James Cameron’s ‘The Potential Spider-Man’: What Almost Was

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In June of 2002 I had my first real Spider-Man experience. Seeing Raimi’s web slinger swinging through New York City was a spectacle that really struck a chord with me. And it obviously stuck, because Spidey has been a subject of a number of my articles on Unreality. And today I want to talk about the Spider-Man that nearly was.

Jump back another 10 years to 1992, where the world is still basking in the metallic glow of Terminator 2 (I was three at the time, so I’m taking some atmospheric liberties here). James Cameron had stoked a fire under the simmering blockbuster wok, and now had his pick of recipes. Would he stick to the sci-fi world where he’d found comfort with his aliens and robots? Or was it time to scale new territory?

Well, considering True Lies and Titanic were to come, we know the latter is true. But before either of these gems, Cameron sought out young Peter Parker as his new muse. He obtained rights, he wrote a scriptment (a long, descriptive treatment detailing the characters, story and some dialogue) and I hear (maybe just rumor) that casting had begun. When I learned all this, my mind raced as I thought about how it could have turned out. One of the world’s best directors finally bringing one of the world’s coolest heroes to life? It would have been a dream team. But, being Hollywood, problems arose and it never came together.

Still, the planning was there. So let’s look at what we almost had.

Peter Parker

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Teenage brainiac, wannabe photographer, in love with young Mary-Jane Watson, bitten by a spider on a high school excursion. I know this sounds familiar, and it’s actually shocking to see Cameron didn’t receive a writing credit when Sam Raimi eventually released the first film. So much of the Parker story arc came through in the 2002 version – notably Spidey’s web shooters. In the comic books, Parker designed the impressive mechanisms himself. But Cameron decided to make his power more organic, having Parker grow slits in his wrists to more accurately emulate an actual spider (thankfully not too close to reality, for those who know where spiders actually form their webs). He was embarrassed by them and covered them up using fake mechanical shooters.

Also interesting about this version was Spidey’s fame. He’s always been recognisable on the streets of Marvel’s NYC, but here, Spider-Man’s early days were spent not simply in Bugle articles, but on televised interview panels. We’re back into familiar territory with an argument with a man who wouldn’t pay Parker for his time, followed by a mugging, which in turn lead to Ben Parker’s death.

The Bad Guys

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Here is where things would have been wildly different. At the top, we have Electro. Not Max Dillon, but Carlton Strand, a man with literally unlimited money (he uses his ability to syphon the world’s savings) and a penchant for power. He has a slimy aura similar to Victor Von Doom, and his goal is reminiscent of Magneto’s. He knows there are people with superpowers, just like him, and he wants to build a team from this ‘next stage in evolution’. He already has his Sandman, here simply named Boyd. Their relationship felt a little naive, considering Boyd is basically immortal, and powerful in his own right, but he settled for being not much more than a goon.

What I found interesting about these guys is that they were developed before the story began. The general gripe with Spider-Man 3 was its overcrowding of villains, but I think the biggest fault was that each villain had their own origin story, making the film nearly an hour longer than necessary. Raimi’s Spider-Man was forced to oppose foes as they were born, whereas Cameron’s Spider-Man was born to oppose an already existing evil. Possible a more interesting approach.

Sex and Stuff

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In a way, I’m glad this isn’t the film that was released on my 13th birthday. If it was, I wouldn’t have been allowed in. Cameron took a bold move here that I’m sure helped pave the way to our current understanding of comic book movies. This was a time when comic books were seen predominately as kid’s cartoons, when Tim Burton was frolicking about in Gotham, and before Hugh Jackman became Wolverine. Hell, before Hugh Jackman became famous at all. Cameron went for broke and decided to make our red-and-blue hero inhabit a dark metropolis, and make hard decisions. He wanted to give us a mature Spider-Man who borrowed phrases from Samuel L. Jackson and banged MJ on top of Brooklyn bridge while reciting arachnid mating habits. Christopher Nolan is praised for making Batman edgy, but The Dark Knight would have blushed in the face of this film.

Some other notable scenes that would have been interesting to see:

– Parker wakes up after spider bite, not on the floor of his bedroom, but in his underwear clinging to the top of a building.

– Parker wakes up the next day having…webbed all through his bed. Awkward moment with Aunt May follows.

– Parker hangs outside Mary Jane’s window, watching her undress. Gets sweaty palms and falls to the ground.

Mary Jane

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Seriously hard to find appropriate MJ pictures on the inter-web.

Compared to Raimi’s films, and compared to Cameron’s other work, this love interest was seriously underdeveloped. Granted, this is a 50-odd page treatment and not a completed script. But the paving was laid to make her shallow and inconsistent. Firstly, MJ didn’t much like Peter until after he became Spider-Man. Raimi’s version made a good call in having her fond of the geeky guy early on, because if she simply falls for Spider-Man, their relationship is an illusion. Here, Parker and Watson’s main interaction comes through their in-class biology experiment, where she seeks him out to help her get an A. She’s grossed out by spiders (also a strange decision), and generally not that interested in science. And then at the end, when they get their A+ (woo!) she decides become a doctor. Wait…what? I mean, good on her for aiming high, but it came out of nowhere, seemingly because she conned her way into a good grade.

World Trade Center

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A notable cut from the 2002 film was a short scene where Spidey caught a helicopter in his web between the towers. Cameron’s scriptment, however, saw the location as both an incremental hangout for Spidey, including the opening scene, and the setting of the final showdown. And it was used beautifully. You’ve got Parker and his two foes, giving him his big choice – good or evil? – followed by some impressive aerial action only Spider-Man can provide, all high above the New York streets. Finally, the cripplingly poor Peter Parker throws $250m of easily claimable cash from the South Tower, narrating – ‘Did it save the world? Naw. It probably didn’t save anybody. Except maybe me.’

Oh, then he goes back to school and beats the crap out of Flash McCreery and gets the girl. Now that’s a satisfying ending in my book.

If you like the things I write about, we’d probably be good friends. You could find me in any random London cafe most days, or on Twitter if you prefer that kind of thing.


5 Comments

  1. Lucas Tetrault November 19, 2014
  2. Nick Verboon November 19, 2014
    • Lucas Tetrault November 19, 2014
      • Jake T November 20, 2014
        • Lucas Tetrault November 20, 2014

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