About a week ago, my kids walked into the office where I spend most of my time, the two of them both smiling broadly.
I knew as soon as I looked at them that they were struggling not to laugh before revealing their joke. Toshi spoke first, and he sounded completely rehearsed, like he and Allen made a plan. “Daddy, you know how you said we could ask you any question?”
“Yes,” I replied, and I got scared, flat-out scared that they were about to ask me something like “What’s a blow job?” On the day they do ask that, I plan to reply, “Five dollars, same as in town,” and then vanish in a puff of smoke.
Thankfully, though, this was something more innocent, more fitting of the mindset of two comic-book crazy kids who are mainlining pop culture. Toshi nudged Allen, giving him his cue to ask the question, and even before Allen started speaking, he started laughing, and when he talks and laughs at the same time (which is often because he is a very silly little boy), it’s like Woody Woodpecker trying to describe something to you. Waves of giggles as he struggled to ask, “When Spider-Man has to go poop, does he have to take his whole costume off?”
So of course I’m in tears from laughing, too, at this point, trying to stop, and I finally managed to answer, “Yes, but he has to leave his mask on.” Because that image entertains me mightily.
Allen nodded as I spoke, satisfied with the answer, and walked away with a single “Cool.” And that was that. Pleased with themselves for asking it in the first place, still trailing little flurries of self-satisfied laughter, Toshi and Allen left my office and went back to the playroom. As they pulled my office door closed, Allen’s last comment to Toshi was, “I knew it. I told you.”
I mention this because Spider-Man has been on their minds lately. About four years ago, a friend of mine told me that he was going to start scanning all of his comic books to make a digital archive, and he offered to take my comics and do the same with them. I gave him a refrigerator box full of comics and graphic novels, and for the last four years, I completely forgot about the project. It was just before the end of the year that he got in touch and told me that I should download a comic book reader for my computer, and then he sent me a zip file that contains all the comics I gave him plus all of his comics, all digital now. My boys have gone hog wild, and with a massive archive of Marvel and DC books available to them (along with a healthy smattering of Carl Barks Disney comics), they are starting to experience the real deal, straight from the tap, instead of Hollywood’s interpretations of the characters. Their introductions to Iron Man, The Hulk, Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor, the Green Lantern, Batman, Superman, and more may have come from seeing them as flesh-and-blood interpretations, but they’re starting to realize that the characters have existed for decades in various versions, and they’re excited about being able to go back and read the stories that came first.
During a recent out-of-town trip for my wife, the boys and I found ourselves with a long weekend available to us, and they’d been asking for a while if they could see one of the “Spider-Man” films. They had finally read the original origin issue of the comic, and I told them that they could see one of the movies. That led to a long debate between the two of them about which film they wanted to see, the Sam Raimi film from 2002 or the Marc Webb film from 2012. Toshi seemed to be all about the Raimi film because, and I quote, “They made a bunch of these, so it’s good,” while Allen wanted to see Webb film because, as he pointed out, “It’s pecsactular!” Both good points, obviously, and in the end, we decided to watch each of them, one on Saturday, one on Sunday, and then Toshi told me that he was going to review them for me.
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll write your reviews for you.”
“You mean you’ll tell me what you think?”
“No. I’ll write them down on paper.”
“I can do that. It’s easy. You do it all the time, right?”
It’s always good to know that your seven-year-old thinks your job looks easy, and I told him that if he was willing to write the two reviews, then I would definitely let them watch both of the films. We made both of the viewings into events. We read comic books first, then we put on the films, then we spent some time breaking each of them down afterwards. Both of the films push right up against the edge of what I’m willing to show them, so we definitely talked about some of the content and some of the imagery. I’d forgotten how ugly much of Mary Jane’s life is, and how frank Norman is in his condemnation of her. There’s definitely an undercurrent of sexuality that is much stronger in the Raimi film, and the boys seemed upset by how mean people were to Mary Jane and by the assault in the alley. In addition, the Goblin’s death is fairly violent, and we talked about it afterwards. Allen in particular seemed struck by it, and he seems to be the one who needs to figure out his feelings about something out loud, while Toshi tends to walk away, think it over, and come back with his own thoughts.
The first film has not aged especially well in terms of visual effects, but I think it’s got a more genuine comic book voice. Tobey Maguire’s take on Peter Parker is very specific. He’s a nerd, and he definitely takes his share of abuse from the universe, but there’s a very zen sense of acceptance to the way he plays it, even before he gets his powers. That smile of his, unflappable even when things just seem stacked against him, is a big part of how he defines Parker. Toshi is very focused on cinematic portrayals of bullying right now, and we’ve talked about how there are a few kids in his class who seem to set the tone for everyone else. If they say something is cool, it’s cool, and if they say something is lame, it’s lame, and the wind seems to change direction almost ever day. Some days, those guys are Toshi’s buddies, and some days, they’re not, and he’s had some afternoons where he felt left out and poorly treated. On one of those days, he asked me about the word “nerd,” and he felt bad because he got called the word for the first time.
I’ve been waiting for that one, and I explained to him that “nerd” used to be a bigger deal than it is now. I told them there was a time when it was a bad name to be called, but that time has long since passed. After all, nerds rule the world today. I went down a list of people who could be considered nerds, including pretty much every filmmaker Toshi likes, the President of the United States, and the astronauts and scientists that Toshi admires. I explained to him that “nerd” today just means “someone who is really into something,” and then I asked him if he knows the name of the column I write about the movies I watch with him and his brother. “No,” he said, and so I pulled the column up on the computer to show him. He read it out loud to Allen, who was listening to the conversation. “Film Nerd 2.0.” He asked me to explain it, and I told him that I am happy to call myself a “film nerd,” since that just means I know a lot about movies and spend a lot of time enjoying them. I could tell that he wasn’t convinced, so I told him that Peter Parker is a nerd, and he should think about that as we watch the movies.
