|Perpetual wedgie leads to bad decisions.|
The new Spider-man movie is out, and they’re calling it a reboot. I think that is a cinema term for rewrite, and as I writer, I seem to be more willing to embrace that than some of the movie critics who have reviewed the movie.
Writers understand rewrites. You take a story, one you know inside and out, and you focus like a laser beam on the weak points. You pluck details out and drop a whole lot more in. You delete a line and replace it with a line that looks so similar, but because of a word change and one less prepositional phrase, the new line sings. And most importantly, you find any excuse, any reason, and any way to add motivation to your characters.
One of the things I admired most about the movie The Amazing Spider-man (and I loved the whole thing) was the careful consideration the screenwriters and director gave to freshening up the main character’s motivation for becoming a superhero. That’s really what’s at the heart of the story, and while considered sacred by fanboys, the original origin was designed for a twenty page comic book written fifty years ago. It’s timeless, but still requires work to keep it that way, especially when being translated to a new medium.
Here’s a brief Spidey 101 for the newbies. Peter Parker, high school science nerd, gets bitten by a spider and develops the proportional strength and agility of the arachnid. The new power goes straight to his head and his first and fatal mistake is letting a robber slip past him because he doesn’t want to be bothered to stop him. The robber ends up shooting his uncle at his home and Peter is super guilty. Of course, the coincidence factor of the robber racing to Peter’s home after getting past him a few hours earlier is rather farfetched. In the first trilogy of Spider-man movies (the Tobey Maguire saga we’ll call it) the coincidence part was addressed in the first installment and the connection made more sense. Of course, in the third installment they altered the story even further in a cheap ploy to mine more emotional drama from that movie’s villain, the Sandman. That third movie was really a big, hot mess. We’ll talk about that one when we want some examples of how to overdo a story. But I digress.
In the new movie, they focused on the motivation, and they really layered it, pouring the guilt of Uncle Ben’s murder on Peter’s shoulder with a nice, oversized ladle. Here’s how they did it.
Peter uses his newfound power to humiliate a bully at school. He gives into his instinct for revenge and humiliates the guy, breaking some school property in the process and landing himself in the hot seat. Uncle Ben has to change shifts at work to come up and see the principal about the incident. Ding! First bad choice for Peter. He succumbs to revenge. Ben tells Peter he’ll have to pick up his Aunt since he’ll be working the night shift now.
Peter forgets about Aunt May. She has to walk the mean streets of New York and when Peter finally drags his butt home, he gets it handed back to him by Uncle Ben. Peter’s irresponsibility put a loved one at risk. Ding! Mistake numero dos.
Peter has a teenage hissy fit. Understandable, but he takes off in a huff. Ben takes off after him, back out onto the mean streets. Peter’s immature behavior leads Ben into danger. Strike three, Mr. Parker.
And finally, a rework of the “burglar” moment for the current century. Peter’s in a store trying to buy chocolate milk (hey, don’t laugh. It’s high in protein and low in fat! That spandex don’t lie.) The clerk gives him the runaround about being two cents short. Peter steps aside and the next customer distracts the clerk and cleans out the register. He tosses Peter his milk as a thanks for looking the other way then takes off into the … yes, mean streets of New York. You know who’s out there don’t you?
|Why don't you need me for all three movies?|
BAM! Ben’s shot (trying to do the right thing, of course) after Peter has stepped aside, allowing a crime to occur that he could have stopped, all because he didn’t sympathize with who he perceived the victim of the crime to be. That’s strike four, and more than you even need to be out in a baseball game.
That’s what I call a successful rewrite. Now I really get Peter’s need to put on tights and swing around the city, busting criminals and trying to right the wrongs of the world. I’m taking a lesson from this rewrite … reboot. Layer on the guilt. Layer on the mistakes. Layer on the chances to have done the right thing. All of the mistakes Peter made individually were relatable, understandable, and in isolation, maybe even forgivable.
Your life is defined by the sum of all your actions and all your decisions, though, not just any one action. It’s true in the real world, and we have to remember to make it true for the characters in our stories. That’s how we see a little of ourselves in them, and when we do that, we care about them.