With the various pieces of casting news revealed over the past couple of weeks, I think it’s important to talk about two ideas: diversity in cinema and the need for an accurate adaption of the source material in cinema. Now, this conflict of ideas is found everywhere in movies, whether it be a cinematic adaption of a novel or a remake of a beloved movie, but this issue is particularly important in comic-book adaptions. Because the medium of comic-books combine illustrations and words to make a story, many comic-book fans, find that any adaption of a comic-book story should follow the original COMPLETELY.
However, this train of thought is oftentimes detrimental. How can creators generate new and inventive ideas about characters without also changing the character’s mythos? This brings up an important idea about where creators should draw the line between staying within the character’s scope and breaking out of that scope to create a better story.
Looking at Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original run of Amazing Spider-Man to Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s fresh restart of the web crawler, Spidey’s origin has largely been the same. A nerdy high school kid who gets bullied a lot gets extraordinary powers and saves peoples lives. But one of the most praised aspects of Spider-Man is his supporting cast.
Characters like Mary Jane Watson and Flash Thompson, both of which have made highlights in casting news, have been portrayed similarly through all of the cinematic adaptions. MJ is a stunningly beautiful, red headed caucasian girl who’s in love with Peter and Flash Thompson is caucasian, tall, blonde, physically adept, and and unknowledgeable bully who constantly torments Peter. While the characteristics of the two characters have remained the same in comics and the movies, their physical characteristics had undergone a radical change.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Zendaya, a young actor with mixed ethnicities (African American father and white mother), will play the beloved Mary Jane Watson. Like all news from comic book movies, it was controversial — she was met with support and opposition about her role. Some say that an actor like her couldn’t play Mary Jane simply because of her looks, while others were accepting of her appearance and ability to play the iconic character.
While fans are still unsure about her acting abilities in the movie, I personally believe that she is a perfectly fine choice for the character. She definitely looks the part and seems like a refreshing change to the current status quo. The only aspect to her character that I see many having a problem with is her skin color. It is true that her skin color is a departure from the typical adaptations we’ve seen of the character, however, we’ve seen time and time again that a little diversity and change is a good choice. In fact, I hope for her to have a more active role in the story instead of just being the damsel-in-distress.
Scores of many diverse characters have taken the rein in Marvel Comics and were often met with good reception such as Miles Morales, however, the deciding factor in the success of the character is the execution. From what I’ve seen, as long as she isn’t overly “pushed” as the strong, diverse female lead, MJ will be a superb character.
Although Zendaya, received generally positive reception in taking the role of Mary Jane Watson, there were some controversy about the casting of Flash Thompson.
After the casting of Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson, the majority of fans criticized it heavily. Revolori, who is of Guatemalan descent, was heavily opposed simply due to his assumed appearance of being a nerd or geek. Why is it so easy for others to accept Zendaya’s case, but dismiss Revolori? The answer simply lies in that too much diversification can lead to bad choices as well.
From the source material, Flash has always been Peter’s more physical foe. He was an iconic character in the original series because unlike Peter, he had physical strength — a trait that Peter did not possess until he gained his powers. Looking at Revolori’s casting, he simply does not fit the bill. The fact that Flash intimidated Peter by using his physical strength and Peter was teased for his knowledge, essentially molded their relationship together for some time.
With Revolori’s casting, many do not see that contrast and it is not hard to see why. Revolori seems like he cannot physically fulfill the original niche that Flash Thompson filled. Ironically enough, Revolori has been in some critically acclaimed films such as Dope and Grand Budapest Hotel. Therefore, fans should not necessarily dismiss his role, but wait to see how he actually does portray the character. So, while we do have an indication as to how well he can act, his character has already fallen short of many fans’ expectations.
A quick look at the casting news for Spider-Man: Homecoming and fans can see the diversity that the movie offers. Fans will find the diversity in the cast controversial; however, casting various actors that divert from the source can lead to polarizing results. Fans have yet to see any trailer from the movie other than the footage found at SDCC, so no one really has a clear indication as to how well the actors will play their characters. Nevertheless, movies that feature such a dynamic change will need to focus on balancing each individual character to fit the needs of the source material and the original story told by the directors and writers of the movie.