Sure enough, by the end of the first “Spider-Man,” Toshi seemed to get that Peter is a good guy who just doesn’t get a fair shot from people sometimes. He saw how Peter treated Mary Jane and his Aunt May and how he handled his problems, and he told me that he liked Peter a lot and that it wasn’t fair for people to pick on him. He and Allen were both frustrated by the ending of the Raimi film, though, because they couldn’t get their heads around the self-sacrifice of Peter’s decision not to be with Mary Jane. It just didn’t make sense to them.
Toshi asked me to help him look up the movie on the IMDb, another recent fascination of his, and then he told me to go away. I let him use the office while I got his brother ready for bed, and I told Toshi he could finish whatever he was working on in the morning.
The next morning, when I woke up, there was a review waiting on my desk. This is a picture of how that made me feel:
I read it immediately, and I could tell that Toshi had made some notes when he had asked me about what goes in a review. He definitely approached it as a formula, and for a first effort, it’s not bad.
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by David Koepp
I saw Spider Man.
I saw it at my house.
I love it.
I watched it with my brother and father.
About a human spider. Tobey Maguire plays Peter Parker really good. He is funny and he did a good hero. I like the finger moves. It was on blu-ray.
I love it.
Being a hero is good. It tells us that the Green Goblin is such a jerk. He has secrets about being the Green Goblin, and Harry doesn’t know it. Mary Jane is pretty and Peter likes her, but she likes Spider Man. She doesn’t know he is Peter!
JJJ is funny. I like the way he yells a lot.
It is a very good movie.
And I like the Green Goblin’s bombs.
But he died?”
That night, we sat down to watch the Webb version, and I tried to explain to them that we were going to see the beginning of Spider-Man’s story again, but different. Even after we watched the movie, I’m not sure they understand the notion that these are two different continuities. As late as this afternoon, Toshi tried to explain to Allen that the Green Goblin can’t be in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” because he died already. As we watched “The Amazing Spider-Man,” though, it seemed like they understood that we were seeing different versions of beats that they’d seen in the first film. They decided after much debate that they like organic web-shooters more than Peter Parker making the webbing, but they decided that they like the Lizard more than they liked the Green Goblin.
What ended up tipping things in favor of Webb’s film was the simple act of being Spider-Man. While Tobey does a nice job as Peter Parker, there’s not a lot of Spider-Man in that first film, and Garfield spends more time in the costume. In addition, I’d argue that Garfield gets the body language right in a way that Maguire never quite nails, and the boys liked watching Spider-Man swing more in the new film. It’s a far more physical thing, and when you watch them back to back, you can see the benefits of doing more of an on-set shoot for Spider-Man in costume, and the advances in CGI are also fairly evident.
They missed J. Jonah Jameson in the Webb film, and they both complained about that repeatedly. They didn’t care for Gwen’s father as played by Denis Leary, and Toshi pointed out that he though he was just like JJJ, but less funny. “He’s even got his haircut, daddy,” Toshi observed. Allen thought the Lizard was far more frightening than the Green Goblin was, but he appreciated that. He thinks bad guys should be scary, and at this point, if he’s not creeped out by a bad guy in a film, he considers that a mistake.
Once again, when we finished, Toshi took to the IMDb, and in the morning, I found another review waiting for me, finished while I was still sleeping.
I noticed how close his second review was in format to his first, and this time, I saw the notes he made about what information to include and how many paragraphs to write. I love how seriously he took this as an assignment, even if it was one he gave to himself.
“The Amazing Spider-man
Directed by Marc Webb
Written by James Vanderbilt Alvin Sargent Steve Kloves
I saw The Amazing Spider Man. I saw it at my house. I love it. I watched it with my brother and my fater.
The movie is about a kid who becomes a spider dude. Andrew Garfield as PETER PARKER. Emma Stone as GWEN STACY. Rhys Ifans is THE LIZARD DOCTOR CURT CONNERS and he is also a CGI. That is so he can be a Lizard. Martin Sheen is UNCLE BEN and he does a good job talking about how Peter can be good, and I liked him so it was bad that he got killed. Campbell Scott is RICHARD PARKER who is Peter’s father, and he has a mother named Mary too. They are gone when he is young because they are killed by somebody, and Peter is SAD.
The movie is a little funny and scary.
It was on blu-ray and it sounded really good.
I like it a lot. The movie made me think I would be like him. It made me learn that being a hero. We know Richard Parker made the spider that turned Peter Parker in to Spider man. It is a very good movie. I like the Lizard and he has A BIG BALD HEAD.
That is great.”
That’s right, Ebert. Someone’s gunning for your Pulitzer, and his name is Toshi.
More than anything, it seemed like the two films ended up blurring into one big Spider-Man themed weekend for them, and in the conversations we’ve had since, it’s obvious that there are events that they’ve got mixed up, things they thought happened in one that actually happened in the other. They’re excited to know they still have two more Maguire films to see and a new Garfield film about to start production. I figure by the time “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” rolls around, they will have managed to make sense of the two different continuities.
The most important thing about the weekend we spent with Peter Parker, though, took place the Monday morning after we watched them. I took the boys to school to drop them off, and as soon as I got the car door open, Toshi was out and on the move, running to join his classmates. I saw him swoop down on the two boys who like to run things, and he jumped over them, landing like Spider-Man in an action pose, facing the two of them.
“You know what?!” he yelled. “I’M A NERD!” Cackling, he ran off, his Batman backpack bouncing along behind him, happy as could be. He certainly is, and I couldn’t be any prouder.
“Film Nerd 2.0” is a regular feature here at Motion/Captured.