It was recently revealed that the villain of the Spider-Man reboot would be The Lizard as played by Rhys Ifans. While the presence of Andrew Garfield and Rhys Ifans in the film run the risk of turning the movie into a British invasion, I’m actually relatively impressed by the way that this film is coming together – the casting of Emma Stone and the hiring of director Marc Webb have helped greatly. However, I remain somewhat skeptical of the film - given the nature of its production, the fact that it’s a reboot and unfortunate departure of Sam Raimi. So it comes as something of a bittersweet pill that the villain is named as Spider-Man’s long-term reptile opponent. Apparently Raimi had a long and on-going argument with the studio about the character, him wanting to use the man-sized reptile adversary, but the studio balking over it.
For those unfamiliar with the creature, he might seem an odd choice for a bad guy – particularly given the depth and range of Spider-Man’s impressive selection of bad guys. In fact, until the moment it was announced, I would have deemed the Lizard the least likely of Spidey’s foes to be adapted to film (the favourites would have been any of the villains featured in Sam Raimi’s film – sadly I don’t put it past Sony to reuse characters we’ve seen before). He’s Doctor Curt Connors, a one-armed lecturer of Peter Parker who decides to experiment on himself using reptile DNA (as reptiles can regrow lost appendages). Naturally this turns him into a freak of nature, a crazy and sadistic giant lizard.
How intelligent or articulate (or even how evil) the character is depends on the writer of a give arc. Sometimes the Lizard is just a beast lashing out at those around him, sometimes he is an almost eloquent mad scientist intent on wiping out mankind. However, his origin and nature grants the character some pathos – Spider-Man has to defeat the Lizard while saving his host, aware that Connors meant no harm with his reckless experimentation.
If Doctor Curt Connors sounds familiar to you, it means that you were likely paying attention during Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy. The character appeared in the movies as a lecturer at Parker’s university, and one who respected and consulted with Peter (even if he found the young photographer “lazy”). The plan was to have the character played by Dylan Baker in the movies before his ultimate transformation – thus establishing as a supporting character before he became a villain, arguably granting him more pathos. Raimi even listed him as odds-on favourite for the role of villain in the fourth film before it was announced as the Vulture (and then rebooted).
Rumour has it that Sony balked at the idea, and it’s easy to see why. Even ignoring that actor Dylan Baker (while fantastic) is hardly a household name (to which I counter by wondering what Alfred Molina has done lately), the studio was understandably uncomfortable with a man-sized lizard bad guy. It’s very easy to make that look incredibly stupid, after all. The last thing you want is people laughing about the poor special effects you employed in bringing him to life. And, even if you do it well, it’s a giant lizard. it doesn’t lend itself to being taken too seriously.
This is my first reason for being hesitant about the decision. Reportedly the movie’s budget is down considerably from the huge amount spent on Spider-Man III. You’d imagine the Lizard needs to be handled with the best special effects in the industry. While undoubtedly the director and the leads were a large factor in the budgets of the earlier film (averted here by hiring up-and-coming talent), you have to wonder if the studio is committed to pulling it off with the flare required. The character deserves Avatar-type skill in being brought to the big screen, and I don’t trust the studio to do that.
The second reason I’m a bit disappointed by this news is that Sam Raimi should be directing this. Raimi has the B-movie mentality that could work so very well it a giant homicidal lizard. It’s a monster, in the classic horror movie sense, which is why Raimi worked so ridiculously well with Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man II (remember the hospital scene?) – he was made to offer us this sort of ridiculously over-the-top creature feature in the style of a Universal Horror film. I don’t doubt Marc Webb – I believe he’ll handle it well – but this just seems like the reboot is getting a pay-off that the original trilogy deserved, which unsettles me a bit.
Still, my curiosity is admittedly piqued. I do want to see how this played out. At least it isn’t a safe or boring or just plain stupid (Philip Seymour Hoffman as Venom?) choice. It’s a gutsy one and one which I kinda want to see play out. He’s a hokey Silver Age bad guy, and one quite unlike any we’ve really ever seen brought to the big screen before.