past two hours. I wanted to see Spidey win... and save the world. I didn't want to see
Spidey chat with the Doc Ock for a few minutes, convince him he's made a mistake,
and have *the villain* save the world and die in the process. Hey, the villain isn't
supposed to save the day - that's the hero's job!
I would have rather had Spidey use Doc Ock's mega-weapon against him somehow,
and solve both the villain and the weapon (fusion gizmo) problem at the same time...
then have Octavius get in some last words as himself as redemption. Darth Vader
doesn't just fall on his sword in RETURN OF THE JEDI, he's the villain up unto the
point where he's mortally wounded... and reverts back to his human self so that he can
die in Luke's arms. Even then, it's kind of a "have your cake and eat it, too" ending -
less satisfying than the Death Star blowing up in STAR WARS. You want the villain to pay
for what they've done... not turn into the hero.
And leave Spider-Man as the guy who *does nothing* to save the day! The ultimate in
passive protagonists - he doesn't solve the problem. The ultimate in easy outs - the
problem basically solves itself.
DISSIPATING FUTURE CONFLICT
This goes back to that secret identity that must be protected at all costs - the big
romantic triangle in *any* super-hero movie is between the super-hero, the love
interest, and the secret identity. Look at Superman, Lois Lane, and Clark Kent! Part of
what makes the relationships tick is that it's all about unrequited love. Clark loves Lois
who loves Superman. Nobody here is ever gonna be happy!
For the character dynamics to work, Peter must love Mary Jane who loves Spider-Man.
Problem is, Peter *is* Spider-Man, but can never reveal himself without putting Mary
Jane in danger. The point of SPIDER-MAN's ending was that Peter had to sacrifice his
love for Mary Jane in order to continue being Spider-Man. A great CASABLANCA
So ending SPIDER-MAN 2 with Mary Jane knowing that Spider-Man is Peter Parker?
Just ruins everything in that relationship! No more love triangle! No more emotional
conflict within Peter where he must choose between love and duty. Plus it kills a major
conflict in SPIDER-MAN 3 which leads to that disco ball scene! Oh, and she accepts his being Spidey - another easy out!
Another conflict dissipated!
The first film had a dopey over-the-top and motiveless villain in Green Goblin. SPIDER-
MAN 2 has a great villain in Doc Ock, but seems to miss whatever point it was trying to
make. Peter's wish is to avoid conflict and lead a normal life? The lesson that Peter
learns is that sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do? So what didn't the
*script* learn that lesson? Why do we get mixed signals - the script avoids conflict all
the way until the end, but preaches that Peter needs to forget his dreams and face the
conflicts? The biggest conflict in SPIDER-MAN 2 is it's point - it seems to be
saying one thing and doing another. The first film was *consistently* about great
power requiring great responsibility. Somewhere between the two is a GREAT movie,
but I think they're just two good ones... and one awful one. How could SPIDER-MAN 3 suck so much?
And now two reboots less than ten years later. Will we have reboooted reboots in ten years?
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FIRST STRIKE BLUE BOOKS
Each Blue Book is 48
pages and focuses on a different aspect of screenwriting. Dialogue. Visual Storytelling. Your First Ten Pages. Act 2 Booster. Protagonists. Great Endings.
Seventeen Blue Books now available!
THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The
nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines,
several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
CLASSES ON CD
CLASSES ON CD! Take a class on CD! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 CDs). Full length classes on CD. Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
Take classes on CD!