So by now you’ve seen The Amazing Spider-Man trailer, and if you haven’t, just go here. Whether you like it or not, what’s clear is that this take on the character is very different in tone from just about anything that’s ever been done with him before. Particularly telling is that scene where a very disaffected looking Peter Parker pulls a black hoodie over his head and huddles above his desk in class, as if to alienate himself from the world. Peter Parker used to be this kind of wisecracking nerd, and now he seems to be more of a tortured, angst-ridden genius.
Why the change? What are they thinking? Amazing Spider-Man director Marc Webb spoke to the LA Times today in an attempt to head off any criticism by explaining what he’s doing. Short version? Nerds are now too cool, and he wanted to make Peter Parker an outsider. No really.
He went into it with a mindset that he was going to change the character into something he’s never been before. That seems to have been job one for Webb who explains, “The wealth of material here — whether it’s story or character — is really profound but I also feel it’s my responsibility to reinvent it in some ways.” So what was he going to change him into? Here’s how Webb describes his thought process:
Peter Parker is a science whiz. If you look back to the early Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comics, he’s a nerd with big glasses. The idea of what a nerd is has changed in 40 or 50 years. Nerds are running the world. Andrew Garfield made a movie [called "The Social Network"] about it. Nerds are no longer pariahs and knowing how to write computer code is longer a [mocked] quality. What was important in those early comics was this notion that Peter Parker is an outsider and how we define that in a contemporary context. That, I think, was one of the challenges for us — getting Peter Parker’s outsider status to be current. Peter Parker is a real kid. He’s not a billionaire. He’s not an alien. He’s a kid who gets picked on and gets shoved to the outside. The 90-pound weakling, that’s who Spider-Man is when he gets bit. So much of the DNA of the character is the fact that he was a kid when he got bit. He is imperfect, he is immature and has a bit of a punk rock instinct. In his soul he’s still a 90-pound weakling even after [the transformative bite].I get where he’s going with this. There is this perception in the media right now that nerds are suddenly socially acceptable, and apparently he’s bought into it. But what he missed, and apparently what he missed while watching The Social Network, is that it’s just a façade. None of it’s true. Our culture’s trying to sell a socially acceptable version of nerds, trying to tell us that nerds look like Olivia Munn, but they aren’t and they don’t. In real life, real nerds are every bit the outcasts they always were. Science geeks spend most of their time alone, in their room, pouring over computers. If they were cool they’d be too busy hanging out with chicks, to bother with all that science stuff.
The whole point of The Social Network was that no matter how much he accomplished, or what he did, prototypical nerd Mark Zuckerberg would always be an outcast. He’d always be alone. Apparently Webb watched that movie and thought, “well nerds are really cool and popular now, so I have to make Peter Parker a member of the Trenchcoat mafia”.
If you buy into the media hype which portrays nerds as super awesome hot chicks, well then I guess this all makes sense to you. Of course Peter Parker must now become some other type of outcast and of course it makes sense to turn him into some hoodie-wearing, brooding, malcontent. And you know what? It might even be good. But it won’t be Spider-Man.